Mindfulness and Moshiach

By Yochi Ress, Johannesburg, South Africa
Essays 2016

MyLife Essay Contest 2016


This essay seeks to look at the fascinating rise of Mindfulness in recent years and how this connects with sources in Chabad Chassidus, including an indication of how this is yet a further sign that we are drawing nearer to the imminent redemption – may it arrive immediately!

In today’s ever-changing, fast-paced and highly pressurized world, we are challenged more than ever before as human beings to be able to focus, find balance and connect with our inner world and universe. Most of the time, however, we run around frantically much more like ‘human doings’, believing we are effectively multi-tasking and rarely taking a step back to assess how we are doing things, or whether we could be doing things differently that would better serve the people around us as well as ourselves.

We lose touch with ourselves and often become fixated or even addicted to the outside world along with all it’s noise and distraction. The price for this is significant as it leads to a variety of negative consequences for our physical, emotional and spiritual lives. As a result, the field of mindfulness has become a huge area of research in preventative medicine as well as organizational health, proving itself beyond any doubt as a vital tool for regaining balance, unlocking self-awareness and empowering ourselves with greater resilience on both a physical and psychological level.

Mindfulness is often associated with various Eastern spiritual paths who do make extensive use of such techniques and disciplines, but it is essentially a neutral and non-religious activity which could roughly equate with a basic form of meditative practice. A useful basic definition of mindfulness is: ‘The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something’.  A more thorough definition could be: ‘A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations, also used as a therapeutic technique.’

It is important to note that the position or orientation of mindfulness is essentially one of non-judgmentalism or non-attachment, because what is being developed is our capacity to be open and observe in a conscious and highly aware manner. It builds and strengthens our ‘inner observer’ capacity, allowing us to be more present and engaged. This is essentially a space of ‘bittul’ (humility). Becoming more silent and fully open in order to really acknowledge whatever or whoever it is that I am observing or engaging with.

What is fascinating is that based on the above understanding, it is possible to translate ‘Yehudi’ – the Hebrew word for ‘Jew’, as ‘A Mindful One’. Because the root of Yehudi is to thank or acknowledge. And the very essence of the act of thanking or acknowledging is becoming fully awake and present to an-Other, becoming a vessel that can ‘take in’ something beyond oneself… In fact, the true meaning of the Hebrew word for ‘sin’ (‘Chet’) is ‘missing’ or ‘lacking’, suggesting that it is a fundamental problem to not be present, conscious or aware – especially of the true G-dly Source and Core of all reality…

The first words we say as a Jew every morning are ‘Modeh Ani’. Simply translated, it means ‘I Thank’. But grammatically that should be ‘Ani Modeh’. In the order that we say it, it makes more sense to see the word ‘Modeh’ as a noun, and the statement as a declaration of identity: ‘A Thanker – am I!

As I awaken, I declare that in my Essence, I am awake!!! As a Jew, I am dedicated to being a more conscious being who has the capacity to be open and humbled to both G-d and others around me (‘Be humble before every man’ – Pirkei Avos 4:4)

All of Torah and its Mitzvos (commandments) can be seen as a journey towards achieving greater mindfulness of the G-dly Essence and Source within ourselves, our fellow being and within every part of the physical word that we inhabit. In fact the word ‘Halachah’ – which is the term for all of Jewish Law that is devoted to the practise and fulfillment of all the Mitzvos – itself actually means ‘journey’ or ‘path’. And the word Mitzvah means ‘connection’. So every Mitzvah is another opportunity to connect with the Divine Essence of the world and remind ourselves of the True Source and therefore reality of everything.

This is brilliantly illuminated in chapter 32 of the Tanya, which is revered as the heart of this seminal work by Chassidim due to its fundamental teachings about love of one’s fellow as well as the numerical value of that chapter spelling the Hebrew word for heart – ‘Lev’.  It explains there the reason we are taught that the whole Torah can be summed up in the one Mitzvah of loving your fellow Jew as yourself is because this love can only be achieved if one realizes that no matter how different or irritating my fellow Jew may be on the outside, if I become mindful of the fact that internally, their Essence is exactly the same as mine, I can still love him or her.  We both have the same G-dly Soul and therefore are actually part of one body and have the same Father…

Going back to Modeh Ani, we have a beautiful tradition taught to us by the 5th Chabad Rebbe – the Rebbe Rashab: the dot that appears after the word ‘Bechemlah’ needs to be spread throughout the day. In other words, this fundamental consciousness of connecting with the Essence of who we are – the humility of being truly awake, open and acknowledging of Truth – must become the guiding compass and True North for all of our activities and interactions for the rest of our day, every day.

