Tag Archives: Kabbalah

My Beloved Profound Mystery

And that is what the Zohar says on the verse: “My soul, I desire You at night.” “One should love G-d with a love of the soul and the spirit, as they are attached to the body and the body loves them….” This is the interpretation of the verse: “My soul, I desire You,” which means, “Since you, G-d, are my true soul and life, therefore do I desire You.” That is to say, “I long and yearn for You like a man who craves the life of his soul, and when he is weak and exhausted he longs and yearns for his soul to revive in him (lit., ‘to return to him’).

“Likewise when he goes to sleep, he longs and yearns for his soul to be restored to him when he awakens from his sleep. So do I long and yearn to draw within me the infinite light of the blessed Ein Sof, the Life of true life, through engaging in the [study of the] Torah when I awaken during the night from my sleep”; for the Torah and the Holy One, blessed be He, are one and the same.

Today’s Tanya Lesson (Listen online)
Likutei Amarim, beginning of Chapter 44
By Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812)
founder of Chabad Chassidism
Elucidated by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg
Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi Levy Wineberg and Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg
Edited by Uri Kaploun

Beloved of the soul, source of compassion,
Shape your servant to your will.
Then your servant will run like a deer to bow before you.
Your love will be sweeter than the honeycomb.
Majestic, beautiful, light of the universe,
My soul is lovesick for you;
I implore you, God, heal her
Be revealing to her your pleasant radiance;
Then she will be strengthened and healed
And will have eternal joy.
Timeless One, be compassionate
And have mercy on the one you love,
For this is my deepest desire:
To see your magnificent splendor.
This is what my heart longs for;
Have mercy and do not conceal yourself.
Reveal yourself, my Beloved,
And spread the shelter of your peace over me;
Light up the world with your glory;
We will celebrate you in joy.
Hurry, Beloved, the time has come,
And grant us grace, as in days of old.

“Yedid Nefesh”
-by Eleazer Ben Moses Azikri
A sixteenth-century Kabbalist
Quoted from easwaran.org

I think it’s safe to say that God loves you more than you love God. I don’t say that to be mean or to minimize your capacity to love God, only that God is infinite and His love is infinite. We are finite and mortal and frail. And yet in reading the excerpt I quoted from the Zohar and the beautiful and classic words of Yedid Nefesh, I can see that at our best, when we are able to touch the hem of the garment of God, our ability to love exceeds mere flesh and bone and blood and the soul of God becomes one with the soul of man.

I wonder if Paul’s commentary in his letter to the church at Ephesius is a “midrash” of such a love between humanity and the Divine?

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. -Ephesians 5:25-32 (ESV)

It is a profound mystery indeed.

You are altogether beautiful, my love;
there is no flaw in you. -Song of Solomon 4:7 (ESV)

Is this the soul of God speaking to man or the soul of man speaking to God?

Or both, intertwined in a graceful yet ephemeral dance?

God is in the Simple Places

If we were truly humble, we would not be forever searching higher paths on the mountain tops. We would look in the simple places, in the practical things that need to be done.

True, these are places in a world of falsehood. If the world only had a little more light, none of this would be necessary.

But the soul that knows its place knows that the great and lofty G-d is not found at the summit of mountains, but in the simple act of lending a hand or a comforting word in a world of falsehood and delusions.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Path of the Humble”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

-Philippians 2:3-11 (ESV)

The New Testament is full of lessons on and examples of humility. The idea is that we put God first in our minds and our hearts and our actions, and not seek to exalt ourselves. And yet as we see from the lesson of the Rebbe, even in seeking God on the highest mountain tops and even into the highest Heavens, we are not truly humble.

I suppose there’s a dichotomy involved. We have our feet on earth, yet our eyes gaze upward toward Heaven. The Divine spark within us is trapped in earthly flesh but seeks to return to its fiery Source. How can we really be humble once we realize that we have been made in the Holy image of the Creator of the Universe?

This can be a problem.

The problem is that we have a tendency to elevate ourselves in relation to those around us who do not realize that they too have been created in God’s image. God peppered the Bible with many lessons on remaining humble, and yet we seem to ignore them all.

