this sermon as a Microsoft Word document
What a year we have been through. It has
been said that we live in a time of more
abundance than ever before in history coupled
with excessive insecurity and precariousness.
When Alan Greenspan himself, who guided U.S.
economic policy for almost two decades, says
that he is in a "state of shocked disbelief,"
you know we must be living in tumultuous
times. People around the world, including in
our community, have faced economic hardship,
health challenges, changing relationships and
the inevitable demands of growing older.
On this Yom Kippur maybe you came through
the synagogue doors, hoping for some infusion
of Jewish wisdom, a grounding in our sources,
a connection to community, that will help you
live through these times. I hope to share
some teaching that might be helpful to you in
surviving as a human being on this planet.
Maybe you've had the feeling of being
stressed out, mired in anxiety or burdened by
despair, maybe you've grappled with panic or
struggled with depression. All of us at one
time or another in our lives, are in over our
heads. What we have to deal with is simply
more than we can handle. Judaism has
something to say about all this.
Reb Nachman taught that suffering is
caused by an inflexibility of the mind. Our
minds get stuck in a limited place that makes
us think we are dis-connected from Source,
from Wholeness, from God. This stuck place
has us feeling overwhelmed, lonely, cut off.
We need to grow more adept, more flexible,
at experiencing God. I invite you to
experiment with experiencing God in two ways,
a macro way and a micro way and to grow in
your ability to move from micro to macro,
macro to micro experience of God. What does
that mean, moving between macro and micro
experiences of God?
Two Natures of God: The One and the Many
A macro experience of God is God in the
cosmic, eternal sense, God as Beyond,
Forever, Unity, One-ness. You may have
experienced God this way in nature: gazing at
the sparkling night sky, soaking up the
momentousness of mountains, appreciating the
endless peace of the desert or the enormity
of the ocean. You realize that you are a
speck of nothingness compared to the vastness
of eternity. Our prayer expresses this with
the words, "we are but blades of grass."
This awareness is of God as Eyn Sof, God
as Never Ending, Beyond, Mystery, surpassing
We are all part of this grand unity. Part
of the whole. Mordecai Kaplan said that God
is when we realize that the sum is greater
than all the parts. There are moments during
our lives when we get that we are part of the
whole, in the same way a cell is part of a
body. The body can't be the body without the
cells, the cells can't be cells without the
body. One is not separate from the other. It
is all One.
A micro experience of God is God in the
specific human interactions where purpose,
kindness, meaning, and ethical action matter.
Our human concerns mean so much to us. We
care that the baby be healthy, that our
nephew gets the job, that the test goes well,
that we find love. In our daily lives we are
invested in trying to make the world better;
in this realm striving for morality, for
positive outcomes, for loving as well as we
can, make sense even though you know that
from the perspective of a trillion years,
none of this matters. In the trillion-year
timeframe, God will still BE while human
concerns will be entirely insignificant.
There's a little story that I heard from
my friend Rabbi Jeff Roth who heard it from
his friend Max Sampson and who knows where
Max heard it.
Two waves are bopping around in the ocean.
The first wave says to the littler wave, "I
can see farther than you and there's
something terrible that I'd like to warn you
The second wave is worried. What could
possibly be so terrible? There they are in
the ocean, happily being waves.
The first wave says, "I'll tell you what's
to worry about. When the waves get near the
shore, guess what happens? They crash. And
they aren't waves any more. There's nothing
you can do about it. That's going to happen
The second wave thinks about this for a
moment and then says, "I have just one thing
to say. You aren't a wave. You're water."
And that's true for us too. We are merrily
going along in our daily lives with our daily
worries, like the first wave. But we too
aren't waves, we are water. We are part of
eternity. We are part of Eyn Sof, the Endless
Two Approaches to God
Our sages taught that two different mind
states access each of these God truths.
Expanded consciousness, mochin d'gadlut,
allows us glimpses of the inter-connectedness
of all. These transcendent experiences tend
to be fleeting: a moment of ecstatic love
where your small self merges into the
one-ness of All; sometimes at a liminal
moment such as birth or death, when the small
self melds into something more eternal;
through serious prayer or meditation or
psychedelic practice or even psychotic
experience the mind can burst through into an
awareness of the unity of all. Experiences in
nature also tend to let us see our part in
the whole which is why it can feel like
revelation when you see majestic mountains,
or expansive desert, or float in the immense
ocean. For a moment, you're able to surrender
into the whole. You feel inconsequential and
it's okay, it doesn't matter.
The other mind state is mochin d'katnut,
small mind. Small mind is my own ego,
differentiated, individuating, striving for
me to be the best me that I can possibly be.
Small mind revels in the diversity of all,
the spectacular details of individual identity.
So how does all this tie in with the human
emotions that are so hard to live with?
Anxiety, panic, despair, terror. In a state
of small mind, these emotions bump up against
our limits and can feel absolutely
overwhelming. I don't know how I can cope. I
don't know if I'll ever get through it. It
feels awful. Those feelings are real, very
real. But our experience of them is affected
by what kind of spiritual container they are
held in. Are they held by small mind or by
big mind? Will the God of particular
outcomes, of multitudes of diversity, be your
reference point or will the God of universal
reality be your reference point?
Think of trying to hold a pint of water in
a teacup. It barely fits. It bumps up against
the side of the teacup and maybe splashes out
in distress. Now imagine holding a pint of
water in an ocean. It's a whole different
thing. Similarly, holding intense feelings in
a state of small mind feels stressful,
overwhelming and constricting. The container
is not big enough for the emotion. By
contrast, holding intense emotion in a state
of big mind, accessing Eyn Sof, there is
never-ending spaciousness. Expanding our
consciousness, gives us bigger ways to hold
our experience. You may still feel terror but
your container is bigger.
