Excellence Reporter: Dr. Frankel, what is the meaning of life?
Estelle Frankel: The Hebrew word for meaning, mashmaut, comes from the root sh-m-a, which means to listen. This word (which itself is pregnant with meaning) suggests that meaning arises through listening.
The meaning of our lives is not a static, singular thing, but an emergent evolving process. By paying close attention to the rhythm and heartbeat of our lives and by listening to everything around us, meaning emerges. The uni-verse converses with us. The Hebrew word davar, which means both “spoken word” and “thing,” suggesting that all created things (spoken into existence by the divine dibburor Word) speak to us and we must listen for their meaning.
Holy listening or attunement forms the heart of Jewish spiritual practice. Three times a day we pause from our frenetic lives to recite the Shema, a prayer enjoining us to listen, Shema, and hear the unity that underlies the multiplicity: “Listen Israel! The Infinite (spelled, Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh), Our God (Elohim), the Infinite (Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh) is One.” Whatever we encounter, good or evil, pain or pleasure, beauty or ugliness, the Shema summons us to experience it as part of the singular divine essence. Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh, the transcendent Source beyond time and space is none other than Elohim, the divine presence that shines imminently within creation’s myriad forms.
Kabbalah teaches us to embrace the imminent and transcendent, the known and the unknown dimensions of existence, as two sides of a single coin. These two aspects of reality mirror our own dual nature. At the same time that we are one-of-a-kind unique beings with a destiny all our own, our individuality dissolves in the presence of the divine majesty and eternity.
Our challenge is to embrace the paradox: We must receive the gift of life with joy and gratitude while simultaneously pouring our separate selves back into the Infinite Source.
Every act of self-surrender and radical humility makes room for the divine unity to be revealed. Deeds of lovingkindness, generosity and peacemaking do so as well. As we make room for others we make room for God. As our individuality dissolves, the greater Self emerges. The ultimate meaning of existence is revealed through living this mystical paradox.
~Estelle Frankel, MFT is a practicing psychotherapist, spiritual advisor, and seasoned teacher of Jewish mysticism who blends the healing wisdom and spiritual practices of Kabbalah with insights from depth psychology. She has taught Jewish studies for over 40 years in academy and religious settings and is currently on the teaching faculty of Chochmat HaLev Center for Jewish Spirituality and at Lehrhaus Judaica in Berkeley, Ca. Estelle has published widely on Kabbalah and psychology and is the author of two award winning books, Sacred Therapy: Jewish Spiritual Teachings on Emotional Healing and Inner Wholeness and The Wisdom of Not Knowing: Discovering a life of Wonder by Embracing Uncertainty (Shambhala).
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