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Quote of the Week 304 - Light

The soul is light, the mind is light, and the body is light – light of different grades; it is this relation which connects man with the planets and stars.

-- Hazarat Inayat Khan

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Bible Stories - Enoch, Metatron, Sandalphon, Phinehas, Elijah, Elisha


Bible Stories – Enoch, Metatron, Sandalphon, Phinehas, Elijah, Elisha

By Steven J. Gold, Yoga and Judaism Center

(Note: This work includes material adapted from the previously published TORAH PORTION SUMMARIES, With Insights from the Perspective of a Jewish Yogi; and material from an unpublished work in progress summarizing the other sections of the TANAK)

INTRODUCTION

As with most spiritual traditions, Jewish lore comprises a vast body of literature. At its core is what has been established as official Jewish canon, the Tanak (Torah/Five Books of Moses, Nevi’im/Prophets and Ketuvim/Writings), which comprise the Jewish Bible, designated by Christians as the Old Testament. The most key traditional supplemental material is the Talmud in its two versions, Jerusalem and Babylonian. This body of work is supplemented by a wide variety of other materials garnered over the centuries, including several apocryphal books and many commentaries and extrapolations. What has become known as Kabala is developed in a few key texts, the Bahir, the Sefer Yetzirah, and the Zohar, and many other supplemental writings. One characteristic to many of these texts, as is true with most spiritual traditions, is that teachings are incorporated into stories. One thread of a connecting story-line running through this literature concerns a certain being or beings that is the subject of this work.

Jewish canon makes occasional and sketchy references to angels, and no references at all to archangels as distinct from ordinary, run-of-the-mill angels. The supplemental material goes into much more detail, usually referencing the canon as a base, and then engaging in extensive extrapolations and tangents, with the canon frequently receding so far into the background as to become barely noticeable. The prevalent view in this secondary source literature is that angels can only undertake one task at any given time, whereas archangels have broader functions and abilities, including being able to take on many tasks at once and overseeing the tasks of angels. The connecting thread that is the subject matter here concerns the characters of Enoch, Phinehas, Elijah and Elisha. The first two are found in the Torah itself, and the latter two in the Prophets, specifically Kings I and II. Their connecting glue concerns the archangels Metatron and Sandalphon, found only in apocryphal and other supplemental sources. It is not my intent to delve into all of the complicated lore concerning Metatron and Sandalphon, or Enoch for that matter, but rather just to touch on some basic premises as they relate to the stories of the primary figures that are the main focus here: Phinehas, Elijah and Elisha, whose stories are relayed in some detail in the canon itself.

From what I can glean from my limited research, the earliest references to archangels do not include Metatron and Sandalphon, but rather names like Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, all of whose names end with the “el” appellation, a reference to their connection with God. But somewhere along the line, Metatron and Sandalphon, with their Greek-sounding names, make their appearance in Jewish lore. One distinction about Metatron and Sandalphon, and perhaps an explanation as to why their names do not end with the “el” appellation, is that they are the only two archangels who where originally mortal men, who transfigured into archangels due to their extraordinary spiritual achievements while mortals. All of the other archangels are of heavenly and not earthly origin. Also, Metatron and Sandalphon are sometimes intermixed and confused, as if they are possibly one and the same, and just appear with different names in different texts, although there is also a notion that they are twin brothers.

But now, enough with the background, and on to the canonical figures of Enoch, Phinehas, Elijah and Elisha.

Enoch makes a very short, and seemingly inconsequential and insignificant appearance in the canon, in Bereishis/Genesis 1:5:18-24. Following on the heals of the recitation of creation, Adam and Eve, and their children, Cain, Abel and Seth, is a genealogy of mankind through the ten generations from Adam through Seth to Noah. Abel had no offspring, and Cain’s offspring (with the exception of Noah’s possible wife, Namaah) died in the Flood. There is one first-born male named through each of the generations marking the lineal descent to Noah, although it is also mentioned that these direct male descendants all begat other unnamed sons and daughters in addition to the named first-born male direct lineal descendants, one for each generation. What is interesting in the listing of this genealogy is that it all follows the same pattern of wording for each generation except for the one concerning Enoch, who was Noah’s great-grandfather. Concerning all of the others except Enoch, the pattern goes like this: “A lived X years, and begot B. And A lived Y years after begetting B, and he begot sons and daughters. All the days of A were Z years (X + Y); and he died.” Only for Enoch, this wording is different: “Enoch lived sixty-five years, and begot Methuselah. Enoch walked with God for three hundred  years after begetting Methuselah; and he begot sons and daughters. All the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. And Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, for God had taken him.”

So instead of merely “living” so many years after begetting his first-born, as all of his ancestors, Enoch curiously “walked with God” for the remainder of his life. And when he expired, he did not merely “die” like his ancestors, he again “walked with God; and “then he was no more, for God had taken him.” Other than identifying his father in the recitation of the genealogy, there is nothing further said about Enoch in the canon. As with the others in the recitation of this genealogy, there are no stories, no achievements, not even the name of his wife or his other children. Just his father’s name, his name as the first-born of his father, and his first-born son’s name, with the accounting of the years as described above, in a dry, genealogical recitation.

However, the commentators/speculators have had a field day for hundreds of years up to the present time addressing the issue as to why Enoch, and Enoch alone, was so distinguished from all of his ancestors in the terminology used about his passing as described above. Apocryphal books have been written and cult-like fascinations among some metaphysical circles have persisted over the ages. Although there are differing interpretations within Jewish and non-Jewish circles, one prominent theory is that Enoch was the mortal who transfigured and became the Archangel Metatron. The meaning of the term “walked with God” signifies the process of this transfiguration, and when it was completed, “he was no more” because when “God had taken him” Enoch no longer existed, only Metatron remained in the service of God, who had taken him from mortal life to immortal or semi-immortal life. Some kabalistic views elaborate that the pathway to prophesy and eternal life is by gaining mystical access to the Tree of Life, and this was what Enoch achieved in order to transfigure into Metatron.[1]


PINCHAS/PHINEHAS

The thread continues with Pinchas/Phinehas, a figure found later in the Torah, with a more detailed story conveyed about him in the primary canonical text than is the case with his predecessor, Enoch.

The story of Phinehas requires that we set the stage upon which he appears, in the book of Bamidbar/Numbers in the Torah. The parsha/portion Balak relates a story of the King of Moab feeling threatened by the nascent nation of Israel which has encamped on its border, led by Moses, during its years of sojourn in the desert after leaving the bondage of Egypt. The Israelites have recently won victories in battle and conquest against the nations of Amalek, Sihon and Og, and King Balak of Moab is rightly a little concerned. He may not be aware that this threat, though reasonably perceived, is not actual, because the Israelites have been instructed by YHVH to leave this nation alone due to their being descended from Lot, Abraham’s nephew; just as they were told to leave the Edomites alone, because they were descended from Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. Balak sends for a great soothsayer/wizard, Balaam, to cast a curse upon the Israelite encampment, but to Balak’s dismay, Balaam becomes a puppet in the hands of YHVH, and the only words that issue forth from Balaam’s mouth are words of blessing and praise dictated by YHVH. Balaam goes home frustrated and humiliated, and Balak is frustrated and infuriated.

