Tag Archives: shechinah

Intersection

Due to the sin of murder the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed.

Shabbos 33a

Maharal points out that man is distinct and loftier than all other creations. Only man is infused with a heavenly spirit from above. Similarly, the Beis HaMikdash is on a separate plateau in function and purpose above all other places on Earth.

Furthermore, man himself functions as a type of Beis HaMikdash, in that he carries the shechinah with him, and he serves as a vehicle from which kedushah emanates and spreads throughout the world.

This is the underlying principle which our Gemara is presenting. The taking of human life, aside from the tragic aspect of the personal loss, also represents a destruction of a human Beis HaMikdash. A person, while he lives, has the ability to accomplish worlds of achievement in the realm of kedushah and in the service of Hashem. With the loss of this life, this person’s contribution to the world in this regard has been ended.

Daf Yomi Digest
Gemara Gem
“The holy human”
Commentary on Shabbos 33a

This is a rather remarkable Jewish commentary from a Christian point of view. We Christians tend to believe that only we possess the “indwelling of the Holy Spirit” as a consequence of our faith in Jesus Christ. We tend to believe that no other people group or religious tradition, especially Judaism, has this concept, let alone possesses this reality.

But what if we’re wrong?

Here we see that the Jewish sage writing this believes that “only man is infused with a heavenly spirit from above.” And just as Christians believe that each of us is a Temple housing the Spirit of God, (see 1 Corinthians 6:19 and 1 Peter 2:5) the Rabbinic commentator states, “man himself functions as a type of Beis HaMikdash, in that he carries the shechinah with him, and he serves as a vehicle.”

For those among you who may not know, the Beis HaMikdash can refer to the Temple in Jerusalem (which currently doesn’t exist) or the Heavenly Temple.  In the days of Solomon,  the Temple housed the shechinah or the Divine Presence, which Christian Bibles call “the glory of God” (this is also true of the Tabernacle in the days of Moses). While we can’t make a direct comparison between the shechinah and the Holy Spirit, we see that both Christian and Jewish concepts of how God “indwells” the faithful are all but identical.

Imagine that.

But why do I say such a thing and why should you care?

Shmuel only crossed a river on a bridge together with a gentile. He said that misfortune would not occur to two nations simultaneously.

Shabbos 32a

Shmuel crossed the river only on a ferry boat upon which gentiles were riding with him. He determined that the Destroyer cannot punish Jew and gentile together, so he would be safe and secure that the boat would not capsize.

-Daf Yomi Digest commentary

This is a less than complimentary Jewish commentary about we Gentiles, since it implies God will not visit a tragedy upon the Jew that is going to occur to the non-Jew for the sake of the holiness of the Jewish people. It elevates the Jewish people above the other peoples of the earth in a spiritual way due to the perception of a Jew’s higher awareness of God. Actually, the commentary may well be true of many non-Jewish nations and people who neither fear Hashem nor honor the God of Israel.

But what about Christians? Can’t we be said to have an awareness of God through our devotion to Jesus, the Jewish Messiah? I would say “yes,” but we must remember that said-awareness and devotion originated with the Jewish people, and did not spring forth fully grown among the Gentiles, independent of Israel.

Many Christians reading this may get the wrong idea about what I’m trying to say. Some may even feel threatened, as if I’m subordinating Christianity to Judaism in a manner that makes we non-Jewish believers into “second-class citizens” in the Kingdom of God.

I’m not saying that at all.

But I do want to say that the church has a tendency to reverse causality. We often view Jesus as wholly owned and operated by Gentile Christianity and completely divorced from (if he was ever “married” to) Judaism in any way or form. That’s pretty tough to do since Jesus was born to a Jewish mother, was circumcised on the eighth day, was raised as a Jew, was granted the power of the Spirit as the Jewish Messiah, walked like a Jew, talked like a Jew, only had Jewish disciples, ordered his Jewish disciples to only minister to the “lost sheep of Israel” in only Jewish communities, barely spoke to a Gentile, and after death and resurrection, promised to return to establish Jewish self-rule of Israel and over the nations.

Tsvi Sadan, who authored what I consider a landmark book, The Concealed Light: Names of Messiah in Jewish Sources, wrote an article recently published in Messiah Journal, issue 111 called “You Have Not Obeyed Me in Proclaiming Liberty.” It’s a unique article in that it takes to task the missionary efforts of the church to convert Jews to Christianity. But Sadan is a “Jewish believer.” More accurately, he’s a “Messianic Jew” living in Israel, and that makes all the difference in the world.