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” -Luke 14:7-11 (ESV)

Human nature tells us not to pass up an opportunity because it may never come again. If there is an open seat in a place of honor, our impulse is to sit in it. Sure, we know the parable I just quoted above, but this is real life, right? Parables and religious lessons are fine, but how much do they really apply to the day to day world? If we wait for God to raise us up to a place of honor, it may never happen.

And if it doesn’t, so what?

I mean, did God really say that you have to be so important or exalted among your peers?

Let’s change our point of view a bit.

The Alter Rebbe now explains that there are also two general levels in the love of G-d. The higher level is called ahavah rabbah (“great love”). It is a gift from above, granted to an individual after he has attained the level of yirah ila‘ah. This love is so lofty that one cannot hope to achieve it unaided.

The second and lower level of love is attained by contemplating G-d’s greatness. It is called ahavat olam (“eternal love,” and more literally, “love of the world”), because it emanates from one’s comprehension of the world, i.e., from one’s appreciation of the G-dly life-force that animates the world.

Today’s Tanya Lesson (Listen online)
Likutei Amarim, middle of Chapter 43
By Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812)
founder of Chabad Chassidism
Elucidated by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg
Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi Levy Wineberg
and Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg
Edited by Uri Kaploun

But for most of us, there’s something that has to happen before we can learn to love God in any capacity.

It has previously been noted that the higher level of love can come about only after one’s fear of G-d is total.

Today’s Tanya Lesson (Listen online)
Likutei Amarim, end of Chapter 43

AweFear. In Jewish mysticism, there is a lower level of fear (yirah tata’ah) that we experience when we realize the truly awesome nature of God and understand the terrible consequences we have earned for our sins. It is said that fear comes before wisdom. It is also said that wisdom comes before fear of God, which seems a contradiction, but it’s not. Yirah tata’ah comes before wisdom, but there is a different sort of fear and awe that requires us to already be wise.

The explanation is as follows: The Mishnah refers to the two above-mentioned levels of fear. The first statement — “If there is no fear, there is no wisdom” — refers to the lower level of fear, yirah tata‘ah. Without this level of fear, it is impossible to attain wisdom, i.e., the performance of Torah and mitzvot. (This is deemed wisdom, since the ultimate purpose of wisdom is repentance and good deeds.) The second statement — “If there is no wisdom, there is no fear” — refers to the higher level of fear, yirah ila’ah. This level of fear must be preceded by wisdom, i.e., the performance of Torah and mitzvot. Only thus is one able to attain the higher level of fear.

Today’s Tanya Lesson (Listen online)
Likutei Amarim, beginning of Chapter 43

But what does this have to do with humility and setting aside our natural human inclination to seek honors for ourselves, even as we say we seek to honor God? How can we truly value and even desire humility? There are two ways.

The first is to make ourselves refrain from taking the seat of honor out of fear that, if we are discovered not to belong there, we will be publicly shamed and removed from the banquet. This is sufficient I suppose, but hardly desirable. How can we serve God out of a sort of “peer pressure” to conform, even as everything else we are in our hearts and minds screams the opposite?

The second way is to wisely realize that if we love God, we will obey Him and that His desires are always best for us, regardless of how we may or may not be seen in the eyes of people around us. The seat of humility may not be in the spotlight, but it might be very comfortable and even very instructive.

Ben Zoma says:
Who is wise?
The one who learns from every person…

-from Pirkei Avot 4:1
SimpleToRemember.com

Most secular people avoid a life of holiness, in part, because they fear that their own needs and desires will be completely dismissed, and that they’ll be compelled to live a life of self-denial and frankly, boredom. However I’m sure that you, as a true person of faith, if you took the time to review the events of your life and the gifts of God, would realize that the benefits, even in a temporal sense, far outweigh the sacrifices. You may never become rich or famous or exalted in seats of honor in this life, but if you first learned to fear God and then to love Him, you know that what God has provided has been much more than sufficient.

God is sitting among those who are farthest from the seats of honor and He can be found in the simple places.

 

Practicing Faith, Part 2

RebbeSurprisingly, when this question reached Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, shlit”a, he ruled leniently. “Although the Mishnah Berurah rules that one may not eat food which was in one of the seven liquids without washing, I am lenient in this matter. Although it is certainly a good custom to follow the Magen Avraham in this regard, it is not an obligation. ‬But one who wishes to wash should not interrupt between washing and eating.

