Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Old/New Universe



Ever since science has attempted to determine the age of the universe there has been a fierce intellectual battle between the forces of science and creationism. I tend to believe that the two perspectives don't have to conflict, especially so fiercely. Today, there are several genuine approaches which can reconcile the two accounts of creation. What I will present here is one particular possibility based on my understanding of what I have learned in Jewish mysticism. While I believe that my approach is correct, I also know that my understanding is limited and has its share of human imperfections. Hence, I leave it to the great Jewish Sages of the generation (especially those initiated into the mysteries) to determine the veracity of what I am about to present.

Though I am a concerned about my worthiness to make this presentation, I am motivated by several considerations:

     A)  I’ve seen many in my generation who are hampered by creation issues from taking Judaism seriously.  

     B)  According to many authorities (often Kabbalists themselves) we are already living in a generation that has permission to study the mysteries. Therefore, I am less reluctant to be open.

        C)  In the course of presenting my understanding on the topic, I might be teaching my readers certain key concepts germane to Jewish mysticism, which will help their growth.

May the Creator help me and clarify my way for His own sake and for the sake of the aiding the world’s spiritual growth.

Chapter 1 – The universe and perception

Jewish mysticism has a layered view of the universe. According to this view the universe conceptually depicted as layers of an onion. [i] There is a large outer sphere encompassing a slightly smaller sphere, which in turn encompasses an even slightly smaller sphere. This process of sphere within sphere continues until reaching the center sphere – which is the physical universe we are familiar with. A two dimensional view of this would look like a classical archery target with our universe being the bull’s eye. Each of these spheres is referred to as a “universe”. Hence, there seem to be many universes. The outer universes are more spiritual and the inner ones harden, tending towards ever more physical – until reaching the most physical of all, our own universe. [ii] Naturally, each universe is inhabited by creatures with match its own spiritual level. Accordingly, angels inhabit outer universes and animals inhabit the innermost level. This establishes a spiritual hierarchy of universes and creatures – a spectrum with those higher up having much less limitation and those closer to the center beginning to feel the crunch of limitation. Freedom verses limitation is a very strong distinguishing between spiritual and physical beings.

In some sense, this multi-universe view might be a metaphor. Based on the teachings of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi it seems likely that there truthfully is only one universe. [iii] The multitudes of “universes” seem likely to be merely many various creatures perceiving the same universe very differently. When a group of creatures share a largely overlapping perception of the universe, they are considered to be living in the same universe. For example, a human, a dog and a bee are all considered inhabitants of the same universe. Why? They can all perceive each other and pick up many of the same vibes. This does not mean that their perception range is entirely identical; a dog perceives sounds and smells outside the range of human perception. A bee sees ultraviolet light. However, there's sufficient overlap to allow these creatures to interact. Hence, they share the same "universe".

In contrast, a human and an angel are considered to be inhabitants of different "universes". Why? Because the human sees the universe as a physical structure, while the angel sees the same universe as a containing spiritual force. The universe each sees is not different. What's different is the level of perception each creature was designed for.  There are as many "universes" as there are perceptual ranges. Rabbi Shneur Zalman teaches that had the eye been allowed to see the spirituality in each creature, it would not appear earthly at all, but rather as a vibrant spiritual force. (Tanya II chapter 3)

Kabbalah teaches that a universe is defined a framework of time, space and life.[iv]  Since ultimately there is only one shared universe there is also only one framework of time, space and life. Every single creature lives within this over arching framework which defines the basic parameters of the universe. However, the way each creature experiences time, space and life can vary greatly from the next. The way time is experienced by humans dwelling in an earthly body is not the way time is experienced by a disembodied soul. People who survived near death experiences have shared on interviews that when disembodied their perception of time was vastly different.

It seems like the experience of time can be compared to a sensory perception which varies depending on what vessels of perception the creature was designed with. This notion of time is bolstered by recent research in the field of psychology which discovered through research that the human perception of time as really a "construction of the human mind".[v] Therefore, there can be many kinds of time perception in the overall universe.

