Tag Archives: zohar

Jews, Gentiles, and the Divine Spirit

My father wrote that he heard in the name of the Alter Rebbe that all rabbinic authors until and including the Taz [1] and Shach, [2] composed their works with ruach hakodesh, the Divine Spirit. An individual’s ruach hakodesh, as explained by Korban Ha’eida in Tractate Sh’kalim (Talmud Yerushalmi), end of ch. 3, means that the mysteries of Torah are revealed to him. This comes from the aspect of chochma in its pre-revelation state. [3]

“Today’s Day”
for Tuesday, Sh’vat 6, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

The sacred Zohar teaches that God, the nation Israel, and the Torah, are one. This suggests that God may be experienced through those phenomena that are also perceived to be eternal. Since Israel is eternal [by Divine oath, Genesis 15] and since the Torah is eternal, God/Israel/Torah are inextricably linked by common eternity.

-Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
in his commentary on Parashat Behar-Bechukotai
for May 15, 2012,
published at The Jewish Week

I know today’s “morning meditation” may be a little esoteric for some of you, and I’ve been debating whether or not to even write it. However, I think there’s a certain benefit in visiting the relationship between God, the Torah, and the people and nation of Israel at a more mystic or metaphysical level. God, after all, is not human, so we shouldn’t expect His methods to correspond to human limitations. After all, if God created the Torah, what is it?

It is true that the Zohar writes, “G-d looked into the Torah and created the World”.

Of course, the Torah, in its written form, only briefly describes the process and sequence of Creation. However, we should not think that because of its deceptively brief and general description that the Torah does not contain within the text the plan for the entire multitude of Creation.

-Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman
“Torah Blueprint”
Ohr Somayach

The idea is that there is a Heavenly Torah possessed by God that, when given to the nation of Israel at Sinai, was “clothed” so that it could exist in the material world and be comprehended by human beings. That makes all written Torah scrolls, though immeasurably precious, mere shadows of the supernal Torah of God. Alternately, all earthly scrolls are “encoded” with the information in the Heavenly Torah, and we could read it if we just knew how.

It is said that the world was created for the sake of Torah, but the world would have ceased to exist of the Israelites had refused the Torah at Sinai. Fortunately, this did not take place.

OK, I know what you’re thinking. Many of you are not going to be willing to take the Zohar as an authoritative source of information, and many of you don’t believe there is a supernatural equivalent of the Torah in Heaven that corresponds to the Torah on Earth.

But we know through the Epistle to the Hebrews that there is a Heavenly court that corresponds to the Temple in Jerusalem (when it exists) and God commanded Moses to construct the Mishkan (Tabernacle) according to a model he was shown on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 25:40), indicating that there is a perfect Heavenly version of the Tabernacle Moses was to have constructed in the desert.

Tree of LifeIf the Tabernacle and every single object in it has Heavenly equivalents, including priests, and including a High Priest, why not the Torah?

This would make Israel, that is, the Jewish people and the inheritors of the Torah and the covenant at Sinai particularly unique among all the nations of the Earth. Even the Master said “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22) illustrating that apart from Israel, no other person or nation can be redeemed and reconciled with God. The means into eternity for the people of the nations is the eternity of Israel.

The Land of Israel shares in this eternity. The earth’s perennial cycle of birth, growth, decay, death and rebirth, express a movement of regeneration and renaissance. There are intimations of immortality: The trees shed their leaves and fruits onto the earth, and when they decompose and merge with the earth, that very earth provides the necessary nutrients for the tree to bear fruit in the future. Plants leave their seeds in the ground, these continue to sprout plant life from the earth after the mother herb has been taken and eaten.

Further, the Land of Israel is invested with a special metaphysical quality which is inextricably linked to Knesset Yisrael, historic Israel. The first Hebrew, Abraham, entered into the “Covenant between the Pieces,” that God’s promise of world peace and messianic redemption will be realized in the City of Jerusalem. Hebron’s Cave of the Couples — Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah — was the very first acquisition by a Jew of land in Israel, purchased as the earthly resting place for the founders of our faith. At the very same time, it is also the womb of our future, a future informed by the ideas and ideals of our revered ancestors. “Grandchildren are the crowning glory of the aged; parents are the pride of their children” [Proverbs 17:6].

