Tag Archives: Kabbalah

What Does “Torah” Mean To You?

For clarification, by the word “Torah,” I do not just mean the Torah, as in the Five Books of Moses, but to all Jewish religious texts such the Hebrew Bible, rabbinic and halakhic texts, and kabbalistic and hasidic texts.

-Rabbi Joel E. Hoffman
“Why I Learn Torah Daily”
Aish.com

This somewhat dovetails with what I wrote in The Torah Without Judaism, and particularly the brief exchange I had in the comments section of that blog post with reader ProclaimLiberty.

The question for the Messianic and particularly the “Messianic Gentile” or “Talmid Yeshua” is what the word “Torah” means to us.

There’s probably no one answer, since depending on the given disciple, Jewish or Gentile, the perspective is going to vary.

What do I mean by “Torah?”

This is just my personal opinion. I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do. But I think it’s a helpful question we should all ask ourselves periodically, rather than just assume that our answer is “the answer.”

From my point of view, “Torah” includes the whole Bible, and by that I mean the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets, the Writings, and the Apostolic Scriptures. However, I also habitually read articles and commentaries found at Aish.com and Chabad.org, mainly to get a Jewish viewpoint on what I’m studying.

Granted, I am doing a lot of mental editing when I read content from those resources, since those sites and their information are written by and for Jews, not Gentiles, particularly not for Christians, and absolutely not for anyone with my unique conceptualization of scripture, Messiah, and Hashem.

christian books
Photo: sharonglasgow.com

I don’t typically read traditional Christian resources, even though they are far more Yeshua (Jesus) focused, because, frankly, I just don’t relate to them. I’ve always had a problem with “Christianese,” even when I first became a believer about twenty years ago.

I do read the occasional Christian-oriented book here and there, but either I don’t get very much out of them, or I actively criticize their content.

There have been other resources I have heavily consumed in the past, and they still guide the majority of my thinking and beliefs, but for a variety of reasons, I’ve chosen not to pursue them further, at least to any significant degree.

I have become aware that a debate somewhat like the one I previously mentioned is occurring at a Hebrew Roots blogspot, and the discussion there is very contentious.

However, the blog owner did provide a link to a brief review of a book by Rabbi Chaim Clorfene called The World of the Ger. You can learn more about it at the blog Soul Mazal.

I know that there are some “Messianic Gentiles” who at least suggest the path of the Noahide is an appropriate journey for them/us as well, and I’ve written on this before.

I think there are some things we might take from that example, but it’s also filled with trap doors and land mines. It’s far too easy for some of us to confuse our faith in Hashem and devotion to our Rav with the practice of Judaism or Noahidism. Hence the fact that we see some non-Jews in our communities as well as in churches leave Yeshua-faith and either join the ranks of the Noahide or convert to (Orthodox) Judaism.

It would almost be better for believing Gentiles to stay in their churches rather than take such a risk.

But then, in my opinion, their perspectives regarding what the Bible really says about Israel, the Jewish people, the redemption of the world, and yes, about Judaism, would remain limited if not misguided.

studyAs with many other questions I bring up, I don’t have a hard and fast answer for you. Interestingly enough, this brings us back to Rabbi Hoffman’s brief essay:

I learn Torah every day because it gives me a cohesive set of answers to all of the ultimate questions.

I suppose, from Rabbi Hoffman’s perspective, it does, but it doesn’t work that way for me. I still have far more questions than I do “ultimate” answers.

But here’s another wrinkle R. Hoffman introduces:

I learn Torah every day because it connects me with the millions of other Jews worldwide who also learn Torah every day.

That works if you are a religious Jew, but not so much for we non-Jews, even Noahides, I suspect. After all, how Torah applies to the Ger is remarkably different from how it applies to the Jew, at least in the details, although keep in mind that I also previously mentioned a private Jewish school in Utah that teaches Jewish values to a student body made up of 75% non-Jews.

And that’s one of the reasons, maybe one of my top reasons, for studying the Torah as I understand it. To seek a common ground where I as a non-Jew can stand and learn who God is and who I am to Him through a Jewish lens.

But I craft that “lens” to fit more my particular “eyesight” requirements, since I’m not a Jew and I consider myself more than a Noahide.

The one advantage I have is that I stand outside of actual, face-to-face Jewish or Christian community. Neither one can have too strong a pull on me, although the Pastor at the church I attended for two years certainly tried as hard as he could to turn me into a good Baptist.

But since, as I’ve admitted, I find Jewish thought more appealing, I suppose if I were constantly exposed to Jewish community of the non-Messianic variety, I’d be putting myself at risk of being influenced to the point of challenging my faith. I don’t know if it would go that far, but why take the chance?

That may be why so many of us are unaffiliated, although there are plenty of other reasons.

Laying TefillinIf I study Torah as I understand it and don’t adopt the praxis of Judaism, I can’t be as strongly influenced to confuse Judaism with my identity and role as God created them for me. I also can’t be accused (as sometimes occurs) of misappropriating the things unique to the covenant relationship between Hashem and the Jewish people, such as Shabbat, Kosher, the prayers, donning a tallit gadol, or laying tefillin.

If you’re Jewish, then I say what’s yours is yours.

If I’m not Jewish and I don’t identify as a traditional Christian, all that’s left, assuming I retain my Yeshua-faith, is a journey to discover who I am uniquely in my relationship with my Rav.

