From a point before and beyond all things, G-d looked upon a moment in time to be, and saw there a soul, distant from Him in a turbulent world, yet yearning to return to Him and His oneness. And He saw the pleasure He would have from this union.
So He invested His infinite light into that finite image, and became one with that image, and in that image He created each one of us.
As for that moment He saw, that was the moment now.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
G-d looked upon a moment in time to be, and saw there a soul, distant from Him in a turbulent world, yet yearning to return to Him and His oneness.
To employ a small joke, I resemble that remark. To be fair, a lot of other people within the community of faith also “resemble that remark,” whether they’re willing to admit it or not. In fact, there are times when I wonder how anyone can feel close to God because, after all, He is the Creator of the universe and the Master of all worlds. How can one, small, insignificant human being really matter to compared to all that?
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor. –Psalm 8:3-5 (ESV)
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. –Matthew 10:29-31 (SEV)
I know, I know. It’s hard to say I’m irrelevant to God in an absolute sense when we have these verses to turn to. The Bible contains all of these little bits and pieces suggesting that human beings have God’s attention but it is nevertheless possible to feel as if you are utterly alone.
Rabbi Freeman, in one of his commentaries on prayer called The View From Within, mentions this.
So here we are, at rock bottom, suffering from all our circumstances because we can’t figure out how on earth any of this could be good. We’re helpless – this is an inherent deficiency in our design and vantage point.
I’m taking this way out of context (the full article can be found at the link I posted above), but it does paint a good picture of where I am right now. Remember from yesterday’s morning meditation that I’m picturing myself as sitting at the bottom of a well. God has just lowered a ladder and it is implied that by praying, I can begin to climb. Today, Rabbi Freeman is saying that even what we pray for is a matter of perspective, as well as how we understand our life circumstances. To illustrate this point, he tells a story:
When the Baal Shem Tov was leader of the chassidim, whenever troubles befell them, he would pray and avert the harsh decrees from heaven. When the Baal Shem Tov passed on and his disciple, the great kabbalist, Rabbi Dov Ber, the Magid of Mezritch, took over the leadership, he would similarly avert these decrees. When the Magid passed on, the most difficult persecutions of their leadership and of their cause began.
The students of the Magid, all of them great, enlightened masters, beseeched him to respond to them from his place in the world beyond. They pleaded, “As long as you were here, you interceded successfully on our behalf. Certainly, from your place in the next world you have yet greater power to intercede!”
The Magid responded to his disciples, “When I was below, I saw these things as harsh and cruel. But from my station up here, I only see the good in all of this. As Rabbi Akiva taught, all that the All-Merciful does is for the good. How could I pray to avert something I see as true goodness?”
His disciples then asked, “If so, our master, what about us? Should we also desist from praying that these decrees be averted?”
“No,” the Magid responded. “Since in your world these appear to be evil, you must do everything in your power to avert them and alter the heavenly decree!”
-Rabbi S.Y. Zevin, Sipurei Chassidim
In real life, we hardly ever hear from people who have ascended into the Heavenly realm (if we do at all) and so we do not, in actuality, have any idea of their perspective. We remain locked into our own, like an ant trying to move a pebble in the dirt. We human beings can look down on that ant with a completely different viewpoint and realize a world the ant has no ability to imagine, let alone experience. But we are unable to impart to that ant how much more there is in the universe around it, even though we see a vast panorama beyond that one small ant pushing a pebble in the dirt.
This is how we are in comparison to God.
But we didn’t create the ant’s universe, nor did we create the ant. The vast majority of us don’t care all that much for ants, and if they get into our homes, we’ll exterminate them without hardly a thought about their deaths. This, we hope and pray, is not how God sees us, and in fact, we hope and pray that God sees us with love and compassion, rather than as insects infesting His world.
But all we have is an ant’s point of view. Unlike the ant, we have the imagination to envision something much more; something we cannot directly experience, but there’s a difference between imagination and knowledge. There’s even a difference between faith and belief and knowledge.
If I were to take Rabbi Freeman’s lesson at face value, I would have to accept that however I currently imagine my experience, it is not at all the same as seen from God’s perspective. What I experience as feelings of emptiness, He may see as something else entirely. But unlike the Magid to his students, God does not speak to we, His creations, to tell us that what we see as evil, God only sees as good.
Or does He?
So here we are, at rock bottom, suffering from all our circumstances because we can’t figure out how on earth any of this could be good. We’re helpless — this is an inherent deficiency in our design and vantage point. And the Mastermind of All Worlds turns to us from His penthouse panorama with banks of video monitors on every creature in the universe, and yells down into your pit, “So how’s the weather down there? Any complaints?”
And this is mitzvah of tefillah! To “petition for all your needs with requests and supplications” three times a day!
It must be, then—because this is the only way out of our conundrum—that for whatever reason (or just out of pure desire), the Creator of this reality is interested in the experience from within, and not just from above. And He wants to bring the two into perfect union.
Tefillah, then, means a union of two worlds, two perspectives, two forms of consciousness: The view from Above unites with the view from within. And we are the matchmakers.
This again, is an interpretation and an imagination as related by Rabbi Freeman’s commentary on prayer. He is telling us that prayer does matter because, in part, it is the joining of our experience with God’s experience and that God desires we share our experience with Him. Of course, Rabbi Freeman is saying all of this from a Jewish perspective and relating it to a Jewish audience, but given the comments on prayer I made yesterday, I don’t think it’s terribly unreasonable for me to apply his lesson to an individual Christian sitting at the bottom of the abyss.
But as I imagine prayer as the means by which I may start climbing out of the pit, Rabbi Freeman has other ideas.
This is vital for us to know before we go any further into the spiritual ascent of prayer, mystic union and higher consciousness: The goal is not a jailbreak out of the dungeon of material existence. The goal is a marriage of two worlds—ours and His. Heaven on earth. Tefillah is where the two kiss.
Sounds very “romantic,” but then in Judaism, God is called “the lover of our souls.” I don’t know if the exact same relationship can be said of God and me relative to Judaism, but perhaps filtered through John 3:16, it might apply because of the Messiah. Because of Jesus, God may also love the Christian soul.
So if prayer isn’t a ladder designed for the human to ascend out of the pit of the world and into the heavens, is it instead an invitation to dance? If so, I’ll have to learn to stand first, and then to walk. Right now, I’m like the wallflower at the high school prom, staring in disbelief at a hand being offered, beckoning me to rise. I hope this isn’t just wishful thinking. We’ll see.
The road is long and often, we travel in the dark.