This portion ends with a choppy and terse recitation introducing the character of Phinehas and his central role in an incident and its aftermath following the story of Balak/Balaam. Details spill over into the succeeding two portions, Pinchas and Mattos, all of which is extensively enhanced by secondary sources.

First, what is recited in the primary text: After his humiliation, Balaam is down, but not out. He concocts a devious, subversive scheme to undermine the purity and moral core of the Israelites. The women of Moab and Midian, an ally that likewise felt threatened by the Israelites, are set upon the task to entice Israelite men through harlotry and intermarriage as means to the ultimate end of idolatry. The scheme is successful, and many Israelite men are seduced by the women of Moab and Midian to commit harlotry, intermarriage and worst of all, idolatry. These abominations are dealt with by YHVH ordering all of the transgressors rounded up and executed, and for those who are not dealt with swiftly enough, YHVH also imposes a plague. Despite all of this havoc, a young Israelite prince, in an arrogant and disrespectful display of rebelliousness, brings his Midianite princess consort into the presence of Moses and all of the assembly of Israel. Moses and the leadership are all paralyzed and in shock due to this brazen display, and their only reaction is to weep.

Enter Pinchas/Phinehas, son of Elazar, the new High Priest (who succeeded his father and Moses’ brother, Aaron, as High Priest after Aaron’s death). He rises up and spears to death both the arrogant Israelite and his Midianite girlfriend. As a result of these acts, the plague is abated, but only after the death of twenty-four thousand.

YHVH acknowledges the great deed of Phinehas to Moses. His quick, decisive and zealous action adequately exacts YHVH’s wrathful  vengeance upon the people, and spares the people from further decimation by the plague. For this good deed, YHVH bestows upon Phinehas a “covenant of peace” and a “covenant of eternal priesthood”.

YHVH further orders Moses to “harass and smite” the Midianites due to their role in attempting to subvert the moral fiber of the Israelites and turn them to idolatry. After taking care of some other business, Moses proceeds to wage battle against the Midianites as directed, with Phinehas among the warriors enlisted. Without one casualty, the Israelites annihilate all of the inhabitants of Midian, including Balaam, with the exception of female children too young to have been involved in the seductions.  

Thus is the story of Pinchas/Phinehas as conveyed in the primary canonical text of the Torah itself. Now for the secondary source elaborations and extrapolations:

As previously mentioned, Phinehas was the grandson of Aaron, the son of the new High Priest Elazar, and for the good deed of killing the wayward Israelite and his consort, he was elevated to a Kohen/priest, and all of the Kohen Gadols/High Priests after Elazar, his father, were descended from Phinehas. This seems confusing, as it appears he was in line for this job anyway and should have already been a Kohen by his birthright. It is explained that the Kohens were all descended from Aaron, but the scheme established was that Aaron and all of his sons living at the time the priesthood was established would be priests, and all of their offspring born thereafter. Phinehas was not originally included as a priest because he was a grandson of Aaron’s born before the time of the original initiation of priests, limited to Aaron and his sons then living, not grandsons then living, even though grandsons born after the original investiture would become priests. But because of his valiant deed, he was duly elevated. The “covenant of eternal priesthood” bestowed upon Phinehas meant that all of his offspring would become priests, and tradition maintains that all High Priests thereafter were descended from Phinehas. The “covenant of peace” bestowed upon him has been interpreted as meaning that circumstances warranting the exercise of such violent zealousness are rare, and as a reminder that the path of peace is generally favored.

There are secondary sources that go into more extensive discussions about the circumstances surrounding Phinehas’ killing of the Israelite man and his Midianite girlfriend. Apparently Moses and the rest of the camp were confounded into a stunned stupor of inaction by this brash and unexpected act. This was compounded by the fact that at least some believe that Moses’ wife was also a Midianite. Phinehas came to the rescue, remembering a portion of the oral law forbidding cohabitation with a gentile, and authorizing “zealots to smite” such a transgressor. This is a rare form of law known as “a law that is not instructed”, as it obviously carries many issues and potential ramifications, discussed at length by the commentators over the centuries. (“Not instructed” does not mean that one is not informed about its existence, but rather one is not guided or offered clarification on how to effectuate it on the premise that if you need to ask, then you’re already disqualified. It needs to be a totally detached, intuitive, instinctive response to a situation). The conception of “taking the law into your own hands”, as illustrated by this incident, is not one that has been encouraged by the authorities directing the community over the past several hundred years, for many obvious reasons. [2]

The commentators also suggest that Phinehas’ zealous actions of taking the law into his own hands were not universally accepted even at the time, and there was a lot of mumbling that he had overstepped his bounds. However, it is clear that YHVH approved his actions, and that as a result, the plague that was decimating the camp ceased.

Questions have been raised as to why the Israelites waged war only against the Midianites, and not the Moabites, who also participated in the seductions. The answer provided by the secondary sources is that the Moabites only addressed the common folk with their seductions, whereas the Midianites targeted the leadership, a more serious and damaging offense.

Also, the primary text states that Phinehas participated in the war against the Midianites and that Balaam was killed in that war, without stating who killed him. However, some secondary sources connect the dots and claim that Balaam was killed by none other than Phinehas himself, as yet another feather in is cap.

There is a common belief that after these events, Phinehas lived a long time and either became the prophet Elijah, or was reincarnated as Elijah. (And yes, although not propounded and even rejected by traditional Judaism, mystical Judaism recognizes reincarnation, called “gilgul”.)


ELIJAH

The final two characters in this set are the prophets Elijah and Elisha, with Elisha’s story following on the heals of Elijah’s, as Elijah’s successor. Jewish tradition abounds with tales and customs related to Elijah the Prophet, Eliyahu Hanavi, probably the most well-known prophet besides Moses. A cup is set for him at every Passover Seder and a seat is set for him at every circumcision. I am not here attempting to review or summarize the vast lore and its origins concerning Elijah, but rather to stick fairly closely to what is found in the actual canon, with some embellishment from secondary sources.

The stories of Elijah and Elisha are contained in the section of the Tanak called the Prophets/Nevi’im, in the books of Kings I and II, the fourth book in the first section of Prophets. To begin, it will be helpful to put their stories in context.