What we are talking about here, is a micro-cosmic homecoming, every day. Reconnecting to our true Essence, and living from that place and space.

The Rebbe in the 3rd sicha of Parshas Balak volume 38 provides us with the most incredible understanding of what Moshiach really is. The Rebbe explains there how the ultimate state of redemption in the macro world is really simply the result of a critical mass of individual redemptions! When enough individuals (a human being is called an ‘Olam Katan’ – a microcosmic world) have liberated their own ‘spark of Moshiach’ – their Essence / Divine Soul, and live from that orientation and position, then this will ultimately result in a tipping point in the world at large which will in turn unleash the Divine Essence underlying all of creation to become fully manifest and revealed.

What we see here is something very profound: that Moshiach is a state of consciousness, even more than it is a specific time or place. As the sages say: ‘Ein Oni Ela Be’Da’as’ – ‘Poverty is a lack of Consciousness’. And the state of exile is referred to as a time of poverty – as we see with Egypt and the ‘bread of our affliction’. But spiritually, on a mystical level, the state of exile is in fact a condition of a poverty of consciousness. The Rebbe points this out beautifully in his commentary on the Hagaddah where in the beginning of the Maggid section, we declare: ‘this is the bread of poverty that our fathers ate’. But read differently in the classic Chassidic style, it can also read as ‘this is the bread of poverty that ate up our fathers’, referring to how the state of exile consumes and diminishes our ability for spiritual consciousness (‘Chochmah’ or ‘Wisdom’ in Kaballah is referred to as ‘Father’).

And so, extending this principle a little further, the time of Moshiach is always described as a time where the Consciousness of G-d will fill the entire Universe. But it starts with us, in our own personal universe…

The 3rd Chabad Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek once told a chossid: ‘Mach Doh Eretz Yisroel’ – ‘Make (manifest) the Land of Israel here!’. In other words, we may be running frantically in search of achieving a state of redemption somewhere ‘out there’, but forgetting that it all starts inside ourselves!

Moshiach is ultimately when we will finally come home. When we will have our true home rebuilt – the third and final, everlasting temple, in our true home of Jerusalem, in Israel (the epicenter of the world geographically and spiritually the source of Divine Energy entering the world as taught in Jewish Mysticism).

But what is home really? It’s fascinating to ponder the following: You can be in your physical home and feel completely not at home. Conversely, you can be millions of miles away from your home and yet even there, still feel at home.

So home is really a state of consciousness that is independent of what you have or where you are. It’s an orientation, being connected to your Root and Source and living from that immensely empowering position and perspective.

This resonates strongly with the energy of Shabbos – which is a microcosmic day of redemption that we re-experience every week. The word Shabbos means to ‘return’. And being the 7th day after the 6 days of the work in the week, the day of Shabbos is like the ‘in-breath’ where we recharge and reconnect with our Centre (our Soul), following the ‘out-breath’ of the 6 days of the week, where our consciousness and energy is invested or frantically scattered outside of ourselves in all the 6 possible different directions that can extend from any center or starting point.

And so therefore on Shabbos it says about G-d:  ‘Shabbos Vayinafash’ – ‘He ceased from work and rested’. But the word used for rested has as its root the word for soul – ‘Nefesh’. And one of the other words for soul is ‘Neshomo’ – which is the same root as ‘Neshimah’  – breath.

Our soul was (and is constantly) breathed through us, and our breath is the interface and connection with the soul. Our breath itself is an imprint of G-d’s Divine Name ‘Kah’. This Essential Name (the inner, higher first half of the Tetragrammaton) is a composite of 2 completely opposite letters, the seminal masculine letter ‘Yud’ which is completely contracted, and the feminine expansive letter ‘Hei’. This alludes to how G-d is the Source of everything and fuses opposites.

The Talmud teaches that the final verse of the book of Tehillim (Psalms) which we say in our daily prayers, can be read with the word ‘neshimah’ instead of ‘neshomo’. It then translates as ‘Let every breath praise G-d’ – and the name for G-d here is the same name ‘Kah’ we just mentioned. But we know from Chassidic teachings that the Hebrew word for ‘praise’ has the same meaning as ‘illuminating’, as we see in the verse from Job 29:3 ‘Behilo Neiro’ – ‘When He lit His candle over my head’. So including this meaning, then that final verse of Tehillim can be read as ‘Let every breath be a revelation of (G-d’s Name of) Kah’!

