Sunday, June 24, 2018

The two weeks leading up to my mother's death about a year and a half 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.
NOTE: Throughout this blog, depending on the context, I will be using the names Elohim (aka 'God') or YHWH (aka 'the LORD')* because -- according to Jewish tradition** -- the name YHWH is associated with a preponderance of mercy and leniency*** whereas the name Elohim is associated with a preponderance of 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.  This seems to be the literal fulfillment of Genesis, chapter 2:2-3, although Elohim appears occasionally after this [in a supporting role, so to speak].

* 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 balance between severity and mercy and it also signals a transition from more severity/Elohim [ch.1] to more mercy/YHWH [ch.4 and on]) 

** Sifrei 26:10 (see "12:06" post); Genesis Raba 12:15, 21:8; Exodus Raba 3:6; Pes. Rab.40:2; Rashi to Gn 1:1

*** and 'The Name' is always associated with ceremony and ritual (i.e. 'religion'), which is 'always' a manifestation of mercy and leniency
The Garden of Eden represents the 'Kingdom of God'.
The Tora (and this blog) is the story of [us] moral weaklings ('THE REST OF US') who fail to inhabit this 'Kingdom' and retreat to 'religion',* which is a state where YHWH -- in His mercy -- lowers the moral pitch.** (i.e. a 'world' that tilts the towards leniency)
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 shame and fear (Gn 3:8,10).   Next -- mercifully -- comes a 'cover' (the cover of 'religion'-- see the "12:09" 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 a distancing from the severity of the previous 'worlds' towards one keyed to a more suitable [moral] 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, 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 "12:12" post above on the connection between mercy/leniency, ceremony/ritual-- i.e. 'religion' -- and YHWH) of the Ten Commandments
A Personal 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 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 now I mourn in my 'nakedness' and shame ('dust and ashes').
At this vulnerable point, the Sabbath  can stand as a beacon of mercy in the night of my moral failure, guiding me to a precious scrap of dignity that can redeem* my lack of faith that God will provide.
It's as if this 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').

* like the one-tenth 'redemption' value for a bottle, 'religion' (see the "12:11" post above) is better than [getting] nothing
An Approach to Another 'Hard' Jewish Law: Kashrut

After Adam and Eve's sin, "YHWH-Elohim" 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 your own gratification" (Lev 19:5 > Talmud Men. 110a).  The root of KPR is KP-- to cover.  Cover what?  OUR FAILURE TO ABIDE in God's Kingdom.
Destroying a [kosher] animal -- who represents our 'destruction' before the awesomeness of this 'kingdom' -- 'fittingly' illustrates this.*
The purpose of the kosher system (kashrut) -- formally initiated after the destruction of the 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.

* since the "land of Moriah" is where Abraham was told by Elohim to go and sacrifice his son (Gn 22:1-2) and later (after the intervention of YHWH's angel) 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)

** like the one-tenth 'redemption' value for a bottle, 'religion' (see the "12:11" post above) is better than [getting] nothing

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'.  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 [lit. "elohim"; elohim/'gods' means any great power-- i.e., judges, rulers, leaders] 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 [man-made] 'blast-shield' (i.e. a 'fig leaf'-- Gn 3:7) 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'.

* in the case of the Golden Calf and -- by extension -- Jesus, the intermediary is used  (a la the 'fig leaves' of Gn 3:7) by the worshiper (think of Paul's moral dilemma) to distance himself from the  Elohim (i.e. severe) aspect of God

** think of it this way: as YHWH is a 'jealous God', so I JEALOUSLY guard my personal intimacy with Him.
 *** you may ask,  "Why can't we follow God by just doing good?"  Because --  essentially -- a 'naked' (Gn.3) 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 (what I would call, "being in the 'Kingdom'") is simply about doing-the-right-thing at all times-- no exceptions, and no place to 'hide' (again, Gn.3).  Mercifully, however, YHWH-Elohim 'offers' us animal clothing (v.21; see above post on 'kashrut') to cover our nakedness 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"

***** 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?"
As I have been working through the guilt over a moral failure associated with my mother's death, a desire to open my heart, let someone in and show real, warm feelings to another -- feelings I never shared with my mother* or anyone else for that matter -- has emerged.
Thankfully, I found** that the first four chapters of the Tora address my moral failure and this new desire to love since both are manifestations of the creative drive.
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 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 Elohim.***  But 'meat' needs spice for flavor (i.e. direction), and the Tora provides  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 3:16 Eve is told that her desire (teshuka) will be for her husband, but he can rule (MShL) over you."  In the very next story (ch. 4:7) 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 [the creative] desire)
What does it mean that a woman's desire will be for her husband, but her [husband] can rule over 'her' and Cain being told that sin desires him but he can rule over it?
A midrash (Br. Rab.20:16) says that there are four teshhukas/'desires': Eve for Adam (lit. a wife for her husband); the yetser hara's desire for Cain [and his friends/associates]; the desire that rain has for the land (perhaps meaning THE Land of Israel); and the desire God has for Israel."  Thus God, the yetser hara, and 'Eve' desire to give their life force (Eve/Chava means 'life') to 'Adam', but unless 'Adam' can 'HUSBAND' this creative energy/force ('the yetser')***** it will turn and bite 'him'.******

* the reason behind my 'moral failure' was my lack of emotional connection to my mother

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

*** thus it is fitting that Betsalel -- the fashioner of the Tabernacle's sacred furnishings -- literally means 'in the image of El[ohim]'