If you confuse that with either Judaism or Christianity, you might already have lost your way.

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In the Midst of the Flaming God

in-the-midst-of-fireQuestion: The writings of Kabbalah and Chassidism speak of four worlds—Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah. Where are these “worlds”? Why haven’t any of them been discovered yet?

Response: When I try to relate to these worlds, I picture each of them as another lens through which we can view reality. The higher the world, the sharper and clearer the lens—so that everything in that world is a harmonious expression of G‑d’s simple oneness. The lower the world, the more it feels otherness—as though it never had a creator to begin with. Things become fragmented, discordant, even downright ugly, as that sublime oneness is lost.

We live in the bottom-level, physical world of Asiyah—meaning “actuality”—a reality in which G‑dliness is completely hidden. Our lenses allow us to see nothing more than the end-product of all the processes that came before it. We see a table—not the divine energy that keeps it in existence. We marvel over a sunset—as though it were just another natural phenomenon, rather than a masterpiece of a Master Artist. We attribute financial success to smart business tactics—not to the blessings of G‑d. It’s no coincidence that the word for “world” in Hebrew, olam, shares the same root as he’elem, meaning “hidden.” Everything but the most outer façade is hidden from our view.

What keeps our prescription so low?

-Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar
“Where Are All the ‘Worlds’?”
Chabad.org

I know Kabbalah isn’t for everyone and mysticism gives most Christians the nervous “shakes,” but for me, it explores the answers to certain questions that we otherwise must avoid completely. It also allows me to put into perspective the things in this world (and the next) that drive me crazy.

We live in the bottom-level, physical world…in which G‑dliness is completely hidden.

Exactly. And yet often we behave as if our “bargain basement world” has all the answers we’ll ever need to understand God and who we are in Him. I’m not suggesting that we all start taking “mystic trips” into the upper regions of reality and attempt to experience God in His own realm, but we should consider that we don’t know as much as we think we know.

I don’t think that the Bible has all the answers, either. I do think, however, that it has sufficient answers for us. If it had all the answers, humanity (or at least Christianity and Judaism) wouldn’t have such a thing as a mystic tradition.

Some would say that the “worlds” Rabbi Cotlar is discussing have an objective reality on other planes of existence, and others, most others probably, believe that these “worlds” are just mental abstractions we use to discuss what otherwise couldn’t be discussed because we have no language and no conceptualization of what it is to exist beyond what our five senses can detect.

I know I’ll be criticized for even mentioning the “K” (Kabbalah) word, but think about it. If you are a religious Jew or Christian, by definition, you’ve taken on board certain beliefs about the spiritual and supernatural worlds. You believe in angels, and archangels, and (if you’re Christian) God being able to manifest Himself in human form (though that is not His totality according to Derek Leman).

We attribute financial success to smart business tactics—not to the blessings of G‑d.

I bet you never thought that was a “mystic” statement, did you? Most of us, even those of us who are “religious,” tend to pat ourselves on the back when we do well in business, get a raise, start and run a successful business, or pump up the number of “zeros” in our annual income. And yet, every morsel of food we consume, every breath we take, every beat of our heart, every day that dawns, would never occur apart from the will of our Father.

How can we not believe in other realms beyond our own?

But then again, it isn’t the belief in other mystic realms that’s the problem, but the thought that any human being should know anything about them, aside from what we read in the Bible. That’s typically what hangs most people up.

The basics of the teachings of the kabbalah – upon which all these texts expound and elaborate – were not invented by the human mind. They are teachings that were orally passed down through the generations, from teacher to disciple, dating back to Moses himself.

And Moses did go there and back. He spent months on Mount Sinai wandering through the various spiritual worlds and then communicated his findings back to us. That which he didn’t personally experience was revealed to him by the Creator of all these spiritual worlds—together with the rest of the Written and Oral Torah. Even after he descended the mountain, he continued to learn directly from G‑d for the next forty years.

-Rabbi Menachem Posner
“How can any human claim to know of ‘other worlds’?”
Chabad.org

That won’t be very convincing to most Christians not to mention a lot of Jews. But how about this?

Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

Exodus 24:18

So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.

Exodus 34:28

lost-in-the-fogThat might not be convincing either if you just think Moses and God sat together for forty days and forty nights around a really big campfire on the top of a mountain. But did God come down or Moses go up…or something in between? Whatever it was, Moses entered into the presence of the living God, His Divine Presence, and was not consumed by fire and could live in God’s presence and not die, and could do without either food or water for well over a month.

If you believe that actually happened and isn’t just some metaphor or fable, then you believe in the spiritual, the supernatural, the mystic encounter of man with God.

In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the exiles by the Chebar canal, the heavens were opened, and I saw visions of God.

Ezekiel 1:1

Daniel declared, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.

Daniel 7:2-3

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.

2 Corinthians 12:2-4

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet…Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me…and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.

Revelation 1:9-10, 12, 13-17

Each of these experiences stretches, pushes, pulls, and distorts the experience of “reality” of each of the human beings involved beyond what we would consider “normal.” Moses, Ezekiel, Paul, and John each had their own mystic encounters with the realm of Heaven in ways that could not be fully explained to the rest of us who have (presumably) not shared such experiences.

If such is recorded in the Bible we know (as well as we can know the Bible, that is), what mystic experiences have human beings encountered that have not been recorded or that have been recorded in what we consider less than reliable texts?