Following Kings, the latter and largest section of Prophets contains books named after specific prophets, and the format changes to writings of those prophets, consisting mostly of exhortations and condemnations, of affliction and consolation, encouraging the populace to turn away from their evil ways, and reassuring them that better times will come. These well-known and often-quoted books focus more on the preaching of these prophets, and less on their activities. However, the earlier four books are more narrative in nature, and only two are named after a person, the prophet/leader Joshua, and the prophet Samuel. Neither Elijah nor Elisha have books named after them, and their stories, as most of the content of the first four books, have more to do with their activities rather than their preaching. The setting for their appearance is the tumultuous years following the death of King Solomon, whose reign marked a short period of the most glorious years of a united Kingdom of Israel.

Prophets begins where the Torah leaves off, with the book of Joshua. At YHVH’s direction, Joshua had been appointed by Moses to be his successor, and he now leads the people into the homeland that has been promised to them after their exodus from Egypt and sojourn in the desert. (As a quick refresher, the Torah ends with Moses’ death, at a time when the people are ready to cross over the Jordan to the promised land. Moses was not permitted by YHVH to cross over, and as his task was completed, he died near the west bank of the Jordan, after viewing the promised land atop a mountain). After various conquests led by Joshua in order to occupy and settle the land, there next follows a period of rule over the land by prophets known as Judges (as chronicled in the second book of Prophets, by the same name), when there was no secular ruler. However, the third book of Samuel recites, among other things, the clamoring by the people for a secular king, and thus Saul becomes the first temporal king/ruler over Israel. The prophets continue alongside the king as moral and spiritual guides. There are stories concerning the love-hate relationship between King Saul and the young David, who will ultimately become the next king, leading to David’s son, King Solomon, building the First Temple during his rule. As narrated in Kings, the fourth book of the section of Prophets, the glory years of the rule of King Solomon are soon followed by discord, division and degeneration which leads to the kingdom of Israel becoming divided into two competing kingdoms. The Southern Kingdom of Judah consists of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and contains within its borders the city of Jerusalem and the Temple. The Northern Kingdom of Israel consists of the other ten tribes. After many years and generations of kings coming and going in both kingdoms, with degeneration, idolatry and false prophets prevailing most of the time, along comes the prophet Elijah in the Northern Kingdom.

The setting for Elijah’s appearance is during the reign of the wicked King Ahab, who is influenced and spurred on by his ambitious and idolatrous wife, Jezebel. Under their rule, the already prevalent heretical practices of the past are magnified, including worship of the pagan god Baal. They build an altar and temple to Baal in Samaria, in addition to erecting a sinful Asherah-tree. It is in this context that Elijah the Tishbite, of Gilead, appears without any preamble. Being a true prophet, veritably all of Elijah’s actions are guided by YHVH. He tells Ahab that there will be no dew or rain except when Elijah says so, and then leaves Ahab to deal with an extended drought. Meanwhile, Elijah goes into hiding in the Cherith Brook, which faces the Jordan. He gets water from the brook, and ravens bring him bread and meat twice a day. But after a year, the brook dries up due to the drought, and Elijah moves on to Zarephath in Sidon, to be sustained by a widow. In events similar to subsequent events concerning Elisha and found again in the Christian Testament, the widow first provides him with water, but when he asks for food, she says she and her son are starving and are about to eat the last small cake she will make from the last bit of flour and oil she has. Elijah tells her that if she feeds him a small cake first, that her jug of flour and flask of oil will never run out until the drought ends. And so it happens for an entire year until the drought ends. But then her son becomes seriously ill and dies, and she blames it on Elijah, because her impurity stood in such stark contrast to his piety. Elijah beseeches YHVH to restore life to her son, and after stretching himself over the boy’s dead body three times, he comes back to life. This event convinces the widow beyond any doubt of Elijah’s holiness. 

In the third year of the drought, YHVH instructs Elijah to confront Ahab and his false prophets, who had been hunting Elijah in order to kill him, as he was held responsible for the drought. Jezebel, Ahab’s queen, had already initiated a campaign to kill all true prophets and prop up false pagan prophets in their stead. Obadiah, a principal servant of the king and queen, who was loyal to YHVH, saved 100 true prophets by secreting them away in two caves, with 50 in each cave. Ahab and Obadiah set out in different directions to find Elijah, and lo and behold, Elijah appears before Obadiah, and tells him to have Ahab come to him. So Ahab comes, and Elijah issues a challenge to him and his 450 false prophets of the Baalim and 400 false prophets of the Asherah-tree: come to Mt. Carmel at Beth-el (where Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, and where they had set up a Temple to the Baalim), and they will each prepare a bull for burnt sacrifice on altars without starting a fire. Whichever god responds with fire is the true God. So the cook-off takes place, but no fire comes for the false prophets. In a Houdini-like display of showmanship, a trench of water is dug around Elijah’s altar to assure no access to the altar via an external source for igniting a fire. Further, the altar itself is thoroughly drenched three times with water. Nevertheless, with a final flourish of bravado, Elijah’s offering is consumed by Divine fire. The audience is impressed, and Elijah has them capture all of the false prophets. They are marched off to the Kishon Brook, where he slaughters them all. He warns Ahab to start heading home, as the drought is about to end with a big storm. After praying seven times with his body bent and his face between his knees (a position that some have referred to as the “prophetic posture”, possibly similar to the yoga posture called the “child pose”), a great rain commences, which storm first appears as a cloud as small as a man’s hand approaching from the west. 

Upon hearing about these exploits of Elijah, the wicked Jezebel is not happy, and swears an oath to hunt down and kill Elijah. Elijah thus flees for his life into the wilderness, at which time follows a well-known and significant event at Mt. Sinai. First Elijah travels for a day without food or water, then lays down under a “retem” tree to die in despair. But an angel wakes him and provides him with food and water. Elijah returns again to sleep after his meal, but is woken a second time by the angel with more food, who instructs Elijah that he has a long journey ahead of him. With the strength provided to him by this second meal, Elijah walks 40 days and nights until he arrives upon Mt. Horeb/Sinai. He spends a night in a cave on the mountain, and is called upon by YHVH. Elijah expresses his despair at his failed mission to turn the people back to YHVH and his wish to die. As with Moses before him, Elijah is instructed by YHVH to go out of the cave and witness YHVH’s greatness as YHVH passes before him. First is a powerful wind, smashing mountains and breaking rocks, but Elijah is told that YHVH is not in the wind. Next is an earthquake, but Elijah is told YHVH is not in the earthquake. Next is a fire, and again Elijah is told that YHVH is not in the fire. Finally comes a still thin sound/still small voice. Apparently, Elijah had gone back into the cave to “hear” this still small voice (lending itself to the popular Eastern interpretation that he was meditating on/discovered the inner “sound of silence”), as it narrates that he next goes out and stands by the cave’s entrance. The first conversation with YHVH is then repeated. This time, properly grounded in the meditation that should inspire and precede action, YHVH instructs Elijah to go out and anoint Hazael as king over Aram (a neighboring kingdom), Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel, and Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel-meholah as Elijah’s successor. YHVH assures Elijah that between the three of these, the sinners will be obliterated, except for 7,000 people who did not worship Baal.

