Thursday, March 13, 2008

Reflections on a Talk By Meir Michel Abehsera By Ezra Tishman

Reflections on a Talk by Meir Michel Abehser a Healer, Mystic, storyteller, Macrobiotic Counselor and Best-Selling AuthorEntitled The necessity of Madness: A Mystical Approach to Redemption
When I first caught sight of Michel Abehsera at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center in Portland, I thought, "There! All my prejudices about macrobiotics were true." He was, in fact on some strange, Eastern starvation diet, whose adherents all smoked cigarettes and gorged themselves on chocolate candy. He was somewhat pale, fey-looking and yet strangely self-confident. As it turned out, Reb Abehsera spoke far more about what came out of his mouth, rather than the food he put in there. The slight, gray-haired and bearded wisp-of-a-man floated up to the front of the small shul, dressed in traditional Lubavitcher raiment: black hat, coat and shoes and white shirt. He turned sideways, casually leaned his elbow on the podium, and began speaking, his voice a near whisper from somewhere within his beard. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to hear him, even though my friend Dov and I were sitting in the seventh row. He spoke not as a man in front of several hundred people, but, rather, as to a friend, his manner intimate, yet self-effacing, suffused with what could only be genuine humility. Within several minutes, most in the room had accepted the fact that he spoke very softly and had turned up their powers of focus so they could catch every word. It was clear that this sweet and pious man was the real thing, a spiritual warrior come to bring an important message to Jews and to all seekers of the truth.
The first thing Michel told the audience was that the topic of his talk, "The Necessity of Madness" was not his own, but had been tacked onto a lecture he'd delivered in New York. The title hadn't sounded inappropriate, so he'd just kept it, going with the flow.
Mr. Abehsera laced his informal lecture with fascinating stories of growing up in Morocco, his travels about the world, and his current life in Jerusalem. But his talk was not merely anecdote or travelogue; rather his words hinted at something much deeper and of greater significance. He explained how each person he came across, each situation or even difficulty that G-d presented him with, was actually a gift, an opportunity to purify his heart, to reach deeper into his true self (as opposed to egoistic, false self), and thus to more faithfully strive to do the will of HaShem.
In one story he told of a woman who had been in and out of mental institutions her entire life and who sought him out. She told him she was tired of being called sick. After speaking to her for a few minutes, he began laughing, not at the woman, but in the playful manner of someone who feels comfortable in teasing a close friend. She asked him "What are you laughing about?" His response was shockingly unorthodox and proved to be powerfully effective. In a manner which seemed to draw more upon the occasionally confrontational manner of Zen Buddhist Masters, rather than a Western, sensitive type of listening, he responded, in between laughs: "You are really sick!" After her face fell, the woman began herself to laugh, quite heartily, Abehsera explained to the audience that everyone had always been so serious with her, and sympathetic for her, but no one had been able to empathize with her. He had sensed that all she needed to be cured was someone to make light of her malaise and the process of self-healing would commence, as indeed it did. Then he spoke about the concepts of Shtut de Kedusha (the Madness of the Holy), and the Ruach de Shtut (the Wind of Folly), citing that sometimes this was the only way to cure illness.
Abehsera's advice for those who aspire to help others reach to the paths of righteousness is to never go inside a person's head, never scrape through the muck of their past. "Never ask anything about a person's intimate life. A person is able to help another escape his or problems not by getting inside them, but by elevating them from the outside." This, he explained, is in keeping with the fundamental Jewish belief in raising that which is "ordinary" to the level of the holy. "Create a (holy) environment...No one needs advice," he quietly insisted. "Our job is to provide an environment which is such a clear reflection of our deepmost, beautiful inner being, that the other person will recognize their true nature, and be drawn in, and will naturally begin self-healing." He talked of learning how to step back, and "disappear." Abehsera suggested rather than long, verbal therapeutic sessions with troubled friends - so much the fashion of our current day - that we instead set them a Shabbos table which is so exquisite, which demonstrates so clearly of what beauty we are capable, thus making it easy to come in.
One of the greatest causes of disease, according to Michel Abehsera, is opinion. Opinions worsen our current {planetary} condition of separation and isolation. Rather than spending so much energy safeguarding and storing up opinions, give up those things which separate us from others, and try instead to give, give and give some more. "We need to give more than we can afford, because if we do this, we make space within us for new intelligence, we make a space for G-d to enter; give until it hurts_financially, emotionally and physically."
"Torah teaches that the world stands on our shoulders; with our actions, we tilt the world....G-d contracts himself into something so small as the deed. It is the deed which creates Time, which makes the world real."
Finally, Abehsera talked about the importance of friendship, insisting that if we have one good friend who will die for us, that is all we need. Delving further into the mysteries of human relationship, he said that G-d exists between two people. Alone, the mind can play all sorts of games.
After the talk, I looked around at the faces of the audience which appeared to reflect how I, myself, felt_transformed in some way, deepened by 90 minutes in the gentle presence of this committed Hasidic healer. I left feeling somehow more knowledgeable about how to act, how to conduct the affairs of my daily life. Michel Abehsera had given me the gift of an unthreatening look at my own masks, and perhaps a key to peeling them off, in the ongoing, incessant journey toward G-d.
Ezra TishmanBack

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