-Rabbi Riskin, “The Unity of God, Torah And Israel”

In the quote from “Today’s Day” above, it is said that the Sages of the Talmud were inspired to write by the Holy Spirit. Since Christians believe that only Christians have the indwelling of the Spirit, this is going to seem at least confusing if not outright unbelievable. On the other hand, there’s another covenant to consider:

Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…

Jeremiah 31:31 (NASB)

I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

Ezekiel 36:27

Given Acts 2:1-4, you’d think that only Jews who are disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) would receive the Holy Spirit, but what if we’re wrong? What if the Sinai Covenant and the fact that the New Covenant being made only with Israel and Judah have a direct impact on both Jewish disciples of Yeshua and the rest of the Jewish people, because God, the Torah, and Israel are one?

I do not agree that mainstream Jews are apostates. I think that is far too strong. In fact, I’ll go one step further, I believe a parallel outpouring of the Spirit has happened among traditional Jews, not unlike the one happening to the congregation of Messiah. Isaiah 59:21, “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from this time forth and forevermore.””

-Derek Leman
from his comment of
24 January, 2015 at 6:55 am
on his blog post
Double Opposition to Messianic Judaism

I know this stands outside of most of what I consider traditional Christian doctrine, but if God doesn’t abandon His covenants and His people and He always keeps His promises, then we Gentile Christians can hardly dismiss Israel out of hand. In fact, if the redemption of the nations, of we Christians, is solely dependent upon the “oneness” Israel has with the Torah and with God, and if God, according to the New Covenant, will redeem all of Israel (Romans 11:26-27; Isaiah 59:20,21; 27:9 (see Septuagint); Jer. 31:33,34), then maybe one of the things we Gentile believers better get busy at is supporting Jewish observance of the Torah and stop working so hard at trying to convert Jews to Christianity. After all, Ezekiel 36:27 directly links Jewish observance of Torah with God’s Spirit being placed within them.

There is a different way to understand no one comes to the Father except through the Son.

Divine TorahGod will provide the revelation of Messiah to Israel and indeed, this has already begun as evidenced by the modern Messianic Jewish movement. But Messianic Jews are also to be Torah observant Jews. Maybe the main issue at hand isn’t non-Messianic but otherwise observant Jews, but those who are secular, assimilated, and yes, even “Hebrew Christians” who have set aside the Torah for the “promise” of a Gentile version of grace (not that grace and Torah are mutually exclusive…far from it).

God is with His people Israel, all of them. God is also with the Gentile disciples of the Master. None of us has the perfect apprehension of how to best serve God, though often we convince ourselves we possess such a thing. In the end, God will open all our eyes and show us what we saw correctly and what we were blind to. Then God will forgive, and all of the drama and trauma we experience in the world of religion today will just fade to black.

The Spirit is with us. Let us listen to what He is saying.

I know this blog post is probably theologically “sketchy” so I expect some pushback. On the other hand, this is something I felt needed to be said, no matter how imperfectly I said it.

Footnotes

1. Acronym of Turei Zahav on Torah law by R. David Halevi, d. 1667.
2. Acronym of Siftei Kohein on Torah law by R. Shabtai Hacohen, 1622-1663.
3. See “On Learning Chassidus,” Kehot, p. 18.

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Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Sundry Times and Divers Manners

Our fourth teaching on the book of Hebrews considers the first two verses of the epistle:

“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2)

How does Yeshua and the message of Messiah stack up against the patriarchs and the prophets?

The thesis statement behind the book of Hebrews with reference to Yalkut Shimoni and Midrash Tanchuma on Isaiah 52:13.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Four: Sundry Times and Divers Manners
Originally presented on January 19, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

After my significant goof up in my review of last week’s session, I’m a little hesitant to write another review, but hopefully, I’ll be more mindful of my notes if not my memory.

Today’s the day. It’s the day Lancaster actually starts delving into the book of Hebrews, well the first couple of verses in the first chapter, anyway. However, there’s a lot to cover in this thirty-five minute sermon. Let’s get going.

The first thing a traditional Christian Bible student should know is that Lancaster thinks the Book of Hebrews reads like Midrash Rabbah, other Talmudic portions, and even the Zohar. That’s because the sermon/letter seems so Jewish. That isn’t going to make a lot of Christians happy because they (we) have been taught some pretty negative things about Talmud and especially about Zohar (most Christians have probably heard of the Talmud but how many teachers and Pastors even breathe the word “Zohar”?).

