Monday, April 29, 2013



Last night I learned in the Zohar that one who gives charity completes the Divine Name (the Tetragrammaton). It makes me feel so giddy with joy to think about how easy the Creator had made it for us to be co-creators. Just by giving a bit to someone in need, each person can be a literal partner in the ongoing act of creation. Look how kind He is. Look how He invited our participation and so easily. Though He made such an amazing creation and could have easily brought everything to it's perfection, He invites us to participate. He left a tiny corner rough and unfinished for us. He loves us! :)

~ Adapted from "Zohar Matok M'Dvash" Volume 11, p. 713 - 715

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Moved by the Zohar


Yesterday, while studying Zohar I was indirectly moved to an interesting insight. The Zohar tends to do this to me often. I guess that’s part of its magic. Since my late teens, I was always bothered by the passage in Psalms, “Their idols are silver and gold, mere human handiworks. They have mouths, but don’t speak. They have eyes, but don’t see. They have ears, but don’t hear.”
In my teenage spiritual search I discovered that this might describe unthinking idol worshippers.  However, I’ve read much about idol worshippers who clearly saw their statues as mere meditative devices, representing the forces of nature that were their real focus of worship. It seemed to me like they were worshipping as deities, forces that Judaism would regard as angels. Mystical Judaism understands that everything in the universe is larger than our five senses can perceive. There are aspects of everything that trail off into realms where everything is conscious and aware (relative to our realm). There’s so much divine light in those realms that it can’t be otherwise. We typically refer to these higher aspects of everything as “angels”.
Certain cultures were spiritually sensitive enough to intuit this or even perceived this through spiritual means. However, they were so impressed that they got intellectually stuck in those realms and did not go any higher - where everything absorbed into the Seamless Oneness.  Even if they acknowledged that everything is tied together at the top of reality, it was an acknowledgement from the distance. Since it wasn’t where their spiritual personalities had regular access, it wasn’t their regular focus of worship.  
Though such an approach fall very far from the ideals of monotheism, it still seems philosophically speaking very different than the Psalmist’s words, “Their idols are silver and gold, mere human handiworks. They have mouths, but don’t speak. They have eyes, but don’t see. They have ears, but don’t hear.”
This does not seem to easily reconcile with how idolaters explain themselves or even how Jewish Mysticism understands them.
In this past week’s Torah portion there’s a verse, “Don’t make for yourself a molten image”. Usually, the term “molten images” is understood to mean lifeless statues. However, the Zohar throws in a surprise by describing these “molten image” as spiritual forces with real consciousness. The Zohar cautions that arousing lusts conjures up these forces, which block a person’s true spiritual sensitivities. What for our culture might seem counterintuitive, the Zohar even cautions that one should not try to bring a soul into the world in a lustful state of heart, but rather in a giving and loving state of heart. Otherwise, such souls will have a more challenging time on this earth attaining selflessness.
As I was studying this passage in the Zohar, it occurred to me that the consciousness of any creature in creation, even the most angelic, when compared to the Creator is like “They have mouths, but don’t speak. They have eyes, but don’t see. They have ears, but don’t hear.” There is nothing as alive as the Creator. Many seem to err in thinking that the Creator is spiritual. The spiritual is just another version of creation. The Creator is neither physical nor spiritual, as He’s not a creation. The essential difference between the physical and spiritual is that the spiritual contains more of the Creator’s revelations, not more of the Creator. His actual Beingness is equal on all levels. So relative to the Creator even the creatures of the spiritual realms are in a state of, “They have mouths, but don’t speak. They have eyes, but don’t see. They have ears, but don’t hear.”
For all their songs and celestial music, the angels and spiritual forces are far less alive to the Creator than a stone is to a human. Clearly, states of being alive are on a very wide spectrum; perhaps, an infinitely wide one. In fact, all the angelic songs and celestial music are really the Creator Himself singing and playing music through the angels. It’s not the angels themselves doing this. They are merely His instruments.
What about the part of the Psalm passage, “Their idols are silver and gold, mere human handiworks...” doesn’t this clearly point to statues?  It certainly can, but, it can also speak to those idolaters who have a sophisticated cosmos in mind as well. There’s nothing wrong with a Biblical passage speaking on more than one level at once. What the passage is saying is that their worship strengthens these cosmic forces (as they presumably are intending to) and it’s not for their ultimate benefit because they miss the point. They never gain sight of the True Source. It’s a self-feeding cycle, the more they fatten up these cosmic forces, they stronger they become and the harder it becomes for them to notice their error and break free from the mental and lifestyle limitations imposed by their system worship.  So it turns out that they made the idol - even cosmically!
Truthfully, even monotheists subtly do the same, when they don’t try to understand what the Oneness means and strive to live in a state aligned with Oneness. They view reality with a fragmentation approaching idolatry (not saying it literally is idolatry). As a result, there’s a danger of making their religions too rigid to interact properly with their surrounding environment. No wonder why Hillel the Elder placed love of one’s fellow at the very core of Judaism (and possibly by extension at the core of any true monotheism).