The commentators note that although Elijah may have learned a lesson and been provided with a new perspective through the above experience and subsequent instructions, it also served as a rebuke and possible indication of the limitations of Elijah’s understanding. For the conversation both before and after the revelatory events described above were the same. God asked Elijah, “Why are you here?”, to which Elijah responded both times, “I have acted with great zeal for YHVH, etc.”. But the message of the revelatory experience seemed to be that Elijah was meant to understand that the extreme of zealousness was of rare and limited use, and that reliance on the inner peace of silence was preferred. Elijah was instructed to pass on his function to Elisha because of his limited understanding of this message. This echoes the earlier event involving Phinehas in Numbers (thought by many to be one and the same as Elijah, or an earlier incarnation of Elijah) whereby after his rare act of zealousness in killing the Israelite prince and Midianite woman, he was provided a “covenant of peace”, indicating that the path of peace is preferable to the path of violent zealousness.

Elijah first comes upon Elisha plowing a field with the aid of twelve pairs of oxen and taps him as successor with his mantle. Elisha follows after making a sacrifice with a pair of oxen, which he feeds to the people.

Elijah has a couple of final missions before ascending to heaven. One  involves Naboth the Jezreelite refusing to sell or trade his ancestral vineyard to King Ahab, who wanted it. Upon hearing of this refusal, Queen Jezebel arranges for the murder of Naboth based upon false accusations of blasphemy and sedition, whereby Ahab then obtains the vineyard he coveted. YHVH sends Elijah to dress down Ahab about this, for which Ahab repents. YHVH tells Elijah that because of his repentance, Ahab will be spared his life, but God’s vengeance will fall upon his successor. 

Sometime thereafter, Ahab dies in battle with neighboring enemy Aram, and his son, Ahaziah, succeeds to the throne, but is not much better than Ahab. Not too long after ascending to the throne, Ahaziah has a bad fall and suffers injury/illness as a result. He sends messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, concerning whether he will recover. An angel of YHVH then instructs Elijah to intercept the messengers with the message that since Ahaziah did not call upon YHVH, he will die in the sick-bed he is currently occupying. Upon hearing this message from Elijah, Ahaziah sends out a captain with fifty soldiers to bring the impudent Elijah before him. They find him on top of a mountain, whereupon a fire from YHVH consumes them all. Ahaziah sends out another captain with fifty soldiers with the same result. He then sends out yet a third captain, who has brains enough not to challenge Elijah, but instead honor him. Elijah is then instructed by the angel of YHVH to go to Ahaziah with that captain. Elijah then delivers the above message face-to-face to Ahaziah, who  dies as predicted. He is succeeded to the throne by a brother, Jehoram, as he did not have any sons.

The narrative next relates Elijah ascending to heaven, passing his mantle on to Elisha. Elijah and Elisha both know that Elijah’s time has come, and perhaps as a test, perhaps out of modesty, Elijah instructs Elisha not to follow him to Beth-el, but Elisha insists. Elijah’s disciples there also know his time has come. The above scenario is then repeated at Jericho, and a third time at the river Jordan, with Elijah being accompanied by fifty of his disciples. In a scene reminiscent of the Exodus, but on a smaller scale, Elijah folds up his mantle, and upon striking the water with it, the water parts, and he and Elisha cross over on a dry path. As they are crossing over, Elijah asks Elisha if Elisha has any final requests before Elijah leaves him for good. Elisha’s bold response, “May twice as much as your spirit (power – derivative of ‘ruach’) be mine.” Elijah responds that is quite a doozy of a request, but if Elisha is actually able to witness Elijah’s ascent, it will be granted. As they continue to walk, a chariot and horses of fire appear and separate the two, and Elijah ascends to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha does in fact retain consciousness and beholds this wondrous sight. He then picks up Elijah’s mantle which has fallen to earth, strikes the water, and it parts as it had done for Elijah, and Elisha crosses back over. The fifty disciples of Elijah apparently do not see the ascent, but they do witness Elisha parting the water with the mantle, and thus recognize that Elijah’s spirit has passed to Elisha. Although they seem to understand that Elijah is no longer with them, a part of them remains incredulous, and despite Elisha’s protests, they insist on looking for Elijah, thinking that he has maybe just been transported to another place on earth. They search high and low for three days, but can not find Elijah, to which Elisha, who has moved on to Jericho, says, “I told you so.”

Elijah has been connected in secondary sources to both Metatron and Sandalphon. As discussed earlier, archangels Metatron and Sandalphon are variously described as separate beings, one and the same, and as twins.

ELISHA

After the first time reading the above spectacular events, a question came to mind about what appeared to be Elisha’s rather bold, ambitious, and seemingly selfish request to be granted twice the power of Elijah. However, along the same lines as Moses, whose spirit seems to be hovering over all of these events, as we shall see, the subsequent actions of Elisha vindicate him as having no motive other than to be a true, loyal and selfless servant to YHVH.

The first in a series of extraordinary miracles related to Elisha begins in the city of Jericho, which had been famously destroyed under the leadership of Joshua shortly after the Israelites enter the Promised land, but had since been rebuilt at YHVH’s direction. The rebuilt city, however, has a problem with its water supply being impure, and the townsfolk seek Elisha’s assistance. He throws salt at the water source, and says that YHVH has thusly cured the water, which in fact happens, being the first recorded instance of the miracle of water-softening.

Next, while traveling from Jericho to Beth-el, a gang of evil-hearted youths mocks Elisha as a “Baldhead”. Elisha curses them, resulting in forty-two of them being torn apart by two bears who come out of the forest. And thus is Elisha’s reputation as a prophet, miracle-worker and someone not to be trifled with, established.

Meanwhile, back at the farm in the Northern Kingdom, Jeroham, brother of Ahaziah and son of Ahab, rules for twelve years. Although he isn’t great, he isn’t as bad as his mother and father, and removes the pillar of the Baal erected by Ahab.

While Ahab was alive and king, Mesha, the king of Moab, paid tribute to Ahab. Now with Ahab off the scene, Mesha decides to rebel against Israel. So King Jeroham allies with King Jehoshaphat of the southern kingdom of Judah, and the king of Edom to mobilize against Moab. They travel for seven days en route to engage Moab and run out of water. Jehoshapat inquires if there is a prophet available to help them out with their plight, and is led to Elisha. Elisha expresses his scorn for Jeroham, but agrees to assist because of the merit of Jehoshaphat, who is a good king and loyal to YHVH. With the aid of a musician, Elisha enters into prophetic consciousness and declares that the power of YHVH will fill the valley with many pools of water without the aid of wind or rain and will provide them victory over Moab. Sure enough, water appears and they go on to defeat Moab in war.