Lancaster says he feels pretty comfortable with Talmudic literature, at least in English, but he rather feels sorry for the innocent and unsuspecting Christian Bible student who stumbles into Hebrews without that background. The implication is that without familiarity with Rabbinic commentary, most Christians are going to come away from Hebrews with an inaccurate interpretation of what the anonymous author was trying to say.

Lancaster says the experience of an uninitiated Christian facing Talmudic writings encounters the intellectual and perhaps spiritual equivalent of stepping on a rake. I assume he means the “business end” of the rake and not the handle.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.

Hebrews 1:1-2 (NASB)

What does this mean?

It’s actually pretty straightforward. In ancient days, God spoke to “the fathers in the prophets”. Who are they? Prophets include Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and especially Moses. They also include anyone of the Judges as well as prophets like Samuel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and any of the so-called “minor prophets” who, in Hebrew Bibles, are called the “later prophets.” No prophet of God is “minor.”

We also see prophetic words from God in the writings such as the Psalms and Proverbs, so God spoke to all of the writers of all of the books of what Christians refer to as the “Old Testament” and what Jews call the Tanakh (Torah or Law, Nevu’im or Prophets, and Ketuvim or Writings).

We call all of this put together the “Old Testament,” but for Jews in the Apostolic Era, it was just The Testament or The Scriptures.

Verse one testifies that God inspired all of the writers of all of those writings speaking through them and to them. These were the men of God of the past and God spoke to ALL of them. Thus, what they wrote is ALL the Word of God. God spoke in many diverse ways to the prophets:

He said, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream.

“Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; With him I speak mouth to mouth…”

Numbers 12:6-8 (NASB)

God spoke through the other prophets in many and different ways but only with Moses did God speak “face-to-face” (lit. mouth-to-mouth). The message of the prophets was to all of Israel and ultimately, to all the world.

However in the last days, God spoke through His Son.

What last days? While the apostles and early disciples may have thought they were living in the last days, they must have been wrong, because almost two-thousand years have passed and the “days” haven’t ended yet.

But were they wrong? They were living in the last days of the Apostolic Era. They were living in the last days of the Holy Temple. They were living in the last days of Jerusalem, the last days before the Jewish people would be exiled from their Land to wander the diaspora for nearly twenty desperate centuries.

Thy Kingdom ComeThe First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television show A Promise of What is to Come produced a number of episodes describing how the coming of the Messianic Kingdom was upon us and that time wasn’t the relevant factor in summoning the Kingdom. Episodes such as Seek First the Kingdom, Thy Kingdom Come, and Keys to the Kingdom all speak of this.

Lancaster characterized the imminent coming of the Kingdom as a clock that is stuck at one minute to midnight, sort of how the Doomsday Clock is used to show the imminence of Nuclear War.

The men and women of the Apostolic Era were living in the “end times” no more or less than we. The stage has been set, the actors have taken their places, now all that is left is for the curtain to go up, the house lights to go down, and for the play to begin. However, the audience and the actors haven’t been told exactly when the curtain will rise and to a large degree it is they who will determine the moment, not the director.

Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all things take place.

Luke 21:32 (NASB)

But this interpretation makes me consider that “this generation” isn’t meant to be taken literally.

…in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.

Hebrews 1:2 (NASB)

This speaks more than I could have possibly known before hearing this sermon.

Lancaster invoked my English 101 class which I took the first time I attended university. In an English Composition class, you’re taught to begin a paper with a thesis statement, a declaration of the topic and purpose of the paper, then you spend the rest of the time writing documentation supporting your thesis.

That’s how Hebrews begins.

Lancaster took a moment to explain that the New Testament is NOT just commentary on the Torah, which may come as a surprise to some Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots people who have been taught to focus on the Torah and almost nothing else.

The thesis of the writer of Hebrews is that in ancient days, God spoke through and to the Prophets of old and what they spoke and wrote was and is the Word of God. But in the End Times, God spoke through his Son, Moshiach, and what Moshiach spoke is recorded in the Gospels.

We take all this for granted as Christians in the twenty-first century. After all, we have our Bibles, they include the Old Testament and the New Testament, and the New Testament includes the Gospels, so of course what Jesus said was and is the Word of God, but that was a revolutionary concept in the early 60s CE. The Jewish believers as well as all other Jewish people understood that the Hebrew Scriptures were the Word of God, but could Jesus of Nazareth also speak God’s Word (not to mention his apostles, but we won’t address that today)?

Was/is Jesus greater than the Prophets? The answer is of course, “yes,” but what did the original readers of Hebrews believe? Was Jesus greater and better than angels (see Hebrews 1:4)?