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“The Morning Snack”
Shulchan Aruch Siman 158 Seif 4

On today’s amud we find that sometimes being unnecessarily strict
stems from pride.

Rav Meir Chadash brought a story to illustrate how bad middos can cause an otherwise wonderful person to act inappropriately. “A certain woman was very careful to give generously to tzedakah, even going to much trouble so that yeshiva students should eat at her house at no charge. One time a certain student used a bit more water than necessary to wash his hands. The woman began to scream, ‘Kloiznikim! Good-for-nothings! These people are not careful to save water!’

He concluded, “This is a classic case of petty miserliness. The underlying attitude is, ‘If I give, that is fine. But if someone takes even a little without my say-so, I am willing to heap insult and shame on his head!’”

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“The Root of Sin”
Shulchan Aruch Siman 158 Seif 9

But when this question reached Rav Nissim Karelitz, shlit”a, he ruled that no correction was necessary. “Although it is true that some sources hold this chumrah—the Yafe L’Lev is another achron who is stringent—the Chazon Ish clearly disagrees. He writes that one can certainly wait for his hands to dry since the main reasons we must dry our hands before eating is either because of the defiled water which is still on one’s hands or because it is disgusting to eat with wet hands…”

Mishna Berura Yomi Digest
Stories to Share
“A Little Knowledge”
Shulchan Aruch Siman 158 Seif 11

These Rabbinic rulings may seem strange, arcane, and even bizarre to most Christians. We aren’t often taught to be particularly concerned by whether or not we should wash our hands as a condition of dunking a donut in a cup of coffee, if we should use only a certain amount of water in hand washing, and whether to use a towel or forced air to dry our hands after washing as religious obligations, but they can be serious concerns for the observant Jew.

Remember in Part 1 of this “mediation,” I was talking about “practicing faith.” I said that we practice faith by doing and certainly in the examples I’ve just presented, we see Jewish people who are greatly concerned with exactly how they practice, even the smallest details of their faith in daily living.

I’m not suggesting that we Christians go down that particular path. Remember, in Part 1, I quoted from a commentary on the Ethics of Our Fathers that defined a Jew as someone who was more than the sum of his practices and stated that even if a Jew were to completely ignore all of the Torah, they would always be a Jew before man and God.

That doesn’t seem to describe the Christian, since it’s our faith and how we live it out that defines us.

However, I offer these quotes for another reason besides just as examples of “practicing Judaism.” There’s a sort of fallacy in Christian thinking that says Jewish religious practice is inflexible and practically dictatorial. The concept of “being under the Law” is a statement uttered by Christians almost always in a tone of horror. Even those Christians (and some “Jewish Christians”) who say they love Israel and feel called to the Torah, have significant problems with what is referred to as “Rabbinic Judaism.”

And yet we see that there is a great deal of flexibility in how Rabbinic rulings are issued and in how Judaism is practiced. We even see that excessive rigidity is considered sinful rather than pious, and an indication of an individual’s personal pride rather than a sincere desire to serve God.

Ironically, the sort of rigidity and judgmentalism that has been attributeed to Rabbinic Judaism actually describes some non-Jews in certain corners of the Hebrew Roots/Messianic Jewish movement (I use those terms somewhat loosely, since under that umbrella is contained a broad spectrum of beliefs and practices, and not all of them healthy). I’ve personally heard non-Jews in particular areas of this movement (not those with whom I was closely associated) argue almost violently about the proper method of tying tzitzit or what level of kashrut is considered correct. These same folks also dismissed “Rabbinic Judaism” out of hand and proceeded to “possess” the “practice” their own brand of “being Jewish” based on their personal interpretation of scripture or worse, based on some self-declared Gentile “Rabbi’s” revelations from (supposedly) on high.

Practicing righteousness and faith isn’t the same as practicing self-righteousness and faith in a cult leader. It’s also not the same as making concrete judgments on religious and practical behaviors not only for your own group, but for everyone around you and for the world in general.

It also isn’t exercising the supreme irony of Gentiles “practicing Judaism” by removing everything Jewish from the practice except some superficial “Jewish-like” activities. You don’t love Jews by hating Judaism.

Case in point.