How do you grow that container, how do you
grow bigger consciousness? There are many
Jewish practices for this. The Yom Kippur
prayers, for one, come from a place of our
own human humility in the face of an immense
reality. Tuning in to this truth is hard.
Some people read these prayers and resist the
language that says we are so small, we are
nothing, in the face of a transcendent God.
Rabbi Alan Lew, z"l, suggests a meditation
practice in which you breathe in and on the
out breath you consciously expand your
consciousness, you press out its boundaries a
little further with each breath. You grow
your mochin d'gadlut, your Big Mind.
In the course of a human life, people move
inexorably from being separate individuals
with our unique, interesting selves, toward
re-union with the Whole of Being. The
inflexible mind that Rebbe Nachman speaks of,
is the clinging to our mochin d'katnut, small
self. The ego is designed to self-preserve.
Its mandate is to keep you alive and thriving
as a separate self. Even though you may
suffer, as a result of this separateness,
suffer alienation, loneliness, anomie, your
ego was carefully crafted to fight tooth and
nail against anything that would threaten
your individual existence. In this world,
your ego is a blessing, that allows you to
achieve, develop, interact, nurture.
Without your ego fiercely protecting your
small self, you wouldn't be you.
However, fight as hard as we might, egos
don't last forever. And what happens when the
ego begins to slip from aging, from
Alzheimers, eventually from dying? Your small
self merges into the great Eternal God Self
with a capital S. You shift from expressing
your Godness through individual selfhood to
expressing your Godness through melding into
My friend Bobbi Breitman's mother had
Alzheimer's Disease. Over a fifteen year
period she deteriorated to the point where
she needed round the clock care, didn't
recognize anyone and in most ways wasn't
herself anymore at all. Her situation was one
that most of us dread for ourselves or our
loved ones. Her mind was completely gone. In
fact she got to the point where she didn't
recognize anyone who greeted her but she'd
take their hand and say, "I love you."
I was at the Bat Mitzvah of Bobbi's
daughter a few years ago when her mother was
still alive. She was a little white-haired
lady, with her attendant. Whoever was
introduced to her she'd take their hand and
say, "I love you." Now not every Alzheimer's
patient is this way; there are so many
different symptoms. But that day, one of
Bobbi's friends, Rabbi Sheila Weinberg, who
is a leading teacher of Jewish meditation,
and who had known Bobbi's mother for many
years, went up to greet her. Mrs. Breitman no
longer recognized this friend, whom she had
seen many, many times. But she took her hand
and said, "I love you."
Sheila turned to Bobbi and said, "She's a
guru." With Alzheimer's erasing her mind, she
was simply a vessel of love. She had come to
a state of self-less-ness that is the goal of
thousands of spiritual seekers who dedicate
themselves to hours of meditation in the
hopes of experiencing mystical union with God.
We don't have to wait for Alzheimer's to
take our minds. We can hone the flexibility
of our minds to shift from micro to macro God
identity. We also don't have to fear
Alzheimer's because the small mind is just
joining the Big Mind of Eyn Sof. It is our
human, inflexibility, as Nachman taught, that
blocks this shift and is the source of suffering.
But, you might ask, if it is our destiny
to eventually flow into the Beyond, the
Forever, the Eternal, why not just make that
leap right now? If you know that purpose and
ethics aren't relevant from the Eyn Sof
perspective, that all our human striving and
self improvement don't really matter, why not
just give it all up, throw in the towel, now?
Because, God as Eternal Unity and God as
specific diversity, are flip sides of the
same coin. God is Unity, God is Diversity. It
is only our inflexible minds that get stuck
not easily seeing this. Our task here in
these bodies on this earth, is to manifest
the diversity side of God as well as we
possibly can, for each of us to express our
individual potential, to let that unique tiny
God spark in each of us shine. As our prayer
says "We are loved by an unending love, ours
are the arms, the fingers, the voices; ours
are the hands, the eyes, the smiles" that do
Rabbi Art Green teaches, it's not that we
deny the absurdity of human existence, it's
that we defy it. We choose life again and
again because we are human. Cultivating
flexibility of mind, learning about the
possibility of Big Mind, mochin d'gadlut,
learning about the God expression of Eyn Sof,
might make more bearable our human experience
of insecurity and our human reaction to our
eventual ego-termination or death.
On Yom Kippur we are called to peek at the
possibility of identifying not just with
small mind, not just with the God of
diversity but also with Big Mind, with the
God of Eternity. Facing truth on this most
somber of religious days, each of us has the
chance to expand our spiritual flexibility,
to move from the micro self to the macro Self
and back again. We prepare ourselves for the
day when there will be an inevitable reunion
with Eyn Sof; from dust we have come and to
dust we will return.
Let us hope that we use this journey of
life to deepen our spiritual readiness for
the eventual merging of small self into big
Self. That's the way of the world, the way of
all flesh and the great spiritual traditions
are here to help you traverse this well. It
only seems like a divide that needs
traversing, from the point of view of small
self. Small self sees a gap between the I
that is me and God. Big Mind knows that All
is One anyway and there is no gap. I am
already part of God. You are already part of
God. We are always connected to that Ultimate
Source because we ourselves are an expression
of that Source.
May this be a year of enlightenment and
awareness for all. May you find joy in the
journey. And let us say Amen.
Rabbi Julie does spiritual counseling
in Philadelphia through her practice,
Counseling with Soul. She can be reached at
JulieGberg@gmail.com or at 215-843-9592.