The writer of Hebrews had to establish this as his thesis and then spend the rest of the sermon/letter defending and supporting that thesis.

Behold, My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted.

Isaiah 52:13 (NASB)

Delitzsch BibleThis is the beginning of the Song of the Exalted Servant. Traditional, normative Judaism considers the Exalted or Suffering Servant to be the people and nation of Israel, while Christians believe it is Messiah, it’s Jesus.

Lancaster began to establish that the Servant must be Messiah based on a variety of Jewish sources, such as Targum Jonathan and too many others for me to write down and thus record here. He mentioned again that the Zohar is one of those sources, but it should be noted that most if not all of the supportive Jewish writings were authored well after the Apostolic Era.

Lancaster wants to show his audience that his interpretation is correct but that it must be understood and supported by Jewish sources. The question, and it’s an important one, is if the audience of the sermon/letter to the Hebrews would have understood this document through the Jewish documentation and commentary they had access to in or around the year 62 CE.

The most reliable estimates regarding the Zohar say it was written in about the 12th century and the Talmud wasn’t authored for centuries after the apostles died. We can accept some of Lancaster’s argument if we believe the information later recorded in Rabbinic writings already existed, probably in oral form, during Apostolic days. But for many Christians, that’s quite a leap.

What Lancaster is trying to establish is that the writer of Hebrews was declaring, and again, this would be controversial and even revolutionary in the mid-first century, that Yeshua of Nazareth was not only equal to the Prophets and Judges and even Angels, but that he was superior to them all as Messiah and as the Son of God. The audience of Hebrews was to understand that the words of Jesus were indeed also the Word of God, which Christians accept today without question but the original readers of Hebrews still needed to comprehend.

And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…

Hebrews 1:3 (NASB)

For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house.

Hebrews 3:3 (NASB)

Jesus is worthy. He sits at the right hand of the Father. He is the radiance of God’s glory, an exact representation of God’s nature. Messiah upholds all things by his word, which is the Word of God because Messiah is greater, more glorious, more worthy than any of the prophets, including Moses and even more so than the Angels.

Now here’s the important part for today.

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.

Hebrews 2:1 (NASB)

Read the entire first chapter of Hebrews and then read the first verse of the second chapter. What were the readers of this sermon/letter (and what are we) supposed to pay much closer attention to?” The Word of God as spoken by Messiah. Why? So they wouldn’t drift away.

life_of_pi_by_megatruh-d5noigdRemember, that according to previous sermons, the writer of the Book of Hebrews was deeply concerned that his audience, because they were denied access to the Temple in Jerusalem, were tempted to “drift away” from their faith in Messiah, all for love of and devotion to Temple worship.

Christians believe that Hebrews was a warning to Jews not to abandon Jesus and “backslide” into Jewish practices including the Temple sacrifices, but according to Lancaster, it was a warning to not forget priorities.

Lancaster used a number of metaphors to get his point across but I’ll choose just one. How many couples do you know have gotten a divorce? Maybe you are divorced. Maybe you have friends who are, or maybe your parents are.

Sometimes, when describing the process that lead up to divorcing, men and women will say that they drifted away from each other over time. This rather contradicts a sudden trauma such as being abruptly denied access to Temple worship and suggests a gradual cooling of faith.

Faith and devotion to the Master are there, but for a variety of reasons, they can begin to become less important over weeks, months, and even years. Christians are taught in Church that only one thing matters: Jesus. It’s pretty easy to lock onto Jesus and not let go because he is all anyone ever talks about.

But the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movement are sometimes so devoted to Torah, to Talmud, to Shabbat, to a thousand other things, that Jesus gets lost in the shuffle. I think that’s why some Gentile Messianic believers convert to normative Judaism, usually Orthodox, because the things of Judaism become more attractive and they slowly drift away from Yeshua.

Hebrew Roots people accuse Messianic Jewish adherents of promoting this kind of apostasy all the time, but here we have D. Thomas Lancaster, no small voice in the realm of Messianic Jewish teachings and writings, offering the same cautionary tale based on the warning of whoever wrote the Book of Hebrews.

What Did I Learn?

I’ve been bending my brain around what Lancaster has been teaching and filtering it through some of the comments of people who have been reading my reviews.

broken-crossCould the Book of Hebrews been written after the Temple’s destruction and the writer was trying to encourage his Jewish readers that the quintessential Temple continued to exist in Heaven with Messiah as its Kohen Gadol?

