The Path of Blessing (Marcia Prager) – notes on the book

These are my personal notes that I made when I read: Prager, Rabbi Marcia (1998) Path Of Blessing: Experiencing the Energy and Abundance of the Divine, Jewish Lights. When I make notes, they are just to jog my own memory of the book, so I am aware that they may not always make sense to the general reader. However, I hope they are of some use to you, and perhaps also inspire you to read the book itself. The ideas that I put in square brackets do not come from the writer of the book, but are my own responses as I read; references to ‘Zalman’ mean Rabbi Zalman Shachter-Shalomi (z’l). 

Introduction
  • 3 Bracha (blessing) is really mindfulness practice
  • 4 Triangle of God – us – the world
  • 4 Gratitude and love practice
  • 5 Rabbis – prayer in temple of the heart
  • 6 ‘Our people’ shows my starting point and does not exclude non-Jews
The spiritual practice of brakhot
  • 13 a bracha separates a moment to make it holy
  • 13 a bracha turns on the shefa abundant flow
  • 13 Blessing maintains balance in our psyche
  • 14 we suffer if we fail to praise
  • 16 Blessing reminds me of God in everything
Language and God
  • 21 Creation through speaking, so God expresses Creation
  • 23 Naming something is no an imposition, but an act of discernment (or recognition)
  • 24 Speak ourselves and the world towards holiness
  • 26 Hebrew is a ‘depth’ language
  • 27 Each letter has a meaning
  • 27 We don’t ‘read’ Hebrew, we decipher it.
  • 28 Our religious vocabulary must change with life stage and experience
Baruch – a fountain of blessings
  • 31 Talmud: “One should not toss a bracha from one’s mouth.
  • 31 Rashi: “A bracha should be said slowly and deliberately. Don’t rush through as if you are carrying a heavy burden and cannot wait to be free of it!”
  • 32 Prepare for a bracha
  • [Aleph is the place to where God withdraws to make space for Otherness, for Creation. It is the place where all giving originates.]
  • 36 Aleph to Beit – “the Wholly One becomes the Holy One” [beautiful!!]
  • 36 Beit in gematria is 2; house
  • 36 The story of abundance begins with beit (2)
  • 37 Reish = 200; head, container-ness
  • 37 Kaf = 20; cupped hands
  • 40 On a gematria table, beit-reish-kaf = 222
  • 40 Breicha = pool / fountain
  • 41 Baruch is powerful in itself
  • 42 Bereich = knee
  • 45 God travels incognito and suddenly, with awe, we notice
  • 46 Humility is knowing we are part of something much bigger
  • 46 I recognise myself, and therefore you also, as sacred What is your story? What can you touch in me?
  • 46 We are all part of God, and have a role to play
  • 46 Humility means living in the bond of connectedness
  • 47 Anavah / humility — most expanded and most mundane consciousness are in harmony — 48 Rabbi Dov Baer, Maggid of Mezritch: cantillation shows strong break in between the two words Ya’akov Ya’akov, but smoothness between Moshe Moshe; Dov Baer says that Moses’ two levels of consciousness were in harmony in Moses who was humble, but not in Jacob. 49 We can develop the harmonious consciousness. 50 Moshe constant consciousness of Ya’akov moments of consciousness.
  • 51 True humility is true nobility
  • 53 Pesel = idol, something less than whole (pasul = Torah with an scribe’s error in it)
  • 54 Serve God, the Source of Life and Creation, and be true
Atah – a fountain of blessings are You

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev wrote a powerful invocation that reads as a sacred love-poem:

Du, Du, Du!
You! You! You!
I want to sing a ‘You-Song’ to You!
Du, Du, Du!
Where can I find You?
And where can I not find You?
Wherever I go: You! – Wherever I stay: You!
Only You! – None but You! – Again You!
Always You!
Du, Du, Du, Du!
When things go well: You! – God forbid, ill: You!
AyDu, Du, Du … Du, Du, Du!
Du, Du, Du … Du, Du, Du!
You, You, You!
Skyward: You! Earth: You! Above: You! Below: You!
Du, Du, Du … Du, Du, Du!
You! You! You!
Wherever I turn myself: You!
Wherever I remain: You!
Du!