Now think of the 2 parts of a breath – the in-breath and the out-breath, and of what we just explained about G-d’s Name ‘Kah’. When you breath in (and hold it in), notice how this is a contraction. And then as you release and breath out, how this is an expansion. Isn’t that incredible? Every breath that we take is literally an imprint of G-d’s Name flowing through, constantly. We can come home and become more mindful through focusing on our breath and how our true and only existence is the constant flow of Divine Energy that literally recreates us every moment (as explained at length in the second part of Tanya). And we can also choose to be more aware of this and live with that awareness…

Isn’t it amazing how as we draw closer and closer to the final redemption, we can clearly see how much the area and practice of mindfulness has become a huge focus all over the world in almost every sphere of research.  Both individuals and companies are using it extensively to enhance personal and collective wellbeing.

But here is something I find even more mind-blowing. The Rebbe teaches in the 11th chapter of the Chanukah Maamar ‘Lehavin Inyan Neiros Chanukah’ (given out in the year 5752, but said in 5726) that what the Soul of Moshiach meant when he said that he will come when the wellsprings of Chassidus will have spread to the outside, is not just that the wellsprings reach the outside. Rather, it means that it will be revealed how the very existence of the outside itself is in fact the wellsprings and we will see issuing forth such teachings from there…!

I want to conclude by sharing and demonstrating how I have witnessed this beyond any doubt with a Chassidic teaching that relates to mindfulness.

In the last few lines of the last maamar of the Alter Rebbe in Torah Or for parshas Mishpatim (‘Lo Sihyeh Meshakeilah VeAkarah Be’artzecha’), on page 150 in the last paragraph on the left side, starting with the top line ‘Vehu…’ the Alter Rebbe talks about the primordial blunder that happened with the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Here is my loose and embellished translation of those short but monumental 8 lines:

“And this is the fundamental point / core of the shell of arrogance / ego – that became embedded within the nature of the human (psyche) with the sin of the eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil: (what what this sin?) meaning that (he entered into a mode of consciousness where) he sees himself (detached, split-off consciousness) and recognizes (therefore) what he lacks, or he knows that something is good for him. As it is written: ‘And the woman say that the tree was good to eat… etc.’. And this is the root of the pollution / contamination and the source of all the desires and transgressions – since he chooses something for his (own) good or (to assuage) his (own) ‘bad’. Which is complete contradistinction to (the state of affairs and their mindset) before the sin, when they were ‘naked’, as it is written ‘Who told you…’ (i.e. where did this detached self-consciousness come from?) for they never felt any lacking or good (for themselves), they only perceived His Divine Blessed Revelation, and this should suffice for the understanding”.

Mindfulness from a psychological perspective is often described as the practice of becoming freed from the typical attachments that our ego mind seeks to become hooked into. This ego is fundamentally judgmental, where the fragile and fearful/anxious self derives neurotically seeks to secure its happiness from what it perceives as ‘good’ and becomes depressed, fearful or angry when it judges things that happen to it as ‘bad’.

There is a German-born Mindfulness expert and world-famous author by the name of Ekhart Tolle, who now lives in Canada. If you are familiar with Chabad Chassidus and you read some of his book ‘A New Earth: Awakening to your life’s purpose’, you will probably be astounded how most of what he is bringing resonates completely with central teachings in Chassidus. The entire book is devoted to understanding the evolution and dynamics of the human ego and how to free oneself from its tyrannical clutches and shackles. I would like to quote several short passages verbatim from this book and show you how similar they are to the abovementioned passage of the Alter Rebbe. It can almost feel at times as if he was taking it straight from that maamar…

“In normal everyday usage, “I” embodies the primordial error, a misperception of who you are, an illusory sense of identity. This is the ego. This illusory sense of self is what Albert Einstein, who had deep insights not only into the reality of space and time but also into human nature, referred to as “an optical illusion of consciousness.” That illusory self then becomes the bases for all further interpretations, or rather misinterpretations of reality, all thought processes, interactions and relationships. Your reality becomes a reflection of the original illusion.” (pg. 27 and 28).

“Each thing has Beingness, is a temporary form that has its origin within the formless one Life, the source of all things, all bodies, all forms. In most ancient cultures, people believed that everything, even so-called inanimate objects, had an indwelling spirit, and in this respect they were closer to the truth than we are today….Ego-identification with things creates attachment to things, obsession with things, which in turn creates our consumer society and economic structures where the only measure of progress is always more.” (pg. 37)

“The ego tends to equate having with Being: I have, therefore I am. And the more I have, the more I am. The ego lives through comparison.” (top of pg. 45)

I find it most exciting to take note of how the Rebbe’s words from that Chanukah maamar are literally unfolding in front of our eyes. Millions (literally) of people from all faiths (or no faiths even) are reading Ekhart Tolle’s books and imbibing teachings that are aligning them with the concept and reality of the underlying Divine One-ness and the need to connect more with this and live more mindfully from that space, and how empowering and liberating it is to do so.