Sunday, 29 May 2016

Forward Momentum


Meditation as Fire-walking
“The floor is made of lava”. Ever play that game as a child? The aim is to get from one point of the house to another without touching the floor. It’s best not to play it near breakables or furniture with sharp edges.

Whilst this is a cute analogy to introduce the dangers of Practical Kabbalah, it’s also a rubbish analogy. There are techniques that carry less risk and those that carry more risk. Warning are often about people dying suddenly whilst relatively young. Even Umberto Eco’s “Foucault's Pendulum” contains a warning about the risks of letter permutation.

So when it gets late at night and the rest of the household has gone to sleep. I tell myself “Why not watch another episode of Doctor Who? It’s safer than navigating the lava”. Cue reference to fear being the mind killer, but again this is not a good analogy.

Anyway, all this waste of ink is me reminding myself why I do this. Why a project manager spends countless hours on trains and at home reading and practising meditations (or not as is often the case). I do it because I must.

Going Back to Earlier Sources
No, not because older is cooler – but because in order to understand later sources… you sometimes need to understand how they built on earlier sources. For example, this audio by prof. Moshe Idel talks about why Abraham Abulafia is the latest bandwagon everyone is jumping on. I love a bandwagon, and sure enough I’ve got half way through Chayeh Olam Ha-Bah (Life in the World to Come).

The trouble is that Prof. Elliot Wolfson points out that to understand Abulafia, you first need to have studied Sefer Yetzirah (Book of Creation) and read works by Rabbi Ealzar of Worms. Whilst I have done some of the former (2 commentaries on SY), I’ve yet to start on the latter even though it’s been on my to-do list for awhile (close to 4 years).

Tzedek Update
Last Thursday was Lag B’Omer. Nothing else special happened except that I seem to keep winning Lucky Dips (2 numbers) but nothing more significant than that.

OPEN Thread
This blog has been quiet for a bit as there seems to be some odd activity going on term of frequent visitors from the USA. By frequent I mean nearly the same number of page views on a regular basis, see image below.

So either it’s bots (most likely) or suddenly this blog has got an extra visitor (unlikely). Just in case it’s the latter – please consider this post an OPEN thread. Leave a comment below and I’ll try to answer any questions, feedback, smack talk in the next few days.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

May Project Update 2016

Project Updates:

This project has been running for over a month now and the effects appear to be cumulative. Each day of reciting the Psalms shifts my though patterns out of the old behaviour loops and in to new behaviour loops. Actually, that may not be entirely correct. The effect seems to start at the level of Will and then enters in to the conscious and unconscious mind (from Keter to Chochmah and Binah). So the old loops rarely, if ever trigger.

Two results from last week. First one is that I managed to pin two out of six numbers in the Lotto and won a free lucky dip. Every success, how ever minor, should be celebrated – so Yay! OK, that’s enough celebration for now.

The other success is that in my wider community a leaflet went around reminding the families in our community that there are services available including:
  • Cooked meals when someone is sick, has given birth, has lost a loved one, etc.
  • Hospital visits, including bringing others to appointments or visits
  • Friendship meet-ups (it’s amazing in how such a connected world, too many are lonely)
  • Financial support to help balance monthly budget as well as short term funds
That’s another success for compassion.

This seemed to go well at first. Trouble is that the long-Jewish-goodbye can take, well forever. Some people leave but don’t say goodbye. Jews say goodbye but don’t leave. I have spent more than half-an-hour in a hallway once waiting to leave whilst goodbyes were said, news was exchanged on loved ones, jokes were made that other corrected, recipes were compared, photos were taken, etc. That’s a normal goodbye.

Now imagine what happens when you invite six amazing souls from the past to share some of their wisdom with you? Sure, there’s the whole license to depart thing, but it kind of gets pushed  to the side by the long-goodbye I mentioned above.

Anyway, I’ve left the hallway, so to speak, to spend a bit of time by myself. It’s a little embarrassing as one of the souls I wanted to learn from was Rabbi Moshe Cordovero and having re-read his writings on the attribution of the double letters in Sefer Yetzirah… well, I’m really embarrassed to say that I do not agree with the great and holy Rabbi.