Who knows?

My point is not to sell you on mysticism. I’m hardly a mystic. I make no claim to otherworldly journeys. I’m only suggesting that no matter what you have learned, no matter how well you are educated, no matter how much you pat yourself on the back for your erudite understanding of the Scriptures, and no matter what sort of “Holy Spirit high” you believe you are on, you really don’t know as much as you think you do. I know I don’t.

sky-above-you-god1To reduce God down to what we can read in the Bible, even if we believe that the Holy Spirit is giving us personal instruction and whispering little “secrets” of interpretation in our ears, is arrogant in the extreme.

It’s understandable that in feeling small before God and probably in the midst of other people, we should want to exalt ourselves. But this reductionist thinking also makes God small, like we are, and all but eliminates any sense of awe, wonder, and majesty at even the contemplation of the awesome, wonderful, infinite, exalted, measureless, Ein Sof, Radically One, creative God.

The Ancient of Days is above all things and beyond human sight and comprehension. But the One like a Son of Man shares his nature fully, being One with him. The Ancient of Days sends the Son of Man into created things to rule from within. The Ancient of Days is transcendent completely but the Son of Man is immanent and is with us. The unity of the Father and Son is absolute, so we cannot say the Son is “part of God,” for God has no parts.

-Derek Leman

Trying to discuss the Divinity of Jesus “is like trying to hit a bullet with a smaller bullet whilst wearing a blindfold, riding a horse,” to quote a certain Scottish engineer from the twenty-third century. In other words, it’s at least extremely difficult if not darn near impossible.

And yet, how can we not try to talk about and even to comprehend that which surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds us together with Him?

Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.

Luke 9:28-36

What do you do, as a simple fisherman who is learning from a rural, itinerant teacher, when your teacher suddenly starts glowing bright white and mysteriously is joined by the two greatest Prophets in the history of your people (and you have no idea how you recognize these two men who lived many centuries before you were born…and there are no photos or paintings of them anywhere), and these two great men start speaking to your teacher in a close and intimate manner….and then a voice from Heaven tells you that your teacher is the Son of God and commands you to listen to him?

What do you do when your reality experiences a direct intersection with the mystic realm of God?

I don’t know. But one thing I do know. If you have any sort of sense at all, you realize just how small you are and that, in fact, you don’t know anything close to what you thought you did.

I don’t either.

When’s the last time you were sitting in the midst of the flaming God on a mountain?

147 days.

Crying Out to God

Standing before GodWhen the son of Reb Michel Blinner of Nevel was in mortal danger, he asked Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, the “Tzemach Tzedek,” for a blessing. The Tzemach Tzedek responded, “Awaken the power of trust in G‑d with simple faith that He, blessed be He, will save your son. Thought helps. Think good and it will be good.”

And so it was that Reb Michel’s son was saved.

-Rabbi Yosef Yitzchaak Schneerson of Lubavitch
Igrot Kodesh (letters), vol. 7, pg. 197
Quoted from Chabad.org

A request is an expression of what we want, but the most effective prayer is an expression of what we desperately need. Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman, one of today’s great Torah sages, once told a visitor, “Last year you said you wanted this. So I asked you then, ‘Who says G-d wants this too?’ This year you said you needed this. In that case you should be successful in getting it, because our Father makes sure His children have what they need.”

-Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
“Who Needs Him?”
ProjectGenesis.org

I wrote my “morning meditation” Shemot: Trusting God yesterday, and so it wasn’t until last night that my wife sent me a link to Rabbi Tzvi Freeman’s article Is the Law of Attraction a Jewish Idea?

According to Wikipedia, the Law of attraction “is the name given to the belief that “like attracts like” and that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts, one can bring about positive or negative result.” It’s also the source of more books and materials than you can shake a stick at including The Law of Attraction: The Basics of the Teachings of Abraham by Esther and Jerry Hicks (no, I haven’t read it) and the very famous Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill (no, I haven’t read this one, either).

But as Rabbi Freeman says, the “law of attraction places the human being smack in the center of the universe, pulling all the strings. You create your own reality.” For this to work, a person must make himself his own god and then have complete faith in that god. Sounds silly from a Christian’s point of view, but what if there’s something to all this “attraction” business after all?

The Law of Attraction is a popular idea that states that a person’s attitude attracts matching happenstance. Pessimism attracts misfortune, while optimism attracts good fortune.

The power of attitude to change the flow of a person’s life is a tacit assumption of much of Torah literature, particularly in that most influential source of common wisdom, the Psalms. “One who trusts in G‑d, kindness surrounds him!” (Psalm 32:10) “Fortunate is the man who puts his trust in G‑d!” (Ibid 40:5)

The sages of the Talmud similarly appear to take this law for granted. For example, in dismissing as useless superstition a folk-omen to determine whether one’s journey will meet with success or doom, the sages advise, “But don’t do it.” Why not? “Because perhaps the omen will be negative, the person will worry, and his fortune will go sour.” (Horayot 12a)

The idea is correct, at least according to Jewish philosophy and mysticism, but people tend to put their focus and trust on themselves rather than the One and true living God.

