Hi, I’m Ken…and I’m Not a Karaite.

ken lane in tefillin

For regular readers of Okie Hebrew, this is going to sound a tad bit strange — I’m not a Karaite.

“Wait a minute, Ken — this blog is linked across the American Karaite Jewish blogosphere. You’re vocal in Karaite Jewish groups online and even as a featured speaker in Karaite Jewish conversation podcasts. How can you say you’re not a Karaite?”

I guess my answer to this question requires an examination of what it means to be a Karaite. The Karaite Jews have an amazingly rich history and culture that spans continents, ethnicities, and over a thousand years. In addition to anti-semitism, Karaite Jews have faced their own hardships associated with being a fringe group within a fringe group — a minority of a minority. Karaite Jewish tradition also stands in a league of its own. In few other areas of religious thought has tradition run parallel with innovation as it has in the Karaite halachic process for hundreds of years.

With the rise of the internet, what is and what isn’t Karaite Judaism became unclear. Many self-proclaimed Karaites, regardless of affiliation or subscription to traditional Karaite Jewish halacha, have cropped up. The misconception that Karaite Judaism is simply Judaism free of Rabbinic influence is one that has run rampant not only in the non-Jewish circles but has starting to creep into the mainstream Jewish world. To be a Karaite is subscribing not only to a particular school of halachic thought but aligning with the specific culture associated with Karaite Judaism.

It’s with this idea put forward that would make it dishonest of me to claim to be a Karaite.

ken lane in tefillinWhile I have an affinity to for Karaite Judaism and enjoy studying Karaite halacha, culture, and interacting with people from traditional Karaite communities, I would be mispresenting Karaite Judaism to claim that I am a Karaite. Even for all of my interest in Karaism, I’m probably most accurately described as a Modern Orthodox or Masorti/Conservative Jew with an interest in Karaism. I attend a Conservative synagogue and am a student of Rabbinic thought. My own Jewish studies lean much more into the realm of the rabbis of the Mishna, Gemara, Talmud and even Chasidut with much of my observance based on their insight. I consult a rabbi on most issues of halacha. For all intents and purposes, I’d say I’m a Jew with an interest in the observance and progression of halacha (Jewish law) as well a meaningful experience of Jewish prayer.

The reason for this article is two-fold.

1. To be honest with you, my audience. I would be disappointed in myself if one of you found some image of me praying in tefillin, wine on my Pesach table, or some other non-Karaite Jewish observances and felt that I had somehow misled you as to my own lifestyle and affiliation. I have no official association with any Karaite Jewish organization and I never have. I have prayed with them and studied with them. I will continue to do so in the future on occasion as I do with many different types of Jews, but I am not a Karaite.

2. To encourage certain parties to cease misrepresenting Karaite Judaism. There seem to be many personalities with self-prescribed authority who have felt it necessary to claim to represent Karaite Judaism when in reality, they frequently represent nothing more than their own personal interpretation of Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible. While Karaite Judaism is founded on the idea of interpreting the Tanakh according to your own understanding, claiming that such-and-such a way is in alignment with Karaite halacha is not academically honest or culturally sensitive. While I can see where it could be acceptable for these individuals to claim, “My interest in Judaism leans Karaite”, I would ask these individuals to please specify when their ideas diverge from Karaite halachic norms — which seems to be frequent. I would also ask for them to divulge their lack of affiliation with official Karaite organizations and cease from forming their own under the false moniker of being Karaite.

So, going forward — will I continue to post on Karaite topics? Occasionally, yes. I’ll also post on many great sources from some of my favorite rabbis as well as my own interpretations of Torah. This blog is not exclusively the domain of any particular Jewish affiliation. This blog is a place for an honest discussion of Jewish ideas. I can’t wait to dive into these ideas with you even more in the future.

