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Epiphany on the San Rafael Bridge

by Rabbi Burt Jacobson

For the last few years my wife Diane and I have lived in El Sobrante, California, about eight miles north of Berkeley. I was recently asked to give a presentation about the teachings of the Ba’al Shem Tov at a synagogue in Marin county on a particular Shabbat afternoon. I was excited by the prospect, and a little anxious as well. I spent several hours planning the workshop.

The day was gorgeous. As I was driving over the San Rafael/Richmond Bridge my eyes swept over the grey-green waters of the San Francisco Bay. A sunlit Mt. Tamalpais rose in the distance. I thought of the beauty—not only the beauty of the day, but of all the beauty of the world, and of both my pleasure and privilege, experiencing the gift of this moment. I began to sing a niggun that I planned to teach at the workshop, and the melody lifted my spirits even higher.

But there were also negative voices buzzing in my head. Concerns about how the workshop would go. Wondering if I had enough gas in the car to get me home. And then I remembered yesterday’s news about Israeli military brutality toward the Palestinians along the Israeli-Gaza border—sixty people killed and over two thousand injured. My mood plummeted.

But then I caught myself: “Burt, it’s Shabbos and you’re driving to a synagogue to teach about the Besht.” I took a breath and reconnected with the Spirit. And just at that moment something immense opened up within me, as if I had suddenly been transported to the top of a mountain or to outer space. It was as if I could see it all—all the faces of being, all the happenings occurring in the universe—the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful, the joys and sufferings that make up our universe.

And my awareness opened even more, expanding and embracing everything. I was witnessing the entire panorama without attachment, without judgement, simply appreciating the magnitude of existence and the gift of consciousness. And the grey-green water of the Bay, and Mt. Tamalpais growing ever larger on the horizon.

And compassion arose for both the Palestinians and the Israelis. This past week I had read an article that claimed that Israelis suffer more from ADHD than citizens of any other nation. And what about PTSD? I thought about the way in which memories of the Holocaust and past Israeli-Arab confrontations arouse in Israelis the blunt fear that leads to such brutal lashing out.

One of the Beshtian texts I would be teaching in an hour or so reads,

The lifegiving soul within a human being

is one aspect of the lifegiving soul

within all living and created being.

And this great soul is itself

the blessed Holy One.

Yes, this consciousness in which I dwell is one with everything! Once again I was in touch with the primal source of spirituality, and my sense of hopefulness was renewed.

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