Yedid nefesh poetry and liturgy by rabbi anxiety attack brant rosen

In the torah portion, parashat ki tisa (exodus 30:11 – 34:35), we find moses on the top of the mountain and anxiety attack the israelites growing restless. They’re not sure if moses will ever come back, so they pressure aaron into helping them build a golden anxiety attack calf that they can worship (“that will go before us.”) god inevitably becomes infuriated and threatens to wipe all of anxiety attack the israelites. Though moses eventually talks god off the ledge, god later sends a plague upon the people as punishment.

A little later on in our portion however, god appears to have reformed completely. When god passes by moses on the top of mt. Sinai, god’s divine attributes are described as: “compassionate and slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin.”

As I grapple with this question, myself, I’ve come to accept that whether we like it or anxiety attack not, both of these “gods” are a part of our tradition. As much as we’d like to, we can’t wish away or surgically excise the nasty god from anxiety attack our sacred texts. On the contrary: if we really intend to be serious about incorporating biblical anxiety attack tradition into our spiritual lives, we need to be prepared to own and confront the anxiety attack “everything” of that tradition.

Needless to say, classical jewish tradition has had a great deal to say anxiety attack about these questions throughout the centuries. You may be interested to know that contemporary neuroscience has anxiety attack been exploring these issues as well. Over the past decade or so in fact, physicians have been investigating the ways in which spirituality is anxiety attack rooted in the biology of the brain. By combining the fields of neuroscience and religious studies, they’re helping us to actually understand how our neurological makeup anxiety attack influences the ways we experience god.

Every event that happens to us or any actions that anxiety attack we take can be associated with activity in one or anxiety attack more specific regions of the brain. This includes, necessarily, all religious and spiritual experiences. The evidence further compels us to believe that if god anxiety attack does indeed exist, the only place (god) can manifest (god) existence would be in the tangled neural pathways and physiological anxiety attack structures of the brain.

For me, the most amazing findings of this research demonstrate the way anxiety attack god has evolved neurologically over the centuries. In a later book, “how god changes your brain,” newberg posited that different experiences of god actually correlate to anxiety attack the development of the human brain. Neurologically speaking, researchers have located the angry, authoritarian god in the limbic system, which houses the oldest and most primitive structures of the anxiety attack brain. This includes the amygdala – the little almond-shaped organ that generates our “fight or flight” response.

The benevolent, compassionate god, on the other hand, can be found in our frontal lobes, and particularly in a structure known as the anterior cingulate. These are the parts of the brain most primarily associated anxiety attack with our experience of compassion and empathy. Compared to the ancient limbic system, these structures are the most recently evolved parts of our anxiety attack brain and they appear to be unique to human beings. This is how newberg put it:

Something happened in the brains of our ancestors that gave anxiety attack us the power to tame this authoritarian god. No one knows exactly when or how it happened, but the neural structures that evolved enhanced our ability to anxiety attack cooperate with others. They gave us the ability to construct language and to anxiety attack consciously think in logical and reasonable ways…without these new neural connections, humans would be limited in their ability to develop an anxiety attack inner moral code or a societal system of ethics.

To be clear: this is not an argument for doing away with our anxiety attack brain stems. We obviously cannot survive without them. And we cannot deny that there may well be times anxiety attack in our lives when anger, fear and vigilance are warranted. The problem, of course, is that we can too easily let our limbic systems anxiety attack run wild. Indeed, neurological research demonstrates that whenever we let our anger or anxiety attack fear overpower us, brain activity in our frontal lobes gets shut down. When this happens, our “fight or flight” response is generated, and it spreads rapidly throughout our brains.

We’ve long known that excessive anger or fear can cause anxiety attack problems like high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Studies also show that extreme anger can permanently disrupt structures anxiety attack in both our brains that control basic functions like memory anxiety attack storage and cognitive accuracy. In other words, when we indulge our anger, we feed the more toxic and destructive manifestations of god.

In jewish terms, this research remindes me of the famous dynamic between the anxiety attack yetzer hara (“the bad inclination”) and the yetzer hatov (“the good inclination.”) the rabbis made sure to point out that the yetzer anxiety attack harah was an essential aspect of our humanity. The conventional translation of ra and tov as “good” and “evil” is not tremendously helpful in this regard. The sages, in fact take pains to point out that we need anxiety attack them both. Whether we like it or not, these impulses are a part of us – much like our limbic system is an essential and necessary anxiety attack part of our brain. The point is not to deny or repress our yetzer anxiety attack hara, but to channel and master it. As the verse from classic rabbinic text pirke avot teaches: “ mi hu gibor? Mi’she kovesh et yitzro” – “who is mighty? The one who masters one’s yetzer ( hara).”

So how do we do this? By consciously channelling our “fight or flight” impulses while exercising those frontal lobes. Or another way of putting it: by keeping our baser instincts in check while nurturing our anxiety attack capacity for kindness. And believe it or not, science itself is proving that compassion and empathy can be anxiety attack neurologically contagious. Studies demonstrate conclusively that there is increased activity in the anxiety attack compassion center of the brain whenever we perceive others as anxiety attack being sensitive to our needs. Scientists have also concluded through research that the more positive anxiety attack contact we have with members of other different religions, cultural, and ethnic groups, the less prejudice we tend to harbor in our brains.

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