Sunday, January 26, 2014

Notes from The Kabbalah of Time's North Miami Beach Public Library Talk

For those that couldn't make it today, here are the notes from the talk. The Q & A was quite fascinating, too. It's too bad we didn't get to record it all. Hopefully there will be many more talks to follow.

Good afternoon and thank you for joining us as we share with you some of the main ideas behind the book, “The Kabbalah of Time.

In order to get us in the proper mode of thinking about the book, we'd like you to suspend disbelief, open up your eyes, minds, and hearts, and imagine a world in which our primary purpose in life was clear to everyone. The reason we are here in this world is to work on ourselves, thereby becoming better people. The ultimate goal is to fix the whole world, but we do so, first and foremost, by working on ourselves.

Let's say that everyone knew that, and even further, that we knew exactly in which way we were supposed to improve ourselves. There are certain attributes, known in Hebrew as Sefirot, which are qualities that we are supposed to work on, and these qualities are a reflection of G-d. The more we work on them, the more we become like Him, and are closer to Him. Just as G-d is kind, so would we work on being kind. Just as He is mighty and strong, so do we work on our might and strength, and so on. Further, imagine that we all knew what we were supposed to work on each week of the year, and even each day of the week.
Imagine how much less confusion and anxiety this could help alleviate. How much easier it would be to find meaning and purpose.

That is the vision of the book. This vision, and the structure of the calendar that it presents, appears to have been known since the beginning of time. This structure is reflected in ancient, foundational Jewish practices and writings, such as the Counting of the Omer, Pirkei Avot, also known as Ethics of Our Fathers, and Perek Shirah, the Song of Creation. Even though many of these ancient teachings and practices are well known, the rationale behind their order and structure was not, perhaps, until now...

Ann:
Good afternoon. Once again, thank you all for being here.
It is a blessing to be part of this wonderful journey with Rabbi Kahane regarding the precious treasures of the Torah. Specifically, I am so thankful that Daniel introduced me to the book Perek Shirah, a truly a mysterious and environmentally-conscious work, and which is very much the focus of our book as well. 
We’d like to now read to you a few sections from our book’s introduction, explaining this work:

Perek Shirah, which means Chapter of Song, is an ancient text published only in a handful of prayerbooks around the world. While the authorship of this work is not certain, many attribute it to King David. Perek Shirah itself hints to David’s authorship as it describes his interaction with a frog immediately following the completion of the Book of Psalms. In this conversation, the frog exclaims, “David! Do not become proud, for I recite more songs and praises than you.” 

Among sacred Jewish texts, Perek Shirah is a pioneer when it comes to the environment. It is a work of enormous lyricism and exaltation of the Creator, including songs from the sun and the moon, heaven and earth, as well as from various members of the plant and animal kingdoms. The praises found in this book are like a great orchestra in which, instead of musicians, each element and living being contributes to a beautiful and emotional masterpiece. That result is the best possible exclamation of G-d’s greatness by all of His Creation.

It is extraordinary that of all the different elements and creatures listed in Perek Shirah that glorify the Creator, there are exactly fifty-two animals in Perek Shirah, one for each week of the solar year.
When reading Perek Shirah, it is fascinating to observe how the animals so gracefully praise and acknowledge G-d’s actions. If animals glorify G-d in such a way, how much more so should we! Furthermore, through each animal and its respective song, we extract examples and lessons on how to help us heal and combat sadness.
(pass microphone to Daniel) For me, one of the most striking discoveries of the book has been its explanation of the order of Pirkei Avot. Pirkei Avot, which literally means “Chapters of the Fathers,” is part of the Mishnah (the Oral Torah) compiled by Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi. In these chapters, each of the main rabbis of the generation writes in concise form what he considers to be most important in order to live ethically and in accordance with the principles of the Torah. Pirkei Avot can also be understood as “Father Chapters,” since these chapters include the fundamental principles for the study and fulfillment of the rest of the Torah. In this sense, the teachings of Pirkei Avot are like "parents," and the rest of the Torah’s teachings are like their children.