Regardless of differences in interpretation, the main point of Lancaster’s sermon was what hit home the most, especially in the face of recent failures and my continued struggle with the rigidity of certain Christians and their commentaries.

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?

Hebrews 2:1-3 (NASB)

We must…I must pay attention to what I have heard so that I do not drift way from it, for if the Word spoken by angels at Sinai to Moses, the Torah, proved unalterable, how can I escape if I neglect so great a salvation as the Word uttered by the Master?

The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew and Other Mysteries

midnight-good-evilWhy are we here?

This, the mother of all questions, is addressed in turn by the various streams of Torah thought, each after its own style.

The Talmud states, simply and succinctly, “I was created to serve my Creator.” The moralistic-oriented works of Mussar describe the purpose of life as the refinement of one’s character traits. The Zohar says that G-d created us “in order that His creations should know Him.” Master Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria offered the following reason for creation: G-d is the essence of good, and the nature of good is to bestow goodness. But goodness cannot be bestowed when there is no one to receive it. To this end, G-d created our world — so that there should be recipients of His goodness.

Chassidic teaching explains that these reasons, as well as the reasons given by other kabbalistic and philosophical works, are but the various faces of a singular divine desire for creation, as expressed in the various “worlds” or realms of G-d’s creation. Chassidism also offers its own formulation of this divine desire: that we “Make a home for G-d in the material world.”

“The World a Home”
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Chabad.org

If you are a traditional Christian, the above-quoted set of paragraphs may present words and concepts with which you are not familiar. Most people have heard of the Talmud, but the Zohar as the primary text for Kabbalah, the prevalent form of Jewish Mysticism in the world today, may be rather alien to you. If you have heard of them, chances are you haven’t heard anything good. Not because Jewish mysticism is inherently bad, but because it is a trail that leads away from the Bible and particularly strays from the good news of Jesus Christ.

But in holding those views, Christians tend to forget that we also have a rich mystic heritage or for that matter, that “Kabbalah was popular among Christian intellectuals during the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods, who reinterpreted its doctrines to fit into their Christian dogma” (from Judaism 101: Kabbalah and Jewish Mysticism). There is even a suggestion that modern Christians can study Kabbalah and still remain within the tenets of the faith.

Granted, that opinion is controversial, but the fact that someone can even ask such a question presents us with the possibility that Jewish mysticism is a relevant subject of study for a follower of Jesus.

No, I don’t consider myself a mystic, although I have done a bit of research and am fond of the tales of the Chassidim, many of which involve mystic themes. I consider mystic stories as a sort of metaphor or even poetic expression, not to (necessarily) be taken literally, but rather as tales or fables that teach a moral or ethical principle. I’m also fond of the writings of Paul Philip Levertoff who, as a Chassidic Jew who came to faith in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, retained his unique point of view as a Chassid and wrote of the Master from a “mystic perspective” that I believe sheds illumination on many mysteries surrounding Moshiach (I’m particularly fond of Love and the Messianic Age which I previously reviewed).

But I’m not writing this meditation today to advocate for Jewish mysticism.

Church tradition holds that Matthew wrote the first gospel. According to Papias, “Matthew compiled the oracles of the Lord in the Hebrew language, and each [subsequent gospel writer] interpreted them as best he could.” This implies that the original gospel written by Matthew may have been a sayings-gospel, something akin to the Gospel of Thomas, which consists of a catalogue of sayings attributed to Yeshua, completely disconnected from any narrative context. Eusebius says that Matthew wrote his gospel in Hebrew just before leaving the holy land…

According to tradition, Matthew composed his Hebrew Gospel for the benefit of disciples he left behind in Judea…

Unfortunately, the original gospel Matthew composed has been lost. The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew mentioned by Papias and Eusebius is not the same as our canonical Matthew. Our Gospel of Matthew represents a somewhat later stage of development.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Commentary on “The First Voyage of Thomas”
from the readings for Torah Portion Vayak’hel (“He gathered”)
Torah Club Volume 6: Chronicles of the Apostles
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

What I am writing about today is the relevancy of extra-Biblical texts and information sources as part of studying the Bible and educating ourselves as disciples of Christ.