Chapter 2 – The Garden of Eden

One of the most celebrated Kabbalists in all Jewish history was Rabbi Isaac Luria, of blessed memory (1534 – 1572). In order to gain perspective on the issue of the age of the universe, it is useful to examine his treatment of the Biblical story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  

According to Rabbi Isaac Luria, the universe Adam and Eve inhabited was not physical at all. Rather, it was highly spiritual. [vi] For that matter neither was the snake’s realm physical. It too was spiritual, though it was much closer to being physical, as it was spiritually lower. The tree of knowledge served as a tenuous link between where the first couple lived and the snake’s realm. As a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, the two realms mixed together into a single realm becoming the physical universe as we know it today. This is how Adam and Eve were "chased out" of the Garden. [vii] The world around them simply became physical. It was no longer a “garden”. Obviously, Adam and Eve no longer looked the same either. Previously, they were clothed in spiritual light. Now, they were clothed in skin. [viii]

Although I have not seen this written anywhere [ix], it's my own understanding that the reason why mixing the realms made our universe physical is because Adam’s realm and the snake’s realm were very incompatible with each other. Imagine bringing together two dancers trained in very different styles of dancing to dance with each other. Their tedious efforts to synchronize their movements will slow them down. Similarly, the elements of Adam’s realm and the snake’s realm were so vastly different that they didn’t “dance well together”. Each slowed down the other. The slower the movement the more concrete an entity becomes. For example, solid is harder than liquid, gas or energy because the molecules in solid aren’t moving as freely. As molecules slow down, substances harden, becoming more concrete.

Since Adam and Eve were not initially created physically, but rather as inhabitants of Eden, it logically follows that their experience of time was also very different than own. In our current state, we are incapable of understanding what time was like for them. The very same notion in its own way applies to time in the snake’s realm as well. Their experiences of time there was unique to each of their respective realms.
Upon mixing, the inhabitants of both realms became earthly. Commensurate with their new level, their sensory apparatus now perceived physicality. As a result of their new perceptual range, a brand new experience of time, space and life emerged – one that never existed before either in the Garden of Eden or in the snake’s realm. What existed in both spiritual realms downloaded into this new realm – squash ... everything became more constrained into newly introduced limitations brought on by two incompatible realms attempting to work together - resulting in slow motion. Therefore, anything which seems to predate first couple’s entry into the physical realm is really a footprint of something which existed spiritually in a whole other perception of time, which cannot be measured in human terms. This is why the true age of the physical universe cannot be measured.  The history of our physical universe began in two realms, each with their own version of immeasurable "spiritual time" and combined 5,771 years ago, continuing onward in “physical time”. 

Yet, when all that previous “spiritual time” downloaded physically, it probably translated into about 15 billion earthly years. Upon entry into the physical realm, everything brought along its own previous history. All that spiritual history downloaded into physical constraints, yielding a new kind of history appropriate for a more limited format. This could be comparable to taking a jump drive full of data and trying to transfer all that data onto a batch of old 3.5" floppy discs. The vast quantity of data which the single jump drive had easily stored will now require many floppy discs, as the data is being translated into a more limited format. What's lost in quality requires greater quantity to bring about an equal result. Similarly, translating events from high quality spiritual time into the constraints of physical time requires a huge number of units to hold it; possibly, something like 15 billion human years. 15 billion years worth of history downloaded, but, only 5771 years ago.

These ideas accord nicely with the view of the Medieval Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac of Acco (1250 – 1340).

Chapter 3 - Rabbi Isaac of Acco

Rabbi Isaac of Acco, discourse on the age of the universe which combines ideas from the Talmud and Bible was introduced to the English speaking audience by late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, of blessed memory. He has an elaborate essay about Rabbi Isaac of Acco's discourse in his book "Immortality, Resurrection and the Age of the Universe: A Kabbalistic View". He also has a shorter explanation in his translation and commentary to "Sefer Yetzirah" P.186.

Rabbi Kaplan explains that the Talmud cites in a number of places that the universe is supposed to exist for 7,000 years. A variety of Rabbinic sources expand on this teaching and explain that the universe really goes through seven cycles of 7,000 years, totaling 49,000 years. There’s some disagreement on whether we’re in the second cycle or the seventh cycle.