What I have described up to this point means that much of what calls itself Messianic Judaism is in fact an exotic Christian sect. One can argue until blue in the face that the Israeli Supreme Court was wrong when in 1989 it ruled that Messianic Jews are people who belong to “another religion.”

I imagine that there are more than a few Christians reading this who are quite puzzled. After all, isn’t Messianic Judaism just another form of Christianity? What’s wrong with Jews converting to Christianity? Jesus is “Jewish,” isn’t he?

Of course, when most Christians say that “Jesus is Jewish,” it’s like how they view the occasional Jewish Christian in their church…someone who is Jewish in name only and who, in terms of any identity markers, has surrendered cultural, ethnic, experiential, and halalaic Judaism for a completely Gentile Christian identity and lifestyle. This is what I mean by reversing causality. In the early days of the ministries of Peter and Paul, masses of non-Jewish people came to be reconciled with the God of Israel through the Jewish Messiah, embracing religious practices and concepts that were completely Jewish and totally foreign to them. Today, we in the church expect Jews to abandon all of their Judaism and to worship a Lord and Savior who, from our point of view, is totally foreign to Jews.

But Sadan has more to say:

Yet the judges were no fools. Long ago the Jewish people reached a firm decision to reject the kind of good news described above. The refused the gospel which in the name of Jesus called them to convert to another religion. They refused the gospel which in the name of Jesus called them to break their unique covenant with God. They refused the gospel which forced them to identify with the culture of their oppressors. They refused the gospel which called them to compromise Jewish monotheism and reject the Talmud, their tradition, and their cherished customs.

That’s got to be a tough paragraph for most Christians to read and accept, but remember that I’m pulling it out of the context of the entire article. Sadan is criticising what I call “reversing causality.” Why should Jews have to stop being Jewish and join “another religion” (other than Judaism) in order to become disciples of the Jewish Messiah and to worship the God of Israel; a God they have been worshiping since the days of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses?

You’ll have to pick up a copy of Messiah Journal (and I highly encourage you to do so) and read Sadan’s entire write-up in order to fully comprehend where he’s coming from, but he does have a “happy ending” for how Jews can be authentically approached in order to be brought near to Moshiach and to return to the Torah.

For the sake of we Christian readers, he does quote from New Testament scholar Scot McKnight’s little-known book A New Vision for Israel (1999) in order to substantiate Sadan’s viewpoint from a Christian perspective.

The most important context in which modern interpreters should situate Jesus is that of ancient Jewish nationalism and Jesus’ conviction that Israel had to repent to avoid national disaster. Jesus’ hope was not so much the “Church” as the restoration of the twelve tribes…the fulfillment of the promises of Moses to national Israel, and the hope of God’s kingdom. (pg 10)

Definitely a book I need to read.

I don’t blame you if you think I’ve gone off the deep end or have lost my mind as a Christian. It’s taken me a very long time to see from this particular vantage point and it may take “the church” just as long or longer to reach the same spot. But I believe we’re all getting there. I know several Christian pastors who share my vision about the relationship between Jews and Christians. I believe that God is involved and guiding us along a series of paths on journeys that will finally intersect.

Jews and Christians have interactive purposes in relation to each other whereby, as children of God, we are interdependent. The Jewish role is to return to the Torah and to embrace the holiness of God and we in the church are responsible for standing alongside the Jew and supporting that…not “mission” but “keruv,” bringing Jews near “to God and to one another, first and foremost through familiarity with their own religion and tradition…the Jewish people, as taught be Jesus, cannot comprehend his message apart from Moses (John 5:46)…Keruv is all about reassuring the Jewish people that Jesus came to reinforce the hope for Jews as a people under a unique covenant.”

For hundreds of years, perhaps since the beginning of Creation, a piece of the world has been waiting for your soul to purify and repair it.

And your soul, from the time it was first emanated and conceived, waited above to descend to this world and carry out that mission.

And your footsteps were guided to reach that place.

And you are there now.

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

The Christian “mission” isn’t just to “get saved” and then wait for the “bus to Heaven.” Although vitally important, it isn’t just spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to an unbelieving world, to give everyone, everywhere hope that God loves them and will never forsake them, even in the darkest nights of our souls. The Christian mission is also one of “keruv,” of bringing Jews to the Messiah in a way that is Jewish and in a way that would be completely recognizable to the apostles as they began their message to the Jewish people after the events recorded in Acts 2.

Keruv is probably not a task for all Christians. It’s probably not a task for me, at least not in a direct sense. But we can all participate by recognizing our role and the role of Israel and by welcoming and espousing the unique purpose, identity, and lives of Jewish Israel under their King and ours, Yeshua HaMashiach..Jesus the Christ.

