Thursday, September 20, 2007

D'var Sutra: Resh Lakish, Angyyyulimala and Yom Kippur

It is the period of the ten days between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur — that time when the myth (which I do not mean in any disparaging way — there is nothing quite so powerful as myth) tells us we are between life and death, and that we must put all our thoughts towards at-one-ment and return to God.

It is the time when we review all our sins and do the work of repairing what has been broken in our lives — relationships, agreements, our own moral sense. Sin in Judaism does not carry the same meaning as it does in Christianity. In fact, I tend to think it is closer to the Buddhist concept of “unskillful means,” that is to say that the sinful action was an attempt, however misguided, to reach wholeness from a place of delusion.

I find the words of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik on the subject of sin and the energy that is locked up in it to capture the experience of what happens in meditation when we awaken from the grip of one kind of delusional thinking or another:

“Sin is not to be forgotten, blotted out or cast into the depths of the sea. On the contrary, sin has to be remembered. It is the memory of sin that releases the power within the inner depths of the soul of the penitent to do greater things than every before. The energy of the sin can be used to bring one to new heights.”

He then goes on to use the example of the life of Resh Lakish, a sage of the Talmudic era who before he came to the study of Torah was a much feared bandit. When he repented and returned, Soloveitchik says (in agreement with all the sages of the Talmud) this is what raised him to the level of the sages, it was the energy from released sin that elevated him to “unimaginable heights.”

Certainly, one of Resh Lakish’s great teachings, recorded in the Talmud, could have come from the mouth of the Buddha:

"No man commits a sin unless struck by momentary insanity". . . . . . .

. . . . . . . I digress however because of my love of story. And that’s not what is important here. What’s important is that we all sin. And that we can use awareness, mindfulness and compassion towards ourselves and others to wake up and release the energy of our sins to ride that energy towards unimaginable heights.

May you have an easy fast.

Excerpts from Another Queer Jewish Buddhist
Read in entirety . . .

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