Rabbi Isaac of Acco takes each day in the 49,000 years and multiplies it by 1,000 years – teaching that a “divine day” really equals 1,000 human years. He bases this idea on the Biblical verse (Psalms 90:4) “A thousand years in Your eyes are just like yesterday (i.e. a single day).”

Assuming we are in the last of the seven cycles, we can do a simple calculation: 1,000 years x 365.25 days x 42,000 = 15,340,500,000 human years - that's 15 billion and 340 million and 500 thousand human years. This equation multiplies the 1,000 year long divine day by 365.25 days in the solar year in order determine the length of a divine year, which is 365,250 “human years”. Then following the approach of those Rabbinic authorities who believe we’re in the seventh cycle, six cycles have already passed by making the world at least 42,000 years old in this context. By multiplying 365,250 “human years” and 42,000 “cycle years”, one yields 15,340,500,000 human years. This is pretty close to some scientific estimates of the age of the universe.

In light of Rabbi Isaac Luria’s teaching, I understand Rabbi Isaac of Acco as conveying that a value of over 15 billion human years has passed since the universe’s inception, but not that the universe was literally more than 15 billion years old. Of course, had Adam and Eve been initially created physical then over 15 billion human years would have actually transpired, but, this was not the case.

Chapter 4 – Seven Days in Physical Time

A contemporary physicist and Torah scholar, Dr. Gerald Schroeder, demonstrates that the seven days of creation can also be calculated in physical time. [x] Even though the first couple spent at least their first hours in spiritual time, I accept Dr. Schroeder’s findings as a confirmation that the seven days of creation had left their imprint even physically. This means that had the universe been physically created, the notion that it was created in seven days would have still been true.

Dr. Schroeder theory attempts to reconcile the Biblical time frame of creation, of seven days, with the scientific age of the universe, which according to some scientists is over 15 billion years old. He argued that seven days from the outer rim of the universe can equal billions of years within the universe. His approach is based on Einstein's time dilation theory. (If you don't believe in Einstein's theory of time dilation then please throw out your GPS. It heavily depends on this theory to work.)

The gist of Dr. Schroeder's reconciliation goes like this. When the big bang happened the outer rim of the universe ballooned outward with such a tremendous burst of energy that it approached the speed of light. Einstein's time dilation theory teaches that the faster something travels in space the slower it goes in time. Therefore by reaching such high speeds, time greatly slowed down at the outer rim of the universe when measured relative to clocks within the universe. While the outer rim experienced only seven days, the interior of the universe could have experienced 15 billion years. 

According to Dr. Schroeder’s theory, the Creator measured the Biblical seven days from the perspective of the most universal clock, the clock which embraces all clocks; namely, the outer rim of the universe. This makes sense considering that time dilation theory teaches that the experience of time is not only affected by speed, but also by gravity. The stronger gravity is, the slower time moves. So while from the perspective of earth the universe could be about 15 billion years old, from the perspective of Jupiter the universe could be much older. Since there are a vast multitude of gravitational fields within the universe with vastly varying intensities, just for this reason alone there are also a vast number of clocks from which the age of the universe can be gauged – each yielding a different result. Therefore, the over-arching clock on the rim of the universe makes the most sense to use.

Once the framework of a seven day creation has been paradoxically greatly expanded while simultaneously being very literal, there is room to discuss a protracted process of creation, along with what tools might have been in the Creator's "tool box" to bring this about. Without any knowledge to the contrary, evolution should be as good a tool as any other for the Creator to slowly form the amazing wide variety of species which inhabit our planet.

I'm not personally saying that this is how it happened or that I throw my full support into Dr. Schroeder's theory, as literally having happened. However, (a) it serves as a neat reconciliation for people who don’t want to get too mystical (b) it demonstrates that the Creator could have worked out a seven day creation even within physical time (c) the very fact all these reconciliations between the Biblical and scientific accounts exist should bring members of both camps to question whether there really needs to be such a heated argument, when one can simultaneously believe in the Creator, science and a literal reading of the Bible without any inner intellectual conflict? Let all sides continue their work peacefully, so we can all grow together towards our fullest potential.