  • 60 Only the language of relationship can take me to God. I must say You.
  • 60 Intimacy with God – see God shimmering in everything
  • 61 Heschel: every ‘you’ is God, and must be in order not to become a ‘use-object’.
  • 62 Buber’s I-Thou inspired by his declining company to a boy who later committed suicide
  • 63 Buber: “all real living is meeting”
  • 63 ‘You’ is my affirmation of God and that we can be in relationship with God
  • 64 ‘Image of God’ means we are ‘theomorphic’ (not that God is like us). [NB God is not in our image.]
  • 64 ‘Thou’ (and therefore Consciousness) is the Ground of Being
  • 64 We / I am a result of God’s longing to express and be known [which means you are too]
  • 65 panim el panim to know God ‘face to face’
  • 65 In our turning to face God, God turns to face us [‘Face’ – Levinas]
  • 66 Feminine = brucha at
  • 68 Ancient forms of ‘you’, ati (fem.) atah (masc.) differ in final letters yud and heh, which together spell Yah meaning God. 68 Zohar: God is fully present only when masculine and feminine are both present

Yah, where shall I find You?
High and hidden is Your Place;
And where shall I not find You?
Your Presence fills Time and Space.
I have sought Your nearness,
With all my heart I called You!
And going out to meet You,
I found You coming toward me.
[Yehudah HaLevi]

Naming God
  • 70 ‘Not-Two’
  • 73 To name frames a relationship
  • 76 Hebrew letters and syllables express the essence of something, and creates it
  • 80 God is not a name but a description of one role / aspect
  • 81 Eheyeh asher eheyeh = existence unfolding. “I am the Oneness that lives and points towards life.”
  • 81 Tikkunei Zohar: “Not thought at all can grasp God.”
  • [Why say Eheyeh asher eheyeh then on that occasion? The people were going to have to believe possible all kinds of things outside of their past experiences or current understandings. They would have to entertain new possibilities, become something new themselves – evolve. The name given was a teaching – to be prepared for the new, the unexpected. The people must be in the image of this aspect of God – willingness to be different, go somewhere new, take a different shape, have no strategic plan or future goals. This reminds us that God can be different for the needs of the moment, new to each person and generation. And we must be too.]
The Name Beyond Name – a fountain of blessings are You, whose name is YHVH
  • 86 Every time we breathe, we breath the Name of God
  • 87 To attempt God’s Name is to breathe life
AlephYHVH and Aleph: unity and infinity
  • 89 Rabbi Levi Yitzchak – Says Isaiah: “Peace to the one who is far and peace to the one who is near.” For one whose soul is in balance realizes that s/he is far from God, yet at the same time knows that s/he is near to God. [We fee] trembling awe when we think of God as utterly beyond. But from the sense that God is close, love arises.
  • 94 Human heart = ‘Temple’ for Shechinah (in-dwelling presence of God)
  • 94 God is outside (transcendent) and within us (immanent)
  • 94 Aleph = hand beckoning downwards from God, and the hand of God iin us reaching back and upwards
Adonai­ – a fountain of blessings are You, whose Name is Adonai 
  • 99 Address God with an attribute (e.g. Brich rachamana malka d’alma marei d’ahi pitta – the Compassionate One Ruler of the universe, maker of the bread)
  • 99 Yotzeir = making from something; 100 Borei = create from nothing;
  • 100 HaRachaman The Merciful One rechem = womb; m’kor hachayim Source of Life; Ein Sof the Limitless, without End; Chei Ha-Olamim Life Force of Time and Space; El Elyon the Most High; Ma’ayan Raz the Mysterious Well; Goel Saving Power; Atika Kadisha The Ancient Holy One; Yah Breath of Life; El Ro’i God Who Sees Me; HaMakom the Place of the World, or the Place we go to; HaShem the Name.
  • 102 Adon as One with ‘craft’, mastery over Creation
  • 104 We are the means by which the Master Craftsman expresses Himself [I like Zalman’s gender-neutral term ‘God-self’]
Eloheinu
  • 107 Baal Shem Tov: “Once a person knows God is hidden, God is not really hidden.”
  • 108 A fountain of blessings are You The-Eternal-Breath-Of-Life-Beyond-And-Within, Divine Expansiveness Concentrated within our World
  • 109 The first ‘commandment’ (literally, ‘saying’, that was inscribed in the two tablets of stone) is ‘I am The first ‘commandment’ (literally, ‘saying’, that was inscribed in the two tablets of stone) is ‘I am YHVH [The Compassionate One] your Elohim [Absolute Power]” links with a) the Shema, in which the middle pair of words is YHVH Eloheinu, and b) a bracha, which begins baruch atah YHVH Eloheinu … [these represent the expansive chesed abundantly loving side of God, and the gevurah disciplining, containing side of God]
  • 110 Rabbi Schneur of Liadi taught that God is both expansive and contracting, chesed and gevurah, that this is the kabbalistic interpretation of Ps 84:12 Ki shemesh v’magein, ­YHVH Eloheinu “For the Lord God is a sun and a shield.” The phrase in the amidahhagadol v’hagibor – incorporates both sides (gibor shares the same root as gevurah)
  • 111 God is context and content, creating from the outside, and sustaining from the inside
  • 112 Elohim = Aleph God lamed channelled heh into life and yud toward mem abundant generosity
  • 112 Gevurah [firm boundedness] is, like chesed a source of love
  • 113 Gevurah prevents excessive giving
  • 115 Job “from my flesh shall I see God” Baal Shem Tov “from the physical we can perceive the spiritual”
Melech
  • 116 A fountain of blessings are You The-Eternal-Breath-Of-Life-Beyond-And-Within, Divine Expansiveness Concentrated within our World, Channeling Creative Power to Manifest
  • 118 Teach children to see God in themselves and in each other [First Biblical reference to this idea is the image of God in ourselves and each other]
  • 119 Beware inflicting ‘God-abuse’, threatening children with a punitive God
  • 123 Melech = mem-lamed-kaf = waters of life source … channelled … to cup (us as receivers). 124 Melech is a conduit for God
  • 125 Kabbalah = ‘sitting’ is code for the flow of God-energy into the world. So invoking God on a throne = inviting God-energy to flow into us
  • 125 God wants to fill us, and we want to be filled by God
HaOlam
  • A fountain of blessings are You The-Eternal-Breath-Of-Life-Beyond-And-Within, Divine Expansiveness Concentrated within our World, Channeling Creative Power to Manifest as the Mystery of Consciousness becoming Time-Space
  • 130 HaOlam = ‘the’ olam ie universe (ie space); l’olam = towards olam ie forever (ie time)
  • 132 We are infinitely tiny in the universe; we are also infinitely large compared to the sub-atomic world
  • 135 Space-time and matter ‘inter-are’; consciousness and reality / existence ‘inter-are’
  • [Olam takes us into the lived experience of One-ness and that we ‘inter-are’.]

