Visiting rabbi: Freedom is a verb
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Visiting rabbi: Freedom is a verb

Freedom is complicated, says Rabbi Alan Lew. In fact, he adds, "part of our problem as a culture is our limited idea" of liberation.

Lew — who headed Cong. Beth Sholom in San Francisco for 15 years and now serves as rabbi emeritus there — will be scholar-in-residence at Temple Israel of Ridgewood this weekend. Founding director of Makor Or, a center for Jewish meditation, he will speak at Shabbat services April 7 and 8 and lead a two-hour guided meditation session on the morning of April 9.

Following kiddush on Saturday, Lew will discuss "Pesach Z’man Cheruteinu: The Four Cups and the Four Faces of Spiritual Liberation."

"There’s a lot of commentary on that," the San Francisco rabbi told The Jewish Standard, pointing out that in Exodus 6:6-7, God uses four different verbs to describe the process of liberation.

The first, "hotzeti, talks about letting go," said Lew, "not only physical leave-taking, but leaving behind whatever stale or outworn situation you find yourself in."

Lew will focus on the idea of physical leave-taking during his Sunday talk, "Yetziat Mitzraim: Leave-taking and Spiritual Transformation." According to Lew, sacred literature — whether Jewish, Christian, or Buddhist — is replete with instances of individuals leaving their homes to encounter God. For example, in "Lech-Lecha," Abraham is commanded to leave his home for a place that God will show him.

"The Exodus story is a paradigm shift," says Lew. "It isn’t [just] one person going off, but everyone leaving and encountering God." The result of the shift was a "retranslation of the idea of leave-taking," he adds, noting that it has come to signify an "inner spiritual reorientation." Lew points out that the most common Hebrew word for meditation, "hitboddidut," actually means "leave-taking."

God uses three other verbs in talking to Moses about liberation, says Lew, citing the word "hitzalti," used to indicate that God will save the Jews from servitude. Still, he notes, this is not freedom for its own sake. "[God] takes [the Jews] into His own service," says Lew. Therefore, we are "becoming free to become what we must be, to express our divinely given gifts as humans."

The third verb, "v’galti," talks about redemption with an outstretched arm. "In our lives, ge’ulah (redemption) means that we must be actively mindful that every moment is a gift from God," says Lew. The fourth verb, "l’kachti" — through which God states that he will take the Jews to be His people — has been interpreted by the rabbis to mean that we will be "taken out of our own egos, our own selves, and brought into a larger sense of who we are — part of all being," says Lew.

According to Lew, leave-taking is a prerequisite to spiritual transformation, whether it be a transformed awareness of our environment, of ourselves, or of the nature of God. He points out that name changes are used throughout the Bible to indicate transformation, and describes the Bible as "one transformation scene after another."

"Jacob’s name is changed to Israel after he wrestles with the stranger," says Lew, describing this as a transformed awareness of self. In addition, the patriarch registers a changed awareness of his environment in the incident with the ladder, stating, "Surely the Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it."

At the April 9 workshop, following an hour of light yoga stretching and guided meditation, Lew will invite participants to form small groups and engage in text study on the theme of leave-taking. Those interested in attending, he says, should wear comfortable clothing — and "if they choose to sit on the floor, they should also bring cushions."

For further information about the weekend, call the synagogue office, (’01)-444-93’0.

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