Content copyrighted by author

[i]  A note to those studying Kabbalah: I am only discussing sefirot igulim here – as they are the chambers which are inhabited by beings.
[ii]  Sefer Etz Chaim, Shaar Igulim V’Yosher
[iii]  Tanya II, Chapter 3
[iv]  See “Sefer Yetzirah”, from chapters 3 to 5 the 22 mystical letters of the Hebrew alphabet are described as manifesting in time, space and life – encompassing the entire framework of creation as we know it.
[v]  Radio interview with neuroscientist David Eagleman on WHYY broadcast in Philadelphia on August 11, 2011.
[vi]  “Shaar HaPesukim”, Siman 2, Discourse 3. Also see “The Knowing Heart”, by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, Feldheim Publishing’s English translated edition, P. 188 – 189.
[vii]  Genesis 3:23
[viii]  “Ben Ish Chai” commenting on the Torah portion of Braishit (first year).
[ix]  I received oral confirmation for this idea from a known Kabbalist.
[x]  See “Genesis and the Big Bang” by Dr. Gerald Schroeder.  More about Dr. Schroeder’s theories can be found on   his website

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Soul Talk

"What's the use of a lifetime of expanded consciousness, if one has not truly served his/her Creator even once?"

"Daughter of Zion, sing joyfully and be happy ..." (Zechariah 2:14)


The following is a Chassidic discourse of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Liadi, which I've translated in August and September 2003. I seem to remember the complete work having more to it. If this is not the complete work, it should be close enough or at least a good starting point.  (If I find the complete work, I'll be happy to post it.)

Chapter 1

“Daughter of Zion, sing joyfully and be happy because I have arrived” (Zechariah 2:14)

The following requires understanding:

·         What’s the meaning of “sing joyfully and be happy”?
·         Why does the Haftorah reading on Hanukah begin with the [earlier] passage “…sing joyfully and be happy…” when it should have begun with the later passage “Behold there was a golden candelabrum” [which is more closely associated with Hanukah]?

There is a passage stating, “Serve G-d with happiness, approach Him with joyous song”. The Zohar comments happiness is in the morning and joyous song is in the evening.  What are the notions conveyed by the terms: morning, evening, happiness and joyous song?

The answer requires the following introduction:

            It is known that the angels serve G-d with song, melody, poetry and praise. This is continuous with the theme of “Chapter of Poetry” where all animals recite poetry to G-d[1]. So too all the angels of each world, including the highest worlds, serve G-d with poetry and praise accompanied by joyous song and melody.

            Joyful songs are the intense outbursts of angels passionately craving to connect to G-d and merge into His Infinite light.   The angels spend their entire life span immersed in this passionate craving because they have no other love and passion. Additionally they have no alternate way to serve G-d, like Torah and good deeds that function as a means to draw down spiritual light from higher realms. Their whole service is exclusively focused on the passionate craving to be drawn upward from their [relatively] lower state into yet higher realms.   Joyful song and melody express this craving. It’s plainly obvious that melodies are the working of the heart’s emotional state (as some melodies are happy and some are bitter, etc.).

            This [style of service] conveys a quality of being on the outside. For instance, it is obvious that somebody whose standing inside the chambers of the king’s palace [is so awed that] what can he say or relate to praise the king? Only when he goes outside can he tell over and relate the king’s praise in order to amaze others. Hence, publicizing the king’s phenomenal praise “How great he is, how amazing…!”

Chapter 2

            The following is the explanation of the passage “They will joyfully sing about Your righteousness”. Joyful song is part of  “Your righteousness” because the notion of righteousness is identified with [the entire system of] G-d’s holy kingdom, [including its music].  ([This is related to the notion of] scales of righteousness. They are scales weighing [the flow of holiness that will be directed to each person for meeting his] responsibility to the kingdom of heaven - bringing it down [to each person, based on G-d’s expectations set] by each person’s abilities).

            Further it is written “Your right hand is filled with righteousness” and “Your kingdom is the kingdom of every world”. There is no medium between Creator and creations allowing the creations to draw life from the Creator, besides His kingdom. To the extent that the He rules them, they live and exist. 

            This relates to the passage, “Your kingdom is the kingdom of every world and You reign in every generation”. Every world means [You rule] space and every generation means [You rule] time, because everything [creFated] is a product of Your kingdom.

