The 3-Minute Moses Meditation
Parashat Ki Tissa
16 Adar, 5778
Cantor Phil Baron
If you attend synagogue services regularly you’ve no doubt had the experience of accidentally dropping a prayer book. It was drummed into me at an early age that my immediate reaction should be to scoop up the book and give it a kiss. This is the way Jewish people express their respect for God’s Name and Word. I wouldn’t think of ignoring this custom.
That’s why it’s so shocking that in this week’s Torah reading Moses, upon discovering the people worshiping the Golden Calf and in a fit of anger, throws down the holy tablets of the Ten Commandments. That’s right, the words written on stone, in fire, by God (not on a printing press somewhere in New Jersey), are summarily smashed into gravel by Moses. He couldn’t even gather up the rubble and kiss it.
Might Moses have an anger management problem? Remember, Moses also slew a taskmaster for beating a Hebrew slave! Could this be Moshe Rabeinu whom we emulate, and who is described as the humblest of men?
I admit I have occasionally lost my temper. It happens about once a decade. But I recognize the triggers that go off in an angry person, the built up frustration, and the satisfying release when the steam is let out of the bottle. Still, might our great leader have found a better way to express his feelings?
Certainly, Moses was also a highly spiritual person. It doesn’t get much higher than speaking regularly with God. So, far be it from me to suggest any kind of transcendental therapy for Moses, although I do wonder how he would react to a spiritual exercise. So, in the spirit of learning from this story and perhaps giving some good advice to regular every-day human beings like myself, I offer you a short meditation about dealing with anger, based on the teaching of British clinical psychologist Mark Williams (from his book “Mindfulness” written with Danny Penman.) I hope Dr. Williams will forgive my adding some Jewish content to his otherwise non-religious “Three-Minute Breathing Space meditation.” I’m also changing the name of the exercise to:
“The 3-Minute Moses Meditation.”
Step 1: Arrrrrg!
This is the pot beginning to boil with no release. It’s best to sit down, adjust your posture to an upright and comfortable position, feet flat on the floor. Bring your focus to your breath. Sit with your breath until it becomes easy and regular. Allow your mind to examine your experience. What am I thinking right now?
(If you are Moses, you might be thinking, “I am so angry! How could this worthless [email protected]*?!! people build an idol after all God has done for them? Didn’t they hear God’s voice thunder from the Mountain? Didn’t He free them from the Egyptians? What a bunch of ingrates!!!)
Whatever you are thinking, just acknowledge these thoughts as “mental events.” Resist the temptation to let your thoughts lead you to emotional reactions. Return to your breath for a few moments. Remember the phrase from our liturgy, Nishmat kol chai tivarech et shimcha. “The breath of every living thing praises Your Name.”
(If you are Moses, you recall that God has said to call Him Ehyeh, which has the meaning of “becoming.” You’re starting to relax a bit as you remember your experience on the mountain.)
Now turn your attention toward the source of your discomfort without trying to suppress or change your feelings.
(if you are Moses you relive the exhilarating feeling of returning from the mountain top with the holy tablets. And then…how disappointing it was when your triumphant return was upstaged by the people dancing around that absurd cow statue!)
What do I feel in my body? Is there tension? Bring your focus to any areas of discomfort. Feel the steam being released.
Step 2: Okay…okay…okay…
Returning to your breath, add a word such as shalom, which carries the meaning of “wholeness.” Let your breath fill you on the syllable “sha” and exhale on “lom.”
(If you are Moses the profound experience on the mountain overpowers any feelings of anger and disappointment you had subsequently. Of course the people are acting like foolish humans – because they are! It’s your job to teach them by your example. After all, they’ve known nothing but slavery.)
Step 3: Ahhhhh….
Now with each inhalation feel your body filling with light, soothing and elevating your true self.
(If you are Moses, you realize there is no point in smashing the tablets. What a mess that would make! And then God would have to make another set...)