“One should accept the truth from whatever source it proceeds.” – Maimonides

Let Me Feel That You Hear Me: Pre-Prayer Jewish Meditation

Ken Lane Okie Hebrew Jewish Meditation

While the Creator is always ready to align with you and receive your prayers, your thoughts, your feelings, sometimes it is difficult for us to focus on Him to allow for meaningful alignment. Sometimes prayer can feel to us like a one-sided telephone call. This is a simple meditation to help clear out some of the mental and emotional cobwebs and pray that we feel that HaShem hears us.

HaShem, let my mind be in alignment with You.
HaShem, let my heart be in alignment with You.
HaShem, let my soul be in alignment with You.
And let me feel that You hear me.

The Supernal Dialogue: Enhancing Alignment With One Simple Shift

Introduction:

Lately, I’ve been on this “get your life together” kick. Too often, I had been catching myself coming home from work, sitting in my chair, and not getting very much accomplished before bedtime. I hate it.  In an effort to combat this, I had put together some goals I have for myself and how to accomplish them. In the Spiritual Goals section of my day-to-day breakdown was to enhance my kavanah with the Creator of the Universe.

What the heck is “kavanah“(כַּוָּנָה)? Some would say it is your spiritual intent or your focus in doing a holy act. While that’s true, I like to say that it is your alignment with the Creator of the Universe. I had heard from some Israeli friends that this is the same word you would use in Modern Hebrew when you take your car into the shop to get the tires aligned. It’s not getting your car to its destination, but it is the act of ensuring that both of your front wheels are headed in the correct direction. From a spiritual perspective, I would say it’s simply the action and feeling of knowing that the Holy One is among you — to feel that presence the way you can sometimes “feel” that someone is watching you. Not only does this sensation allow one to feel that their tefillah/prayers are being heard, but that the Creator is with them in daily life as well. Feeling this presence takes the action of adjusting your alignment constantly. I’ve been trying to share what has helped me and the following tip is one of those — trying to replace your internal dialogue with a supernal dialogue.

Making the Swap from Internal Dialogue to Supernal Dialogue

It sounds super New Age-y, but what I would call your “supernal dialogue” is really quite simple when you look at the definition of these terms.

su·per·nal
səˈpərnl/

adjective

literary
  1. relating to the sky or the heavens; celestial.
    • of exceptional quality or extent.
di·a·logue
ˈdīəˌläɡ,ˈdīəˌlôɡ/
noun
  1. take part in a conversation or discussion to resolve a problem.

What is typically our “internal dialogue” is the sensation of our own voice in our mind as we work out problems. Psychology breaks it down a little further:

“In Dialogical Self Theory (DST) the self is considered as ‘extended,’ that is, individuals and groups in the society at large are incorporated as positions in the mini-society of the self.”

If the internal dialogue is speaking to yourself internally (or sometimes externally, if you’re like me), the supernal dialogue is including the Holy Other in on that conversation and speaking directly to the Holy One in the same manner that we speak to ourselves. While we strive to do this in daily prayer, making the Creator the Ear to our internal dialogue helps perpetually increase our alignment and emunah/faith/knowing that HaShem is there to help us work out any problem we may have. Simply keeping the Holy One in the loop of your internal dialogue by making the Creator the recipient of that dialogue can be exercise enough to help keep the connection strong.

If we’re attempting to enhance our alignment with the Creator of the Universe and open the door to allow Him into our day-to-day, minute-by-minute lives, a simple technique is to shift the internal dialogue to a supernal dialogue and speak with Him instead.

“If you’re feeling distant from G-d, it wasn’t G-d who moved.” – Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser

God Won't Forgive You

Today is Erev Yom HaKippurim  the day before the Day of Atonement on the Jewish calendar. Its essentially Gods last call for Jews looking to touch base with whom theyve wronged in the past year and make it right before they officially begin to atone to God for their misdeeds against Him.

Theres one notion in Judaism that sets it apart from many other faiths and thats the idea that God only actually forgives certain kinds of sins  the ones we commit against Him.