            Time and space are created and renewed as something from nothing.  Before the creation of the universe there was no time and space at all. Time bound creations totally rely on His kingdom for their existence, where the notion of time is first introduced – as in “G-d reigned, reigns and will reign” [in the past, present and future].  In contrast, the Infinite light is as He is called, “Infinite” [conveying the notion of existing beyond time].

            Since the life force is drawn down [into creation] from His kingdom, it is [distributed] righteously. This is why it  [the life force] “fills His right hand”, referring to the right side and kindness; As in the phrase “He sustains living beings with kindness.” It is also written, “You give life to all and the heavenly beings bow down to You”.  The meaning is that to the extent that You give life to all, the heavenly beings bow down to You, aspiring to be merged and absorbed [in Your Infinite light].

The [angelic] pining to be merged into the Infinite light is [aroused by contact with] the Infinite light itself that has been drawn down and welled up in His kingdom in order to distribute life to them. [Their passion is] only focused on G-d Himself and not on His attributes.
            This explains the verse “Upon the mention of Your abundant kindness, they will joyfully sing about Your righteousness”.  “Your abundant kindness” is the flow and vitality that is drawn down from world to world, as in “Proclaim that the righteous are good”. Goodness, which is a quality of righteousness, unites the worlds and causes the divine light to flow between them; As the Targum translates the verse “For all that is in heaven and earth”, as “all that unites [heaven and earth]”.

Your abundant kindness refers to innumerable levels, which gradually descend like chain links from world to world until the Infinite light illuminates the divine kingdom [on the lowest levels] – giving life to innumerable creations.

This is the explanation of   “Upon the mention of Your abundant kindness…” for only a mere mention and radiance of Your abundant kindness is expressed. This [tiny drop of divine light] stimulates the angels to joyfully sing. They passionately pine to be absorbed into the Infinite light as they proclaim, “Where is the place of His glory?” They don’t comprehend the Infinite light directly, only through the quality of kingdom, i.e. divine righteousness.

Chapter 3

“Sing joyfully in the night”. Night contains aspects of His holy kingdom, as “Your kingdom is the kingdom of every world”. [The Hebrew word for world olam is closely related to the word he’elam] which means “hidden”. The Talmud hints that a person needs to mention night during the daytime [prayers], as mentioned in the Zohar “to include [the left in the right]”. The experience of darkness and hiding of the Infinite light, [as in] “He hides in darkness”, increases the passion and pining for Him.

“My soul craves for You in the night”. A person says to G-d, “I crave You because You are my very life”. Since this life force is hidden [in darkness], like the [metaphorical] night, this increases the passionate pining and craving for You. It’s obvious that only a person who lacks something has love and passionate cravings for what is absent in his life.

This is what’s meant by “approach Him with joyful song”, ascending from lower levels to ever higher levels leaving behind the bodily confines and the animal soul’s garments in order to bond with Him through joyful song and [in the darkness of] night.  Night is where the Infinite light is garbed and hidden.

The juxtaposition of “Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom [forever and ever]” and “You shall love G-d your Lord…” is so the person should understand how an illumination of the Infinite light is blessed, i.e. drawn down [into the physical realm] in order to become His glorious kingdom. This illumination is forever [in time] and reaches down below [in space, creating the dimensions of our universe]. By meditating over this a person comes to love G-d, the Infinite light, making Him his personal G-d with all his heart and soul, bonding with Him spirit to spirit.

Chapter 4

All these efforts to approach Him are from below to above [i.e. the efforts of lower beings seeking contact with a higher reality]. That’s why they are accomplished with joyful song. This is the approach needed to begin serving G-d. It follows the universal pattern of “first came darkness and then came light”.  Day [as opposed to night] is characterized by a flow of the Infinite light coming from above to below, clothing itself in the worlds of emanation, creation, formation and action; Stirring [the creations] to serve G-d with happiness.

This is the advantage that souls have over angels. Angels can only serve G-d with joyful song, which is an ascent from below to above seeking to be absorbed [into the Infinite light]. In contrast, a Jewish soul has an additional style of service. Namely, drawing down light from above to below, revealing what has been hidden. All happiness comes from the revelation of inner light. The characteristic of happiness [that’s discussed] here comes from drawing down the Infinite light into Torah and good deeds (which was given exclusively to the Jews. The angels wanted the Torah [for themselves], protesting “Place Your glory in the heavens…”). 

