Tuesday, December 25, 2012

“From Quantity to Quality” ~ Reflections on “Vayechi”


To the Reader: The Following is a written prayer in a contemplative style. While it may retain some of the poetic and associative qualities of a prayer, it also has some logical structure.

12 Teves 5773, Tuesday, 9:39AM, Home

Dearest Sweet Beloved Divine Parent,

Thank You for this lovely opportunity to commune with You today. Being off from work today means that I can spend a larger quantity of my time devotionally. Along with greater quantity, can also follow greater quality - as the two are related. This might explain why sometimes the Lubavitcher Rebbe stressed quantity without fear of compromising quality. He probably felt that sometimes there’s a need to spread out thinly in order to reach the missing elements whose absence inhibit a higher level of quality from taking hold.

There’s a reference to this in this week’s Torah portion “Vayechi Ya’akov” - “And Jacob Lived”. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that Jacob had his best years in Ancient Egypt. This was despite the region’s state of impurity relative to the Land of Israel, the Holy Land. Yes, it’s true that his new home was in the midst of impurity. However, that’s where the “holy sparks” associated with his soul were lodged and awaiting him. His soul was incomplete without encountering his unique sparks. He had to spread himself over a long distance, traveling through years of time and miles of space, to finally achieve his personal quality and in what for him was an alien environment.

The Zohar (with Rav Ashlag’s commentary) at the beginning of this Torah section explains the idea in more detail. It explains that the title and opening words of this Torah section “Vayechi Ya’akov”, “And Jacob Lived”, meant that he achieved a great level of prophecy, a level almost like Moses’ level, in Egypt as a result of encountering his sparks. Apparently, pre-Egypt he only had access to the upper level of his prophetic abilities, which resulted in very high levels. However, sometimes what’s very high needs what’s very low to bring it into fruition in a practical sense, to gain a sense of what it “looks like” in an earthly sense.

The sparks he encountered in Egypt made this possible. They built up the lower vessel of his prophetic abilities. These sparks were cast offs from the “sapphire below the throne of glory”. These “sparks of sapphire” from the lower portion of the divine throne became the wisdom of Egypt. Jacob’s encounter with Egyptian wisdom allowed his prophecy to grow in quality, to achieve a higher level of resolution in earthly matters - like a lens coming into greater focus. This higher quality in earthly matters obviously also had an effect on the quality of his  perception of heavenly matters ~ as the two are intricately intertwined in a single weave.

What I found personally amazing was how Jacob “living” is really a reference to his prophecy. In some sense a prophet is more “alive”, as s/he’s in contact with higher levels of life. Indeed, attaining higher and higher levels of true prophecy was a main life occupation for many during the Biblical era. These people must have felt more alive the way an angel feels more alive than a human or a human feels more alive than an animal. It just never occurred to me beforehand that in this context Jacob’s “living” is a reference to his prophecy.

Another thing I find amazing is that our two greatest prophets to date, Moses and Jacob bookend the Egyptian experience. Both used the holy sparks found in the Egyptian exile to achieve higher levels of prophecy. Both were associated with Pharaoh's household where the most intense sparks were probably lodged.

I also found amazing that “sapphire” in the heavenly realms is so spiritual that when translated into the earthly form it becomes “wisdom”. In fact, whole systems of human wisdom were from little crumbs, i.e. sparks, of this sapphire.

However, the main practical lesson I learn is that sometimes one needs to leave aside concerns about quality and strive for quantity. Eventually, with that quantity a higher quality will be achieved.

Thank You for this lesson session …

Love and Kisses …


You Play My Heart ~ a prayer


Note to reader: The following is a spontaneous prayer in written form. Its emotionally associative rather than logically structured and is meant to be processed more like a poem than an essay.

5 Teves 5773, 8:18AM, Tuesday, a Starbucks in Philly

Dearest Sweet Beloved Divine Parent,

Thank You for this opportunity to commune with You. You are my Beloved Parent. Whether or not I understand, all You do for me, to me and arrange for me, is only the highest possible kindness and goodness. You are the love of my life, the very yearnings of my heart.

At the very depths, I only yearn for intimate attachment to You. Everything else I seem to yearn for is the “waiting room reading material” while awaiting the call into Your private chambers, for a private moment alone with You. There, You fill my tiny earthling heart, like a cup, with the sweet liquids of Your Love. Then she burst forth like an instrument into songs of joy and praise. Except that contrary to appearances, she’s not my instrument. She’s Your’s. You play her and she sings, sings and sings …

She sings of Your beautiful day. She sings of Your beautiful worlds. She sings of Your beautiful people. She sings of the intellectual beauty and sweetness of Your Torah. She sings of the marvels of Your creation. All this, because she’s really singing of You!

