21 November 2011

Connected to the Suffering of the Shekhina?

25 Cheshvan 5772

Since posting my "How do you feel?" poll, I've received quite a few emails on the subject of spiritual sensitivity. When the subject came up again at home and also, on Lazer Beams, I took it as a sign that this is a subject whose time has come.

A full third of voters identified with a feeling of "heaviness" and "paralysis." I was frankly surprised by the number and very gratified that it justified my own feelings. I guess everyone who feels this way wonders if it isn't only in his mind. With the writer's permission, I'd like to share something I received this morning:

"...I can't tell you what a relief it was to read your blogpost and know that I am not alone. I would never admit this to my family or friends for fear of being labeled a nut-case, but I have had some strange experiences during my davening.

It wasn't always this way. It started in the months before the second intifada broke out. Suddenly, in the middle of davening, I would feel as if a fountain was welling up inside me and tears would begin to pour forth. I felt completely consumed by a feeling of abject sadness and terrible expectation of something awful about to happen. During those times, I would beg Hashem to have mercy on His children and to please bring the geula shleima. Slowly, I would get myself back under control.

While the strength of the experience has waxed and waned, it has never completely left me. Recently, though, it has gotten worse. So much worse, that I have begun to avoid davening. Sometimes, it feels like I could drown in the sorrow. Last week, I began to cry during the shema and couldn't finish it. The weird thing is, I do not have these feelings outside of prayer.

Once, a long time ago, I did mention something of it to an acquaintance who remarked that I was a channel for the Shekhina. I didn't understand that and I didn't want to entertain that thought. It seemed too presumptuous. Then, I read what the autistic man said, "For those who do trust in Hashem and are truly waiting for Mashiach….and truly weep over the Shekhina’s suffering, it will be the greatest joy."

What do you think he meant by that? Have you ever heard of this phenomenon before? ....

So I did a quick search and came up with the following from Chabad.org:

...You need to know that the moon is a reference to G‑d's immanent presence in the world, otherwise known as the Shechinah. You also need to know that the Shechina, like the moon, wanes and waxes, as G‑d's presence sometimes shines brightly in the world, and at other times is shadowed and darkened. Some souls are conceived (not on earth, but above) at the waxing of the cycle. Those souls enter the world with a strong body and glide through life happily. Other souls are conceived with the darkening of the Shechina. Rabbi Shimon tells us that these souls share in the suffering of the Shechina—and that is why she is their constant companion. Eventually, this cycle of the Shechina will resolve in an everlasting fullness as G‑d's presence will shine in ultimate intensity in this world, and these souls "shall also be renewed with her."

So far, some answers. But many puzzles remain: Why must the Shechinah suffer? And what is the point behind these souls suffering along with her?

Concerning the suffering of the Shechina, Rabbi Yitzchaak Luria, the Ari, provided a deep and enlightening teaching. He explained that everything of our world is vitalized and sustained in existence by a divine spark. The higher the spark, he said, the lower it falls. The most intense divine light, therefore, is to be found in the darkest corners of our world. The Shechinah is both the light of G‑d's presence and the mother of all souls. The function of the human soul is to rescue these fallen sparks from their darkness so they may be reconnected to the Infinite Light. The Shechinah suffers as she descends into the darkness to perform that rescue. This, the Ari says, is "the secret of the exile of the Shechinah," as the Talmud says, "When the Jewish People go into exile, the Shechina goes with them."4

I was struck by the allusion to "waxing and waning" in both the reader's email and the Chabad.org article. Surely, it's no coincidence. It also would seem that he has intuitively understood what is required of him as he says, "During those times, I would beg Hashem to have mercy on His children and to please bring the geula shleima,...."

