Sunday, June 24, 2012

Closer to Oneness

Moving closer or further from Oneness is a range with many settings along the way. So for example people getting along with each other and cooperating with each other nicely, even without  spiritual awareness or belief, is a setting along this huge range - it's a move closer to Oneness. Mainly, as people resonate in connection to each other, they are living closer to the cosmic Oneness and bringing a greater revelation of the Oneness into their lives.

This notion illuminates a phenomena in world history that I've heard people over the years wonder about. They wonder, "Why is it that Islamic learning, arts and culture truly flourished for much of the Medieval period, while Christian Europe was relegated to the backwardness of the Dark Age. Then seemingly out of nowhere the Renaissance reversed the picture. Learning, art and culture were on the rise in Western Europe, while the Islamic world stagnated in these areas. What caused all this?

To me its a simple equation called (by me) "The Oneness/fragmentation spectrum". The closer a society is to the Oneness side of the spectrum the more successful they will be. The further the society is from Oneness, the greater is their risk of decline. 

Much of the Medieval period was spent by Christian Europe in a state of fragmentation. Each lord was essentially running his little kingdom. Many of these little kingdoms dotted the land mass we now think of as Western Europe. These lords regularly battled each other, filling the entire area with tension and strife. This problem was compounded by an overpopulation of knights thirsty for employment and position, who increased the tension and strife in order to fan their opportunities. In such a situation, people's mind couldn't properly flourish and such a society did more to produce misery than to produce great lasting achievements. 

In contrast the Medieval period was a markedly different experience in the Islamic world (at least for much of the period). Islam started their entry into this period as a huge Caliphate, ranging from Persia, extending west into the Middle East, flowing through North Africa and reaching into the Iberian peninsula. This is a much greater picture of Oneness than what was simultaneously occurring on the other side of the religious divide. The Islamic world was huge, unified, generally stable and dwelt in relative peace. In this tranquil setting, knowledge and ideas were able to cross over what were previously considered both geographical and psychological boundaries. Cultures were able to influence each other. Those doing great works were able to find sympathetic patrons. 

Over time the great Caliphate splintered. Yet, for a long time they still remained large chunks, countries; which allowed them to be able to still grow towards further achievements. By the close of the Medieval period, the Islamic world splintered down far enough that they couldn't hold their former glory. 

Even the Turkish empire, as large as it was, was essentially fiefdoms of "baksheesh seeking officials" who largely operated independently from each other and cooperate to the barest minimal extent necessary to please the Sultan.  

In contrast, Western Europe started unifying it's fiefdoms into larger legitimate countries. These countries often found mutual interest in interacting with each other, which fostered a sharing of ideas, culture and art - all of which flourished still further. 

It's really amazing how an earthly (societal) Oneness below brings down so much blessing, even when not done in the Name of the Creator's Oneness, but only as an act that has imperceptibly moved in that direction. Imagine how much more blessing would manifest if human behavior was consciously inspired by the Oneness.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Life's Puzzle

Relish life's puzzles, 
don't fear them.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Two Gems

Here are two gems from Rabbi Adin Shteinsaltz's speech tonight at the Philadelphia Hilton:

There are religions that teach Laws which they claim came from heaven. Judaism believes that the Torah's Laws are heaven itself. By studying them one enters into the space of heaven.

I often meet people who with genuine pride share that their grandfather or great grandfather was a Rabbi or at least a very pious Jew. Why doesn't it occur to them that their grandfather or great grandfather also wanted them to become a Rabbi or at least a pious Jew?


Life's Priceless

Moments of life are priceless. So always be grateful to those who work for you. You may have paid for their work, but, not for the moments of life they expended while working. 


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Heaven & Earth


There's no more of the Creator up there in heaven than there is down here on earth.  Being Infinite, He's everywhere equally.  Only His revelations vary.

So why yearn for heaven when you have Him just the same on earth?


Friday, June 15, 2012

Outside or Inside?

Why does it make more sense to believe that entire creation must be inside the Creator and not outside of Him?

There's a philosophical problem with the idea of something being outside the Creator. Such an idea ends up shifting the ground under very notions of the Creator's Infinity and Oneness. To say that any entity has an outside also means something else. Namely, that the entity also has a border, which could allow for something to be outside.  Any entity which has a border cannot be Infinite, as Infinity means borderless - no beginning, middle or end.