Rav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlit”a, once discussed the terrible scourge of sin’as chinam in a moving manner. Speaking in a pained tone of voice, he said, “It is sad that when a Jew wants to expand his apartment, his neighbor—even if the construction doesn’t affect his apartment in the slightest—will often find an ‘underground’ way to stop construction. Such a person often won’t even allow his neighbor to put up a sukkah for seven days a year. But why should he care? In many situations the protestors’ apartment is in the north and the construction is in the south. Although there is no earthly reason why such construction should annoy them, they still protest.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“Human Nature”
Me’ila 4

Here, we see human nature getting in the way of practicing even general human compassion. When a Jew wants to put up a sukkah, for example, in obedience to the commandments, why should his non-Jewish neighbors care? It doesn’t affect them and they aren’t being made to obey the commandment themselves.

The same goes for those non-Jews who are attracted to certain aspects of Judaism but who do not accept the authority of the Rabbis to be able to define what is Jewish religious practice and lifestyle. If there are observant Jews who do choose to keep Glatt Kosher, for example, or who do wash their hands in the morning, or who say the Shema twice daily…even if you disagree with how those Jews practice their faith, why do you, a non-Jew, care enough to say they are wrong and to devalue who they are? What harm does it do to you? Aren’t you free to practice your faith as you see fit?

But this is exactly the point. If you are too rigid in how you judge the religious practice of others or object to what another person does or doesn’t do in the course of their relationship with God, are you practicing faith or practicing being a prideful human being?

To take it a step further, if a Muslim man kneeling on his prayer rug cries out to God with all his soul for a greater understanding of Allah and the desire to serve and be holy, why do you, even if you have “issues” with Islam, care if or how that Muslim prays? Why do you care if or how a Jew prays? If you have issues with the Christian church and believe bad things about the religion where you were raised, why do you care if or how some Christians pray to God?

If you really want to practice faith and get better at it; if you really want to make a small faith bigger, what must you do?

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? -Micah 6:8 (ESV)

God, through the prophet Micah, didn’t say to judge others, force your religious convictions on everyone you disagree with, and demand that you take over another group’s faith practices because you “know better.”

Do justice.

Love kindness.

Walk humbly with your God.

So is this practicing Christianity? It is if you’re a Christian. It’s practicing Judaism if you’re a Jew, and practicing Islam if you’re a Muslim. For all I know, it’s practicing Buddhism is you’re a Buddhist. Most of all though, it’s practicing getting closer to God.

So practice justice, kindness, and humility every day and perhaps then, your small faith will begin to grow.

Practicing Faith, Part 1

The essential thing, however, is the training to habituate one’s mind and thought continuously, so that it always remain imprinted in his heart and mind, that everything one sees with his eyes — the heavens and earth and all they contain — constitutes the outer garments of the king, the Holy One, blessed be He.

In this way he will constantly remember their inwardness and vitality, which is G-dliness.

This is also implicit in the word emunah (“faith”), which is a term indicating “training” to which a person habituates himself, like a craftsman who trains his hands, and so forth.

Today’s Tanya Lesson (Listen online)
Likutei Amarim, end of Chapter 42
By Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), founder of Chabad Chassidism
Elucidated by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg
Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi Levy Wineberg and Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg
Edited by Uri Kaploun.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

-Hebrews 11:1-3 (ESV)

Um, what is “faith” again?

We tend to think of faith as something we either have or don’t have, kind of like the color of your eyes. You either have brown eyes or not. It’s not something that comes and goes in stages, exactly. You either have faith or you don’t. You either believe in God or you don’t.

But wait a minute. Faith and belief aren’t the same things, are they? The writer of Hebrews seems to say that faith is the mechanism by which we understand that everything was created by the word of God, even though there isn’t any obvious physical evidence to support that this must be so.

But the lesson from the Tanya says that faith (emunah) is something we can be trained in and that we learn to habituate. Faith is learned? You can train in faith?

Kind of an interesting concept, and if you think about it a minute, it makes a lot of sense.

And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” -Matthew 8:26 (ESV)

But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?” -Matthew 16:8 (ESV)

Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once. -Matthew 15:28 (ESV)

Here, we see that faith can be little or great. Presumably, faith can be anywhere between little and great, too. So there are degrees of faith. But where do these “degrees” come from? Is there anything we can do if we have little faith to make it great or at least bigger than it was before?