I quoted Rabbi Kalman Packouz in my earlier meditation, and I mentioned his list of 7 Principles for Trusting in God:

  1. The Creator of the universe loves me more than anybody else in the world possibly can.
  2. The Almighty is aware of all my struggles, desires and dreams. All I need is to ask Him for help.
  3. The Almighty has the power to give me anything I want.
  4. There is no other power in the universe other than the Almighty. Only He can grant me success and give me what I want.
  5. The Almighty has a track record for giving me more than I am asking for.
  6. The Almighty gives with no strings attached. I don’t need to earn it or deserve it. He will give it to me anyway.
  7. The Almighty knows what is best for me and everything He does is only for my good.

For Rabbi Freeman’s conceptualization of the “law of attraction” to work, we must trust in the God of Heaven for all things rather than in ourselves. If we trust that God will provide, then it stands to reason He will, at least according to Rabbi Freeman. If we are constantly worried, on the other hand…

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Matthew 6:25-34 (ESV)

Tree of LifeI mentioned Jewish mysticism before. Here is the parallel to the above from the Zohar:

The Lower World is always ready to receive and is called a precious stone. The Upper World only gives it according to its state. If its state is of a bright countenance from below, in the same manner it is shone upon from above; but if it is in sadness, it is correspondingly given judgment. Similarly, it is written, “Serve G‑d with joy!”—because human joy draws another supernal joy. Thus, just as the Lower World is crowned, so it draws from above.

-Zohar, volume 3, 56a

I’m not holding up Kabbalah as, in any sense, equal to the words of the Master, but I do want to show that there are different directions from which we can approach trusting God and having confidence that He will provide. It’s in that confidence that we are healed.

And there was a woman who had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Luke 8:43-48 (ESV)

Maybe I’m taking this too far, but look again at what Jesus says in verse 48: “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”

He didn’t say “I have made you well” but rather Your faith has made you well.”

Let’s take another example:

And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.”

Matthew 9:27-30 (ESV)

Look at the question Jesus asks in verse 28: “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” The two blind men had to ascent that they did believe Jesus could restore their sight. Once they did (I guess Jesus didn’t necessarily take them at their word), the Master said, “According to your faith be it done to you.” In other words, the ability of Jesus to heal these two men was directly related to their faith in his ability to do so.

Woman prayingOK, I don’t want to create a formula or mechanical set of steps for healing and manipulating God, but this does seem to positively connect back to what Rabbis Freeman and Packouz have been saying about trusting God and its effects. No, I’m not saying that God is powerless in the face of a faithless humanity, but I am saying that it seems as if those of us who are aware of God are in some mysterious sense “partners” in His activity in our lives.

In my examples from the Gospels, we seem to see that a lack of faith would have resulted in few or no miracles from Jesus and that, conversely, great faith (even without the conscious awareness of Christ in the case of the woman with the “issue of blood”) produces great miracles. We further see this relationship between faith and “attracting” the power of God here:

And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

Matthew 13:58 (ESV)

Again, I don’t want to suggest that we can exploit some sort of “system” for getting God to do what we want Him to do. After all, how many people of sincere and fervent faith have prayed for the healing of a loved one and instead of a bodily healing, the person being prayed for died? (I know of a number of such people and families)

I’ve said before that there are no guarantees and that we trust in God because, as believers, we simply have no choice. Except we have a choice and we often choose not to trust God. It gets more complicated when we realize that trust or lack thereof, isn’t a matter of our just doing or not doing something, since even a person with supreme trust in the Almighty is still expected to take an active role, not only in prayer, but any other activity involved in achieving what we need.

A meditation for when things get rough:

The world was brought into being with Goodness. And the ultimate good for Man is that he should not be shamed, but feel as a partner in the fulfillment of the divine plan. Free bread is to us bread of shame—such is the nature of Man.

That is why nothing good comes without toil. And according to the toil can be known the harvest that will be reaped in the end.

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

Groaning by itself won’t do a bit of good. A groan is only a key to open the heart and eyes, so as not to sit there with folded arms, but to plan orderly work and activity, each person wherever he can be effective…

“Today’s Day”
Thursday, Tevet 23, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Blessed by GodI suppose I’m writing all of this because I’m trying to convince myself to just “let go and let God,” as the popular Christian saying goes. But it’s still not that easy.

Where were you when I established the earth?

Job 38:4

One who reads the book of Job cannot but have compassion for just and pious Job, who appears to be unfairly subjected to suffering. All the rational arguments that his friends offer to account for his innocent suffering appear hollow, and the only acceptable answer is God’s remark to Job, “Where were you when I established the earth?”

In other words, a human being can see only a tiny fragment of the universe, an infinitesimally small bit of time and space. Our vantage point is much like a single piece of a huge jigsaw puzzle, a tiny fragment of the whole picture, which makes no sense on its own. Only when the entire puzzle is assembled do we realize how this odd-shaped piece fits properly. Since no human being can have a view of the totality of the universe in both time and space, we cannot possibly grasp the meaning of one tiny fragment of it.

This explanation does not tell us why the innocent may suffer, but only why there cannot be a satisfactory explanation. Acceptance of suffering therefore requires faith in a Creator who designed the universe with a master plan in which everything that happens has a valid reason. This belief may not comfort a sufferer nor prevent the sufferer from becoming angry at the Designer of the universe. The Torah does not in fact condemn the anger of the sufferer (Bava Basra 16b), but does require that he accept adversity with trust that God is just (Deuteronomy 32:4).

Acceptance does not mean approval, but it does allow us to avoid the paralyzing rage of righteous rage, and to go on with the business of living.