“These words which I command you today [shall be placed on your heart”.] The word “I” here means the ultimate “I” [i.e. the ultimate identity of all existence].  Even though concerning the efforts from below to above it is written “approach Him with joyful song” this is because efforts to ascend and be absorbed [into the Infinite light] are impossible without elements of His attribute of righteousness and the efforts of the joyful song at night. However above to below [is a different story], Infinite light effortlessly descends from “I”, the ultimate identity, because from His perspective darkness [presents no barrier, indeed it] is the same as light.  Heaven and earth [are both equal to Him], as it states, “He who descends to view heaven and earth” [at once].  Spiritual and physical are equal to Him, as it states,  “He equalizes the great and small.

The flow of divine light that is uniform on all levels is drawn down through Torah and good deeds, as expressed by ”These words that “I” command”.

The 248 commandments are the 248 limbs of the King. They are compared to the limbs [of the human body] that serve as garments for the soul. When one extends a limb, he also extends the soul garbed inside the limb. A total body comprised of limbs is divided into three general sides, [right side, left side and inside. Each side has it’s own dominant tendency.] Giving is the tendency characterizing the right arm. [Receiving characterizes the left arm]. Torah is the central inner core (as is known that the Torah corresponds to the inner organs while the rest of the good deeds correspond to the outer limbs).

Serve G-d” the Infinite Being Who brings down His Infinite light from the highest realms into the lower worlds in response to [toiling in the] study of Torah and divine service. “With happiness” means the happiness of doing good deeds. Our sages say this refers to also to matters of practicing the details of Judaism. Happiness comes from the Infinite light illuminating souls, after first  “approaching Him with joyful song”.

[Briefly restated to] “Serve G-d with happiness” refers to a flow from above to below. How do we get to this stage? When we first “approach Him with happy song”.

Chapter 5

The above teachings help us understand the passage “Daughter of Zion, sing joyfully and be happy [because I have arrived”] (Zechariah 2:14). The Jews in exile are called Daughter of Zion. In order to understand what Zion is, we first need to understand the passage “G-d will reign forever. He is the G-d of Zion in every generation, praise G-d”. “G-d will reign forever” refers to the dimension of space. [The word used for forever is L’Olam, which has the word universe in it – Olam, connoting space.]  “In every generation” refers to the dimension of time. How [does He reign in space and time]?  Through Zion!

“[Let’s make man in our image and likeness”.] “Our image and likeness” refers to the 248 positive commandments, i.e. the 248 limbs of the divine King. The spirituality of the good deeds and Torah as they exist in the Infinite light, are literally in His image. However the physical aspect of the good deeds as they dressed below, like as woolen fringes (tzitzith) and parchment scrolls in phylacteries (tefillin), are only Zion. [Zion] means a symbol, as in “the perfect Zion (symbol)”. Physical good deeds [are symbols], pointing to the spirituality contained within.  Through them, the spirituality of the Infinite light is drawn down below [into our world].
For example, a prayer shawl and woolen fringes are spiritually connected with the cosmic “garment of light” that G-d wears when relating to us, as in [Daniel reported in his vision of the higher realms] “His garment was white as snow”. The fringes are connected with the aspect of the spiritual realms called “hairs”, as [Daniel continued] “the hair on His head was like pure wool”. The same is true about all good deeds. [They are spiritually connected to some aspect of the higher realms that gets activated in response to each good deed done.] Torah also follows this pattern. By studying Torah in this world, the worldly application of the Torah’s message evokes the corresponding spiritual lights of the celestial Torah relating to the corresponding spiritual dimensions of these topics. This is how the Torah and good deeds in this world become symbols pointing to spirituality. Through them, the spiritual lights of Torah and good deeds are brought down from the spiritual realms into the physical world. They are the source of [His kingdom in] space and time.

