Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The two weeks leading up to my mother's death about a year ago were made even more terrible by a moral failure on my part.
Several months later I found consolation through an implication that can be derived from the traditional Jewish interpretation of the relationship between the two main names of God in the Tora.
Since then I have been using this blog to develop how and why the Tora amends God's severity by His mercy.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

NOTE: Throughout this blog, depending on the context, I will use the name Elohim (aka 'God') or YHWH (aka 'the LORD')* because -- according to Jewish tradition** -- the name YHWH is associated with mercy and leniency*** whereas the name Elohim is associated with severity, might, creative power, justice and judgement.****  This is why in Genesis chapter 4 (right after they are kicked out of the Garden), the name 'YHWH' first appears alone... which is another way of saying that Elohim needed to 'cease and desist' ('shabat'- ch.2:2-3) in order for the 'world' to continue.

* the names Elohim and YHWH are NOT two Gods.  The names just designate whether God is dealing with man with a preponderance of severity (Elohim) or leniency (YHWH).
The compound name YHWH-Elohim (appearing 'only' in Genesis, chapters 2 and 3) indicates a transition from severity/Elohim [ch.1] to mercy/YHWH [ch.4 and on]) 

** Genesis Raba 12:15, 21:8; Exodus Raba 3:6; Pes. Rab.40:2; Rashi to Gn 1:1

*** and very often -- though not always -- it is associated with ceremony and ritual (i.e. 'religion'), which is ALWAYS a manifestation of mercy and leniency

**** attributes I associate with a state I will call -- depending on the context -- "the primal moral state" or "the relentlessly creative world of Genesis chapter 1".

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Garden of Eden represents the 'Kingdom of God', which is a state-of-being exquisitely tuned to the moral key.
The Tora (and this blog) is the story of [us] moral weaklings ('THE REST OF US') who've had a taste of this primal moral state and retreated from it to 'religion',* which is a state where YHWH -- in His mercy -- lowers the moral pitch.**
This new ['religious'] world (or 'state') is "very close to you... in your heart to do it." (Dt.30:14)

* e.g., Adam and Eve hide in fear (Gn 3:8,10).   Next -- mercifully -- comes a 'cover' (the cover of 'religion'-- see the "September 16, Part 2" post on the purpose of blood sacrifice) from YHWH-Elohim

** interestingly, in chapter 5, Seth is said to be "created in [Adam's-- not Elohim's] likeness and image"(v.3).  This implies that the world is being keyed to a more suitable pitch. It is no coincidence that the last verse of chapter 4 says that men "began to call on the name of YHWH", which is a 'religious' act, and thus associated with mercy/leniency (see Talmud R.H.17b). The culmination of this process occurred in the 'Covenant of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy' (Ex.34:6-7: "YHWH, YHWH..."!;  see Num 14:17-19: "YHWH!").  It promised -- in the wake of the Golden Calf incident -- that the relationship between God and Israel would continue, but at the 'price' of less closeness and intensity (and danger).
This mercy/leniency/YHWH connection is corroborated by the fact that whereas the first set of tablets (the Ten Commandments) were hewn and engraved by Elohim (Ex.31:18; 32:16), YHWH commissioned Moses to hew the second set, which YHWH later engraved (Ex.34:28).
Also, it is important to add that the covenant [of the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy] made in chapter 34 only amended (from severity to leniency) the terms (v. 6-7) and conditions (v. 11-26; note how they are ALL RITUAL AND CEREMONIAL; see the Jan.20 post above on the connection between mercy/leniency, ceremony/ritual-- i.e. 'religion' -- and YHWH) of the Ten Commandments

Saturday, September 16, 2017

 Part 1
An Approach to a 'Hard' Jewish Law: Sabbath Observance

What if I find dignity and freedom in working and resting whenever I want?
Shabbat is the only ritual commandment among the 'Ten Commandments' and-- as far as I know-- the only ritual commandment (commandments between YHWH and man) the prophets railed against its non-observance.
So perhaps it can be a ritual link to the non-ritual / ethical / moral commandments.
Let's say that I fail at a moral test-- which is really a test given by God; therefore I have not only failed myself and the person or society, but I have failed Him as well.
I am now 'naked' and ashamed. What do I do?  Can I simply redeem myself through a ritual?
What does my moral / ethical failure represent?  A lack of faith in God.  How?  Because if I really trusted Him, I would have allowed myself to move courageously into the do-the-right-thing zone and let the chips fall where they may by performing the famous 'leap of faith'.  But I didn't, and so I now mourn in my 'nakedness' and shame ('dust and ashes').
At this vulnerable point, the Sabbath stands as a beacon of mercy in the night of our moral failure, guiding us to a precious scrap of dignity that redeems* our lack of faith that God will provide.
It's as if the coward has a second chance in a simulated area in which he can redeem* his failure to 'leap' by sitting down! (the root meaning of Sabbath/Shabbat is 'sit')  This 'sit-down strike' can 'de-fang' the relentlessly creative [and moral] 'world' of Genesis chapter 1-- a world that still exists for those strong, or foolish enough to inhabit it, although it has been mercifully 'covered-over' (KPR- see 'Part 2' below) by the Tora 'FOR THE REST OF US'.