Today I shall …

… try to realize that nothing ever happens that is purposeless, and that I must go on living even when I disapprove of the way the world operates.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 23”
Aish.com

Which in my mind, leads to this:

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

attributed to Plato

I’m trying to write a more optimistic counterpoint to my earlier “Shemot” commentary, but I’m not doing a very good job. I can’t seem to summon up the will, the trust, or whatever it takes to just say “God is good,” and leave it at that. I continue to look at my life and at the world around me and find things that could be better (I’m employing understatement here). We’re all fighting a hard battle and we are begging God to please be kind. We don’t always receive the kindness we ask for, sometimes even in spite of our faith and trust.

But my wife sent me the link to the “law of attraction” article for a reason, so regardless of what I see or what I think about it, perhaps it wouldn’t hurt (and maybe…just maybe it would help) to be a little more trusting and optimistic.

My wife was listening to “When the Heart Cries” by Sarit Hadad on YouTube the other evening. Somehow, it seems appropriate to include that in this “extra meditation” as well.

A Few Thoughts on a General Soul

Hasidism teaches that while not all are able to attain the highest levels of elevated spirituality, the masses can attach themselves to the Tzadik, or truly righteous one, (in Hebrew: התקשרות לצדיקים) whereby even those of lesser achievement will reap the same spiritual and material benefits. By being in the Tzadik’s presence one could achieve dveikut through that of the Tzadik. The Tzadik also serves as the intercessor between those attached to him and God, and acts as the channel through which Divine bounty is passed. To the early Rabbinic opponents of Hasidism, its distinctive doctrine of the Tzadik appeared to place an intermediary before Judaism’s direct connection with God. They saw the Hasidic enthusiasm of telling semi-prophetic or miraculous stories of its leaders as excessive. In Hasidic thought, based on earlier Kabbalistic ideas of collective souls, the Tzaddik is a general soul in which the followers are included. The Tzaddik is described as an “Intermidiary who connects” with God, rather than the heretical notion of an “Intermidiary who separates”. To the followers, the Tzaddik is not an object of prayer, as he attains his level only by being completely bittul (nullified) to God. The Hasidic followers have the custom of handing pidyon requests for blessing to the Tzaddik, or visiting the Ohel graves of earlier leaders.

from the article “Hasidic philosophy”
Wikipedia.org

I can hardly tell you how the above-quoted paragraph seems to describe how I understand the Messiah.

OK, I know that Wikipedia has less than a stellar reputation as a direct resource, but given that Chasidic and Kabbalistic philosophy can be enormously difficult to comprehend (at least to me), I selected what I thought was the most accessible information source. But why am I posting a quote about bonding with a Chasidic tzadik at all? What possible relevance can it have to a Christian, even one who is trying to view his faith through a traditional Jewish lens?

Last week, as I’ve mentioned numerous times, I attended the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) 2012 Shavuot conference at the Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. Among the various teachers and speakers at this event was FFOZ author and staff member Aaron Eby. He said something about the Messiah during one of his presentations that I just had to write down. This probably isn’t word-for-word, but hopefully, it’s close.

Messiah has a general soul and he cannot separate his soul from the soul of Israel.

I’m not sure if the other stuff I have written down on this little piece of paper I’m looking at was said by Aaron or just my interpretation and expansion on what he said, but here it is.

When a Gentile takes hold of the tzitzit of a Jew, he is taking hold of Messiah. He is taking hold of the tzitzit of a Jew and being led to the Temple Mount. Find God in the Jewish people.

I’m obviously referencing Zechariah 8:23 in my notes, but let’s take a look at the verse in it’s context.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.’ Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” –Zechariah 8:20-23 (ESV)

These events occur in the Messianic age, so thus far, ten men of the nations haven’t taken a hold of the tzitzit of a Jew in the manner described by the prophet. However, we know that this will happen and we know we Christians should get used to the idea that it should happen, and that it is all part of God’s plan for the Jews and for us.

A few weeks ago, I wrote on another meditation something that caused quite a stir:

This is another reason why we Christians, and indeed, the entire world, owes the Jews a debt that can never be repaid. It is their King who will finally come and bring peace for everyone, not just the nation of Israel, but the nations of the earth.

The “push back” I received about those words was that we owe God the Father and Jesus Christ such a debt, not the Jewish people. The idea is that Christians should not glorify a people group but instead, glorify God. As far as that statement goes, I agree wholeheartedly. Our worship and devotion belongs only to the God of Israel. Jesus Christ came and even said that God sent him to the lost sheep of Israel. And we know from the very often quoted John 3:16 and many other scriptures that the scope of the Messianic covenant extends far beyond Israel and indeed, to the entire world.

ShavuotBut what was that thing about a “general soul?”

When Aaron made that statement, I immediately thought of the different ways I tried to explain why we Christians do owe a debt to the Jews. In the best way I knew how, I tried to show that the Messiah as an individual, cannot be separated from his people the Jews. In essense, Messiah is Israel and is their firstborn son. Now I have another way of thinking about Messiah as having a general soul that is inseparably joined to the soul of all his people. But maybe, if we can take a different look at Zechariah 8, the door swings both ways, so to speak. We in church, when we “take hold” of Christ, are also taking hold of Israel and the Jews. But we can also “take hold,” as the prophet said, of a Jew, and by doing so, be joined to Israel and her Messiah.

