Kislev: Yirah (יראה) Awestruck

New to Mussar or the Kesharim K’doshim approach? Read the intro first.


Kislev is the Moon of Dreaming (November/December)
As the nights grow longer, we read many Torah portions about dreams and dreaming. In these long nights, take the time to dream and re-ignite your creativity.

Middah & Netivah

  • Yirah (יראה) Radical Amazement/Fear/Awe/Reverence
  • Baalat Ov (בעלת אוב) Witch/Shamaness 

Keys

  • histapkut (הסתפקות) stillness
  • sh’tikah (שתיקה) silence
  • sakranut(סקרנות) curiosity

Counterweights 

Find more correspondences on the Kislev overview page.


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Yirah/t (יראה/ת)

Hebrew is a very high-context language, which is why translators who have an agenda (or are lazy) too often translate this gorgeous word simply as “fear.”   That’s right, pretty much everywhere in the Torah, whole Tanakh and other scriptures you see “fear” in English – the Hebrew is yirah (יראה).   It really means “awe that induces a sense of wonder/amazement so overwhelming that we are a bit afraid” — like standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. In short, being “awestruck.”  (thanks to my husband for that last bit and “awestruck”).

The beginning of wisdom is fear of the LORD, And knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 9:10
translation from Sefaria.org

The Hebrew word that is being translated as “fear” is yirah (יראה).  Just imagine if we had all been taught this (including Christians) as “Wisdom begins with AWE of BECOMING (YHVH), and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  Changes things doesn’t it? My teach Rav Kohenet Rabbi Jill Hammer taught me years ago that all translators are “liars” – they all have to make choices and generally have some kind of agenda.  Just think about the choice to translate YHVH as “the LORD” instead of something like “Eternal” or “Being” or “Becoming” – all of which are much closer to what YHVH probably means. But I digress.

“AWE IS A human experience of the transcendent piercing apparent reality, a glimpse of the supreme within the mundane. However it may come to us, a moment of awe gives us a small taste of the cosmic mystery, and an intuitive intimation of the divine. Awe does not protest phenomenal reality; rather, it offers direct affirmation of the eternal that lies within the worldly. Awe is an invitation to seek, delivered directly to the heart.” (Alan Morinis, Every Day Holy Day)

Wow.

That is HUGE. That is why one of my college professors, Kenneth Kurtz, used to hate it when we would say something was “awesome.” It infuriated him.  He would lecture us on diminishing the word. And he was right.

Think I’m exaggerating?  Let’s go to one of my favorite resources: The Merriam Webster Dictionary!

awe: an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime.

The Merriam Webster Dictionary

So it turns out that “awe” is a pretty complex and high context word too, and it’s a really accurate translation of yirah (יראה).

Awe is an invitation to seek, delivered directly to the heart.

(Alan Morinis)

Mussar separates pure yirah (יראה), awe that induces a sense of wonder/amazement so overwhelming that we are a bit afraid, from fear of Divine punishment.  And it also teaches that it’s not so much about getting zapped by a Divine lightning bolt, but rather fear of not living up to our spiritual potential.  Even more important that awe of the Divine is considered to be a lesser and faulty reason for spiritual (or other) behavior.

“Whoever is unaware how exalted and praiseworthy is God, avoiding sin only out of fear of earthly or heavenly punishment, will seek ways to be legitimately exempt, without punishment, from mitzvah observance.”

(Chofetz Chayim, as found in Every Day Holy Day by Alan Morinis)

Being in a state of yirah (יראה) is not comfortable. If you have ever experienced true yirah (יראה) awe, you know it. It’s consciousness expanding, and the ultimate bechirah (בחירה) moment or choice point.  When you experience yirah (יראה) awe – you either have to dive in or hide/turn and run. Some of the hardest moments of my life have been because of a moment of yirah (יראה), but when I have accepted the spiritual leveling-up opportunity it is truly life changing.


Many fear this aspect of the Ultimate, after all, we have no proof for what happens once our eyes close for the final time. We have to lean into this Mystery, and it can never quite be expressed in words. How can we communicate through and with this Mystery? There are many rituals and ways, [would Ancestral connection practices fit here?] and they tend to contain a sense that in the end these things cannot be written or dictated, but only experienced. The experience is one full of true yirah, so profound and deep and intense that we shy away but at the same time draw near. No words are adequate, no later recollection can capture the intensity of that moment when time and space collapse and you are in the presence of the Ultimate Mystery. This is terrifying, not because the Ultimate is a stern judge full of wrath and hate, but because Life and Death are so much bigger than language can every convey. This awe, this yirah, accompanies every baby’s emergence from the womb, and it closes every eye in the moment of death.