Pretty strange notion, huh?

gospel-of-thomasNot really. So far in my study of the Torah Club, my understanding of the Book of Acts and the journeys of Paul and his companions to spread the gospel message “first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles” has been enhanced and elucidated by the historical and scholarly information Lancaster has added to his commentaries. How can we understand what Paul, James, Peter, and the other apostles were experiencing and comprehend their actions if we allow ourselves to remain ignorant of the cultures, societies, laws, mores, and other information historians and other academicians have gleaned over the centuries of the world of first-century Judaism and the spread of early Christianity into the world outside of Jerusalem?

The Gospel of Thomas was mentioned earlier and what we know of it strongly suggests that it not be considered a reliable source of information about the early apostolic “adventures” into the lands to the east of Israel or any other parts of the world. Nevertheless, these documents exist and it would be irresponsible of us to ignore their study, even if for no other reason than to confirm or refute their accuracy.

Tales of a Hebrew (more likely Aramaic) language version of the Gospel of Matthew have been in circulation for a very long time, but we must remember that not one shred of physical, tangible evidence in the form of Matthew’s early gospel document or fragment thereof has been produced to confirm it ever existed. It’s not that it can’t have existed since the writings of Papias and Eusebius offer some support, and certainly the possibility fires the imagination, but even in the community of faith, we must separate established fact from wishful thinking.

But there are tremendous gaps in our knowledge base regarding the first century and the “acts of the apostles.” Can Paul and his small body of companions have been solely responsible for the spread of the gospel message of Christ to all of the Gentile lands? Did Luke only record a small sample of what really happened, who else was sent out, where they went, what they did, and the communities of the Messiah they established in the four corners of the then-civilized world?

So history, archaeology, literature, and similar bodies of study should all be considered valid information sources to add to our collection of methods by which we understand the world of the apostles and the prophets and well as the Word of God. But what about speculation such as an early Hebrew or Aramaic gospel of Matthew?

Lancaster’s endnote (18) for the above-referenced commentary on the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew states (TCv6, pg 581):

This original Hebrew Gospel of Matthew is not the same as our Greek, canonical Matthew, though the latter may be a Greek adaptation of Matthew’s original Hebrew manuscript. On the other hand, most synoptic-gospel scholars agree that canonical Matthew is an adaption from the Greek of the Gospel of Mark. The Gospel of Matthew cannot be both a Greek translation of the original Hebrew Gospel of Matthew and a redaction of the Gospel of Mark. Canonical Matthew does contain non-Markan elements, some in common with Luke, and quite a bit that is unique to Matthew alone, but for the most part, Matthew seems to depend upon Mark as his primary source. This does not preclude the likely possibility, however, that the author of canonical Matthew had Hebrew Matthew in hand to consult and compare with Mark. Perhaps the Gospel of Matthew bears that name because its author used Hebrew Matthew as one of his sources.

Recent attempts to identify “Shem-Tov Matthew” as Matthew’s original Hebrew Gospel are not founded on good scholarship.

hebrew-matthew-shem-tovIn case you missed it, one of the things Lancaster (and many other scholars besides) suggests is that Gospel of Matthew may not have actually been written by the Matthew we see in the gospels. However, the main point is that without concrete evidence, we can only speculate about a “Hebrew Matthew” gospel. We can’t say that it ever really existed or if it did, what it might have said.

Still, it is compelling and it at least opens the door to the possibility that one day such a “Hebrew Matthew” (or some fragment) may appear. If it does, we don’t have to be completely shocked.

But that’s still a far cry from mysticism. Are mystic writings and philosophy ever a valid study for a “true believer?” For that matter, what is “mysticism?” According to Merriam-Webster.com:

  1. the experience of mystical union or direct communion with ultimate reality reported by mystics
  2. the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience (as intuition or insight)

When we pray, it is as if we are trying to draw God down to us in whatever place we happen to be, so that we can experience Him, encounter Him, speak to Him. In a mystic experience, it’s as if we are trying to elevate ourselves to connect to God where God is.

That’s probably one of the reasons that I don’t dive deeply into the mystic realms. I’m afraid it’ll work and I’ll suddenly find myself confronted with mysteries and powers beyond my ability to comprehend or even tolerate. I think most religious people are more comfortable with some sort of veil or barrier between themselves (ourselves) and an infinite, all-powerful, all-creative, awesome, majestic, uniquely, radically One God!

Or to use Boaz Michael’s introduction to the Love and the Messianic Age Commentary as one possible response:

Love and the Messianic Age is not a book that will appeal to everyone. It is not easy reading. It deals with large abstract theological concepts in a short summary form. Levertoff’s language is terse, densely packed, and often as cryptic as the sources he’s citing.