I want to be very careful here and explain that I’m not talking about substituting Judaism in the place of the Messiah. So many Gentiles in the Messianic Jewish movement have fallen into this trap and abandoned Jesus altogether, choosing instead to convert to a traditional Judaism. This is not what I’m suggesting at all. What I’m saying is that we cannot separate the Messiah from Judaism. Perhaps I’m also saying that we cannot separate Judaism from Messiah. I’m not particularly scholarly in these areas, so I don’t have the means to evaluate the mystical implications of all of this, but if nothing else, I see the Messiah and his general soul as a way for us to continually realize that we cannot say we love Jesus Christ and throw the Jews, Judaism, and national Israel under a bus at the same time.

If we accept Christ as Messiah and Lord, we accept all of him, just as he is and always will be. Totally joined to Israel and to every Jew who has ever existed.

So be careful what you say and how you treat the next Jewish person you meet. You never know if someday it may be his tzitzit you will be clinging to as you cling to the soul of the Messiah.

Since the Divine activating force responsible for the existence of created things must continuously be present within them, they are completely nullified in their source. This means, as the Alter Rebbe explained in the previous chapter, that in reality they do not “exist”.

Why, then, do we nevertheless perceive created beings as enjoying a tangible “existence”? — Only because we are unable to see or comprehend the Divine utterance that is contained within each created thing and that calls it into being.

The Alter Rebbe illustrated this by considering the sun’s rays. When they are not within their source, the sun, but diffused throughout the expanse of the universe, they are perceived as having independent existence. However, when they are contained within the sun-globe they clearly have no such “existence” at all.

From “Today’s Tanya Lesson” (Listen online)
Shaar Hayichud Vehaemunah, beginning of Chapter 4
Sivan 12, 5772 · June 2, 2012
Chabad.org

Playing in the Sandbox

In order for the Shechinah to dwell within the Worlds and their creatures, there must therefore be a “garment” which serves to conceal its light. Only then can creation receive the Shechinah and not be nullified out of existence.

But what manner of “garment” can possibly conceal the Shechinah and yet itself not be affected by it, so that it, too, will not become nullified? Since the Shechinah is the source of all creation, it is of course the source of the concealing “garment” too.

In other words: If the Shechinah is manifest in the “garment”, i.e., if the garment is enveloped by its source, then it follows that it should be nullified out of existence, just as the sun’s rays cease to exist within the body of the sun. In effect, this would make the “garment” cease serving as a “garment” to conceal the Shechinah.

The Alter Rebbe anticipates this question by stating that the “garment” is G-d’s Will and wisdom, which are enclothed in Torah and the mitzvot. Since this “garment” belongs to a plane even higher than (the source of the world’s vitality known as) the Shechinah, it is not nullified by it.

However, asks the Rebbe, according to this explanation the question becomes even stronger: If creation cannot receive the light of the Shechinah, then surely it cannot receive the light of the “garment” which is even higher than the Shechinah.

Today’s Tanya Lesson
Likutei Amarim, middle of Chapter 52 (Listen online)
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
Chabad.org

The relationship with God, the great, infinite Creator, the unknowable and endless Ein Sof, with the earthly manifestation of His will, the Shechinah, which descended upon the Tabernacle in the desert and inhabited it, is a great mystery. Interestingly enough, it’s a mystery that virtually no one in Christianity discusses or really seems to care about. However, we see in the above quote from “today’s Tanya lesson,” that it is of great interest to Jewish Kabbalists, but Jewish mysticism is far outside the range of interest of most Christians, which I suppose is a good idea.

In the mainstream church, my experience of religious education is that it’s rather boring and superficial. Granted, I haven’t been to a traditional Sunday school or Christian Bible study in well over a decade, but even at the time I was attending church as a “young Christian” (as opposed to being a “young person”), it seemed pretty “canned” to me.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is a lot of purely “crazy” stuff, published mostly on the Internet, about “revelations” and “secrets of the Torah” being spouted off by so-called “prophets” and “Messianics” (mostly Gentile as far as I can tell). Derek Leman has started collecting samples of this “craziness” in a blog series he calls The “Messianic” Wall of Weird” (a not-so-subtle reference to the television series Smallville).

Finding reliable teaching is something of a challenge. Not that it’s impossible, but you have to be a fairly stable personality and be willing to be sceptical to tell the difference between fluff, craziness, and potential illumination. I say “potential illumination” because in all of our much vaunted education and research into the Bible, we still aren’t that sure of our facts. Most of us seem to grasp some basic truths, that God is One, that Jesus is Lord, the Savior of the world, and King of the Jews, that faith without action is dead, but many of the “little details” (OK, maybe they’re not so little) that are so important to us (and maybe to God) manage to elude us.

For instance, what about the relationship between what, in Judaism, is called the Ein Sof and the Shechinah? I have tried discussing a similar topic, the relationship between Jesus and God, and received a few rebukes, mainly because I don’t buy into the traditional Christian doctrine of how the deity of Jesus is supposed to work (and again, I’m not saying Jesus isn’t divine…I just want a better explanation about what that means).

No, I’m not trying to open that can of worms again, but I do want to point out that most of us seek our comfort zone, which includes the zone where our fellowship resides. When I attended a Christian church and was learning about Jesus for the first time, I tried to accept the concept of the Trinity and that Jesus was literally God, even though I had no clue what it meant. I tried asking a Pastor I respected what the answer was, but rather than telling me that he didn’t know either, he just sidestepped the question, and I chose not to press him on it.