When Westerners contemplate infinity, they most commonly tend to think mathematical infinity - "oodles of numbers" spanning out forever in both the negative and positive directions. However, the Creator's Infinity is more than that. His Infinity is not mathematical, but, rather Absolute. Even when math is highly abstract, it still functions as a measure to constrain entities into individually parceled forms. Absolute Infinity is the very opposite of constraints. In fact, it transcends any notion of measurement altogether.

Part of transcending measurement is freedom from anything measurable. Something is measurable when it has a beginning, middle and end, i.e. boundaries or seams. This excludes the possibility that the Creator's Being includes parts or pieces, for what identifies a part or a piece is that it’s a defined fragment with a beginning, middle and end.

In the absence of parts or pieces, the Creator must be Absolutely One. Any of the many versions of oneness that humans can conceive are merely relative ones because they are composed of parts. They are not in states of true oneness. For example, one finger is composed of many cells, which in turn are composed of an many orchestras of sub-cellular components, which are in turn composed of a dazzling array of organic molecules, which are in turn, are built from complex arrangements of an unimaginable number of atoms. Each of these atoms themselves are smears of sub-atomic components. Even the most fundamental sub-atomic components of these atoms, still contain individual beginnings, middles and ends. Each beginning, middle and end itself contains its own beginning, middle and end. Drilling down to the smallest drop of energy/matter still yields a divisible entity. There's no entity in all of reality which is perfectly "one", other than the Creator Himself. Every other entity that's referred to as "one", is just borrowing the word as a convenience of speech.

In fancy English such a perfect Oneness is called a "non-composite unity", i.e. devoid of parts or pieces. The notion of Perfect Infinity ends up meaning the same thing as Perfect Oneness, as without borders ends up also meaning without parts or pieces. Thus, the Creator is Infinitely One!

So where's the world? If it's outside of Him then a boundary has to be introduced and we can no longer truly say about Him that He's Perfectly Infinite and One. The only option left is to say that the world is inside of Him. However, doesn't a world inside Him create the exact same problem, by introducing a boundary, only this time inside of Him - a hole inside Infinity?

The answer to that question all depends on how the world is inside of Him. If a space needs to be carved inside the Creator to house the world then that would be logically problematic for two reasons:

A) The Creator is beyond space. Carving a space into Infinity is essentially trying to carve space into non-space. This doesn't logically work. It’s like trying to carve a physical ball into thought.  

B) It would also introduce a "hole inside Infinity", a finite island in the midst of an Infinite sea. This introduces boundaries, undermining the whole notion of Infinity.

However, it actually turns out that the Creator's Oneness and Infinity exists undisturbed by the presence of world. How? It works by the world being seamlessly continuous with Him - like a thought which is seamlessly continuous with a thinker or a dream character in seamless continuity with a dreamer. The thinker or dreamer doesn't need to compromise the presence of his/her core identity to make room for a thought or a dream character. The core identity doesn't get in the way of these mental processes. So there's no need to withdraw to allow them to occur. The core identity runs through both the thinker and the thought or the dreamer and the dream character equally.  Similarly, there doesn't need to be a space literally carved out of Him for the world to exist because the world is Him.

The world doesn't look that way to us because our sensory perception limits what we see. Our partial view makes what's a whole, appear fragmented - what's seamless riddled with seams. This partial view fosters the illusion of independent entities. It obscures the view of connections and continuity leading to a seamless whole. The entities themselves are not illusions, just a series of partial views - lulling the viewer into the illusory experience of the finite

Since finite is about variation and change, there are a large variety of experiences of our world, which creatures perceive as neatly framed examples of what it means to be finite. These experiences of the world depend on an individual creature's perceptive capacity. 

Humans perceive a physical universe, precisely responsive to known laws of physics. Souls and angels have higher perceptive capacities than humans and perceive the exact same universe as a spiritual realm. Since souls and angels exist on a wide variety of levels, each level has its own unique perceptive capacity. To lower souls and angels our universe is perceived as a lower spiritual realm. To higher souls and angels our universe is perceived as a higher spiritual realm. The same universe perceived with a different set of perceptive capacities literally becomes a "different realm".

Beyond the perceptive ranges of the highest souls and angels exist pure divine forces. These forces are not as affected by the illusion of separation because they experience themselves as mere appendages to what's beyond their perceptive range - like an arm experiences attachment to its own the body. However, their perception still has boundaries. Like angels and souls, these forces also have levels and levels of perceptive range. There are higher forces which are beyond the perceptive grasp of lower forces.