In order to sensitize us to this dynamic, our sages ordained that we make blessings before beginning each good deed. [The basic formula of the blessing is] “Blessed are You, [G-d our Lord King of the universe, Who sanctifies us with His commandments and commands us to…]. The word boruch, which means “bless” derives from the word Hamavrich, meaning “to pull down”; used to describe the act of pulling down a grape vine. The top of the shoot is bent down and lodged into the earth to sprout a new grape vine.  So too the blessing [as if bent down from a higher realm and lodged into the “ground” i.e. a lower reality], flows down from realm to realm.
“They called in front of Joseph Avrech – meaning I will bless”.  This is because a righteous person [like Joseph] unifies the various realms, influences the flow blessing and spiritually spans the entire system of realms. The idea of a blessing is that the flow and blessing should descend from realm to realm, until the revelation is His kingdom becomes visible to the whole world. The world should not hide and obscure His kingdom. To arouse this revelation [of His kingdom] we say, “bless” [at the beginning of most blessings]. “Blessing” is then drawn down into the divine name Havayeh [which allows the beings of the higher realms to experience immersion in divine light] and then [flows down further] into the name Elokainu  [making Him our personal G-d in the lower realms, where divine light is less apparent]. From the lower realms, His kingdom sprouts forth like a newly emerged grapevine that arose from an older vine whose top was bent over and replanted. 

Chapter 6

When there is an arousal from below then the community of Israel is called Zion, a symbol of the spiritual light that flows downward and is drawn within them.  In contrast, during exile the community of Israel is called daughter of Zion because she merely receives from Zion. The Zohar teaches that when a man seeds first a female [soul][2] is brought down because there is no arousal from below [first, i.e. from the woman], hence a female [soul is brought down]. In contrast, “to Zion say, ‘a man and a man is born there”.  When a woman seeds first a male [soul] is brought down. [A Male soul] symbolizes [a tendency towards] kindness. Start with joyful song [an arousal from below, i.e. the female side of reality] and happiness [will follow i.e. the birth of divine kindness in the physical world], as noted earlier. “Approach with joyful song”, a song in the night, [flowing from] below to above.

To accomplish this [arousal from below], our sages ordained the section of the prayer book called verses of song in order to begin prayers by exciting the heart with G-d’s praises. Similar themes are covered in the prayer called “Creator of the luminaries”, discussing the holiness of angels. [For example,] how the “angels overseeing the cycles of nature clamor in great commotion [to ascend towards the higher fiery angels” in the midst of their yearning for greater revelation]. All these [prayers depict spiritual ascent], movements from below to above, states of joyful song.   [Identifying with the angelic experience can bring the person] beyond the bodily confines and the garments of the animal soul. The next stage is serving G-d with happiness when his soul basks in the revelation of the Infinite light while reciting Shema, [the affirmation beginning with the words “Hear O Israel G-d is our lord, G-d is One”.]

However without having started off praying with joyful song, inner happiness won’t end up dwelling within [his heart].  The person will remain in a [spiritually] feminine state receiving [spiritual inspiration] only because of an arousal from above. At the very least every good deed causes an arousal from above, evoking a downward flow of Infinite light. [G-d does this for His own purposes], as it states “For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it”.  This kind of spiritual flow is superficial. In contrast, “approaching Him” in a way that seeks His inner grace only occurs when the person begins with joyful song.

 Chapter 7

With urgings to continue to “joyful sing and be happy” the prophet came to comfort the Jewish people despite their exile, where they are called Daughter of Zion having lost their status of Zion.  [Even in exile joyful contact with divinity is possible, as the verse continues], “for I have arrived”. This contact can occur [even in exile] because there is a kind of arousal from above, which is above, above – [coming from an intensely high level,] a place beyond the reach of any arousal from below. Such a level transcends all the spiritual worlds. Abundant flows of the Infinite light are drawn down from there, including the flow called “daughter”.

 Such revelations will [primarily] occur in the future, as it states, “Behold My servant will be will be elevated to a very high spiritual level and the spirit of G-d will rest upon him…He will judge by smelling truth [by using his sense of deep reverence for G-d”]. Then even the spiritual level called daughter will be have the quality of masculinity as it states, “Say to Zion a man and a man is born in her”. This is because the very heights of spirituality will dwell within Zion. Zion will become a dwelling for very high levels of spiritual light.  This is in the spirit of the verse, “for I have arrived and dwell within you”. As if I myself, the Infinite light, actually dwells within you.