ShekhinahPeople can point out the passages in the New Testament they believe says that Jesus was worshipped as God, but even among the most learned New Testament scholars, most of whom are devout Christians, the matter is highly debatable.

So where does Jewish mysticism fit in?

In other words: If the Shechinah is manifest in the “garment”, i.e., if the garment is enveloped by its source, then it follows that it should be nullified out of existence, just as the sun’s rays cease to exist within the body of the sun. In effect, this would make the “garment” cease serving as a “garment” to conceal the Shechinah.

-Today’s Tanya Lesson
Likutei Amarim, middle of Chapter 52

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. –John 1:1-5, 14-18 (ESV)

No, that’s not an answer, but it is a clue. No, I can hardly say that we can directly apply commentary on passages from the Tanya directly to the Gospel of John (although John’s Gospel is the most “mystical”), but again, this seems to be a clue that makes a sort of sense to me.

However, I want to talk about education, rather than trying to solve astounding mysteries. As I understand my situation, I have a few options.

First, I could go to church and stick to canned teachings about what Christians believe, including accepting the doctrine of the Trinity based on the word of various Pastors and Bible teachers and stop asking questions. That’s the “safest” route, not just for my fellowship with other Christians, but for the sake of the well being of other Christians. If I stop asking uncomfortable questions which they don’t want to answer (because they believe they have all the answers they need), then I won’t drive them crazy with frustration because I won’t “fall into line.” or go with the “herd.”

Second, I could swing to the opposite end of the spectrum and follow every craziness that happens to manifest on the web. Frankly (and you should pardon what I’m about to say), that makes me vomit in my mouth just a little bit. Total, illogical insanity being tossed out into cyberspace for no other purpose than to express someone’s delusions or to create a cult following makes me just as nuts as the pre-programmed and utterly unenlightening teachings I used to encounter in Sunday school.

Third. I can continue to find what I believe are reasonable and reliable investigations into the Word of God that may not always be totally orthodox, but that have the promise of actually being interesting, challenging, and possibly even true. This one is full of trap doors for a lot of reasons, such as my not being a Bible scholar with lots of letters after my name. Entering into any sort of study, even a casual one, of any form of mysticism can also be hazardous, because of the constant need to distinguish between theory and interpretation. We interpret the Bible, we don’t really know it to be totally literal and factual, especially books like John and Revelation, which have highly mystical components. But at what point does interpretation become wishful thinking or even fantasy? At what point do we allow tradition and theology and doctrine to determine what the Bible says and then call it “fact?”

That line is very difficult to see amid the shifting sands of human understanding and desire to have our internal wishes or the wishes of our fellowship fulfilled.

I’m pretty sure I’m not crazy. I absolutely know that I don’t know it all, or don’t know anywhere near what I’d like to know. I’m pretty sure the church and the synagogue don’t have all the answers either, not to mention legitimate texts of Jewish mysticism, no matter how compelling they may be.

But like most religious people, I have to choose a context in which to operate, otherwise my faith in chaotic and without structure. So I choose a hybrid of Christianity and Judaism, with a bit of Chassidic and Kabbalistic mysticism thrown in for spice. This probably won’t yield any additional facts beyond those I possess, but perhaps it will bring up some interesting questions. Faith isn’t always about having the right answers. Sometimes it’s about having the freedom to explore God.

If He had made the world a complete and utter mystery, we would have no path to know Him. And if all would fit together like a neat and tidy grandfather clock, we would not know that there is anything more to know. So He took His raw, unknowable Will and cloaked it in wisdom, and through that wisdom a world was formed. And in that world, we sentient beings are drawn to the wisdom—only to find ourselves engulfed within an unfathomable ocean of wonders.

Now it is within the mind’s grasp to know that no thought can grasp Him.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Playing with Our Minds”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Somewhere between a limited, physical universe, and the boundless infinity we call God, we have a sandbox we’re allowed to play in and explore. The box is our limitations. The sand is what we don’t know and perhaps can’t know. Maybe playing in sand seems futile and childish to you and you’d rather just have the box because it’s ultimately knowable. But who knows what treasures God may have buried in the sand for us to find?

Emissaries

It is not uncommon for a first-time visitor to fall in love with Yerushalayim. And the place most people feel most attracted to in Yerushalayim is the Kosel itself. When someone told Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv, shlit”a, that many people who live in Yerushalayim do not visit the Kosel at least once in every thirty days, he was astounded. “That is like a man whose ailing mother lives in the same city as he does, who doesn’t visit even once a month! Just as being in such a position is obviously morally untenable, the same should be true about one who is able to visit the Kosel once a month but fails to do so.”

Yet many visitors—perhaps because they come from so far—understand that the Kosel should be visited as often as possible and envy those who live so close, who sadly often visit much less than they would like.

One man on a short trip to Yerushalayim was all broken up about having to go back home to America. “If only I could bring the Kosel with me, it wouldn’t be so bad. Why can’t they instantaneously transport me there every day for shacharis? I would have so much more composure and could much more easily cope with the pressures of the day.”

But of course this was impossible.

When a friend heard about his trouble he made a novel suggestion. “Why not take a small piece of the Kosel back with you? That way you will feel connected and just looking at it will bring you back to the good times when you were here.”

He was very impressed with this idea, but as a religious Jew he was afraid to take such a step without consulting with a posek.