The next section includes the Haftorah for the portion of Vayeira in Genesis. It relates two stories about Elisha. The first concerns a righteous woman who was the widow of another prophet who fell on hard economic times and was about to lose her two sons into slavery because of debts she could not pay. Her only posession of value remaining is one container of oil. Elisha instructs her to borrow as many empty vessels as possible, and to start filling those vessels from the one container of oil. Miraculously, as in the earlier story concerning Elijah, and the later loaves and fishes story of the Christian Testament, the one container is capable of filling all of the empty containers. Elisha then instructs her to sell the oil, which is enough to pay off the debts and support her family.

The second story concerns a wealthy elderly woman who is childless and whose story parallels that of Sarah. She had always shown great kindness to Elisha, recognizing his spiritual depth. She even made up a room for him to stay in her house whenever he passed through her town. He wanted to repay her with some kind of blessing or favor, to which she declined any such payment. His assistant points out to him her childless state despite her desire to have a child. Much as in the Sarah story, Elisha then tells her that she will bear a son in a year’s time, to which she expresses her disbelief. However, in a year, she does give birth to a son, as prophesied. However, there is more to this story, for some time later, her son dies, and she goes to Elisha in her grief, after placing the corpse on the bed that Elisha would use in her house. There are a few interesting aspects to the events that follow. Elisha instructs his assistant to go ahead of them with Elisha’s staff, and “if you meet anyone, do not greet him and if anyone greets you do not reply; and place my staff on the child’s face.” Elisha then comes, prays to YHVH, and the following takes place, (from the Kaplan translation): “…he went up and lay upon the child, placing his mouth on the child’s mouth, his eyes on the child’s eyes, and his hands on the child’s hands. Then he stretched himself on him; and the child’s body became warm. Then he returned, and walked back and forth in the house; and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.” And thus, through this interesting process, the dead child is brought back to life and returned to his ever-grateful mother. 
    
Elisha the Prophet
(from, Torah Portion Summaries, by Steven J. Gold)

I received an inquiry about the meaning of the stories about the prophet Elisha in the Haftorah of Vayeira narrated in the previous section. Are they simply an inspiration to have faith that miracles do happen or is there more? How did Elisha do these things?
Implicit in these questions is a broader question of how to approach understanding any kind of scripturally-based story, particularly ones conveying miracles. A good beginning point would be specific and personal to each individual. The reader should examine what their initial reaction was to the story, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. What kind of impact, if any, did it have on them? Did it resonate in some way that might be difficult to articulate? What is the feeling behind that resonation? Perhaps it is worth sitting with, meditating on, pondering any such feelings that it evoked to see if further insight and understanding comes forward. If there appeared to be no particular impact on the reader, leaving them indifferent, cold or confused, then, before abandoning any effort at further understanding, it may be worthwhile to resort to other sources to find meaning. Jewish sources have identified a process known by the acronym, PaRDeS: P – Peshat – Plain – literal; R – Remez – Allusion – the entry point into the realm of the figurative, the allegorical; D – Derash – Exposition, a more in-depth homiletical approach, extracting deeper spiritual and ethical teachings; S – Sod – Secret, the deepest mystical, intuitive level beyond the rational, delving into the realm of the nonrational, as distinct from the irrational. Talmud and Midrash are the sources of traditional commentaries addressing the realms of Remez and Derash, while Sod is addressed in Kabbalistic writings.
As the person posing the question posed it to me, I will provide my answers to their questions as to the impact of these stories on me, and why I find them fascinating and worth repeating.
Concerning these and any stories involving miracles, I am always fascinated and inspired by such stories. They convey that the world and the universe is a much more glorious and fantastic place than what we usually encounter in the humdrum existence of our daily lives. If we keep our inner senses attuned, our inner eyes and ears open, we can become more receptive to experiencing such things more regularly in our daily lives. They are often subtle, and can be easily overlooked and ignored, or dismissed without a second thought. Stories of miracles are illustrations of something I firmly believe in, that anything is possible. If we view our lives as self-limiting, then we have defined those limitations and subject ourselves to them. If we view our lives as having limitless possibilities, even if not probabilities, we will have a different approach and perspective.
How did Elisha do these things? Well, to answer that question is a tall order indeed! The short answer is that Elisha followed the spiritual intuition he was provided as a servant of the Lord infused with Divine Guidance. I was fascinated and thrilled by the specifics of these stories as conveying subtle messages about the mechanics of how miracles occur. Also, the true prophet miracle-worker always, ALWAYS, acknowledges that the source for their abilities lies beyond their separative selves, and originates with and is by the grace of a power beyond themselves, for which they never fail to express their gratitude. The Rasputins, the charismatic ego-maniacs of the world, while they may garner significant occult-type of abilities, forget the Source from beyond, which inevitably results in tragic consequences.
The significance to the first story for me lies mostly in the realm of the figurative, not the literal. However, on the level of the literal, I find it interesting that the commodity involved is oil. Oil was not merely used for cooking, it was used for anointing and massaging, and it was used as a fuel for providing functional and votive light. So it is this fuel for light that is being miraculously regenerated and serves as the basis for the continued support for the widow and her family. It leads right into the more figurative realm that this is more than a story and message of physical survival. It conveys an oft-repeated message of spiritual wealth, that what truly nurtures us at the deepest level of the spirit, of inner Divine Light, is always available, free of charge, and in abundance if we open up to it. It is our self-created obstacles that prevent this access. It is up to us to remove the obstacles so that the inspiration can flow unimpeded. That was the state of being of the prophets. They had that kind of access. I do not agree with the common notion that the type of revelation and gifts available to the prophets are not currently available, and will only become available again at the time of the coming of Messiah. I believe everyone has such potential, but few actualize it, because it requires brutally honest effort and self-purification on our part for the Grace to be bestowed, and most of us are afraid to engage in such an undertaking. God will meet us half-way. But most of the time, the horse won’t even go to the water, and even when the horse does go, as we all know, you can’t make him drink.  
The second story stands in contrast to the first. The first involved a materially poor widow with children, while the second involves a materially wealthy married woman who is poor in another fashion, because she is childless. I am quite certain that there have been volumes of commentary written about this because of its complex set of circumstances and the extraordinary miracles of a conception after menopause, and bringing someone back to life. I have not personally encountered these commentaries, so I am strictly shooting from the hip as to how it fascinates me without the benefit of reading any other commentaries. My focus has not been as much on the miraculous conception as it has been on the second miracle of restoring life to the dead. She had never asked Elisha for anything, and didn’t ask him for a child. It was only due to his assistant revealing to Elisha her desire for a child by which Elisha came up with the perfect gift for her due to her faith and her honoring him. But the bestowing of this perfect gift, still due to a deep material desire, leads to the tragedy and grief of her son dying. This is yet another message not to erect the foundation of your life on anything in the relative world, because you subject yourself to the pain of loss. This woman was materially wealthy, but poor without a child. The child was given to her and then taken away. And then, somewhat reminiscent of the enigmatic and oft-debated story of Job, this source of wealth is miraculously restored. It is not clear whether this woman, in going to Elisha in her grief, was requesting or expecting the miracle that was bestowed, but it appears to be the first time she ever requested anything from Elisha, even if it was just for solace.
I can only say that I was fascinated with the procedures involved in bringing the boy back to life, without fully understanding all of it. The details are just fascinating. The preliminary instructions to his assistant, not to become distracted by speaking with anyone along the way, is an illustration of what in kabala is called “kavanah”, one-pointed focused concentration and intention. Within this framework follows placing the staff on the child (and the staff, as I have expounded elsewhere in the context of Moses, is the staff of the serpent power of existential life, of the Shechinah/kundalini), and then lying face to face, eyeball to eyeball, mouth to mouth, hand to hand. The Tree of Life correlates with the human body, and the rudimentary life force/prana/ruach carried through the breath is what brought life to Adam. Sneezing in this case seems to be the equivalent to the first cries of a newborn baby, the expression of inhalation and exhalation, not only of breath, but of life force (think about it, sneezing begins with an inhalation, the “ah”, which is followed by an exhalation, the “choo”). And the sneezing seven times is indicative of energizing the seven primary life force centers identified in yoga as chakras, which have correlates in the kabala’s Tree of Life.