I found this reference to the Rebbe of Lelov-Jerusalem:

...Another passage describes the Rebbe on the night the Six Day War broke out: "The beit midrash was darkened because of the blackout, all the windows covered over with strips of tape for their length and breadth. We stood trembling with fear," said one of those present. "The Rebbe entered and stood at the head of the table. His appearance aroused awe. For a long while he cried out, his voice breaking with d'vekut [devotional God-consciousness], 'Mama, Mama, Mama!'" "We palpably felt," said a hasid who was present, "how the Rebbe was pleading before his Maker like a child before its mother for the Jewish people." (Moshe Ish HaElokim, vol.1, p.247)

Every time the Rebbe finished the blessing over the moon, he called out longingly, "Have a good month, holy Shechinah!" (Moshe Ish HaElokim, vol.2, p.93)

One of the Rebbe's intimates, a hasid who was with the Rebbe once at the Western Wall [of the Temple], turned his ear to hear the Rebbe's prayer. The Rebbe whispered, "My Sister, my Beloved! The time has come to speed the redemption!" (Moshe Ish HaElokim, vol.2, p.93) This anecdote tells us that the Rebbe was relating to God, to the Shechinah, as to a female beloved, using endearments found in the Song of Songs.

I am not equipped to offer advice. Only a Rav can do that. But, I urge the writer not to abandon his prayers, however painful they may be for him. Torah.org...

R’ Moshe Hager shlita (the Vizhnitzer Rebbe in Bnei Brak, Israel) observes: Raising one’s hands to Heaven refers to prayer. This verse teaches that one’s prayer should be primarily motivated by a desire to increase G-d’s honor, the honor of “Anochi” (a reference to G-d, as in the first word of the Ten Commandments). We are taught that the Shechinah shares in our pain (see Tehilim 91:15). [One way to understand this concept is that G-d created the world as an act of kindness, and He is disappointed (so-to-speak) when our deeds force Him to punish us.] Therefore, if we pray for the Shechinah’s pain to end, any pain or suffering we are experiencing will necessarily end as well. (Sichot U’ma’amarei Kodesh p.213)

A related thought:

R’ Mordechai Schwab z”l (1911-1994; mashgiach ruchani of Mesivta Bais Shraga in Monsey, New York) writes: We read in Shir Ha’shirim (5:2), “Open your heart to Me, My sister, My love, My dove, tamati / My perfection.” A midrash comments: Read “tamati” as “te’omati” / “My twin.” Just as one twin feels the other twin’s pain, so Hashem feels our pain. (On other occasions, R’ Schwab analogized Hashem’s reaction to our suffering to the pain a surgeon would feel if he operated on his own child.)

R’ Schwab adds: R’ Yosef Karo z”l (1488-1575; author of the Shulchan Aruch) used to be visited regularly by an angel, whose teachings to R’ Karo are recorded in the work Maggid Meisharim. The angel told R’ Karo: If you knew and felt the pain that the Shechinah feels when you sin, you would be so saddened that you would be unable to enjoy the taste of food. Furthermore, if we would focus all of our prayers solely on ending the suffering of the Shechinah (so-to-speak), we would be assured of being answered, and the Final Redemption would occur. (Kovetz Sichot Ma’amar Mordechai Vol. I, p.9)

It could be that the writer is also a highly sensitive person as Miriam Adahan describes in her article the Highly Sensitive Person and should give some thought to her counsel:

...One personality type which tends to be rejected (and self-rejecting) is the "Highly Sensitive Person" (HSP). ...[one of whose traits is] * prone to a very rich inner emotional depth which few others can understand or value. ... Sadly, HSPs are often seen as defective by our society, which values toughness and equates emotional sensitivity with immaturity, stupidity or insanity. Most therapists see sensitivity as a "fatal flaw" and seek ways to dampen the emotions.... HSPs are souls destined to a life of spirituality and artistic creativity. They have the capacity to be the moral and spiritual leaders of society, ....Your job is essentially to be a SPIRITUAL WARRIOR in this world. THIS REQUIRES THAT YOU BE RESPONSIBILE AND DISCIPLINED. Focus on your spiritual skills: compassion, empathy, transcendence, inner wisdom and communion with God....

If anyone out there has anything to add to this, you are invited to share it with me in an email and mention whether it is ok to post it here for the benefit of others.