Thursday, April 11, 2013



Today, I spontaneously caught myself in an interesting thought. I realized that ultimately from the Creator’s perspective there are no “mistakes”. Even when humans slip up and feel they’ve erred, the “erring” was Divinely planned. This is a notion that most spiritually minded people typically take for granted. It comes as no surprise to them that an all-encompassing Divine plan also encompasses and even orchestrates human errors.
However, what less people seem aware of is that even on the human level a true mistake is a very rare event. Freud taught the world about Freudian slips (whose name itself is certainly no Freudian slip). Although Freud does not use the word "soul, his terms “unconscious” or “id” roughly identify regions within ourselves that spiritually minded would normally identify as the soul. Freud saw the verbal slips we tend to make, not as errors, but as our true selves attempting to leak out from behind the confines of social correctness.
In spiritual terms, these slips are caused by the soul seeking to communicate something difficult to say in words.
Recently, a friend accidentally texted me and then apologized for her mistext.  I responded that there are no accidents here. It’s possible that her soul simply wanted to say, “Hello”. Far from feeling disturbed, I was actually flattered.
I am sure that these “slips” not only apply to words, but, to actions as well. Despite our best attempts to clamp down the controls, our inner states shape our words and actions.
Therefore, we might think we are making errors, when from our souls’ perspective; we aren’t making errors at all. The soul is doing her regular job of communicating, even while not waiting around for the body to catch up with her game. The show goes on regardless of whether the body has prepared a stage for her performance.
Taking into consideration that we are created in the Creator’s image, we are patterned after the relationship between Him and the cosmos. He and the cosmos behaved in male and female pattern to conceive and birth us. Just as we are living imprints of an earthly union between two humans, so too, we are living imprints of the the union between the Creator and the cosmos. One union extends from the other. The earthly union is continuous with the comic union. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that just like the Creator is devoid of mistakes, so too, it’s rare for us to make real mistakes.  Like the Creator, we just experience moments where we behave outside the confines of logic.

Gifted With People to Forgive

Life experience demonstrates that a human being cannot always await hard evidence to formulate an inner belief system. If I wait for science to figure out everything I need to build up my mental picture of reality, I’ll be waiting a very long time - probably past my own lifetime, probably past my great grandchildren's lifetime.  So obviously I need to supplement my sparse scientific facts with a lot of ideas drawn from other sources. Otherwise, my inner picture of reality will be riddled with gaps - too many to be useful and form a life direction.

I suspect that every thinking person uses ideas like bricks to build a workable model of reality - at least, on some basic level.  Each person probably has a unique threshold used to determine which ideas to embrace and which to reject. Some people’s thresholds are more exacting and others are more tolerant.

The following is a belief that I don’t have hard evidence for. I accept it because (a) it makes sense to me (b) it explains a lot and (c) it helps me deal with difficult people.  Now that I properly covered myself with a disclaimer (and won’t be sued for heresy) here’s the belief:

“I believe that when we need the Creator’s forgiveness, He gifts us with people to forgive. This way He can forgive us in return ~ measure for measure”.

Had the Creator offered free forgiveness, unearned, we’d suffer from the “bread of shame” - the embarrassment of being doled a handout. However, when we forgive the hurts that others cast on us, we’ve performed something very humanly difficult, something that took painful effort. We thus “earned” His forgiveness. The offenses we are in place to forgive can arrive in a wide variety of flavors: physical pain, emotional pain, affronts, embarrassments, let downs, put downs, feeling misunderstood, physical/verbal abuse ... The list literally trails on and on. Possibly, consistent with measure for measure, this vast variety of sufferings is designed to match a vast variety of human misdeeds.  