Kabbalistic literature is, generally speaking, comparable to a large, sprawling city with many treacherous back-alleys, dangerous neighborhoods, and sudden, unexpected dead-ends. Even with a good map and a good sense for direction, the visitor is likely to find himself lost and confused and may easily stray into a bad part of town. Rather than trying to find your way through this maze-like metropolis on your own, we recommend you follow a reliable guide. Paul Philip Levertoff is just such a guide.

Assuming you’re not a true mystic and devoted or even driven to extend yourself beyond the mortal plane of existence and to, like Paul tells of (supposedly) himself, be caught up to the third heaven…caught up to paradise” in order to “hear things that cannot be told, which man may not utter,” mystic writings, as I mentioned before, can be treated as metaphor, allegory, and as morality tales based on Jewish and Christian concepts that illustrate something we otherwise would find more difficult to comprehend. Mystic writings can also encompass speculation, debate, discussion on matters of God, Divinity, Messiah, and Heavenly realms that we might not have a language to describe in any other manner.

It is the world that exists beyond our own and for which we have no proof or even faith to understand. Mysticism gives us permission to talk about what otherwise would be unmentionable, those thoughts and feelings that exist only behind a shadowy glass, a darkened mirror, that we know we should not inquire after, but that for some people, are completely irresistible.

ezekiels-visionEzekiel had his mystic experience. So did Paul and John (see the Book of Revelation). It was Levertoff who read the Gospel of John and said that he could not understand how Christians were able to comprehend those writings since John’s Gospel was so much like the mystic Chassidic texts on which he had been raised and educated.

Speculation into additional or extra-Biblical texts isn’t evil and neither is an investigation into mysticism. They both have their benefits and values but they (especially mysticism) are also full of landmines and trap doors. As Michael wrote, trying to navigate the maze of the mystics is “comparable to a large, sprawling city with many treacherous back-alleys, dangerous neighborhoods, and sudden, unexpected dead-ends.” If you don’t know what you’re doing or you don’t have a capable guide, it’s easy to get lost, abandoned, mugged, beaten, and left for dead on some dark and foggy dead-end street that is more akin to a Constantinople back alley of a hundred years ago or a story narrated by Rod Serling.

If you’re not sure, then don’t go there. If you’re willing to risk it, there is some possibility of reward, but there are no guarantees.

But there’s something compelling about a mystery. There’s a bit of the siren’s call in going beyond the well-known neighborhoods and breaching good judgment and common sense. The Bible must be the tangible foundation for everything we know and believe about our faith but having said that, it doesn’t mean we are confined only to a single concrete slab. As long as we keep a foot on solid rock, we may sometimes take the risk to putting the other outside, perhaps as Paul did, or John, or Ezekiel, and seeing what lies beyond.

Sometimes it’s a fool’s errand, and sometimes it’s part of the strange path we must walk in answering the call to encounter God.

How else can we answer questions like, Why are we here?

Don’t take the world and its darkness so seriously—it is not as real as it feigns to be. It is only a creation, and it is being re-created out of absolutely nothing at every moment.

The only thing real about it is its purpose of being—that you should purify it.

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

What about me? Actually, I’m a pretty cautious fellow. I don’t like to go off the beaten path all that often. But every once in a while, just a like a certain home-loving Bilbo Baggins, the Took family character takes over and I go off on a small, mysterious adventure.

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.

My Beloved Profound Mystery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is a profound mystery indeed.

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

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

Or both, intertwined in a graceful yet ephemeral dance?

Searching by Ineffable Light

Light at nightGod is not a scientific problem, and scientific methods are not capable of solving it. The reason why scientific methods are often thought to be capable of solving it is the success of their application in positive sciences. The fallacy involved in this analogy is that of treating God as if He were a phenomenon within the order of nature. The truth, however, is that the problem of God is not only related to phenomena within nature but to nature itself; not only to concepts within thinking but to thinking itself. It is a problem that refers to what surpasses nature, so what lies beyond all things and all concepts. (page 102)

The object of science is to explain the processes of nature. (page 104)

-Abraham Joshua Heschel
God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism

He made His world of contradictions, opposites that combine as one.

Being and not being,
infinity and finitude,
light and darkness,
form and matter,
quantity and quality,
giving and withholding.

At their nexus, a world is formed: Neither can exist without the other, all function together as a single whole.