For nearly twenty centuries, the people who Jesus drew to him, either directly or through the apostles, the Jewish people and the people of the nations, were first torn apart through much strife, and then continued to drift away from each other, one treating the other as strangers and aliens. While we may not experience it overtly today, the church and the synagogue in relation to each other are so wounded and isolated. Only by each one finding our true and unique purposes and roles in the kingdom of God can we both be healed, can we both be granted the gift of transmuting grief into joy, can we both have our loneliness be turned into joy and fellowship.

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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?

The Mystic Mirror Darkly: Messianic Divinity Part 3

I’ve said numerous times before in other blog posts, that I’m becoming convinced that we cannot understand the teachings of the Jewish Messiah and his early disciples without some ability to look at those teachings through a Jewish mystical lens. This goes beyond an understanding of Torah and Talmud (and possibly flies in the face of Judaism’s more “rational” understanding of God), but there are “mysteries” exposed in the Apostolic scriptures that suddenly become more comprehensible if we don’t examine them only with a literal and practical microscope. Seeing that Jewish mysticism can trace its origins to the first century B.C.E. (and perhaps before even that), makes it all the more likely that such a tradition found its way into the early Jewish writings describing the person and mission of the Jewish Messiah. How the divine could become a man and dwell among human beings requires belief beyond the physical realm and mysticism is the door that leads to the world where the mysterious can, in some fashion, become known.

-James Pyles
“Search for the Messiah in Pools of Unknowing”
Searching for the Light on the Path

Levertoff believed that the Gospels and Chasidic Judaism merged seamlessly, and he dedicated his scholarship to demonstrating that conviction. He is said to have best developed his ideas in his major life work, a manuscript on the subject of Christ and the Shechinah. Unfortunately, the book was never published and the manuscript has been lost; however, he presented a lecture titled “The Shekinah Motif in the New Testament Literature” to the Society of the Study of Religions that we may assume represented something of an abstract of the larger work. This short paper provides a glimpse into a compelling and radical attempt to reconcile Jewish mysticism and faith in an exalted, divine Messiah.

Commentary on Paul Philip Levertoff and
Love and the Messianic Age

This is the third part in my Messianic Divinity series. If you haven’t done so yet, please go back and read part 1, Exploring Messianic Divinity and part 2, The Living Word of God before continuing I here.

In yesterday’s “meditation”, I attempted to forge a connection between the Divine Presence inhabiting the Tabernacle in the desert, the Kabbalistic understanding that God somehow “clothes” His Divine will and wisdom as the actual Torah scroll and “the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us” (John 1:14). I admit, to make all of that fit, compelling as the imagery is to me, takes more than a little sleight of hand. But then, none of us has a completely unclouded view of the meaning behind the Biblical text, and so we manage to use various “tools” to help us interface with the Word, sometimes including mysticism.

Although Christianity enjoys as much of a historical mystic heritage as Judaism, most modern-day Christians (as well as Gentile Messianics) tend to take a dim view of anything that strays outside of standard theological boundaries, and especially anything that might even vaguely suggest the occult. Kabbalah has more than its fair share of “magical” practices that appear to directly contradict certain portions of the Torah, but on the other hand, mysticism isn’t exactly a stranger in the Bible either.

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. –2 Corinthians 12:1-7

I must also point out two other major areas of the Bible that are written with strong mystical themes are Ezekiel 1:4-26, referencing the Prophet’s vision of the Third Temple, and John’s amazing visions recorded in the book of Revelations. It’s also been suggested by some New Testament scholars that the Gospel of John is strongly mystical in its descriptions of the Messiah compared with the other three Gospels. We can hardly dismiss mysticism as “unBiblical” when we find many examples produced directly in the text.

I’m saying all of this to propose that it may well be impossible to begin to grasp the nature and character of the Messiah and his teachings, unless we are prepared to consider Jewish mysticism as one of our interpreters. We already have seen in my quote of Levertoff above, that he saw a connection between Christ and the Divine Presence. Not only may the “explanation” for matters of the Divine nature of the Messiah be found along mystic paths, but it seems more than likely that there was some mystic tradition in the Judaism of the Apostles that allowed sections of the New Testament to be created with a distinctly mystic flair.

Author Gershom Scholem in his book Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism “connects the dots” of Jewish mystic tradition back before the birth of Christ.

The first phase in the development of Jewish mysticism before its crystallization in the mediaeval Kabbalah is also the longest. It’s literary remains are traceable over a period of almost a thousand years, from the first century B.C. to the tenth A.D., and some of its important records have survived…Between the physiognomy of early Jewish mysticism and that of mediaeval Kabbalism there is a difference which time has not effaced.

