Passion – a negative or a positive?

My meditation group (with some reluctance, I claim it as mine) met this morning, and we began to use the weekly parashah as our reference point for our meditation focus. This morning was our third meeting at this new time, Sunday morning at 8am, and the first two sessions were of a more introductory nature – the first week we reviewed the basic breath meditation, simply focussing on the breath, observing it move in and out of the body, and gently dismissing the distracting thoughts that almost inevitably intrude on that focus. The second session, we worked with chant. My inspiration for the chanting was an interview I heard that week with Bobby McFerrin on the radio program On Being with Krista Tippett – the title of the show as “Catching Song”, a lovely image of the melody existing out there, and the singer/chanter’s role is merely to give that song voice.

There are many resources for Jewish meditation…from the classic texts written by Aryeh Kaplan ZT”L, in which he attempted to catalogue all the authentically Jewish meditation practice, to the modern rabbis in the Jewish Renewal movement, such as David Cooper, Alan Lew ZT”L, and Nan Fink Gefen, among others. In the first couple years of the existence of meditation practice at Tikvat Israel, we explored many of these various practices. It was after reading Rabbi Alan Lew’s book “One God Clapping”, that I was introduced to the idea of using the weekly parashah as the focus of daily (or weekly) meditation. During the last year or so of our meditation group before our recent hiatus, when we met on Shabbat afternoons, we had based our meditations largely on the weekly parashah.

So, this morning, I returned to this idea, and faced the challenge of meditation centered on the story of Pinchas. Briefly, Pinchas, the Torah relates, was the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the Priest, and he was the only priest (or anyone in the settlement of Israelites) who responded to God’s call to kill anyone participating in immoral acts with the Midianites – he runs a spear through an Israelite man who is fornicating with a Midianite woman – they both die. I read this to our group, and I was particularly struck with the repeated use of the word “passion” or “impassioned” (which in one translation, I find is translated as “zealously”, which gives a slightly different slant on the passage). In fact, in restrospect, I’m seeing that Hertz translates the word as “jealous”, and it’s Etz Chayyim that translates as “passion”…whether it’s “zealoutry”, or “jealousy” or “passion”, all connote, to the modern ear, a negative connotation. So, we worked with this…what is “passion”?

We tend to think of “passion”, “jealousy”, and “zealotry” as negative…yet, the Torah clearly states that God approves of Pinchas’ passion, and the violent action that results from that passion. Our modern view looks on this story and Pinchas’ act with horror – how can the murder of two humans be justified?

So, we spent our remaining meditation time focused on our own passion(s), although one participant stated that he didn’t feel she had any passions. At the close of our meditation, she revised her assessment – yes, she did have passion!

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