Jesus seemed to think so, otherwise he wouldn’t have criticized his disciples for having little faith. But how is this to be done? The commentary in the Tanya Lesson continues:

The Rebbe notes that “who trains his hands” means: “He is cognizant of the craft in his soul; he has a natural talent for it, but needs only to train his hands, so that it will find tangible expression in his actions (be it through art, or fashioning vessels, or the like).”

This is sort of like the old joke about a country fellow who decided to visit New York City. He went on a sightseeing tour of all the famous places in New York such as Times Square, Madison Square Garden, and the Empire State Building. He also bought a ticket to a Broadway play, but as the time of the performance was drawing near, he realized he didn’t know how to find the theatre.

The tourist stopped someone on the street who looked like a local and asked, “How do I get to Broadway?”

The New Yorker brusquely replied, “Practice.”

Can faith be practiced? Can we learn faith the same way we learn a skill, such as painting, molding clay, or replacing a light switch in the hallway of your home?

The Rebbe said something else though. He said that the soul “has a natural talent for it…” (faith) “…but needs only to train his hands, so that it will find tangible expression in his actions.”

So who has a natural talent in faith?

G-d speaks with us at every moment.
His words form the world we see about us.

A prophet is no more than one who catches those words before they congeal into space and time.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Prophecy”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

While the Rabbi is talking about prophecy and not faith, I think we can apply his lesson to our “meditation.” God speaks to everyone, not only by virtue of the universe continuing to exist, but in many other ways. We were all created in His image. We are all His children, whether we even acknowledge Him or not. That means, we all have the ability, if we choose to use it, to connect to Him using faith as our bridge. True, some folks seem to have a greater talent for faith than others, as the Prophets had a greater “talent” for “hearing” God and passing on His Words, but even as we all can “hear” the voice of God, we all have a native talent to respond with faith…and to strengthen that faith by practicing it.

So how to you practice the “skill” of faith?

Part of the answer is in the source of the question. You study. You also pray, meditate, seek reliable teachers, spend time with other people who are also learning faith, and you let your general, day-to-day behaviors reflect your practice. This goes back to things I’ve said before about donating food to the hungry and visiting sick people in the hospital. If you want to be a person of faith, you have to act like a person of faith.

We learn by doing.

But I’ve heard some Gentile Christians say that if we are attracted to “practicing” the Bible and particularly practicing what we consider the Torah, we are really “practicing spiritual Judaism.” But is that true?

Who Is A Jew?

This apparent dichotomy in the nature of relations between Jew and Jew also appears in the words of our sages which describe the very definition of Jewishness and a Jew’s relationship with G-d.

The Talmud states: “A Jew, although he has transgressed, is a Jew.” He may violate, G-d forbid, the entire Torah, yet his intrinsic bond with the Almighty is not affected. In the words of the Midrash, “Torah preceded the creation of the world… but the thought of Israel preceded all in the mind of G-d.”

Commentary on Ethics of Our Fathers, Chapter 1
“Ulterior Motive”
Nissan 28, 5772 * April 20, 2012
Chabad.org

Judaism, at least from the Chabad perspective, considers a Jew to be a Jew, even if he or she doesn’t “practice Judaism” at all. That can’t apply to we non-Jewish Christians if we must practice our faith to be disciples of the Master and are attached to the God of Israel by that practice. So it would seem that “spiritual Judaism” isn’t something that the goyim (non-Jews) can possess, even by diligent practice.

So what are we practicing when we who are not Jewish, practice faith? Christianity?

I’ll save the answer for Part 2.

God’s Name is One and So Are We

Standing before GodThe Piaczezner Rebbe, zt”l, learns an important lesson about chassidus from a statement on today’s daf. “Why should we have to discuss this at length when the Mishnah in Kareisos 25 states explicitly that—according to Rabbi Eliezer—one can bring an asham any day, at any time that he desires. This was called an ‘asham chassidim.’ This teaches us the mainstay of being a genuine chassid. Not only must one never believe that he only does good; he must also believe—in keeping with how his avodah should be due to the holiness of his soul—that his avodah is not so pure. He should feel at all times that he may well have transgressed a serious Torah prohibition which requires a sacrifice, chas v’shalom…”