This project is going well. It’s a lot easier than I thought to read scripture (twice) with Aramaic translation (plus English translation). This is a project that is meant to act as a foundation for a later project, however as a side benefit if I ever go crazy from all this Kabbalah stuff – I can do a pretty good impression of being a time traveller from olden days, or someone possessed.



Thursday, 12 May 2016

New Project: Tzedek Tzedek like a Mensch

Tonight is the start** of 20th day of the Omer count. That makes it Yesod in the week of Tiferet, Foundation in Harmonious Beauty (reconciling the opposites of Chesed and Gevurah).

The meditation of today in the app from Chabad that helps track Omer counting is as follows:
What is the difference between kindness and compassion?

Kindness gives to another.

Compassion knows no ‘other’

From the Wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, words and condensation by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman.
So it’s Thursday, the day associated with wealth and poverty according to the different Sefer Yetzirah commentaries (Sa’adiyah Gaon, R. Eliezer Rokeach, and R. Keter Shalom b. Avraham) that are open in front of me as I write this article. The (fairly) recent Jupiter discussion by Jason and Blogos comes to mind. And I am left with the question, how can I turn all this in to something practical that promotes compassion in both my own life and the world at large.

Guess it’s time for a new project:
Title: Tzedek Tzedek like a Mensch
Scope: Promote compassion and wealth
Time: 1 year deadline
Cost: Time and charity.
Quality: The aim of the project is to promote compassion and wealth both in my life and in the lives of others. The measure of this will include changes in wealth over time, changes in frequency and size of charitable donations, as well as new initiatives to promote compassion.
Risks:
1. Poverty. As Sefer Yetzira (Book of Formation) states, the transpose of wealth is poverty.
2. Publishing a new project can trigger a counter wave due to the public nature of the initiative. One way to mitigate this risk is to use the principle of aikido to return the energy and momentum back to the source.
3. No significant effect. Since I am a dabbler rather than a serious practising occultist – this could all just be wishful thinking on the part of a Project Manager with a curious interest in Jewish magic & mysticism.
Stretch Goal: Generate sufficient wealth to take a career break for 7 years and study like Rabbi Akiva.

Just to explain the title of this project… there is a phrase “Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof” in the section of Shoftim in the Torah. It means “Righteousness, righteousness you shall pursue so that you will live and take possession of the land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you.” [Devorim 16:20] as explained in this article.

The word Mensch comes from the German term Humanit├Ąt, in the philosophical sense of compassion, as explained here by Wonkipedia.

Image from https://scifiladynerds.net/
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan talks pp.167-174 about the attribution of angels to planets, as well as the differences between temporary angelic entities created on the second day and permanent ones on the fifth day. Unfortunately the reference to the angel for Tzedek (Jupiter) in Raziel HaMalach (pp67 of the Hebrew version published in Me’ah She’arim in 2003) has a different attribution of angel to that planet.

In any case, the techniques that I will be using to promote this project include some of the following techniques:

  1. Giving of charity each Thursday (excluding festivals that fall on Thursdays). Tzedakah meaning charity, has the same root as the word Tzedek = righteousness / Jupiter. It’s better to give frequently smaller amounts, rather than one lump sum as it habituates a person to sharing a portion of their wealth to those in need.
  2. Recite Psalms 65, 144, and 147 – as explained on pp. 367 of “Jewish Spiritual Practices” by Yitzchak Buxbaum. These psalms are for being ‘Grateful to God for success, prosperity’.
  3. Recite the ‘Prayers for Financial Prosperity’ on pp. 388 to 393 of “Walking in the Fire” by Rabbi Ariel Bar Tzadok.
  4. Purchasing a lottery ticket, it’s pretty much like a voluntary tax.
  5. Letter permutation as explained in Sodey Razia (require more study before starting this).
  6. Experiment with the concept of fixed moments in time. Rather than play with probabilities, create a fixed point in time/space that is pinned with a particular outcome. Small things with little to no geopolitical impact but which create a ripple effect of compassion and will in time allow the pinning effect to fade. A bit like self-dissolving stitches if you will.