They are mere modalities—He Himself is none of them. He mixes them and matches them at whim.

Paradox is our window to the Unknowable.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Being and Not Being”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

The “mystery” of God is both that He is unknowable and that the attempt to “know” Him is irresistibly compelling. This is probably why I write on the topic so much (my most recent entry being Mystery Story). Yet the mere act of prayer is an attempt to interface the ordinary with the fantastic; the finite with the infinite; the temporal and the immortal. As Rabbi Freeman says, God “made His world of contradictions, opposites that combine as one.” But while God can exist without us, we can’t exist without Him.

In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.
But you remain the same,
and your years will never end. –Psalm 102:25-27

The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more. –Psalm 103:15-16

In touching the hem of God’s garment, we cannot truly know Him; in approaching the throne, we cannot truly comprehend Him. We are like ancient men trying to understand how an airplane flies or how a submarine descends to tremendous depths. In truth, we are much more ignorant than they. But we still have the need to draw nearer to God, and even the secular person searches for Him without realizing it. To again quote from Heschel’s book:

No one is without a sense of awe, a need to adore, an urge to worship. The question is only what to adore, or more specifically, what object is worthy of supreme worship. (page 88)

We are all in search of the One God but people, in our confusion and incomprehension, turn to other objects, stars, trees, and even people, and devote all our adoration to them, rather than to our Creator and in doing so, declare ourselves “free” of the confines of “religion” and accountability to a standard of holiness we do not understand nor desire to emulate.

More’s the pity.

Indeed, secular man considers Biblical man to be the one who is ignorant and even superstitious, and who can blame him?

The prophet is a fool. The man of spirit is mad. –Hosea 9:7

There is a certain madness to this idea of talking to G-d, of saying “You” to the Ground of Reality–as though this is a person. Like the madness of love or of unbounded joy. Not the madness of a derelict mind, but the madness that rides upon the shoulders of reason, with all its qualities, but beyond.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Divine Madness”
Chabad.org

OceanYet what we seek and the faith we grasp so tightly is not without logic but beyond logic. It is not irrational, but super-rational.

I recently attempted to delve into a comparison between Jesus, the Oral Law, and the Talmud, which is a subject far too complex for a single blog post. While there is a tradition in Judaism that says Moses was given both a written and an oral Torah, Kabbalistic adherents believe there is a third, “hidden” Torah as revealed in the Zohar or other mystic writings.

This is certainly controversial and is not accepted among all Jewish authorities. And although Christianity enjoys its own rich, mystic tradition, the vast majority of believers in the church disdain not only the Zohar and any of the Chassidic writings, but even the more rational and grounded Talmud.

And yet, the mystic, in both Judaism and Christianity, exists because of the ineffable nature of the unknowable God, as Rabbi Heschel writes:

By ineffable we do not mean the unknown as such; things unknown today may be known a thousand years from now. By the ineffable we mean that aspect of reality which by its very nature lies beyond our comprehension, and is acknowledged by the mind to be beyond the scope of the mind. Nor does the ineffable refer to the realm detached from the perceptible and the known. It refers to the correlation of the known and the unknown, of the knowable and the unknowable, upon which the mind comes in all its acts of thinking and feeling.

The sense of the ineffable is a sense for transcendence, a sense for the allusiveness of reality to the super-rational meaning. The ineffable, then, is a synonym for hidden meaning rather than for absence of meaning. It stands for a dimension which in the Bible is called glory, a dimension so real and sublime that it stuns our ability to adore it, and fills us with awe rather than curiosity.

No wonder David wrote this:

..what is a human being that you are mindful of him, a son of man that you care for him? –Psalm 8:4

What are we indeed, but the handiwork of the Creator and the clay vessels which contain transformative infinite light. And what Shakespeare said with irony, we can say with conviction:

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god!

-Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 303–312

Light under the doorWhile not “angel” nor “god”, we do tread on the edge or madness and the abyss at each encounter with the Creator, attempting to touch what is beyond our reach and to know what knowledge cannot imagine. Yet it was for this purpose that God created each of us, and that we even have such a word as “ineffable” in our vocabulary speaks to the need to cross the boundary between the tangible and the mystic and to walk the corridors of a Temple not made by the hand of man.

Reason stands on the threshold, trembling to open the door to her own womb, although a blinding light bursts from between the cracks. For in that place, she knows, there is no reason. She has shown the way, but now she must step aside for madness to break in.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Divine Madness