Fix your mind on Me.
Give your heart’s love to Me.
Consecrate all your actions to My service.
Hold yourself as nothing before Me.
To Me then shall you come.
Truly I promise,
for you are dear to me.
[Bhagavad Gita]

[Focus on God, love devotedly, serve, surrender self, join and embrace, be loved by God.]

Using a bracha to introduce a mitzvah
  • 146 Intimacy with God stirs us to do
  • 146 God makes us holy, through our fulfilling mitzvoth [ or is it that sanctification is always a double-act between us and God?]
  • 146 “to live sacred lives through sacred action”
  • 147 root of mitzvah is tzadi-vav; tzadi = right action, shaping energy; vav = join, project
  • 147 mitzvah = make sustained commitment to actions revealing Divinity in Creation
  • 148 “be holy as I am holy”
  • 148 Connecting to and serving others is integral to the holy life
  • 149 “domesticate the peak experience” = bringing expanded consciousness into everyday life
  • 150 bikkur cholim = visiting the sick
  • 151 Tallit = reminder of the presence of God, and commitment to mitzvoth. T’fillin = Torah passages. Mezzuzah = shema, God’s unity, return God’s love with ours
  • 152 Mitzvot are ethical imperatives from the collective wisdom of Judaism and have greater force than personal values or choices
  • 152 Do good, because God requires it of me
  • 153 Save time by having no bracha for Tzedakah (charity)
  • 153 Jews once felt obligated; now we choose to be obligated
  • 154 Noah: humanity and all world. Abraham: Jewish insight into God
  • [Torah was revealed at Sinai in the silent aleph]
  • 156 Strip away and risk everything to hear God. We hear God from inside ourselves. Moses heard God with Moses’ own voice. [Are these the inner imperatives we simultaneously hear and obey in the shema?]
  • [Wed yetzer tov which is God, and yetzer ra which is our impulse; ie wed authority and authenticity.]
  • 158 To do a mitzvah is to enter into I-Thou with God
  • 158 Reshape behaviour to have more experience of inter-being with God
  • 159 “Each time we make love with God, we stand at Sinai in Atzliut, in that timeless kiss of shared being.”
  • 164 Tap ancient wisdom to serve the future; restore mystical tradition; meditation; psycho-spiritual prayer and joyous celebration from Chasidism
  • [Borrow the wisdom underlying mitzvoth as principles for today]
  • 165 Mustn’t reject tradition, but also not be a slave to it – join in renewal
  • 165 Zohar: Torah is an unripe fruit of Divine wisdom
  • 166 Kotzker Rebbe: God is wherever we let Him in
  • 168 Meister Eckhardt: “If the only prayer you say in your entire life is ‘Thank you’, that would suffice.”
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