** - the day starts at nightfall until the next nightfall, mirroring the “and then it was evening, then it was morning day one” from first chapter of Genesis.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Invite the others

Awhile back I had this crazy idea to build a TARDIS-AS. Having started studying Chayeh Olam Ha-Bah (Life in the World to Come) by Rabbi Avraham Abulafia, the proto-project is starting to materialise in to something a bit more solid.

A few weeks ago as I was catching up from Dr. Who season 3 to season 6, a curious comments in the episode Journey's End stuck out. In the attached link (containing many spoilers) it statesabout Dr. Who that:
He explains to his companions that the reason that he has so much trouble piloting is that a TARDIS is normally piloted by six people, and he has had to do it all on his own
 Which got me thinking, perhaps travelling in a group might be a better idea. But who? And How? Shortly thereafter I came across the below article by Rabbi Ariel Bar Tzadok, which made me think... can it really be that simple? I think yes it is. And now to do some prototyping, some experimentation...

Daily Thought
by Ariel B Tzadok. 
Copyright (C) 2016 by Ariel Bar Tzadok.  All rights reserved.


Today: Friday. May 6, 2016

To ascend the ladder to Heaven
is easy,
once you know
hows it's properly done.
To descend into the depths
of the unconscious
does not have to be hard
once you understand
what it actually means.

There are many paths before us
that are only hard
in the mind of the beholder.
It is personal perception
that makes a path
either hard, or easy to walk.

Your mind is a powerful tool.
Your mind is what connects you
to Heaven.
At the same time,
your mind is what connects you
to Earth.

Do you see it?
Do you understand?
Your mind is the ladder
that bridges Heaven and Earth.
The ladder is inside you.
The ladder is YOU!

You can ascend into Heaven
or descend into the unconscious,
as a matter of Will.
You have the power,
and internally,
you already know the Way.

All you need to do
is remove the many hindrances
that litter the road,
making your passage
seemingly more difficult.
We call this road repair,
rectification.

When looking outside ourselves
all we see is chaos.
When loosing inside ourselves,
we often see the outside world
reflected inside us.
Therefore, inside us,
we also see chaos.
But this is not the way
it is supposed to be!

We should never reflect
the outside world
inside us.
Rather, we must always
reflect the inner world
into our surrounding world.
Inside influences outside,
not the other way around.

Yet, in order for the inner You
to influence your outer world,
you must know the Inner You,
and allow its clear sense of identity
to impose itself upon
the chaotic outside world.
The power of the mind is the key.
The source of the mind is the Will.

Think clearly.
Focus strongly.
Desire only that which is within.
Forget about the chaos outside.
Focus on the internal reality,
and make it real!
You can do this!
And why?
Because thoughts are things.
And thoughts are the souls
that come to inhabit
the bodies that make up this world.

Therefore, draw down to Earth
the souls of your choice.
Transform the world.
Rectify it!
Repair the road.
It all begins with,
and ends with,
the power of YOUR mind!

This is kosher Torah!


Thursday, 28 April 2016

49 Day Omer Cleanse

On the second night of Pesach / Passover, we start to count the 49 days to the festival of Shavuot / Weeks. Each week is the focus of one of the seven lower Sephirot. Within each of those week we rectify / cleanse each of the seven Sephirot.

Last night and today is Hod in Chesed.