It has always been our custom to study Pirkei Avot as a mechanism of self-improvement. The book, The Kabbalah of Time, shows how the teachings of the rabbis found in Pirkei Avot are organized in such a way that each rabbi listed corresponds to a week of the year.

Here is an example of how the book works. We are currently in the 21st week of the year. The Divine attribute we are supposed to work on is Malchut shebeTiferet, which is further explained in the book. This week also corresponds to the 21st animal in Perek Shirah, the fly, and the 21st rabbi in Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Yaakov:

On the twenty-first week of the year, coming to the end of the month of Shevat, in Perek Shirah the fly calls out to the Jewish people when they are not engaging in the study of Torah. The fly, often a symbol of decay, sings “All life is like the grass and the flower of the field… the grass withers and the flower fades... but the word of the Lord our G-d shall stand forever.”

Soon after Tu B'Shvat (The New Year of the Trees), when we emphasize the importance of trees and nature, the fly comes to remind us that nature and life itself, although beautiful, pleasurable, and meaningful, are ultimately fleeting. Even though they are a reflection of the Creator, it is ultimately only the Creator Himself, and those indelibly attached to Him, that are eternal.

The lesson in Pirkei Avot for the week after Tu B'Shvat, taught by Rabbi Yaakov, continues on this same theme: “When one is on a path studying Torah, if one interrupts his study and exclaims: ‘How beautiful is this tree! How beautiful is this plowed field,’ it is considered by Scripture as if he were endangering his life.” (III:7) Rabbi Yaakov’s words parallel the song of the fly. We must maintain our focus on what is truly important and everlasting, and continue in our main path, which is to advance in our study and transmission of Torah knowledge. The study of the eternal words of the Creator should not be interrupted in order to enjoy fleeting occurrences or even to exalt His own Creation.
(pass the microphone to Ann). We’d like to conclude with the very beginning of our book, hopefully as motivation for all of you to also embark on this amazing journey:

We often go about our lives with great uncertainty, without the benefit of sage advice or guidance. Yet somehow we just keep going, attaching ourselves to values that confuse our minds and our hearts, and ignoring the real needs and wants of our soul.

We become so busy with our own personal affairs and so distracted by the avalanche of superfluous information directed at us, that we blind ourselves to the signs all around, the lessons and warnings G-d presents to us at every moment. Certain instances, however, awaken us from this darkness. In those times, which are like lightning bolts of clarity, we realize that there is something greater, something beyond this physical plane and our worldly concerns.

The reality is that our soul needs to sing! Yet what are we to do if we do not know the melody and the lyrics of the song? The Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, explains that this is the feeling behind the shofar blast on Rosh Hashanah. The shofar is the most basic and primal expression of the soul, and it is with this cry that the Jewish people awaken spiritually at the start of every year.

This book’s objective is to bring us closer to our song. The song of the soul: of the individual, of the Jewish people, of humanity, and of nature.[1] This “four-fold song”[2] is directed towards G-d, and the Jewish calendar itself is its sheet music.

In an effort to promote more harmony in our lives, we will study Jewish values and techniques for spiritual enhancement that will make ourselves attuned to the energy of each week of the year. This book will give access to unknown tools, which allow for an open channel of dialogue with G-d. These teachings are not new. They are already found in the Torah itself. They are within everyone’s reach, close to the mouth and to the heart.[1]

Through continuous effort, an individual who is committed to change can obtain personal as well as collective transformation: in the family, the local community, the city, and beyond. As the prophet Isaiah exclaims, the Earth was not created to be chaos.[2] We desperately need to live in a better world, and leave it more peaceful for future generations.







[1] Deuteronomy 30:11; Tanya - Introduction
[2] Chapter 45:18
DOWNLOAD A FREE COPY OF PEREK SHIRAH HERE!

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