But Rav Moshe, the son of Rav Nachman of Kossov, zt”l, taught a very different message from the next statement in the Mishnah: “The day after Yom Kippur is known as ‘God’s Name’—‘Gott’s Nomen’ in Yiddish. We can explain this in light of a statement in the Mishnah in Kareisos 25. There we find that Bava ben Buta would bring a voluntary korban asham every day except for the day after Yom Kippur. This teaches that on the day after Yom Kippur every Jew is an aspect of a tzaddik. In Bava Basra 75 we find that, in the ultimate future, the tzaddikim will be called by God’s Name, since they will be completely subsumed in Him. It follows that the day after Yom Kippur, when we should all be absolutely connected to God, is known as God’s Name.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“God’s Name”
Kereisos 25

Christianity has no event or commemoration that mirrors Yom Kippur. We justify this by saying that our sins (past, present, and future) have been forgiven once and for all by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. We don’t have to go before God’s altar once per year and “sacrifice Jesus” all over again. The idea of an annual confession of sins, repentance, and heart-felt dedication to do better in the coming year can be seen by some Christians as even insulting, and denying the grace of Christ.

I think this is a mistake.

I think Christians, as least some of us, can get kind of lazy about our sins. We can get this whole, “I’m forgiven by the blood of Jesus” attitude and eventually, it doesn’t matter what we say and do in our day to day lives. We’re “covered by the blood” so we’ll be OK in the end.

Won’t we?

I recall a similar attitude encountered by John the Baptist and his immediate response:

And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. -Matthew 3:9 (ESV)

Christians tend to disdain the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to be baptized by John (see verse 7) but are probably shocked to read that I am making an unfavorable comparison between us and them.

Maybe we need to be reminded that we’re not such “hot stuff” just because we’re “saved.” I keep saying this, but I think it needs to be repeated constantly for the sake of the brethren…that salvation is just the barest beginning of the journey, not its conclusion.

At the risk of making another inaccurate or erroneous connection between classic Jewish teachings and the Christian scriptures, when I read the “story off the daf” today, and particularly it’s conclusion, in addition to Yom Kippur, it reminded me of this:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. -Revelation 22:1-4 (ESV)

Let me make a couple more connections.

…bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name… -Isaiah 43:6-7 (ESV)

…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. -2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)

And Rav Moshe, the son of Rav Nachman of Kossov, zt”l, taught:

It follows that the day after Yom Kippur, when we should all be absolutely connected to God, is known as God’s Name.

Admittedly, except for the passage from John’s Revelation, the people being described as “called by God’s Name” are Jewish. However, I wonder if, by the grace and benefit of the Messianic covenant Jesus established with his own life, death, and life, that we who are the disciples among the nations may also “be called by His Name” though we are not part of the covenant of Sinai which is only reserved for the Hebrews? I believe we can.

Then while we in the church don’t have a “Yom Kippur” event (sadly), if we did, it might represent the day to come when we would be past sin and tears and death and the day when “His Name will be on our foreheads.”

Then the following might also apply:

It has been previously noted that it is not enough to intend to unify one’s own soul with G-d through the performance of Torah and mitzvot; one must also seek to unite the source of all the souls of Israel with the infinite Ein Sof-light.

Often, loving another is ultimately a result of self-love: a person loves that which is good for him. The same is true with regard to loving G-d and desiring to cleave to Him through the study of Torah and the performance of mitzvot: the individual desires his own welfare, and that which will benefit his own soul — and there can be no better way of achieving this than by cleaving to G-d.

Likutei Amarim, middle of Chapter 41
from Today’s Tanya Lesson
By Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), founder of Chabad Chassidism
Elucidated by Rabbi Yosef Wineberg. Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi Levy Wineberg and Rabbi Sholom B. Wineberg. Edited by Uri Kaploun.
Listen online at Chabad.org

Remember what I said in my previous morning meditation about how this compares to the two greatest commandments taught by the Master himself? We cannot love our neighbors as ourselves unless we love God, but in seeking to unify our souls with His Spirit, we must also seek to unify the souls of everyone created in His Image.

You might say that this is the heart of Christian evangelism, but it’s not that simple. I get a little nervous when I hear believers talk about “winning souls for Jesus” as if they were talking about buying a winning lottery ticket or adding to a “collectables” hobby. It’s like Evangelists only “win” when they add another body to a church pew, and then they drop the person like a hot rock and move on to the “next soul to save.”