Yom Kippur atones for transgressions between a person and God, but for a transgression against ones neighbor, Yom Kippur cannot atone, until he appeases his neighbor.  Mishna Yoma 8:9, as based on Leviticus 16:30.

Were on the hook for the ones we commit against other people.
You break it, you buy it.

It seems very strange, but its easily explainable  which Ill attempt to do with a story from my own childhood.

 

My Brother & Me @ the Royal Gorge in Caon City, Colorado  probably circa 1998?

Though my older brother and I are best friends, not having had a single argument (or maybe even disagreement?) in over a decade, we had our fair share of spats growing up. In fact, my parents commented that selling our childhood house was difficult  not only emotionally, but also materially as they had to patch up all of the holes wed knocked into walls and cracks in doors wed put there from physical altercations. (The bathroom was the only room of refuge with a lock, so of course the door was split down the middle.)

In one such scenario, my brother had so angered me that revenge was imperative to my probably 13 or 14 year old psyche. Our house had two levels with a balcony inside over the living room  the railing of which was about 12 feet from the floor below. One day, as my brother sat on the couch below watching television, I perched stealthily on the edge of the balcony armed with a full can of Scrubbing Bubbles Disinfectant Bathroom Cleaner.

Holding the can out beyond the railing, I aimed carefully over his hand that was resting on the arm of the couch. When in position, I released the can and BOMBS AWAY! THWACK!  it was a direct hit on the cuticle of one of his fingers. The edge of the 1.5 pound metal can split his fingernail and sent blood gushing forth. I had never heard such a cry out of my then-15-or-16-year old brother  a combination of screaming and crying as he sprinted to the kitchen sink to run water over the fresh wound. The sound of his cries surprised mebut also made the corners of my early teenage mouth curl into a devious smile for only me to enjoy.

I still have no idea what he had done to trigger such a nefarious response in me. I also dont remember what my punishment I received for such a misdeed. Perhaps I had some dirt on him and we agreed to call a truce so we both werent in deep crap with our parents when they came home.


In order to explain the Jewish peoples relationship with God and our own sins, I think back to this episode in my youth. Had my dad been watching the entire event, it would have played out in similar way that God responds to the evils we commit against one another. Had I done such a thing and immediately knew I was in big trouble, a typical child-like response would have been to run to my dad and proclaim, Im sorry! Im sorry! Im sorry. And his response would have been very God-like.

Dont tell me youre sorry. Im not the one with the cracked, bleeding fingernail. Go help your brother!

There is a concept in Judaism known as Tikkun Olam which translates to world remedy or to fix this world. This theme pervades Judaism and fills Jewish observance with the mission of helping to fix the world in which we live in order bring sparks of the Divine into the ordinary aspects of life. While many fingers (no pun intended) of this are Jewish ritual observance and charity, part of this is essentially being accountable to pick up the own mess you cause.

In case that last paragraph had too much spiritual mumbo-jumbo, it can be summarized as a cosmic you break it, you buy it.

I didnt let God down by smashing in my brothers finger nail, I let my brother down. I let myself down. Theres no reason for me to apologize to God for what I did to my brother. Even though my brother knows today that Im sorry for what I did to him pushing 17 years ago when we were stupid teenagers, I still felt the need to officially bury the long-disintegrated hatchet.

To those of you observing Yom Kippur, I wish you a meaningful fast.
For everyone else, all it takes is a text message (baby steps, you know what Im sayin?).

Treating "Kavanah Deficit Disorder": Praying With Your Kishkes

The Fight For Focus

The second hand of a clock ticks from the next room. Under normal conditions, I don’t even notice it. It blends into the tapestry that is the noise of midtown. As I attempt to read on in my book, it feels like someone is slowly turning up the volume knob on this incessant ticking. My focus begins to disengage from the words on the page, instead floating right over them, and the ticking is like a penny on a railroad track that somehow is able to derail my train of thought. My focus is going…going…gone.