Next follows two short stories about food. In the first, it is noted there is a famine in the land and Elisha has hungry disciples to feed. He orders one to get a large pot going to prepare a stew, and another goes off to collect herbs and mushrooms to throw into the pot. However, as they begin eating, they recognize that the mushrooms are poisonous. Elisha orders some flour to be added to the pot, which neutralizes the poison, and everyone eats to their hearts’ content.

In the second story, a man comes and presents to Elisha twenty loaves of barley bread and some fresh kernels in their husks. Elisha orders him to serve it to the one hundred people who are gathered there, and make sure there is enough for leftovers. Sure enough, despite the protests of the man, in another “loaves and fishes” event, everyone eats to satiation, and there are leftovers.

Next come the stories of Naaman and Gehazi. Naaman is the commander of the army of the king of Aram, and secondary sources claim that he was the person who killed King Ahab in battle. Naaman is also a leper, which the commentaries claim was in the sense of spiritual leprosy as defined in Leviticus 13. Naaman had captured an Israeli girl in a raid, and had made her a servant to his wife. She tells his wife that Elisha can cure Naaman of his leprosy, and with his king’s permission, Naaman seeks out Elisha to be cured. Elisha addresses Naaman through an intermediary, and instructs him to dip seven times in the Jordan and thus be cured. Naaman may have been a little insulted that Elisha would not communicate with him directly, and also felt it preposterous that such a simple thing as bathing in the Jordan would cure him, when he had previously bathed in what he regarded as spiritually superior rivers in Damascus without being cured. He thus leaves in a huff, but his servants prevail upon him to try the cure, after all, what is there to lose? So he acquiesces, and sure enough, he is cured, and his flesh becomes like that of a baby’s bottom. Naaman thus sees the light, goes back to Elisha in all humility and acknowledges the sovereignty of the God of Israel, swearing he will from that day forward worship no other. Elisha gives him permission to take a boatload of earth to build an altar to the God of Israel for his future use in worship (although he tells Elisha he will still have to assist his master, the King of Aram, to bow before another god at the temple at Rimmon). He offers gifts to Elisha, which Elisha refuses to accept (the best things in life are free), thus leading to the related story of Gehazi.

Gehazi is Elisha’s attendant, and wouldn’t mind having some of the booty that Naaman had offered which Elisha turned down. So he chases down Naaman and tells him that Elisha changed his mind and would like for Naaman to give to two new disciples one talent of silver for them to share and a change of clothes for each one. Naaman, in his gratitude, gives them each a talent of silver and a change of clothes. Of course, Gehazi then takes these gifts from his two co-conspirators, and secrets them away in his house. In a scene reminiscent of YHVH asking Adam and Eve about what happened with the serpent, the next time Gehazi appears before Elisha, he denies having done anything wrong, but Elisha knows all, and sends him away with the curse that he and his children will bear Naaman’s leprosy forever, which of course immediately happens.

Next follows the story of the floating axehead. Elisha’s disciples tell him their living quarters are crowded and propose building new digs for themselves on the banks of the Jordan. They will all pitch in to build the new dormitory. Elisha agrees and the building begins. While felling a tree, one of the disciples loses an axehead in the water and is all upset because he borrowed it and didn’t have the money to reimburse the owner. Elisha asks him to point out the spot where it fell into the water, cuts a piece of wood that he throws at the designated spot, and lo and behold, the axehead rises up and the disciple is able to retrieve it.

In the meantime, Aram continued at war with Israel, conducting ambushes and forays. The king of Aram would plan such attacks, but  it began to appear that someone was reading his playbook, because the troops of Israel were always avoiding his ambushes. He thought that he had a mole who was tipping off the Israeli forces, but it was actually Elisha! Someone from the Aram camp (apparently a spy) informs their king that Elisha knows his every move (even what he discusses in his bedroom!), and reveals it to the Israeli king. The king of Aram decides to capture Elisha to eliminate this annoying hindrance, marches to the city of Dothan where Elisha is residing, and surrounds the city. Elisha’s attendant reports this to him with great vexation, but Elisha reassures him to fear not and asks YHVH to open up the eyes of his attendant, so his attendant can see the forces accompanying Elisha: horses and chariot of fire (reminiscent of Elijah’s escort to heaven). The Arameans attack, only to be struck with blindness, as prayed for by Elisha. He then leads them to Samaria, a stronghold of Israel, and has their blindness removed for them to behold that they are now captives of the Israeli army! The king asks permission to kill the captives, but Elisha orders him to feed them and send them on their way, and the king complies. However, the end result is that the Arameans, having been adequately spooked, cease their guerilla forays upon Israel.

This, however, does not stop the Arameans from waging conventional war, and they proceed to lay siege on Samaria, which was already suffering a severe famine and extreme inflation (a donkey’s head cost eighty silver pieces and a quarter of a kav of pigeon’s dung cost five silver pieces). The king of Israel discovers the famine has gotten so bad that the people are resorting to cannibalism, eating their children. He somehow blames Elisha for this and calls for his head (either because Elisha didn’t let him kill the Arameans earlier when he had the chance, or because Elisha has not intervened to put an end to the suffering of the people). Elisha, of course, knows the king is coming, and the king’s heart is softened, as he recognizes that Elisha only does what YHVH directs him to do, and that perhaps this horrible suffering was a consequence of his and his people’s shortcomings.