I’m talking about how we behave, whether or not we have anything to gain or lose. God “saves souls.” We merely live lives that (ideally) are the reflection and the container for a Light far brighter than our own.

Loving God and being called by His Name is about recognizing that loving God is what’s best for us as individuals. In that sense, it’s purely selfish, which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. However, if we think it’s only about “You and me, Jesus,” then our vision of faith becomes extremely near-sighted. Once we realize that loving God is good for us, then we realize it’s good for others, and our goal becomes not just to establish and grow our relationship with Him, but to share that relationship with the world around us.

This is not done by passing out religious tracts or beating everyone over the head with Bible verses. This is much better done by really loving your neighbor as yourself. What do you do to love yourself? Probably, you take care of yourself (see Ephesians 5:25-33 ESV). You make sure you have adequate (or excessive) food, shelter, clothing, and companionship. If you love others as you love yourself as the means by which you love and cleave to God, then what should you actually do to be called by His Name?

It may seem odd for me to try and associate classic Jewish and Kabbalistic teachings with the lessons of Jesus and Paul, but I’ve recently compared a Trappist Monk and the Rebbe, so stranger things have happened.

In the end, God is One and His Word is One…and His Name is One. If we cleave to God, so are we, all of us, no matter how different we are from each other.

“Infinite diversity in infinite combination.” -Spock

Light and the Lucid Crystal

Inner lightWhen a ray of light strikes a crystal, it gives a new quality to the crystal. And when God’s infinitely disinterested love plays upon a human soul, the same kind of thing takes place. And that is the life called sanctifying grace.

The soul of man, left to its own natural level, is a potentially lucid crystal left in darkness. It is perfect in its own nature, but it lacks something that it can only receive from outside and above itself. But when the light shines in it, it becomes in a manner transformed into light and seems to lose its nature in the splendor of a higher nature, the nature of the light that is in it.

So the natural goodness of man, his capacity for love which must always be in some sense selfish if it remains in the natural order, becomes transfigured and transformed when the Love of God shines in it. What happens when a man loses himself completely in the Divine Life within him? This perfection is only for those who are called the saints – for those rather who are the saints and who live in the light of God alone. For the ones who are called saints by human opinion on earth may very well be devils, and their light may very well be darkness. For as far as the light of God is concerned, we are owls. It blinds us and as soon as it strikes us we are in darkness. People who look like saints to us are very often not so, and those who do not look like saints very often are.

-Thomas Merton
Part Two, Chapter One, “With a Great Price,” pg 186
The Seven Storey Mountain

This explains a lot. It explains how people who have no faith in God in any manner and no apparent external moral compass (at least from a religious person’s point of view) can still do good and great things for others and uphold noble causes. It also explains how some “religious people,” even though they seem to have faith in God and to uphold the teachings of His prophets and apostles, can harbor evil thoughts and feelings for others and say and do heinous things, all supposedly in the name of God.

Merton further illustrates that a person who is perfect in his or her nature because he or she was made in God’s image and who allows themselves to accept and reflect and refract the light of God as does a crystal, can be perfected beyond human standards and be elevated in a relationship with God and man. This is what it is to be holy.

I was struck with these passages in Merton’s book and remembering this was written when he was a young Trappist monk, I was astonished at how closely some of his ideas and images paralleled those of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson, as I often quote them from the interpretation of Rabbi Tzvi Freeman. These quotes, of course, are an extension of Chasidic and even Kabbalistic thought and belief, which seems an even stranger comparison for me to make to the observations and reflections of a Catholic monk writing his autobiography in the 1940s.

I wonder if men from such different cultural and religious backgrounds aren’t on some level joined together by the light of God?

But if this unlikely and wonderful parallel between two men of such divergent faiths exists, how much more tragic that there are so many others in the religious and spiritual arena (and particularly in the blogosphere) who claim the title “saint” or “prophet” but who Merton would definitely classify as “devil?”

When it comes to accepting God’s own authority about things that cannot possibly be known in any other way except as revealed by His authority, people consider it insanity to incline their ears and listen. Things that cannot be known in any other way, they will not accept from this source. And yet they will meekly and passively accept the most appalling of lies from newspapers when they scarcely need to crane their necks to see the truth in front of them, over the top of the sheet they are holding in their hands.