As poor as any expression of You is, singing of Your expressions are the closest my tiny earthling heart can come to singing of You!

As You play her, am I selflessly given over to You? Am I trying to give to You in my own poor human way? Not entirely. I love the experience of contact with You. I love how You make me feel. Being open to be Your instrument, I feel Your Love coursing through me, like a stream of sensations that make me tingle from head to toe. I can’t say that I’ve escaped or transcended my desires to receive.

However, what I can say is that at least I have desires to receive that are directed to You. At least, You are at the core center. This is a step in the right direction. Summer doesn’t necessarily happen because the distance between the earth and the sun has been closed. Summer happens because the earth is tilted in a way that she’s facing her light source. So too, even if my desires to receive create distance between us, at the very least I’m facing You. I want Your Light and Love.

In the process of encounter and contact, hopefully something of Your selflessness, Your desire to give, will rub off on me; filling me with a selfless desire to please You, to pleasure You. Hopefully, like an implanted seed, this desire to give will grow, grow and grow ~ constantly, reaching new depths in yearning and passion...

Thank You for this session...

Love and Kisses …

Friday, December 14, 2012

Nothing is Coincidental

A joyful month of Tevet and Happy Chanukah:

It is interesting to me that Chanukah is unique among the Jewish Holidays for occupying time slots in two different months. The first month is Kislev, which astrologically is Sagittarius and the second month is Tevet, which has the sign Capricorn. If one looks to western astrology, one notices that the trait ascribed to Sagittarius seem to generally resemble a Greek: philosophical and athletic. Whereas, Capricorn seems to generally resemble a Roman: a quest for conquest, power, earthly stability and status.

Jewish history spans five major world dominating empires: Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome (i.e. Roman inspired civilization). We are now at the tail end of the Roman period awaiting the arrival of the messianic era. To me it is interesting that a Holiday whose celebration spans from the end of the Greek period into the entire Roman period should span from the end of Kislev, Sagittarius, through the beginning of Tevet, Capricorn. Nothing is coincidental.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Edenic Lights of Chanukah

25 Kislev 5773 (1st Light of Chanukah), 7:20 AM, Home

Dearest Sweet Beloved Divine Parent,

Thank You for this opportunity to commune with You. Usually, it isn’t my preference to do my daily written meditation on a computer. Yet, this morning I felt a strong tug to. I’ve learned over time and experience to give these inner tugs a chance. They might be a message from the deeper me that often knows what the surface me doesn’t.

Yet, the surface me also seems extremely important. On Chanukah, there’s a tremendous emphasis on publicizing the miracle; something that takes place on the surface level of human awareness. Seemingly, the deeper message of Chanukah is about religious freedom - the freedom to worship without societal imposed obstructions. In some sense this is not an inherently more valuable message than Purim’s message of a whole nation being spared from genocide or Passover’s message of a whole nation being freed from slavery or Shavuot’s receiving the Torah.

So why does publicity play out as central to Chanukah’s observance and not necessary so during the other Holidays?  Perhaps, because there’s something in the message of Chanukah that relates to all Humanity. The 36 lights of Chanukah represent the 36 hours that the father and mother of all Humanity enjoyed the Garden of Eden. The calculation of the 36 hours is that they were created early Friday morning of the sixth day. They ate from the fruit on that day. Then the You did not have the heart to kick them out of the Garden before they experienced their first Sabbath on the seventh day of creation. In compassion, You simply didn’t want to ruin that experience for them. So 12 hours of Friday plus 24 hours of Sabbath equals their 36 hours of bliss.

What was it that they enjoyed in the Garden? A very special hidden spiritual light reserved for the messianic era - meaning, special states of intimacy with You. In these states of intimacy, spiritual gifts like universal love, deep inner peace, soul knowing, prophecy and holiness are simply an automatic. It’s like a woman who marries a fabulously wealthy man, in true love. Yet, so many more resources are simply added to her disposal as automatic gifts of her new union.

These lights weren’t totally lost when our earliest ancestors exited the Garden. They were hidden in two places, in the Torah and in time. They were deeply buried in the mysteries of Torah, so those who are truly ready, even in the pre-messianic era, can already taste these lights and they were hidden in time, hidden in waiting for a future period when Adam and Eve’s descendants will be ready. The lights hidden deeply in Torah, are the private reserve of a select few. However, the lights’ revelation in a future period is designed for the pleasure of all Humanity, as the Biblical prophets emphasize that during this period the entire world will be filled with the knowledge of You, as the waters cover the sea bed.