For those of you who disdain all things mystic and cannot possibly see how I, or anyone, can apply such material to a straightforward understanding of the Bible, I want to say that we might not always be able to understand what God is telling us if we confine ourselves within traditional Christian interpretations. I say that with the understanding that Judaism considers it impossible to interpret the Bible except through their traditions. I’m not one to toss tradition under a bus, so to speak, but it is possible that Christians miss something when we box ourselves in to our own little world of canned teachings and cardboard cutout explanations.

He read the Gospels in German. Then he obtained a Hebrew version and reread them. Though he was in the midst of a Gentile, Christian city where Jesus was worshiped in churches and honored in every home, Feivel felt the Gospels belonged more to him and the Chasidic world than they did to the Gentiles who revered them. He found the Gospels to be thoroughly Jewish and conceptually similar to Chasidic Judaism. He wondered how Gentile Christians could hope to comprehend Yeshua (Jesus) and His words without the benefit of a classical Jewish education or experience with the esoteric works of the Chasidim.

Taken from Jorge Quinonez:
“Paul Philip Levertoff: Pioneering Hebrew-Christian Scholar and Leader”
Mishkan 37 (2002): 21-34
as quoted from Love and the Messianic Age.

I took the above-quote from my review of this First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) material on Levertoff, and if we accept them, and Levertoff, at their word, then we have a direct, eyewitness account of how the Gospels seem to have a distinctly Chasidic flavor. Perhaps we in Christianity are only educated in a single dimension of how to understand Jesus, including what he taught and more importantly, who he was and is as the Messiah and “the Word made flesh.”

Studying TorahI know what you’re thinking. How can we apply mystic traditions and interpretations to the New Testament when these traditions didn’t take form for a dozen centuries after the Apostles lived and died? Isn’t that a little bit like the Talmudic Sages performing Rabbinization on Abraham? Perhaps. I’m not saying the writers of the New Testament had an understanding of mysticism that mirrored Kabbalah or the Chasidic traditions, but I am saying that maybe we can use later mystic understandings as a sort of tool to deconstruct earlier writings. We may not get the absolute meaning, but we at least get to take a momentary peek under the Divine veil at the Messianic mysteries that lie underneath.

If little Feivel Levertoff could read a scrap of paper with bit of scripture from the Gospels on it and recognize something of himself and his Chasidic Jewish life in it, then perhaps there’s something there that can speak to us about who the Messiah is as well.

In 1887 a nine-year-old Chasidic Jew named Feivel Levertoff was trudging home from cheder (a Jewish day school) when a discarded scrap of paper caught his eye. It was printed with Hebrew text. Supposing it was a leaf from a prayer book or other sacred volume, Feivel picked it out of the snow.

He quickly read the piece of paper. It was a page from a book he had never read before. It told the story of a boy like himself – not much older either – whose parents found him in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, expounding the Scriptures and learning with the great sages of antiquity.

That boy found “in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, expounding the Scriptures and learning with the great sages of antiquity” was of course, twelve-year old Jesus.

After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. –Luke 2:46-47

The Gospels spoke to a late 19th century Chasidic Jewish boy in a voice we Christians could scarcely recognize. We need to adjust our hearing and our thinking to be able to listen to that voice as well. It is the voice of the Jewish Messiah and the voice of God speaking to His chosen people. It’s a voice that can speak to us as well, and whisper fascinating stories that we thought we knew, but don’t.

For my next and (probably) last part in this series, I’m going to step outside of my old “Searching” blog and discuss other sources of material on mysticism that just might shed more illumination on a Messiah who we view only “through a glass darkly.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

In Tomorrow’s “Morning Meditation” comes the fourth and final part in this series: Waiting for Spring.

God is Searching

AbyssMost theories of religion start out with defining the religious situation as man’s search for God and maintain the axiom that God is silent, hidden and unconcerned with man’s search for Him. Now, in adopting that axiom, the answer is given before the question is asked. To Biblical thinking, the definition is incomplete and the axiom false. The Bible speaks not only of man’s search for God but also of God’s search for man. “Thou dost hunt me like a lion,” exclaimed Job (10:16).

“From the very first Thou didst single out man and consider him worthy to stand in Thy presence.” (The liturgy of the Day of Atonement) This is the mysterious paradox of Biblical faith: God is pursuing man. (adapted from Kuzari II 50 and Kuzari IV 3) It is as if God were unwilling to be alone, and He had chosen man to serve Him. Our seeking Him is not only man’s but also His concern, and must not be considered an exclusively human affair. His will is involved in our yearnings. All of human history as described in the Bible may be summarized in one phrase: “God is in search of man.” Faith in God is a response to God’s question.

