At the Gates of Heaven
by Velvel "Wally" Spiegler
You could include
spirituality among all the other buzzwords that are current today, like democracy,
rights, freedom, morality and all those words that roll off tongues, glibly.
But spirituality has a distinct flavor and meaning that serious seekers find
themselves, somewhere on a path that leads to self-awakening. Some of us
on the path are beginners while some are nearly accomplished masters; it
makes little difference where you are because the “Gates of Heaven” are a
Jewish tradition tries hard, though sometimes pitifully, to relate that the entrance to the “Gates” is the alignment of our personalities with our souls. In more familiar terms, it means aligning ourselves with God and Torah. Rabbi Lawrence Kushner put in succinctly when he wrote, “The Pentateuch is God’s Torah; each one of us is our own Torah whose purpose in life is to align our Torah to His Torah”.
You may ask, “why travelling on the road to heaven—or biblically, the road to Canaan—is so urgently important for those on the spiritual journey”? I think that if a survey were taken to determine just what most people want in their lives, I think we would find that they want a just and moral society where people can flourish in accord with their aspirations. I suppose everyone differs on his or her opinion of what constitutes morality and prosperity; but for spiritual seekers the diversity is greatly diminished.
The subject of purity must be addressed before anyone can hope to enter into spiritual worlds. The Torah has much to say on purity and purification rituals. Torah underscores cleanness, not cleanliness. Cleanliness implies hygienic benefits, while halachah has something else in mind. Cleanness suggests that impurities in our souls block a clear vision to holiness. Our emotions are the prime culprit that muddies the view of our pure souls. Anger and guilt keep our attention focused on the future; worry and fear disregards the present moment to the extent that we become obsessed with the past.
Feelings are the key to the entrance of all worlds: the physical, the emotional, the mental, and the spiritual.
Feelings are the messages from our personalities; they tell us what to do, what to say and mostly how to think. Similarly, we also acquire instructions for living from our souls. Soul teachings are the essence of God’s commandments; halachah is symbolic of natural spiritual laws. Deuteronomy 11:26 delivers the following message,
“See, this day I set before you blessing and curse: blessing, if you obey the commandments of
the Lord your God which I enjoin upon you this day; and curse, if you do not obey the
Commandments of the Lord your God, but turn away from the path which I enjoin upon you
this day and follow other gods”.
So a choice is always imposed upon our every action: follow where your emotions lead you, which are linked to disobeying the commandments; or follow your soul, your heart, God’s laws. The former brings forth pain, fear, doubt and illness, while the latter conveys love, trust and compassion. It’s merely our resistance to our hearts messages that causes stress in our lives.
The first step in purifying ourselves of unwanted emotions is to experience the emotions. This is called emotional awareness. Resisting the emotion—a defensive devise that we’re quite skillful at—prevents us from exploring them. To feel them, enables us to learn from them, their ways and their meanings. Our emotions are our friends who bring news of what threatens us in the external world. Resisting them closes the door on them, and produces stress. Once you begin to understand your emotions—why and what brings them on—you can change how they function. By doing that we learn from fear and doubt to love and trust. There is nothing to do, but just notice and feel them as they arise. Emotional awareness is not a form of pop-psychology; it’s spiritual healing in a Jewish way. We have to come to grips with the notion that Judaism is not our birth identity (the religion we were born into); it’s a highly effective system of spirituality which affords all the blessings we need for a good life, like healing for example.
These ideas are echoed once more in the familiar paragraph from the Sh’ma, Deuteronomy 11:13 where God states that the children of Israel will receive all they need to live abundantly if they will only obey His commands. These words are then paraphrased in the negative if the Israelites fail to comply with the laws. Through these verses we learn to appreciate the wisdom and compassion of the Holy One, blessed be He.
The adult stage of our lives is characterized biblically by the forty year wandering through the desert in search of the Promised Land. In order to initiate the journey, the Israelites had to cross the Sea of Reeds, but which would have been impossible with Pharaoh and his charioteers in hot pursuit of the fledgling nation. Their intent was to capture them and enslave them once more. Of often do we stand at the brink of fear, worried that something disastrous is about to happen? That’s how the Israelites felt. What did Moses do? He waited patiently, even in the face of the Egyptian onslaught. When the right moment arose, he raised his staff and God caused the sea to part. Moses had full trust in God and accepted whatever outcome would befall the Israelites. Abraham also accepted God’s decree as he prepared to offer his beloved Isaac as a sacrifice. Allowing ourselves to feel the fear and trusting the outcome is called “acceptance”. Ultimately we must accept what we’re resisting. When you accept the totality of your life, you accept whatever you experience. You accept your resistance also. Then you become a passionate and serene friend with yourself.