A temporary revelation of these hidden lights allowed the Hasmoneans to defeat the Syrian-Greeks. Another (though very minor) revelation of these lights ended World War II, as a great Torah giant of the last generation told me that the atomic theory was a revelation of the very edges of these lights. Then he added, “That’s why the Creator really wants them hidden, until Humanity is ready.”

To me it seems like the publicity of the festival of lights is sending a message to all of Humanity. The message is that tolerance and religious freedom is the pathway that will eventually bring everyone around to these lights. Nobody has to be forced out of their style of worship to eventually come around to the ultimate Truth. As history progresses there will be a voluntary intellectual/spiritual migration to certain deeper truths.

In a day and age when we see religious forces in conflict, Chanukah comes along to reinforce that peace and brotherhood really does the job. Yes, back then in a different era, religious war was necessary. However, today we show the Chanukah lights to all Humanity is a spirit of festivity and celebration to proclaim that these lights await us all. We just need to demonstrate that we’re responsible enough to be peaceful. Then we can behave responsibly with these Edenic revelations. That’s truly a far bigger consideration in allowing the revelation of these lights than what religion(s) most of Humanity currently subscribes to.

Please Sweet Beloved Divine Parent help this message sink into the minds and hearts of Humanity.

Thank You for this moment in prayer and for the insights You opened along the way.

Love and Kisses ...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Sequel Centuries Later


In my early 20’s, I found it much easier to understand Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi’s mystical book on the Creator’s Oneness, “The Gate of Unity and Faith”, than I had initially expected. Although it was my first thorough exposure to this book, I was already introduced to many of it’s fundamentals a couple of years earlier, in Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pequda’s “Duties of the Heart”. In my late teens, I took a class in Medieval Jewish Philosophy which centered on a section in the book called “The Gate of Unity”. When studying this section, I never suspected that I was really being prepared for my future study of another work in Jewish spiritual thought.  

Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pequda’s  “The Gate of Unity” was written about 1080 C.E. There, he explains the Creator’s Oneness in the philosophical terms popular in his culture and era, Jewish Andalusia. He explains the Creator’s Oneness as the most perfect of onenesses, as a Oneness containing no parts. Every oneness that humans can depict is somehow divisible and therefore, flawed; not a true oneness in the most absolute sense. However, the Creator’s Oneness is indivisible, totally seamless. This absolute version of Oneness is technically called a “non-composite unity”.

As an extension of the notion of Oneness, Rabbi Bachya has also describes the Creator as being truly Infinite, as being without parts automatically also means no beginning, middle or end - the very defining feature of Infinity itself. He uses this notion of the Creator’s Infinity to argue against polytheism by claiming that if the Creator is truly infinite then reality has no room for any other infinite deity. Where would a second infinite deity fit, when true Infinity is so all encompassing?

Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pequda’s argument is just one tiny step away from further extending his stream of logic to claim that there is no room for anything else altogether - whether infinite or finite. If there’s no room for a second infinity, why should there be any room any second entity - even a finite one? The obvious implication of this is that there should be no room for our universe. However, at the time I took the class in Medieval Jewish Philosophy this subtlety escaped my notice.

I was first exposed to such a notion a couple of years later, when I was taught Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s work “The Gate of Unity and Faith”, written in the late 18th century. There, Rabbi Shneur Zalman grapples with the issue of how can our universe exist within the Creator’s Absolute Oneness, without compromising His Oneness. For a finite spot within Absolute Oneness/Infinity is really a hole. If such a hole is real then the Oneness/Infinity is compromised and is no longer Absolute - as all seamlessness is lost.

To resolve this problem, he explains that even though there’s only Absolute Oneness/Infinity, there are a vast variety of perspectives, which arise from the varying degrees of the illusion of fragmentation introduced during the process of creation. For instance, an angel and a human see the exact same reality, but very differently. What an angel’s eyes pickup about the universe is vastly different from what a human being’s eyes pickup. Therefore, an angel and human will perceive themselves to be occupants of very different realms, when truthfully, they share the same reality. Yet, the gaping gap of their relative perceptions set them up to believe that they abide in “different realms”.

When a group of beings share a highly consistent set of perceptions, they are said to be occupants of the same realm. The higher or more spiritual realms are really just the perceptions of beings with less illusion of separation, while lower or more physical realms are the perceptions of beings who experience of this illusion much more intensely. Each realm is really just a construct set up by perceptions. The only Being Who perceives the entirety of reality as it really is, without any editing, is the Creator Himself. From His perspective there’s only Absolute Oneness/Infinity, i.e. Himself. All reality is seamlessly Him, as sunrays are seamlessly “sun” before radiating out into the universe.