Living life withAttention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD is something most individuals out-grow as the chemical balance of their brains steadiesitself as they mature. If they don’t out-grow it, they suppress it by using all methods of narcotics that limit the brain’s ability to perform multiple functions simultaneously — like, remembering to eat food, just as an example. Well, I didn’t outgrow ADHD and I didn’t want to take a Schedule II narcotic every day. I’m left to just deal with it. So, what’s that like?

I can compare having ADHD to some hardware I use at work. Two tools I use are a DLSR camera and digital sound recorder. The camera has a nifty auto-focus feature in which sensors communicate with a computer to tell the lens how much to adjust in order to have the image in focus. On the sound recorder, there is a handy “auto” feature where the recorder raises the volume on the most prevalent frequency in order to drown out background noise. My sensory perception is just like these, only the auto-focus sensors pick up on the bee that flies through the shot and the sound recorder’s auto feature prefer ticks of a distant clock rather than the varying sounds of midtown traffic. This difficulty is because I have faulty neurotransmitters in my brain.

Having ADHD can be a real pain during prayer. Prayer seems to be a two-step process in developing ideas to transmit and then the act of transmission. In Jewish thought, one aspect of prayer one hopes to achieve is called “kavanah.” This word literally means “alignment” in Hebrew, but is more of the deep spiritual focus in which one has the sensation that the Holy One has picked up the other telephone line and their prayer is being heard. When one is unable to achieve the sensation of kavanah due to an inability to focus, it feels as though I’m expressing my most inner heartbreak to a dear friend and they’re preoccupied with a game of Candy Crush. The problem isn’t that the Holy One isn’t listening, but that my brain’s spiritual auto-focus is busted due to faulty neurotransmitters. What is my solution? Bypass the brain.

The Passage Way For Kavanah/Alignment

Many make the mistake in thinking that prayer is an intellectual endeavor. It most certainly is not. In many ways, the ultimate champions of prayer on earth are little children. Because many children’s minds have not developed to the point of rationally conceiving of an all-power Creator that exists within the fabric of existence itself, they’re prayers are nothing more than elevated admiration for a parent-figure that exists within. This does not mean that prayer is by any means foolish, but rather this means the intellectual may struggle more to overcome his own thoughts in order to come to the Creator in prayer while the child’s natural state is prayerful pleading. What is an intellectual to do in order to attain prayerful alignment? Be smart enough to bypass the world of intellectual thoughts and tap into the heart – or, as I have found, the gut.

Just like clinical heartburn has nothing to do with the cardiovascular system at all and is instead stomach acid that has found it’s way up one’s esophagus nearest the chest, so too is one’s emotional and spiritual not so much the blood-pumping organ, but rather the seat of one’s second brain – the gut. One’s digestive system is frequently the canary in the coal mine of own’s emotional state. Anxiety, stress, and depression frequently take their toll on one’s guts. The expressions “go with your gut” is not without an anatomical basis. Yes, one is actually able to process information not only from one’s digestive system, but also within one’s digestive system. This is what is referred to as the enteric nervous system (ENS).
gut brainOne’s ENS is literally a second brain of sorts that runs throughout one’s digestive system. Actual neurons exists within the human gastrointestinal system. Has sadness ever put a lump in your throat? Have you ever had your heart broken to the point of feeling it in the pit of your stomach? Do instincts ever first manifest as a physical “feeling in your gut”? Biological research has shown that one’s ENS actually carries out functions independent of one’s brain. This area of study is known as neurogastroenterology. This form of neurological activity is responsible for many forms of bodily functions ranging from the esophagus’ ability to pull substances into the stomach (yes, you can drink water while upside down) to your gag reflex. Neurogastroenterology is also closely tied to one’s deepest feelings. This is the reason why extreme stress can cause one to vomit. But how does this connect to prayer?