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
God in Search of Man
Page 136

For the past several mornings, I’ve been exploring the wine-dark depths of the soul. Naturally, the soul is found wanting (Romans 3:10). It’s not a pretty picture to sit at the bottom of a deep well and contemplate both the physical darkness and the darkness of the human spirit. I know that God wants us to repent, to turn from sin and to return to Him. More than that, He wants us to sweep away the barriers that inhibit such a return; barriers like discouragement, depression, guilt, and conflict. I’ve heard that we are what we think, but thought is a habit, like cigarettes. Even when we know some thoughts are bad for us, it’s not so easy to quit.

Up until now, I’ve been picturing this struggle as one we have to fight alone, or at least one in which we are expected to do most of the heavy lifting. If I got myself into that deep, nasty hole, I’m supposed to get myself out again, right? God’s waiting at the top encouraging me, but I’ve still got to make the climb alone.

Now Rabbi Heschel is suggesting that God is climbing down after us with a rope ladder and a flashlight.

I’ve heard that before.

I’ve heard that when Israel went down into Egypt, God went down with them:

“I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.” –Genesis 46:3-4

It is said that when the Jews were exiled into the diaspora and Herod’s Temple was utterly destroyed, God went into exile with His chosen ones. It is said that He was also imprisoned in the camps with His people during the Holocaust. Whenever the Jews suffered, God suffered with them. Whenever they were raised up from the depths, God lifted them.

For God is not always silent, and man is not always blind. His glory fills the world; His spirit hovers above the waters. There are moments in which, to use a Talmudic phrase, heaven and earth kiss each other…Some of us have at least caught a glimse of the beauty, peace, and power that flow through the souls of those who are devoted to Him. There may come a moment like thunder in the soul, when man is not only aided, not only guided by God’s mysterious hand, but also taught how to aid, how to guide other beings. The voice of Sinai goes on for ever; “These words the Lord spoke unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice that goes on for ever.” (Deut. 5:19 Aramaic translation of Onkelos and Jonathan ben Uzziel and to the interpetation of Sanhedrin 17b; Sotah, 10b; and to the first interpretation of Rashi) -Heschel page 138

But that’s Sinai. What allows the rest of us to also hear “a great voice that goes on for ever.” except perhaps the death of the tzaddik, the great Rebbe of Nazaret, Jesus the Christ? But even if we dare to claim a portion of the Kingdom of Heaven through the blood of the Lamb, what else might prevent the God of Israel from finding the son of Noah in the abyss?

However, it is the evil in man and the evil in society silencing the depth of the soul that block and hamper our faith. -Heschel page 141

ShekhinahIt seems I’ve come full circle, or have I?

The Shechinah, the presence of God, is not found in the company of sinners; but when a man makes an effort to purify himself and to draw near to God, then the Shechinah rests upon him. -Heschel page 147

In the spirit of Judaism, our quest for God is a return to God; our thinking of Him is a recall, an attempt to draw out the depth of our suppressed attachment. The Hebrew word for repentance, “teshuvah”, means “return”. Yet it also means “answer”. Return to God is an answer to Him. For God is not silent. “Return O faithless children, says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 3:14) -Heschel page 141

But all this says is that God is in search of the Jew. Is he also in search of his other creations, of the rest of humanity?

What choice do we have but to believe this is true; that God seeks everyone, the Jew and Gentile alike. To not believe this is to abandon hope forever. Christians take it for granted that they are close to God but closer to Jesus. Unfortunately, a careful examination of that certainty shows that one of the requirements is the belief that God draws closer to Christians at the cost of becoming more distant from the Jew.

The approaching dissolution of the Jewish economy, and the erecting of the evangelical state, shall set this matter at large, and lay all in common, so that it shall be a thing perfectly indifferent whether in either of these places or any other men worship God, for they shall not be tied to any place; neither here nor there, but both, and any where, and every where.

-Matthew Henry, Commentary on John 4:21-23
as found at Derek Leman’s blog

I can’t accept that. God is a God of all or He is a God of no one.

So if the faith of both Jew and Christian leads us to believe that God is meeting all people halfway, so to speak, then we must, even without waiting to see His light, reach up to Him as He is reaching down to us. We must take the hand He is extending, grasp tightly, and begin to climb.

He has found us.

We must not wait passively for insights. In the darkest moments we must try to let our inner light go forth. “And she rises while it is yet night” (Proverbs 31:15) -Heschel page 143