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).

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