He expresses his despair to Elisha, who assures him that within twenty-four hours, their suffering will be relieved. Four Israeli lepers hanging around the city gates (they were not allowed into the city), out of desperation decide to throw themselves on the mercy of the Arameans, figuring they are going to die one way or another anyway. They approach the Aramean army camp to find it empty. The army has left in haste, having been spooked by a Divinely created hallucination that a horde of armies allied with Israel was about to descend upon them. The lepers, after plundering the vacated camp, out of fear of being punished for not coming forth, report their discovery to the Israeli king. Upon verifying the lepers’ story and reassuring themselves that it is not a trap, the Israeli people further plunder the camp and obtain much needed food. There was one captain to the King who had doubted Elisha’s prophesy, so Elisha  prophesied that this doubter would not partake of the bounty. When these events occurred, the captain was trampled at the gate to which he was assigned, thus fulfilling this other prophesy. 

Elisha advises the woman whose son he had earlier brought back to life to leave the area for seven years, because of an upcoming famine. She does so, living in the land of the Philistines. However, upon her return, she finds that someone has taken over her house and land, and appeals to the king for its return. Just as she is approaching the king, he is speaking with a servant of Elisha about Elisha’s great deeds, and the servant was relating the story about this woman, just as she shows up! This impresses the king, and the woman confirms the veracity of the story. The king orders her land and produce returned to her.

Elisha then goes to Damascus to see Ben-hadad, king of Aram, who is ill. The king sends Hazael to take a tribute to Elisha and ask if he will survive the illness. Hazael loads up forty camels with the best bounty of Damascus and approaches Elisha with the king’s inquiry. Elisha responds that the king should recover from the illness, but alas, he will die from another cause during the pendency of the illness. Elisha then turns his face away and starts weeping. When Hazael inquires about the reason for Elisha’s sorrow, Elisha responds that he has seen that Hazael will become king of Aram and wreak horrible destruction upon Israel. Hazael returns to Ben-hadad and tells him Elisha said he would have a full recovery from his illness. But the next day, Hazael assassinates Ben-hadad with a wet towel spread across his face, and Hazael ascends to the throne.

The narration recites several events that lead to the same kind of degeneration in Judah that had long since been the way of life in Israel. There is a King Jehoram in Israel, and a King Ahaziah in Judah,  both of whom have ties by blood or marriage with the corrupt house of Ahab.

YHVH has had enough of the house of Ahab, which now has influence in both kingdoms. In accordance with the assurances earlier made to Elijah, YHVH has Elisha send a disciple out to crown Jehu, a son of deceased righteous King Jehosephat of Judah, and a great uncle of current King Ahaziah of Judah, as the new king of Israel, to supplant Jehoram. This results in maternal and paternal bloodlines crossing over the monarchies of both kingdoms, as a son of a former king of Judah is now going to become a king of Israel, just as a relation of a king of Israel had become a king of Judah. Elisha’s instructions are very clear for his disciple to seek out Jehu, who was a commander in Jehoram’s army, to go anoint Jehu as the new king of Israel, and then open the door and flee. The disciple does as instructed, providing specific instructions to kill Jehoram, Jezebel, his mother, and wipe out the entire house of Ahab. Jezebel is not to be afforded a proper burial, but rather to be eaten by the dogs. Although Jehu’s men denigrate the disciple and refer to him as a lunatic, when they are told by Jehu what the disciple said, they immediately recognize him as the new King of Israel and march off with him to accomplish the tasks given to him: to kill Jehoram and all of the house of Ahab.

In the Northern Kingdom, Jehu succeeds in wiping out all of the house of Ahab, including Jezebel, consolidating Jehu’s position as the new king of Israel. He also kills Ahaziah, king of Judah. Through a series of events, Jehoash, the only surviving son of Ahaziah, is crowned king of Judah after his supporters deposed his grandmother, who tried to usurp the throne.

In the Northern Kingdom, due to the return of evil ways following the death of King Jehu, King Hazael of Aram conquers Israel, which has to pay tribute, and this dominion of Aram over Israel continues to the reign of Hazael’s successor son, another Ben-hadad (interesting that Hazael named his son after the king that Hazael had earlier assassinated in order to ascend to the throne). There are some gyrations and further successions, leading again to a situation that the name of the king of both kingdoms is the same: Jehoash.

Then comes a recitation of the death of Elisha the Prophet, accompanied by his two last miracles, one occurring before he dies, and one occurring after his death. Jehoash of Israel planned on battle with the second king Ben-hadad of Aram, to try to free Israel from the yoke of Aram. Elisha had already come down with his final illness, and Jehoash came to see him on his deathbed, crying to him the same words that Elisha had blurted out over the passing of his mentor, Elijah, “Father! Father! Israel’s chariot and horsemen!” Elisha directs Jehoash to prepare to shoot an arrow out the window facing east, Elisha places his hand on the hands of the king, and orders him to shoot the arrow through the open window. He then instructs Jehoash to strike the remaining arrows to the ground, and Jehoash strikes three arrows to the ground. However, there were more arrows remaining, and Elisha angrily tells Jehoash because he held back and did not strike all of the remaining arrows into the ground, that his victory against Aram will not be complete, and he will only win three battles.

Elisha’s final, post-mortem miracle: Elisha’s body had just been laid to rest in his grave, and the grave had not yet been filled in. Nearby, another grave-digging was about to commence when the mourners saw an enemy army from Moab approaching. They hastily threw the corpse of their loved one into Elisha’s grave. When this dead man’s body rolled and touched Elisha’s corpse, the dead man came back to life!

In accordance with Elisha’s deathbed blessing/prophecy, Jehoash  succeeded with his three victories to secure back from Ben-hadad the cities that had been previously conquered, but Aram would live on to fight another day.


CONCLUSION

In pondering the sequence of these connected stories as they appear in the canon, a few observations come to mind. First, although there are extensive secondary source elaborations related to all of these figures, it is interesting that the stories as they appear in the canon itself grow more detailed with each successive story. Enoch’s story is extremely terse, Phinehas’ is still fairly sparse, but with more detail, Elijah’s is much more extensive than Phinehas’, and Elisha’s contains the most detail. Second, it appears that there is an increase in spiritual power and maturity with each successive figure, as evident to some extent in the primary sources, and elaborated upon in the secondary sources. Phinehas’ zeal, which was appropriate enough in one particular instance, is somewhat inappropriately carried forward by Elijah. Elijah is gently shown the error of his ways. Elisha, through being graced, at his request, with twice the spiritual power of Elijah, overcomes the imperfection of imbalanced zeal, as illustrated by the mercy he displays towards the captured Arameans (even though some of his other stories would indicate more of an exercise of stern justice rather than of compassionate mercy). While Elijah was fearful of his enemies and fled from them in despair, Elisha, by contrast, appears fearless and confronts his enemies, rather than fleeing from them. He has total faith and confidence in his Backup. And yet, perhaps because of his flaws, it is the more imperfect, and thus, more human, Elijah who has assumed a more prominent place in Jewish custom and tradition up to the present day.