So  is our earthly realm real? Yes, but not as we perceive it. Our perception is so highly edited that the huge gaps in our perception leave us with a very disjointed view. As a highly oversimplified example, imagine looking at a long ray of light. Suddenly the mid-section of the ray becomes ultraviolet light. It appears now like there are two smaller rays, when really its one long ray with an imperceptible mid-section.  

Years after having been taught “The Gate of Unity and Faith”, the question of, “Why didn’t Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pequda take that one tiny step, mentioned earlier, to extend his argument, which explained why there’s no room for two infinite beings, to also explain why there is no room for anything else altogether - whether infinite or finite? Why was this work left unfinished until Rabbi Shneur Zalman came along some six centuries later?”

This question is strengthened when considering that the result of this key turn in his argument could have brought to light the teaching that “there’s nothing other than the Creator” centuries earlier and spared whole populations from an unnecessarily compromised notion of the Creator’s Absolute Oneness/Infinity - which according to Judaism is a vital belief the entire humanity.

I held this question in my heart for a long time. Having found out that Sufis also share this belief that only the Creator exists, I asked a student of Sufism whether all other Muslims also this view. The response I received was that most Muslims don’t accept such a notion of Oneness. They consider it a violation of assigning “partners” to the Creator - presumably, on a misconception that in this scenario the creation would function as a kind of “second deity”. I was further told that Orthodox Muslims have often caused problems for Sufis over this notion, as it differed with their standard theology.

Then it occurred on me that in the theocratic climate of the Ishmaelite world, Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pequda probably felt that it was necessary to remain silent on this notion - as it possibly placed Jews at risk. His text was written in Arabic, in order to spiritually guide his fellow Jews living throughout the wider reaches of Islamic culture. Having been written in the vernacular, his book could have easily been picked up by Muslims on the “lookout” and had it contained such a notion, the Jews could have been falsely accused of believing that the Creator has “partners”.

While this silence likely spared Jews from the “partnership accusation”, it also had a downside. A contemporary commentator of “The Gate of Unity and Faith”, Rabbi Shimon Gopin, writes that prior to the publication of this work, Jews were usually unaware that the world is continuous with the Creator. By and large, they were fuzzy on their understanding of the relationship between the Creator and His creation.

However it took a Torah genius, living outside the domain of Islamic society, like Rabbi Shneur Zalman, who also possessed the necessary sensitivities and literary skills to feel safe picking up where Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pequda had left off. True to the function of a sequel, Rabbi Shneur Zalman never seems to explicitly repeat what Rabbi Bachya has already established. Yet, his work implicitly relies on the notions of Oneness and Infinity laid down by Rabbi Bachya to flow.  

Therefore, it seems likely to me that Rabbi Shneur Zalman intended “The Gate of Unity and Faith” to be a continuation of the “The Gate of Unity” section of Rabbi Bachya’s “Duties of the Heart”. This might even explain why the names of the two works are so similar.  



I have since writing this article reconsidered whether it is clear that Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pequda was truly a Monist. What moved me to reconsider is the fact that he might have believed in a very literal notion of the world being created "something from nothing".

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi did not have a very literal notion of "something from nothing". To him, the world is somehow continuous with her Creator. "Something from nothing" simply means that reality of the world is seamlessly dissolved in her spiritual Source. If you look at the Source, you won't find the world there anymore than you will find an individual sun ray in the belly of the sun. This is not a literal "something from nothing". It just means that something individuated out of a prior state of being seamlessly dissolved. The connection between the Creator and the world raises the question of how is there space for a world inside of a Creator whose seamlessly One.

However, someone who believes in a literal notion of "something from nothing" believes that the world "poofed" into existence at the Creator's will. In this scenario, she is not continuous with her Creator. She's simply another kind of existence altogether. Since the Creator of space is beyond space, questions of being inside Him, outside Him or His somehow making room, don't even apply. Only a continuity of sorts can make such questions logically apply, in the sense of the world being somehow included in Him.

Since the presentation of creation as "something from nothing" in "Duties of the Heart" very easily reads as literally intended it is possible that the author was not bothered at all by the question of how the world exists inside of her Creator and therefore, had no need to harbor Monist beliefs.

However, this does not detract at all from Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pequda's clarification on the notions of absolute Oneness and Infinity which are found at the foundations of Monistic mystical thought. It is these clarifications that formed a basis for helping me understand Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi and in that sense it was a "Sequel Centuries Later".