For example, the very thought of an imprimatur on the front of a book – the approbation of a bishop, allowing the book to be printed on the grounds that it contains safe doctrine – is something that drives some people almost out of their minds with indignation.

-Merton, pg 187

I’m not a big fan of censorship and I’m probably one of those people who would be driven out of my mind with indignation if someone should hand me a book that was declared “safe” by the Catholic church. But in reading these sentences and the ones that followed, I began to draw a comparison to what Merton could not possibly have anticipated – the proliferation of information on the world wide web.

The Internet isn’t filtered and in my humble opinion, it never should be, but the danger in this is that anyone who can create a website or blog (and this includes everyone nowadays) will create a website or blog, and they’ll spew their opinions all over the Internet so that anyone with web access can find them and read them.

If you are reasonably well educated from other sources, (such as books and reliable teachers) you can probably make your way through the maze of good content and bad, but there are so many would-be “saints” in the world who unknowingly fall into the teachings of a “devil” out of sheer ignorance.

I was once teaching a class at a congregation and was confronted with a strange thought by one of the students. In the course of the conversation, she said the oddest thing. I believe we were talking about the Tetragrammaton; the most holy and unpronounceable name of God, which many people express as “YHWH,” and she said that the reason the Jewish people were exiled was that they refused to reveal the pronunciation of “the Name” to the world and thus, lost all knowledge of the pronunciation as an additional punishment.

What?

Yes, that sounds crazy to me, too.

I don’t remember all of the details and I probably wouldn’t publish them if I did, but apparently, there was some sort of “teacher” on the Internet who was spreading this kind of information. She gave me the URL to his site and I looked him up.

Oh my!

There were years and years and years worth of articles on his site (I really don’t remember his name) and it would have been impossible to go through all of his stuff. I searched for the information on the “Sacred Name” but didn’t find it. I looked through some random web articles and some of it was relatively sane and a lot of it wasn’t. The guy seemed like he was intelligent and even educated, but his conclusions were highly suspect.

With that memory fully recalled and in reading Merton’s book, I’m beginning to develop a new respect for the “imprimatur” concept. Not in terms of consuming data that is only acceptable to the Catholic church, but with the idea of separating the “wheat from the chafe” relative to sound versus unsound religious “research”. If I want to buy a book, I can always go to Amazon and read the reviews to get some sort of idea if the book is any good or not (although sometimes even that litmus test fails). For random craziness on the web, there often is not litmus test except keeping yourself educated with valid sources and knowing when something looks suspicious.

Even with that, some otherwise reliable and well-educated blog authors can become overly-enamored with their own self-importance, just because they get a lot of attention and some local notoriety. The curse of even marginally “famous” believers is that the temptation to forget that God is the focus can be really strong.

I occasionally get “spammed” by folks who tell me that they’ve got a direct line to the Holy Spirit of God who whispers in their ears and helps them not rely on their own intellectual prowess. That kind of makes it hard for me to say that God should be our final litmus test on information when any sort of supernatural revelation is, by its very nature, totally subjective. We can say that revelations of the Spirit should only be considered on the up and up if they jive with Scripture, but interpretation of Scripture is also extremely variable, depending on who you read, who you talk to, and who you believe. Seems like a vicious circle.

Ultimately, we each take some sort of stand and say that “this religion” or “this denomination” or “this sect” or “this viewpoint” is what we consider foundational, and we proceed from that point. None of us have it completely “right” but then perhaps none of us have it completely “wrong” either. In the intellectual “holy wars” on the web, regardless of our differing opinions, we can still rely on the words of the Master that are not ambiguous:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions. -Mark 12:28-34 (ESV)

I am also reminded of the Prophet Micah:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? -Micah 6:8 (ESV)

And although not a prophet as we understand the term, Thomas Merton managed to crystallize something important:

So the natural goodness of man, his capacity for love which must always be in some sense selfish if it remains in the natural order, becomes transfigured and transformed when the Love of God shines in it.

If we open ourselves to Him, we are the breath of God. When we love others, then we are breathing, then we are alive.

Develop your awe of heaven and you will diminish your fear of human beings.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
from the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
to a Jewish activist in a dangerous Arab land
Chabad.org