“When Adam saw the day gradually diminishing, he said, “Woe is me! Perhaps because I sinned, the world around me is growing darker and darker, and is about to return to chaos and confusion, and this is the death heaven has decreed for me. … But when the winter solstice arrived, and he saw the days getting gradually longer, he said, ‘Such is the way of the world…”

Talmud, Avodah Zarah 8a (as found on Telshemesh.org)

Now, let’s put this in context of the season and the Netivah.  It’s Kislev, the beginning of winter (at least in the Northern Hemisphere).  The days are growing shorter, it’s growing colder, and in agrarian times — the time when you figured out if you had enough stored up to hopefully keep you alive through the lean dark days.  Kislev is also the Moon of Dreaming, in my naming of the moons. The darkness invites us into dream practices – and the Torah does too. This month of Kislev features multiple parshiot (portions) of dreams and dream practices.  Nine of the ten dreams explicitly mentioned in the Torah occur in the Torah portions of Kislev (Inner.org), which explains why Kohenet associates Kislev with the Ba’alat Ov.  These dreams range from Jacob wrestling the angel (Vayetzei) to Joseph dreams about his future (Vayeshev) and interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh (Miketz).

It is the darkness and dreams that lead us to the work of the Ba’alat Ov, the Witch, Shamaness, or more accurately “Spirit Vessel.” In the teachings of the Hebrew Priestess Institute (which you can find in The Hebrew Priestess ?), dream practices are within the realm of the Ba’alat Ov.  The term Ba’alat Ov comes from the story of the “Witch of Endor,” in Hebrew her title is really Ba’alat Ov (בַּעֲלַת־א֔וֹב).  What’s also interesting is that (עֵ֥ין דּֽוֹר) “Endor,” which is the name of her town, really means “well of generations.” So her full title is really the Spirit Vessel (keeper) of the Well of Generations (בַּֽעֲלַת־א֖וֹב בְּעֵ֥ין דּֽוֹר) – not “witch of Endor”.

She is keeper of the well of the ancestors. She has access to the wisdom of She’ol: the place deep within the earth where the dead sleep.

The Hebrew Priestess by Rav Kohenet Rabbi Jill Hammer and Rav Kohenet Taya Shere

So what does all this have to do with yirah (יראה) awestruck (aka radical amazement)?

If you have ever done work that causes you to work between the worlds, you know that it is very much like standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon.  It is both wondrous and quite terrifying. A stunning sunrise or sunset can transport us to a state of yirah.  A dream that is powerful, beautiful, or disturbing transports us to that state of yirah. Darkness can transport us to a state of yirah.  This month of growing darkness, that invites us to dreaming, helps us to find what it means to live in a state of yirah.

The beginning of wisdom is yirah of the Divine, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
(תְּחִלַּ֣ת חָ֭כְמָה יִרְאַ֣ת יְהוָ֑ה וְדַ֖עַת קְדֹשִׁ֣ים בִּינָֽה)

Proverbs 9:10

Note portions of this teaching were compiled from previously written materials posted to Peelapom.com and Devotaj.com

Practice

Reflections

At this moment in time…

  • WHAT does yirah/t mean to you?
  • WHEN are you transported to the state of awe/fear – radical amazement?
  • HOW is your understanding changed when yirah is translated as “awe” instead of “fear.”
  • WHO do you share your dreams with?
  • WHY should we explore our dreams?
  • WHERE do you feel yirah most easily?

Text Study

  • The beginning of wisdom is YIRAH of the Divine, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10)
  • Whoever is unaware how exalted and praiseworthy is God, avoiding sin only out of fear of earthly or heavenly punishment, will seek ways to be legitimately exempt, without punishment, from mitzvah observance. (Chofetz Chayim)
  • Awe is an invitation to seek, delivered directly to the heart. (Alan Morinis, Every Day Holy Day)
  • She is called the Witch of Endor. Endor is the name of her town, and it also means “well of generations.” This is a clue to the nature of the Hebrew shamaness: She is keeper of the well of the ancestors. She has access to the wisdom of She’ol: the place deep within the earth where the dead sleep. (The Hebrew Priestess)
  • Witch-priestess chapter of The Hebrew Priestess by Rav Kohenet Rabbi Jill Hammer and Rav Kohenet Taya Ma

Affirmations

  • I decipher the ways of the universe.
  • I keep the well of the ancestors.
  • I see into the beyond.

from the Eht/Aht: a netivot wisdom oracle.

Embodied Practice

  • Work with the sigil for yirah or create your.  
  • Trace it with your fingers, paint it on your body, create movement based on it, etc.
Yirah sigil
Yirah Sigil

Actions

  • Keep a dream journal.
  • Find a dream chavruta (partner) to share your dreams with and share interpretations.

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