Chapter 8

This is why our sages ordained that the Chanukah candles are placed at the doorway of a house facing outside. It’s related to the concept behind the verse “Open for me the gates of righteousness”. Gates of righteousness refer the entrance to the state of, “Joyfully singing about Your righteousness”.  In order to attain a state of joyful singing [during daily prayer], our sages compiled the section called Verses of song.  Whoever is outside the door, lacking heartfelt song and inspiration, should not miss out on the revelation of his soul basking the Infinite light.

 Rather, our sages ordained that he should light an olive oil lamp at the outer doorway of his home. He will then draw down a revelation of Infinite light even outside the door [3]for every good deed he has performed and all the Torah he had learned.

 Furthermore, our sages ordained that it should be lit at the entrance nearest public property, the place of real impurity, in order to transform darkness into light. [As a result of] this “and many nations will join G-d”.[4]
{Translators epilogue: This answers the second question why does the Haftorah reading on Hanukah begin with the [earlier] passage “…sing joyfully and be happy…” when it should have begun with the later passage “Behold there was a golden candelabrum” [which is more closely associated with Hanukah]?

The Hanukah lights can be part of the divine service of “sing joyfully and be happy”. Serving G-d with joyful song is a spiritual pathway that can be available even in exile.  However, in moments when the heart is not inspired with joyful song the Hanukah lights can bring it back. Why do these lights have this power?

Firstly, it’s possibly simply “measure for measure”. The one who lit Chanukah lights publicly to inspire others is also given inspiration.

Secondly on a deeper level, the outside impurity is part of what suppressed the inspiration. It’s possible that by elevating it he is converting it into a friend. Now the outside environment no longer works against his inspiration, but rather helps it out.}

End Notes

[1] The “Chapter of Poetry” is a Midrash relating how all the animals praise G-d. In the summer mornings the Mezeritcher Maggid would walk by the streams to listen to the way the frogs praise G-d. Perhaps, animal noises that often sound very mundane in our world can sound like sweet music in a higher realm (based on text and footnote on page 257 and 258 in Rabbi Nachman Stories translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan).  The Maggid’s default vision was focused on the higher world of Atzilut (see Maggid D’voruv L’Yaakov)  

[2] In this context, male and female souls have nothing to do with the child’s gender. A male soul means a soul that came from a higher realm, which may very well inhabit either a male or female.  A female soul is a soul that came from a lower realm, which may also inhabit either a male or female. See Torat Shmuel, Book 5626 page 79, middle paragraph.

[3] This means even outside the door of song and inspiration.

[4] Then he’ll achieve the inspiration for having worked to inspire others.


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Does Everything Have a Reason?


I was asked whether everything has a reason?"

My Response:

I think for the most part "almost" everything has a reason. I say "almost" because Jewish mysticism seems to also see another possibility, namely, events happening beyond reason. In other words, the Creator decided on some things before the vast logical structure that our universe is based on came into being. It is normal for people to assume the logic and reason are inherent to the fabric of existence - kind of just there. However, Jewish mysticism teaches that this is not the case. Just like there was existence before time and space, there was existence before logic and reason. As part of the tool kit for creating the universe, the Creator brought logic and reason into existence. Though most of creation was crafted with the tool kit of divine logic, some details were left untouched. Their form already pleased their Creator and they required no logical sculpting.

In his talks, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe would often point out examples of this phenomena. Among his examples, are the few Biblical commandments which don't seem rational - like the red heifer or the prohibition on wearing clothing threaded with both wool and linen. This might also extend to difficult to understand historical events, such as the ten martyred sages who were painfully executed by the Romans. 

For those who have a working knowledge of Jewish Mysticism: The explanation of this phenomena is because the realm of Divine Will (the lower half of Adam Kadmon) manifested into reality ahead of the realm of Divine Logic (The world of Briyah). Therefore, cosmically speaking there was an opportunity for the Creator's will to be operative without consulting logic, as logic had not yet manifested. However, such decisions are rare exceptions. Usually, the Creator crafted His creation with logic.