Part 2
An Approach to Another 'Hard' Jewish Law: Kashrut

After 'Adam's' sin, "YHWH-Elohim" (these names of God appear together as one name in chapters 2 and 3, indicating the transition from severity/Elohim [ch.1] to mercy/YHWH [ch.4 and on]) kills an animal to properly clothe them.  Abel then picks up on this 'illustration' by sacrificing a [kosher] animal on an altar.  Finally, there comes the bloody altar of the Tabernacle/Temple.
As written in Leviticus 17:11, the purpose of the blood is JUST to ILLUSTRATE atonement (KPR) for us.  The root of KPR is KP-- to cover.  Cover what?  OUR FAILURE TO ABIDE IN THE PRIMAL MORAL WORLD.
Destroying a [kosher] animal -- who represents our 'destruction' before Elohim and His uncompromisingly moral Kingdom -- 'fittingly' illustrates this.**
The purpose of the kosher system (kashrut) -- formally initiated after after the destruction of this primal [vegan] world (Gen.9:2-4) -- is similar to the purpose of the blood sacrifices at the Temple: redemption* through an illustration-- only on a plate instead of an altar.

* like the one-tenth 'redemption' value for a bottle, 'religion' (see the 'December 12' post above) is better than [getting] nothing

** since the "land of Moriah" is where Abraham was told by Elohim to go and sacrifice his son (Gn 22:1-2) and later substitute him for a [kosher] animal (vs.8,13), it became the 'fitting' location of the Temple (2Chron 3:1).
Along these lines, the extermination decrees (see esp. Joshua) can be better understood.  Since the land of Canaan / Israel is located at the 'center' of the three continents of the then known world, it is 'fit' to be God's portion.  Therefore tenancy -- whether in a covenant with Him or not -- comes with conditions.  When the Amorites, Canaanites, and later the Israelites accumulated transgressions on His Land, they had to be 'slaughtered' ("Through [in the sense of an illustration] those near Me, I [YHWH] will be sanctified"- Lev 10:3; see also Ex 19:10-13)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

In suzerain-vassal (king-subject) treaty language from the ancient near east, 'love' meant loyalty to the ruler. Therefore, to "love YHWH with all ones heart, soul, and might" (Dt.6:5) means to be loyal to Him.
YHWH is a 'jealous God', which means He demands exclusivity.
Jewish tradition holds that if you forsake idolatry you fulfill the whole of the Tora (Talmud Hor.8a), and vice versa (Sifra Deut. 54).
But what is idolatry?
It is known that most ancient cultures admitted the existence of a 'Most High God' or Supreme Being. The only problem was that 'It' was seen as too abstract (i.e. removed from sight, sound, and mind) to be served (or used).  Hence, the creation of intermediaries (see Maimonides M.T. Laws of Idolatry ch. 1).
When man looks to 'heaven' and 'sees' anything between him and God, that is idolatrous ("You shall have no other gods before Me").
The archetype of the intermediary in Tanakh is the Golden Calf (see also Jeroboam's Calves- 1Kings 12:25-33).  But why construct a calf (a baby cow)?  Why not a grown bull?
Rabbi David Fohrman taught that because of the awesomeness of the Sinai revelation ("Let not Elohim speak with us lest we die"-Ex.20:19), and the fact that Moses hadn't come down the mountain after 40 days, the people feared he was destroyed by the encounter.  So they created a 'blast-shield' that could stand between them and Elohim.
Making a molten (lit. masking*- Ex.32:4) calf is really quite logical.  A calf sucks from its mother (read: God), and through identifying with this 'Sucker' a quite 'touching' relationship with the 'Most High God' -- so it seems -- ensues.**
We witness this in Christianity.  It is -- in essence -- Calf worship.  Jesus is the "Son of the Father", and "no one can come to the Father except through the Son".
The calling of Jesus the "Lamb of God" (Jn.1:29) should remind us of the Passover lamb in Egypt.  Its slaying  signaled Israel's willingness to forsake*** such touching -- yet forbidden -- relationships.
This act [of slaughter] began -- on a national level -- the 'cleaning out' (think matsa and leaven) of the space between man and the 'Most High God'.

