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Thought Of The Week

Soul and Midrash

I want to thank those who participated in our Days of Awe services; your presence and spirit made it worth it for all of us who worked so hard to create a beautiful and meaningful experience.

Your presence and appreciation of our afternoon Yom Kippur program was especially noted. As most of you know, we now have two afternoon study sessions, with our musical program in between. The response to each was fantastic. The second study session is in place of Yom Kippur Minchah service. While there is something beautiful about that rather sparse service, with the opportunity to read the book of Jonah, there has been much greater response to another teaching session. It reminds us how strong the desire for interpersonal and spiritual growth is. Most of us are "good people with bad habits"; all of us need to master the wisdom of working with our souls and the souls of others. The work is difficult, but the benefits to our lives and those around us are enormous.

This Shabbat, the Shabbat of Beginnings, that wisdom of study goes on. One thing I want to study is the idea of the soul. You probably know well the idea of the ego self, to be regulated by the higher self. The baseline of the higher self is the observer/objective mind, in which we put aside for a moment the agendas of the ego self, and approach life instead, for a moment or two, with a kind of detached curiosity. From there we try to understand what is happening inside of us, in others, and what is happening in the moment. We then ask what values are at stake, the likely consequences of an act or point of view, and so forth. There are many rungs in the higher self, all the way into a spiritually contemplative state, and maybe even knowledge of God.

I use the term "higher self" and "spirit" to define that realm. The idea of the soul, however, is left out. Sometimes I think of the soul as the feeling and imaging aspect of the higher self, often expressed as the "deeper self." The soul is more closely connected to experience than thought is; it is also closely connect to bodily experience. I think of the soul as where we experience art, beauty and love, and the deepest truths. I think at a certain point, spirit and soul merge.

For the morning study session this Shabbat, I want to begin a study for a few weeks about the idea of the soul, as a different aspect of the inner life from the Higher Self.

For our Torah study time, I would like to share with the larger congregation a study of Midrash we did a few months ago with the Lunch-then-Learn Shabbat afternoon study. Midrash is a collection of mostly non-legal literature of the ancient rabbis. It ranges from close analysis of biblical texts, to philosophic quests to amazing excursions into fantasy and imagination. The Midrash is often a deep resource for the wisdom of the ancient rabbis. For the next few weeks, I would like to bring a few sections of Midrash for each Torah portion, to appreciate its beauty and wisdom.

Shabbat Shalom, and Chag Sam'each!

Rabbi Mordecai Finley


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