The prayer after each night of Omer counting is as follows

Master of the universe, You command us through Moses, Your servant, to count the Omer Count in order to cleanse us from encrustations of evil and from contaminations, as You have written in Your Torah: You are to count from the morrow of the rest day, from the day you brought the Omer- that is waved - they are to be seven complete weeks. Until the morrow of the seventh week you are to count fifty days, so that the souls of Your people Israel be cleansed from their contamination. Therefore, may it be Your will, Hashem, our God and the God of our forefathers, that in the merit of the Omer Count that I have counted today, may there be corrected whatever blemish I have caused in the sefirah

Gevurah shebechesed (2nd day)
Tiferes shebechesed (3rd day)
Netzach shebechesed (4th day)
Hod shebechesed (5th day)

May I be cleansed and sanctified with the holiness Above, and through this may abundant bounty flow in all the worlds. And may it correct our lives, spirits, and souls from all sediment and blemish; may it cleanse us and sanctify us with Your exalted holiness. Amen, Selah!:



Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Say No to Digging Holes

A recent discussionwith Mr Black at The Razor’s Edge about Mastery, a post by Blogos at Hermetic Lessons about Masks, and an old post the festival of Passover – had me thinking about what are the things that can hold us back?

My teacher told a story recently of how early in his career someone helped him get out of a big hole, so to speak. Having got over that mess (hole), the helper told him “now try in future not to dig any more holes”.

That’s easier said that done. The klippot, husks, that drain us of life-essence exploit our self-destructive urges. My recent 10 Psalms exercise helped kick my computer gaming habit. 

Whilst magic and mysticism can be useful for providing techniques to remove negative patterns – I don’t believe that is the thing to aim for. Rather those are just preparatory steps to enable a person to progress along the path.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Do. Learn. Think. Do It Again.

Experience, Learn or Perish
Mr. Black over at The Razor's Edge has two excellent posts about Why Your Magic Fails and Magickal Plateau. The former posts ends with some excellent advice: "Do. Learn. Think. Do It Again." Or as we like to refer to it as in the Project Management world: "Plan. Do. Check. Act".


It's this iterative cycle with a step for reflection and learning lessons from past experience that helps us to grow. I used to call it "keeping my edge sharp", constrictive criticism from without or within to keep pushing to do better all the time. For me it's about running (trying something) and returning (to reflect on new lessons), objects in motion is life & growth and objects at rest start to resemble stagnation & death.


So we've covered the bit about reflecting to learn lessons from past experiences. If you're not sure how to do this - just write three headings on a piece of paper: "What went well", "What did not go well", and "What can I do better next time".


Stuck in the Mud
The next challenge is to deal with reaching a plateau. You see, anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that people's first attempts at magic are very successful and then those same approaches seem to get harder. Perhaps we over-analyze, or simple the "first one is free" so to speak.


George Leonard has written a pretty good book on Mastery that I came across from a post by Seething Among the Suits blog.


Recently I asked myself the question about whether to focus on gaining some level of understanding and experience of the teachings of Rabbi Abraham Abulafia - or focus on diving deeper in to the commentaries on Sefer Yetzirah (SY) to understand the mysteries of Ma'aseh Bereishit (workings of creation).


Having seen on FaceBook recently that Abulafia is in vogue, I've decide to carry on learning from his books and leave the commentaries on SY alone for now. Never one to miss a band-wagon, I'm joining the Abulafia fan-club and perhaps one day soon will actually meet someone who has read all his works and could teach me.


Hence I'm leaving the Tohu and Bohu - the muck, mire, and mud of Sefer Yetzira - to focus on ecstasy.


Nu! Make it a Project... Sorry, Programme
As with many things in life, the only way I get things done is to turn them in to a project. A set of activities to create a product or service. In this instance the desired outcome is a product - namely an experiential understanding of the teachings of Rabbi Abraham Abulafia.


As there are 13 books of his published (that I am aware off), reading, translation, and using each one will take some time. Each book could be a project of it's own, making the overall project a programme - a series of connected projects with a single desired outcome.


I was going to post something about a "burn-down chart", a popular technique in Agile (the word Agile has by now lost all meaning, btw) whereby the effort / work planned is plotted as a line on a graph over time. The actual effort is then measured against the planned to see if the project is on-track or not in each iteration (sprint). The problem with this approach is that it does not show the amount of value being produced.


This is an industry wide issue and there are a number of approaches to resolve this. However - tracking the progress on each book is not really a meaningful way to track value delivered by the programme, except as a way to record when I read which book.