When this question reached Rav Moshe Feinstein, he ruled that this is forbidden. “It is clear that even one who uses the stones of har habayis transgresses me’ilah; how much more so regarding a fragment of a stone from the Kosel itself!”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“A Memento?”
Me’ila 15

They say that “familiarity breeds contempt,” so I suppose it’s not surprising that when you have a fabulous resource or experience just minutes from your front door, you might not take every opportunity to visit it. That’s why people who live in cities with wonderful museums containing priceless treasures don’t visit them on a regular basis (usually it’s only when out-of-town guests come to visit).

This is also true of the relationship between Jews in Jerusalem and the Kotel or what some Christians call “the Wailing Wall.” This is also true of the relationship between some Christians and God.

Think about it.

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands — remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. –Ephesians 2:11-13 (ESV)

Examine the experience of someone who has just converted to Christianity, someone who was far off from God who has now been brought near by the blood and grace of Jesus Christ. That person is typically very excited and absolutely thrilled. He takes every opportunity to pray, to go to church, to go to a Bible study, to fellowship with other believers. He is a sponge, taking in every detail, every experience, every subtle nuance of being a Christian.

But sooner or later, the fire cools off. Since God is always near, how often do we visit Him? For some Christians, beyond going through the motions, not very often.

I suppose I should say at this point that this experience is common among people of all faiths, not just the church, but after all, the community of believers in the Jewish Messiah, is my primary audience.

But what about the rest of the story off the Daf? For those who truly appreciate what they can touch, how do you carry away a piece of holiness with you? In terms of the Kotel, you don’t. It’s an unspeakable crime to chip off a little bit of the wall and to carry it around with you as if it were a lucky charm. It’s not the stones themselves that impart holiness, it’s where they are built, why there were built, and what they represent. This doesn’t require that we literally carry a pebble or stone with us. But the man in the story was right in one important way. We do need to constantly carry holiness with us, no matter where we go. We need an anchor to hold us in place and to link us to God, as we are swept this way and that by the storms of everyday life.

We do not keep our traditions for the sake of the past but for their power to create a future, a power that will never end.

For the Torah was not given to this world so that it should return to its former glory, but so that it will transcend itself.

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

One of the ways Judaism has carried holiness and a connection to God with them across history and no matter where they were living (having been driven out of one place and then another, and so on), was and is their traditions. Traditions themselves are not physical objects, though they can employ such objects, but they are concepts and ideas that represent love, faith, and devotion to God. You cannot carry a piece of the Kotel with you, but you can carry the desire to see Jerusalem in your heart. You can pray for the coming of the Messiah and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. You can enter into prayer with a minyan and summon the presence of God within your midst.

What do we Christians carry around with us to transmit the sense of holiness?

Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. –John 13:16 (ESV)

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. –Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)

We are not greater than the one who sent us, but we have been sent. We carry that Spirit and that mission within us and that sacred duty must never leave us. Many Christians think that only “official” missionaries take the Good News of Christ to the unbelievers, but even if we never overtly speak of our faith, if our behavior is consistent with the one who sent us, then we always declare our love of God and humanity by the one we carry around inside of us.

What is holiness? It’s not a thing you can hold and touch and feel. It’s not a candlestick or a kippah or even a Bible, although in their proper contexts, these objects are important or represent something important. Holiness is a spirit and an inspiration. It is God, not only among His people, but within His people. He is represented by our words and our actions, not just during worship and prayer, but as we go about our business in every hour of every day. That is what we carry and what anchors us to Him.

We are holy and sacred as emissaries (and we are all emissaries) and it’s not just what we have, but what we do that matters.

An emissary is one with his sender. This concept is similar to that of an angel acting as a Divine emissary, when he is actually called by G-d’s name. If this is so with an angel it is certainly true of the soul; in fact with the soul the quality of this oneness is of a higher order, as explained elsewhere.

From “Today’s Day”
for Iyar 8 23rd day of the omer
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

ShekhinahWe, as mere servants, are not greater than the One who sent us, but we are one in goal and purpose. We must not exalt ourselves beyond our station as believers and disciples, but we must take who and what we are very seriously, because not only God, but a desperate and suffering world is watching us at every moment, looking with diminishing hope for evidence that there is a loving God and that He can save.

Yet there is another message we can take away with us from the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; a lesson that may explain much, but cause some concern as well. The quote from the Rebbe recalls this event:

“Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. Pay careful attention to him and obey his voice; do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, for my name is in him. –Exodus 23:20-21 (ESV)

It may amaze you that God told Moses that a mere angel could forgive sins, but then, if the Name of God is upon the angel, then the angelic being wears God’s Divinity like a shroud, acting for Him in all things, as if it were God Himself.

But we all know an angel is not literally God.

Jesus said, “I and the Father are one,” (John 10:30 [ESV]) and depending on how you interpret his words (and I’ve talked about this before), you may believe he was saying that he, Jesus, is literally and physically the same as God. This is a common belief and most people in the church, though they don’t understand it, do not doubt it for a second.

But just as an angel can carry the Name of God with him such that he can forgive sins and thus literally be called by God’s Name, how much more can the Son of God, the Creator’s personal and most trusted emissary, be also called by God’s Name, forgive sins in God’s Name, not be greater than the One who sent him, and still sit at the right hand of the Father.

I don’t understand it either, but it’s something to ponder as we live out the will of the one who sent us.