**** since 'tora' literally means guidance and instruction, it encompasses any teaching that properly directs the raw creative drive.  So when Moses is told by YHWH to put a bronze snake on a pole in the desert in order to heal anyone who looks at it from snake-bites brought on by their despair (Nm 21:8), or when someone deploys Jungian techniques that equalize the pressure between the conscious ('Adam') and the unconscious ('Eve' / yetser hara), a 'twisted' relation to the life force (i.e. being 'bit' by it instead of ruling it-- see also Ex.4:1-5) is 'straightened' on the 'pole' of tora (proper instruction/direction)

***** in Hebrew, RA, the 'bad' in 'the bad inclination' (yetser hara), literally means 'shaky/unsettled', whereas TOV ('good' in Hebrew) literally means sunk-in/settled.  Thus, yetser tov ('good inclination') means creating properly (yetser means 'form'/'create')
****** Could this be the reason why the phrase, "Love of Elohim" (i.e. love of the Creator) is not found in Tanakh? (there's just "fear of Elohim"-- see next post)  Yes, I realize that Elohim declared everything He made "very good"; and that He  blessed and sanctified the Seventh Day; and that the Tora is there to help us create properly (which includes knowing when to stop creating-- which is the very [non]-act that sanctifies, blesses, and 'finishes' creations); BUT, although Creation may be "very good" (Gn 1:31), it is not good enough!  I REALLY DON'T WANT TO JUST BE IN THE LIKENESS AND IMAGE OF ELOHIM (see Gn 3:7--hubris > nemesis); I ALSO WANT TO LOVE HIM!   But how do 'we' love [just] a Creator/Elohim?  The answer lies in the preface to the Ten Commandments:  "I am YHWH who took you out of the house of bondage to be your God." (Ex.20:1)  Notice it doesn't say, "I am YHWH who CREATED you to be your God."
Now we can [fully] understand the meaning of the names of the two main characters in the Tora (Israel and YHWH): "You will wrestle (YSR) with powerful forces (EL)" (Gn 32:25-32), "but I will be with you." (Ex 3:11-15)  Thus it is fitting that 'Jews' (from Y'HUDA/'Judah') -- the collective/general name of the surviving remnant of 'b'nay Israel' -- literally means one who 'acknowledges/recognizes/thanks YHWH'
From Jose Faur's  'Reflections on Job and Situational Morality' ('Judaism', 1970):
"Yira ('fear') refers to both Elohim and YHWH.  Ahaba ('love') refers only to YHWH, never to Elohim.  Nowhere in the entire Biblical and Rabbinic literature can one find 'Elohim' as either the subject or object of love."
"Elohim is always related to some order, either physical or social.  Since Elohim always conforms to specific norms, the Rabbis associate this Name with the concept of midat ha-din, "Strict Justice."*  This idea of God is not exclusively Israelite.**  It is one discernible by human reason and is acknowledged universally."**
"YHWH on the other hand escapes any possible systematic conceptualization.  He transcends any and all particular orders: "I am (eheye) who I am (asher eheye)" (Ex.3:14).  As is customary in biblical usage the term eheye denotes actions (cf. Ex.3:12), not states.  The exact meaning of the verse is, therefore, "I shall act as I shall (choose to) act" (that is--indeterminately).  Because this divine name entails that God does not have to punish Israel for its transgressions as a rigorous interpretaion of the Law would require, the Rabbis associate it with middat ha-rachmim (The Principle of Mercy)."*

An understanding of the above can lead us into an understanding of the covenant ('bris').

The central nucleus of Tanakh is the bilateral covenant ('pact') between God and Israel.  The theological ground of this covenant is that God is absolutely free to enter into a relationship with a partner who is absolutely free to accept or reject it.***

As Jose Faur puts it:
"The relationship between Israel and God is grounded on their mutual "election."  "Election," as understood here, is the antithesis of the corresponding pagan concept of "necessity."  In pagan thought, religion is intimately connected with the concept of a preexistent and necessary order.  Religion is the "necessary" effect of such an order: the relationship between man and the deities is grounded in, motivated and determined by, and aims at, the necessary order of the cosmos.  Both the deities and man are circumscribed by the same order, which serves thereby as the ground of their relationship.  Moreover, the motivation that moves man and the deities to establish a relationship is the necessary effect of this order.  The terms and modus operandi of their relationship do not result from an agreement between the parties, or even from the desire of one of the parties, but, ultimately, from the preexistent and necessary order.  Finally, in this order, man and the deities find the ultimate goal of their existence.  "Election," on the other hand, is an absolutely free, undetermined act: it is an act of ahava, love.... Since the election was not based upon the qualities of Israel, Israel's "sins" cannot result in the annulment of the pact.  The election of Israel was unconditional and eternal."****

* from (midrash) Sifrei Devarim (Deuteronomy), Paragraph 26:10:
"(Dt 3:24) "O Lord (YHWH), God (Elohim": Wherever "YHWH" is written, the attribute of mercy is intended, viz. (Ex.34:6) "YHWH," the God who is merciful and gracious."  Wherever "Elohim" is written, the attribute of justice is intended, viz. (ibid.27) "Elohim (Both God and judges are intended) you shall not curse."
See the (what I think are unsatisfying) explanations in Ber. Raba 33:3 and Hirsch to Gn 17:3 concerning the few times in the Tora where this doesn't seem to apply

** from Faur (ibid): "Job and his friends were not Israelites.  Elihu, however, as his name clearly indicates (YHWH is God) is an Israelite.  Thus he knows that the reality of God defies systematic cognition." 

*** according to Faur, being in the image of God means having free will

**** from  'Understanding the Covenant' ('TRADITION', 1968, pgs.48, 52);
Faur later wrote: "If you cannot grasp the distinction between a contracted duty (i.e. a 'mitsva') and a command imposed by a despot, participation in the Sinaitic covenant is pointless." (The Horizontal Society, vol.2, pg.10)  

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.")