And thus ends the stories of six biblical/spiritual brothers connected at birth: Enoch, Metatron, Sandalphon, Phinehas, Elijah and Elisha.





[1] The commentators are also quick to seize on the fact that Enoch’s three hundred and sixty-five mortal years was much shorter than all of the others listed before and after him in the genealogy, who all lived more than nine hundred years, with the exception of Noah’s father, Lamech, who lived seven hundred and seventy-seven years. Although I haven’t come across any discussion about this in the literature, it is a bit curious that there is another Enoch around this time, who was Cain’s first-born, and after whom Cain named a city that he had built. There is also another Lamech who is descended from Cain, Enoch’s great-great grandson, whose daughter might possibly have been the same Naamah who became Noah’s wife. So we have one Lamech who is Noah’s father, and another Lamech who is possibly Noah’s father-in-law. Could this possibly be some literary device creating evil doubles? It is also a bit curious that there is more detail about the descendants of Cain, who seem inconsequential as they were supposedly all wiped out in the Flood; who they were, what they did, the naming of women in addition to men, than in the sparse recitation relating the descendants of Seth. In any case, the Bible doesn’t make it easy to keep all of this straight!
[2] There was an activist, anti-Roman, nationalist political group around the time of the destruction of the Second Temple that called themselves the Zealots, deriving their inspiration and authority from this incident involving Phinehas, the first Zealot. They were key players and leaders in the revolt against Rome that led to the destruction of the Second Temple. They are most famous for their determination, dedication and fierceness, as illustrated in their stand at a fortress called Masada on a desert hilltop. When it became clear that the Romans were about to overrun the fortress, the men killed all of the women and children, and then killed themselves, rather than be slaughtered or captured by the Romans.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Quote of the Week 304 - Light


The soul is light, the mind is light, and the body is light – light of different grades; it is this relation which connects man with the planets and stars.

-- Hazarat Inayat Khan

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Quote of the Week 303 - What Prompts the Search


Why can’t human beings sit still? We sit down, but the momentum in our bodies is still racing, scared. I wanted to know what was underneath that. I wanted to know what was underneath my thinking.

-- Michael Stone, “On Track with Paul Newman” article in Shambhala Sun magazine, Sept. 2014 edition

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Yoga-Like Techniques in the Jewish Tradition - Lost and Found?


Yoga-Like Techniques in the Jewish Tradition – Lost and Found?

I recently received the below questions via email. I am sharing here my slightly revised response:

“I am investigating the ways in which certain elements of Judaism seem to have been stripped out of or fallen away from our practice over time.  Most notably, traditions like Yoga have preserved physical techniques and practices for sublimation or energy or for entering higher states of consciousness. 

Do you know of any Jewish literature (preferably from the Tanach or Gemara) that discusses actual practices and techniques a Jew can use in order sublimate sexual energy? What about other techniques/practices like integral breathing that are described by our sages?

Why have these techniques been lost to the Jewish tradition?” 

It is difficult to answer the question about why certain techniques of spiritual development have been lost to Jewish tradition. I can offer some observations and speculations (Jews have a long history of engaging in speculation!). For whatever reason, traditional Jewish practice that has evolved over the centuries has focused mostly on a few spiritual approaches that parallel certain yogic approaches. The primary traditional Jewish approaches are threefold: 1) devotional, comparable to bhakti yoga, which engages the emotions, found in our prayer practices both in shul and at home; 2) intellectual, comparable to jnana/gyana yoga, which engages the intellect, found in our study practices both in yeshiva and solitary; 3) through action, comparable to karma yoga, as contained in the directive to observe the mitzvot. What is lacking in these traditional Jewish approaches are techniques related to training and coordinating the body, breath, and mind leading to meditation. This is the system of ashtanga/raja yoga. My intuitive suspicion/hunch, based upon some hints and evidence I have found in my studies, is that these kind of techniques probably have existed and continue to exist in Jewish practice, but have been and remain traditionally reserved for secret circles of kabalists, and have not been committed to writing the way that other elements of our “oral” tradition have been eventually written down, or in the manner found in yogic literature. I believe that mystical Judaism, even more so than many other mystical traditions, maintains that such practices are rightly preserved for direct transmission from master to disciple through demonstration and unspoken revelation, more than any kind of traditional verbal or written teachings. So in some sense, these techniques have not been “lost” or “stripped out of or fallen away from our practices over time”, but rather sustained, but through small secretive circles, even to this day. If you are meant to be exposed to such teachings, then you will be invited/happen upon them when you are ready. I am a great believer in the idea that the guidance you need will come to you (often times in unexpected ways), but you need to be open and receptive to it (without expectations or pre-conceived notions), or you may miss it.

Concerning Jewish techniques for sublimating sexual energy, breathing, meditation, for entering higher states of consciousness, I am not aware of very much in Tanach or Talmud. You generally have to go to what I call “secondary” sources. One reference is made to what has become known as the “prophetic position” in the Tanach at I Kings 18:42 concerning Elijah bending down to the ground and putting his face between his knees. I imagine this as similar to the child’s pose in yoga. There are other references to raising up from this kneeling position and spreading the hands upward (II Chronicles 6:13 and Ezra 9:5). An oft-cited quote in support of Jewish meditation comes from I Kings 19:11-12, Elijah perceiving the “still, thin sound/still, small voice”.

Concerning secondary sources, I commend you to the works of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. You can find an entry on my website under “Bibliography/Book Reviews” about him and his writings. There is also a website dedicated to him with a particular article on point: www.solitude-hisbodedus.blogspot.com/2009/05/prophetic-meditative-position.html

A secondary source relating specific Jewish breathing techniques quite similar to yoga-type of breathing techniques is a Chasidic site: www.inner.org/meditate/default.htm

Concerning sublimation of sexual energy, I refer you to an article on my website under the “Articles” section, “Spiritual Sexuality: Kundalini, Tantra, Taoism and Judaism”. It refers to an article on a Jewish website which I viewed critically.

I am happy you discovered my website and found it inspiring. I encourage you to look over my articles on Jewish meditation. These are not just inventions that I concocted from my imagination, they are based in traditional yogic and Jewish practices (as confirmed by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in his books). Try them, you might like them!

 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Quote of the Week 302 - The Value of Solitude


This much is certain, that, without absolute solitude, I cannot produce the smallest thing.

-- Johan Wolfgang von Goethe

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Quote of the Week 301- The Right Path


You know you’re on the right path if your capacity for holding paradox expands, your sense of humor broadens, your commitment to justice deepens, your compassion for and protection of life grows, and your love of people transcends race, color, creed, tribe, religion, politics, and sexual preference.

--Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Quote of the Week 300 - The Sense of the Mysterious


The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as all serious endeavour in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that there is.

-- Albert Einstein, The World As I See It (1949)