 * you may ask,  "Why can't we follow God by just doing good?"  Because --  essentially -- a 'naked' ( relationship with God without the 'masking'/'screen' of  the mitsvas/halakha (i.e. 'religion') is too morally challenging for most people.  Such a 'God-alone' relationship is simply about doing-the-right-thing at all times-- no exceptions, and no place to 'hide' (again, ch.3 Genesis).  Mercifully, however, God 'offers' us animal clothing (v.21; see above post on 'kashrut') to cover our 'nakedness' (see Oct 23 post) instead of vegetable clothing (v.7 "fig leaves")

** you can worship (or concentrate on) anything and receive answers, messages, and manifestations ('signs and wonders').  The universe or nature is set up -- as Jung discovered -- synchronistically (meaningful coincidences) to reinforce and engage playfully and seriously with those who so desire.  Take Mary (Jesus' mother) veneration in Catholicism.  It works.  I know personally a Catholic who has a simple, working relationship with her.  "She always comes through for me".  So there seems to be no difference between a message from YHWH (or Elohim, if you are able to handle the heat of the relentlessly creative world of Genesis chapter 1) and other objects of worship (or veneration).  Thus -- like Pharaoh -- hearts are "strengthened" and "hardened" because idolatry 'works'

*** Ex 8:22 shows it was an act of public defiance of the gods of Egypt: "If we slaughter (read: forsake) the abomination of Egypt (read: Jesus) before their eyes, will they not stone us?" 
But let's 'save' some of the New Testament, OK?  Since YHOShH (Jesus) means 'YHWH saves', why not say it means that YHWH saves from the severity of Elohim?  Then my take on the Tora and some of the New Testament allign!  Consider Hebrews, chps. 3 and 4.  It says that the seventh day (the day Elohim 'rested'- i.e. ceased) is 'NOW', and we can enter into its (read: YHWH's) rest at any time

Monday, October 19, 2015

As the guilt associated with my mother's death recedes, the great problem that has haunted me since the late 80's reappears:  My failure to engage life on its terms.
The Tora addresses this problem in its first four chapters.*
In Genesis 1 it says that we were created in Elohim's image and likeness.  The commentators disagree on what this means, but the Tora itself tells us its meaning:  "Let us make Adam in our likeness and image and they will have dominion [over all the animals and over all the earth].  And Elohim  created the Adam in His image-- in the image of Elohim He created him-- male and female He created them... be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth and have dominion over all the animals." (Gn 1:26-28)
I quote all this only to show that the image and likeness of Elohim is all about creating-- with sex being the biological manifestation of creativity and 'subduing' and dominion being the technological manifestation of it. (loving being the emotional manifestation and morality the spiritual manifestation)
We see from this that according to the Tora, the creative impulse is the 'meat' of life-- the very image and likeness of God!  But 'meat' needs spice for flavor (i.e. direction), so the purpose of Tora is to provide that 'spice'.  In the words of a midrash in the Talmud (Kid.30b): "I've created the 'bad inclination' (yetser hara), and I've created Tora as its spice (tavlin).
In Genesis 3 Eve is told that her desire (teshuka) will be for her husband, but he can rule (MShL) over 'it'" ('it' being a feminine noun referring to either Eve, desire, or both).  In the very next story (ch. 4) Cain is told by YHWH that "Sin crouches at the door and to you is its desire (teshuka), but you can rule (MShL) over it." ('sin' being man's inability control desire)
What does it mean that a woman's desire will be for her husband, and her [husband] can rule over 'it' and Cain being told that sin desires him and he can rule over it?
A midrash (Br. Rab.20:7) says that "There are four primal teshhukas/'desires' in the world: Eve for Adam; the yetser hara's desire for Cain; the desire that rain has for land; and the desire God has for the Jewish people."
In Judaism, the 'bad inclination' is not really 'bad', it is just something that needs to be 'ruled' (MShL).
Thus Eve (i.e. 'woman' in general) and the yetser hara** desire to share the life force (Eve/Chava means 'life') with Adam (i.e. 'man' or 'mankind' depending on the context); but can Adam take this 'gift' of energy and direct it properly?***

Another way of saying this is that Elohim starts things off with a 'bang' (the 'Six days of Creation') and YHWH helps me pick up the pieces (the 'Seventh Day')

* I thank Rabbi David Fohrman for his explanation of the first two stories in the Tora and their accompanying midrashes

** the yetser hara ('yetser' literally means to form or create) is the 'main dish'-- the sum total of all our desires, passions, and ambitions, but without direction, hence the 'bad'/hara designation (bad/RA literally means shaky/unsettled, whereas good/TOV literally means sunk-in/settled)

*** Since 'tora' literally means guidance and instruction, it encompasses any teaching that properly directs the raw creative drive.  From Moses putting a bronze snake on a pole in the desert in order to heal anyone who looked at it from the snake-bites brought on by their despair to modern psychology which seeks to equalize the pressure between the conscious (Adam) and the unconscious (Eve / yetser hara), both techniques seek to 'straighten' a 'crooked' relation to the life force on the 'pole' of tora (proper instruction/direction)


The 'apophatic' (knowledge obtained through negation) formulations below are the spiritual foundation of everything I've written in this blog.

God cannot create create something other than Himself.

God cannot hide from Himself the fact that He is God.

The former destroys 'Western' Dualism; the latter destroys 'Eastern' Non-Dualism.

Since the two 'axioms' cancel each other out, I am free from both both 'East' and 'West'.

What this does is to clear a space [between 'East' and 'West' with Israel located at the center-- the mean point where meaning is] that allows the ruach haKodesh (the 'wind' from the Temple / 'Center' / the mean / Israel) to move out to the rest of the earth. ("Let there be light... a light to the nations.")