Beyond the perceptive ranges of the highest forces is the Absolute Oneness/Infinity, i.e. the Creator. At this very highest level, there's only Him. Anything else, no matter how spiritual, loses any semblance of individual identity and becomes like a ray of sunlight living within the body of the sun. All other identities are seamlessly absorbed in their Source, without even a lingering trace. Multiplicity yields and disappears into Oneness for truthfully there never was any multiplicity to begin with. On this level it's clear that there's only the Creator and nothing else.

This is why I was once taught by a teacher that when the Jewish mystics, whether Prophets or Kabbalists, entered into a higher realm they didn't "fly" there. Rather by attaining a heightened state of holiness, they expanded their perceptive range until they were just there.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Talk ... Talk ... Talk ...

Why don't I get tired talking about the Creator?
Because when it comes to an Infinite Creator,
There are an infinite number of things to say :)

Teach or Preach?

Teaching and preaching differ.
Preaching is talking at people.
Teaching is talking to people.
Which one is more appealing?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

By Choice

An interesting story about Einstein I heard from someone who heard it as a firsthand report. It's a true inside story (at least as of this moment). 

Yeshiva University sent a delegation to Princeton University to meet with Albert Einstein to obtain his permission to use his name on their new medical school. Einstein magnanimously expressed his joy at helping a Jewish educational and social cause. Then he shared with the delegation that back in the 1930's when the anti-Semitic pressure was mounting, he was asked by people close to him whether he'd rather not have been born Jewish and be spared these problems. He responded that yes, he would have preferred being born a Non-Jew, but not for the reasons that some might think. He would have preferred being born a Non-Jew so that he can have the opportunity to become a Jew by choice.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Messiah's Torah


During the festival of Shavuot 5751 Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson o.b.m. taught that there will be a fundamental difference between the way the Messiah will access new insights in Oral Torah and the way previous generations had. 

Oral Torah is a body of teachings that accompanies the written text of the Torah scroll, as well as other books of scripture. Generally speaking, it is derived from a combination of two sources: (A) Torah teachings passed down orally from generation to generation designed to clarify the original intent of a written text (by definition such a clarification has to be as old as the text itself) and (B) textual interpretation meticulously carried out on the written text (in later generations) by using traditionally accepted methods.

Originally, this entire body of Torah knowledge was kept very strictly oral. A student had to commit much of his learning to memory because in many cases, it was deemed an outright sin to write down any teaching of Oral Torah. Though for the past 1,800 years or so, out of necessity, the ban on writing down teachings from Oral Torah was suspended indefinitely. However, the term "Oral Torah" to describe this body of Torah knowledge stuck - presumably, out of deference to the preferred way to transmit these teachings.

In many cases, Torah teachings transmitted orally down the line of generations are traced directly either to Moses or to later sages who either had a prophecy and/or enacted practices. In contrast, textual interpretations are usually a result of the struggles of sages in every generation to apply the Torah's teachings to the new questions of their times. Of course, to be considered valid these new "discoveries" need to fit within the Torah's framework by demonstrating consistency with the system of accepted methods of interpretation. 

However, there were instances in Jewish history when new Torah insights weren't accessed in the usual way, which is by a cerebral application of interpretative methods. Rather, they were accessed through mini-revelations known as "divine inspiration" (in Hebrew ruach hakodesh). Though these mini-revelations aren't quite on the level of Biblical prophecy. Still, they are a flow of information from spiritual sources beyond the human mind. Yet, as they flow into a sage's mind they arrive garbed in traditional methods of interpretation. Essentially, the text was interpreted from Above and this interpretation is shared below with the sage along with the new message.  The sage can then present them to the wider community as a properly interpreted Torah insight. The "garb" is what allows these fresh insights to participate in the give and take of Oral Torah. Otherwise, they'd be suspected as being products of fantasy.

In contrast to these interpretative approaches, the Messiah's Oral Torah will be accessed through a very different method, a new method, never used in the past. His insights in Oral Torah will flow to him prophetically. This will probably be the first time in the long stretch of Jewish history that prophecy will be used as a method to interpret the Torah. Of course in order to find it's place on the bookshelf of Oral Torah, these interpretations arrive neatly packaged in standard Torah logic - just like all the interpretations of the past. Apparently, the challenges and questions of the Messiah's generation will be so complex that only prophecy will be capable of unraveling the Torah's message unique for His times.