Just as referenced before, the basics of prayer can be broken down into a few simple parts. For prayers of thanks or worship, the feeling of gratitude is processed neurologically before it is transmitted spiritually beyond this dimension into a heavenly realm — God’s telephone, if you will. The same goes for prayers of request, whether for your own needs or for the wellbeing of another. In many instances, these styles of prayer have a much more complex “signal” to convey and details to transmit. Still too these prayers are processed. Where the the neurogastroenterological system comes into play with prayer is in one’s ability to reverse engineer the emotional process. Usually, an event causes one to feel an emotion that may or may not be processed into a biological response by the gut, but rarely does one consciously utilize the guts (or “kishkes”, if you prefer Yiddish) as the cosmic telephone receiver into the next dimension. But how are the guts actively targeted?

When one is actively processing information, there can actually be a sensation that one’s cranium is doing the computing. Now, whether this just a perception simply due to our understanding that our brain performs our problem-solving and also exists in our head or whether we biologically have a sensation of thought existing in our head, both of those are beside the point that this sensation is perceived there. Even beyond one’s five senses, one can be more conscious of a certain area of the body at a given time. During a guided meditation, one way the leader of a group of meditators gets the group to relax is to get them to close their eyes and consciously relax each section of the body. It may go something like, “Now, I want you to imagine your shoulders becoming more relaxed. No longer tense, your shoulders are soft and loose. This loose sensation now travels down your back…” with the leader doing this until the meditator has consciously envisioned each section of the body, to relax it, which in turn has a biological sensation of relaxation. Praying with one’s guts is very similar. In prayer, more complex thoughts will still be processed by the brain, but the sensation of kavanah which perpetuates greater spiritual focus is greatly enhanced when one prays “through” the guts.

While I’ve provided some of the science behind why it may be that “praying with your kishkes” may ultimately enhance your kavanah, or your spiritual connective focus during prayer, I can’t make the claim that it will work for everyone. I can only share my own experiences on what works for me.

Watch The Weirdo Squirm– The Biological Side Of My Prayer

When I pray, I obviously find that it needs to be in a fairly quiet place or as quiet as the situation will allow. Though some traditional Jewish prayer requires standing, I find standing to be beneficial for prayerful focus. In addition to praying, I believe there is some benefit to either swaying slightly in a semi-conscious rhythm from the hips. Sometimes, a slight rocking back and forth that some Jewish movements call “shockling” or “shuckling” (from the Yiddish word meaning “to shake”) also help in focus. I can’t attest that these are beneficial for everyone, but being ADHD, the physical repetitious movement works to quiet my mind. At times, I also use my free hand (the hand not holding the prayer book) to occasionally express the concepts I’m praying — for instance, sometimes my hand will flip down for “when you retire” and flip up for “when you arise” when praying the Veahavta. This certainly isn’t the case for all of my prayers, but I occasionally semi-consciously do so as a means of making the concepts I’m praying more alive.

Praying From My Kishkes

Before this was what is visible on the outside during prayer, but what is to follow is what is happening on the inside. There are some quotes from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov that influenced my prayer a tremendous degree and helped me understanding how to go about prayer.

When you speak to God, you should arouse your heart to the point where your soul all but flies out of you. This is true prayer.
You must cry out to God from the very depths of your heart.

The biological act of sobbing is not just a facial expression, a release of tears, or a vocal eruption, but also a tightened release of emotion from one’s guts. The same abdominal muscles used to squeeze air up and out to produce a wail also constrict and produce a form of a gut-check, not unlike someone preparing for a punch. For some reason, this is my seat of kavanah. When I feel as though I am at the height of spiritual focus, my stomach is in the same state if I’m getting choked up from a beautiful piece of music and I’m trying to express the sound to someone else. While my brain attempts to process the details of the greatness of the Creator, my messages gratitude and admiration are processed through my kishkes like an umbilical telephone line to the heavenly realms.

True prayer isn’t processing your emotions with your mind but instead wringing the tears of joy and sadness out of your guts before the Creator.