Higher and Higher
Mattot 2011/5771
KOSHER SUTRA ‘If someone takes a vow…according to whatever comes from his mouth he shall do’ (Numb 30:3)
SOUL SOLUTION Connect with the higher realms
BODY BENEFITS Free the spine

The 17th-Century play Tartuffe ridiculed people who feign religious virtue. Although Moliere’s comedy was brilliantly written and finely observed, it was almost immediately banned by King Louis XIV due to the influence of the Archbishop of Paris. The latter threatened excommunication for anyone who saw the play, performed in it or even read it. It’s never been easy working as an actor.

The Kosher Sutra comes from the words of Moses who discusses the issue of an oath, a shavua. Sincerity with our words is such an important virtue that it is a key part of Biblical lore and there are large consequences for breaking a vow. As a result we are encouraged to avoid making vows wherever possible. Another word for an oath is neder and the opening service of Yom Kippur, Kol Nidrei, is framed around releasing ourselves from all vows that we may have made. We are encouraged to be true to our word, and we can do this without making grand public statements; much stronger is the person who can be quiet, sincere and develop that inner strength.

There was a revered yogic teacher known as The Mother (1878-1972) who ran the Ashram for Sri Aurobindo in India for over fifty years. She taught that sincerity is the ‘fundamental virtue to be cultivated’ on the spiritual path, and placed it at the centre of her yogic practice. In her understanding, sincerity means not just being honest with other people, but honest with ourselves. This is often the hardest path of all. She explained that we should ‘never try to deceive oneself, never let any part of the being try to find out a way of convincing the others…never to let anything pass, telling oneself ‘That is not important, next time it will be better’. Oh! It is very difficult…Try – try, to see, try for half an hour, you will see how difficult it is!’ (p31, The Sunlit Path). The words of our mouth count.

How do we develop this inner part of our yogic practice? It clearly isn’t about the robes we wear, the size of our hat or any of our external garments.

The rabbis had an interesting practice that catapults us to the heart of the Bibliyogic method. It is a set of physical tools that can effect an inner transformation. The Talmud gives two examples of specific choreography for prayer that work from the outside in, starting with the physical body and ending with our heart. The sages taught that when somebody bows during the standing prayer (Shemoneh Esrei), they should bow low enough that their heart is directly opposite the ground* (Talmud Brachot 28b). In other words, when we get down, we really have to get down. Prayer has to involve our entire body. This is the essence of yoga and the foundation for Bibliyoga.

If we don’t involve our body fully, then the rabbis predict an outcome that sounds as if it was written by a Kundalini yoga master: ‘One who does not bow during the thanksgiving prayer ['Modim' in Shemoneh Esrei], after a while his spinal column is transformed into a serpent’ (Talmud Bava Kama 110a). We can therefore learn that the involvement of the spine is central for developing humility and sincerity, but if we don’t fully engage the spine then our body and mind will become locked into a place of arrogance which is a barrier to spiritual growth. Kundalini yoga is based around the idea of a ‘serpent energy’ in the spine and it is fascinating that the rabbis came to a very similar conclusion as the yogis.

Our inner connection with the higher realms is our own business, and our relationship with God is ultimately a private path. Certain ways of dressing and behaving can certainly help stimulate the path, but inner growth is something we have to work at. A deep yoga or other spiritual practice rarely happens overnight but by using this tool of developing sincerity, we can continue to take ourselves higher and higher.

Shabbat Shalom


*”When one bows at the word baruch [in Shemoneh Esrei], he must bow low enough to see an issar, a coin opposite his heart” (Berachos 28b), Noam Elimelech, translated by Tal Moshe Zwecker.