The Messiah's prophetic access to deep interpretative Torah begs a couple of questions:

1) Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Bagdad teaches that the Messiah will reveal a sixth book of the Torah scroll, whose proper placement will be before Genesis - shifting Genesis over to serve as the second book of the scroll. Not surprising, the topic of the newly revealed book will be about occurrences prior to the opening narrative of Genesis. (See “Od Yosef Chai”, Page 237)  

Such a discovery seems to be a contribution of Written Torah rather than Oral Torah. So why is the Messiah's main Torah contribution claimed to be in the area of Oral Torah?

2) Moses already received a general sweeping overview of the Oral Torah prophetically. So why is it considered really unique for the Messiah to receive Oral Torah prophetically?

When I first read Rabbi Yosef Chaim teach that the Messiah will reveal a sixth book of the Torah scroll, I was in a deep state of shock. To me, this seemed to contradict the teaching of the Maimonides that the Written Torah is here to stay, just the way Moses originally gave it to us. One day, years later, it suddenly dawned on me during synagogue services that the "Sixth Book" is not considered a new communication of Written Torah at all, because it's not the Messiah's innovation. It's merely a part of Moses' Torah, which was already brought down and lost because of the "golden calf". The Messiah will just be reintroducing Moses' own Torah. However, his own contribution will be exclusively in the arena of Oral Torah. His Oral Torah will be fundamentally different than the Oral Torah revealed to Moses because Moses did not receive His Oral Torah as interpretations. Rather, he received it as explanations, which were part and parcel of the prophecies communicating the written text. 

This can be compared to two different ways to understand the meaning of a dream. One way is from explanations that are part of the dream itself and understood by the dreamer while dreaming. Another way is from subsequent dream interpretation, for example, in a therapist's office. Moses' Oral Torah was more like the former. He received the written text along with a surrounding body of general explanation. The Messiah's Oral Torah is more like the latter, he'll interpret the Torah to find the answers for his era. 

By divine design the Messiah will be a major figure in the legacy of Torah interpretation which help shape and develop the overall body of Oral Torah. As the Jewish People journey through history, the Oral Torah develops further and further. In each generation and locale, humanity faces fresh questions and challenges. These human struggles are designed by the Creator to stimulate the growth and development of the Oral Torah. 

As Torah sages toil away at interpreting the Torah's encoded message designed to shed light on these questions and challenges, new Oral Torah is born into the world. Of course, what's "new" is always seminally contained within what's "old" - the way a seed contains a tree. It's just a process of bringing forth latent details already there. However, for birth to occur there needs to be a certain minimum level of prior development or the child is not yet ready. 

Similarly, the long pre-messianic era of Jewish history is like a period of pregnancy. Just like in a womb, this period is relatively speaking (spiritually) dark. What takes place during this dark period, is that Oral Torah develops through questions and challenges which stimulate an abundance of newly revealed teachings and insights. Like a child in the womb, once, developed enough for birth, once a sufficient level of latent details have emerged over time, the Oral Torah is developed enough for a safe birth into the messianic era. May it be soon in our days!

Apparently, at certain stage of her development the Oral Torah requires prophetic input to mine deeper interpretations out of the written text. Possibly, this will bring the Oral Torah's interpretative tradition into full alignment with the Written Torah, which was also given prophetically; A prophecy fully mirroring a prophecy. In Kabbalah, the Written Torah is often referred to as a cosmic male figure and the Oral Torah as a cosmic female figure. The Oral Torah's growth seems to match the Kabbalistic notion of a cosmic female growing to the height of her cosmic male counterpart in a face to face relationship.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Precious of Precious

The Creator's truly One. 
He's the sole existence.
All's seamlessly within Him.
Being continuous with Him,
All's precious of precious.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A World of Words

Jewish Mystical teachings inform us that during the messianic era we will no longer sense a world, but, rather the all pervasive presence of our Creator. It will almost feel like there's no world, just His presence. Today, a teacher of mine gave over a gem of a parable to explain this. 

He shared, "Let's say you can't read Chinese. Someone places in front of you a book written in Chinese characters. Since this style of writing is very different to Western eyes, the shapes and details of the characters really grab your attention."

"Now let's say that in time you learned how to read Chinese and have actually become comfortably fluent. Now if you read the same book, you'll barely notice the shapes and details of the characters. Instead, most of you're attention will be occupied by the message being conveyed."

"Similarly, the whole world is just a communication of the Creator's presence that we simply don't yet know how to read. However, the Messiah will one day teach us how to read this divine language. Once, we become fluent readers, the communication of the Creator's presence will occupy our attention spans, overshadowing all the details and forms which constitute our world."