It’s likely that the Creator designed His measure for measure response to our deeds as a feedback mechanism. Since the sufferings resemble the deeds which triggered them, this should help the deeds become more identifiable - allowing us to see the areas of life where we need to improve. In theory, from the hurts others cast on us, we should be able to identify what offenses we’ve cast on the Creator - whether in the present life or in past lives.

Yet, before going too ga ga over this feedback mechanism, it’s worth noting that Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, once quipped that most people are not experts in the Creator’s ways. Therefore, they are automatically unable to read His intentions into the narratives of their lives. If so, then what’s the value of measure for measure feedback, when most people can’t read anything concrete into them?

It’s possible that while measure for measure feedbacks are not designed for most people to read, they might be designed for the spiritual masters to read. At times, a layperson has the option to seek guidance from a sagely master who can read these signs; much like a physician can read symptoms. Maybe a need for guidance is part of the Creator’s plan to foster relationships between laity and their spiritual teachers.

Even when we don’t have the opportunity to seek out a spiritual teacher, at the very least, we can still gain the Creator’s forgiveness by forgiving others. This part of the process does not depend on us understanding the underlying message being communicated by the feedback. The gift being able to forgive is sufficient.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Our inherent states of self-interest are our inner knots darkness. Most humans, except the most spiritually advanced, are filled with them. Yet, the Creator does something very beautiful with our selfish yearnings. He “bribes” us with them. He drops succulent treats along the path we’re supposed to follow. That’s how we’re bribed into spinning the unknown gears of the cosmic machinery.
Last night, someone highlighted a self-centered knot at core of my Judaism. She claimed that my Judaism is largely based on certain fundamentals I learned some 27 years ago at the Kabbalah Center (or in those days “The Research Centre of Kabbalah”) and that I’m driven by a love for depth and not selflessly given over to the will of the Creator.  While it sounds embarrassingly scathing, I wholeheartedly agree. I know that if it weren’t for Kabbalah, I would have about as much interest in Judaism as I have in the culinary arts.  I would regard it as something that life circumstances places me into contact with. Yet, I wouldn’t be able to muster the interest level to immerse myself in it - neither in study nor in practice. The Creator used my personal interests to bribe me into practicing Judaism, as He uses a man’s love for a woman to bribe him into bringing a soul into the world.
He’s shown me that at Judaism’s heart lies the mystery of life itself, at reaches that are higher and fuller than science provides. Our Kabbalistic sages easily envisioned a universe of pure energy well ahead of scientific cosmology. The sages envisioned existence beyond time light years ahead of Einstein. There are so many wonderful ideas in many areas of life that Kabbalah exposes me to. The Talmud, Jewish Law, ritual practices and the Bible are of interest to me when they are swept up into this amazing area of study. Otherwise, they taste to me lifeless and bland; lacking spiritual context.
I might be criticized by some, for taking the “bribe” too seriously and maybe missing the main point of Judaism. However, I acknowledge that through this dark band of self-interest I can accomplish much. I can re-envision Judaism in a way that works for me. Without this glue, the whole picture falls apart for me. Judaism becomes reduced to a system of inconvenient rules, stories that seem unlikely, often anachronistic ideas, but, with a rich cultural heritage (which can be enjoyed in Judaism’s surrounding secular space).
I think of myself as the wealthy man who was asked by a spiritual master not to engage in a life of spiritual and pious asceticism. On the contrary, he was asked to eat well and enjoy life. When the disciples asked the master, “Why?”, he explained that this man came down to the world to engage in a life of charity. He needs comforts in order to empathize with other people’s cries for their basic needs.  In other words, he wasn’t beyond the bribe. He actually needed the bribe to thread him along the path of his life’s mission. So too, I’m not beyond the bribe.
Though it might seem like I am enveloped in a band of selfishness, I think it’s a lot healthier to accept it than to deny it. If I accept it, it can turn into a doorway. If I deny it, I don’t escape from it. I just mislead myself and others. So which alternative is ultimately healthier? At least, where there’s honesty, there’s a place for the Creator.