Hmmmm, I will have to think about this... As the kabbalists say: "Tzarich Iyun" (it requires contemplation).


Monday, 4 April 2016

Translator's log: Rabbi Abraham Abulafia on 2 levels of Kabbalah styudy and SY attributions

Whilst doing my first round of reading of material by Rabbi Abraham Abulafia, I come across bits that I want to reference later. However, I'm not recording my translation work and I can't maintain more than 4 mental bookmarks at a time.

Hence dumping some snippets here for future reference. Below are two extracts from Ve'Zot Le'Yehuda - a letter written in response to being put under ban by the Rashba (Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet).

Figure 1. Introducing two levels of Kabbalistic study.
In this section Abulafia identifies two levels of study in Kabbalah. The first is a portion on knowledge of the Divine names by way of the Sefirot that reveal the secret of unification. The second is knowledge of Divine names by way of the 22 letters of the Hebrew aleph-bet that reveal the Names and seals.

Figure 2. Confirmation that Abulafia is versed in the first before progressing to second
 In this section Abulafia outlines that only by gaining an understanding of Divine names through the study of the Sefirot can one progress to an understanding of Divine names and secrets by way of 22 letters.

On a personal note - this is how I understand Sefer Yetzira. Chapter 1 focuses on the Sefirot (and in the commentaries Divine names). From chapter 2 onwards it's all about the letters and no further mention of Sefirot is made.

Figure 3. Abulafia attribution of letters to body, elements, etc


This extract is from Chaye Olam Ha-Bah (Life in the World to Come) which is published in the same volume by Amnon Gross. In this section Rabbi Abraham Abulafia outlines (in very short amount of text) the following: (mistranslated by me)

"...Know that in mankind there are 3 matters created by 3 letters EMESH [Aleph, Mem, Shin] which are permutated with Yud,Heh,Vav, and they are the messengers of fire, air, and water..."

Underlined in Red: "...The head is created from fire with three forms of fire corresponding to Tet,Aleph,Kuf (Aries, Leo, Sagittarius) fire..."

Underlined in Blue: "...Stomach is created from water in three forms of water Samech,Ayin,Daled (Cancer,  Scorpio, Pisces) water..."

Underlined in Yellow: "The chest from air (ruach) corresponding to Tav,Mem,Daled (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius) air..."

The three letters are an acronym that Amnon Gross has added in smaller ltters in brackets. The acronum represent the first letters of names of the constellations. Please note that Rabbi Abraham Abulafia has additional commentaries on Sefer Yetzira that are much longer and go in to more detail. I have yet to discover if he changes his attributions or not.







Friday, 1 April 2016

Getting out of dodge

I had a long post planned about how Europe and the UK are changing. Old hatreds have come back from all sides of the political spectrum. But bottom line is I don't want my kids to go to university in the UK. So we're moving. Not sure when or how. To me magical practice has always been about aiding survival, so it's time I found some fellow Sefer Yetzira practitioners and more from dabbler to expert level.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Re-Integrating – Part 3

“Halakhic Man”, by Rabbi Jospeh B. Soloveitchik pp99-105. It's a bit long, but contains some important ideas (imo) about the integration fo Kabbalistic thought (e.g. Book of Creation / Sefer Yetzirah) and Jewsih laws.

Halakhik man is a man who longs to create, to bring into being something new, something original. The study of Torah, by definition means gleaning something new, creative insights form the Torah (hiddushei Torah). “The Holy One, blessed be He, rejoices in the dialectics of Torah” [a popular folk saying]. Read not ‘dialectics’ (pilpul) but creative interpretation’ (hiddush). This notion of hiddush, of creative interpretation, is not limited solely to the theoretical domain but extends as well into the practical domain, into the real world. The most fervent desire of Halakhik man is to behold the replenishment of the deficiency in creation, when the real world will conform to the ideal world and the most exalted and glorious of creations, the ideal Halakhah, will be actualized in its midst. The dream of creation is the central idea in the halakhik consciousness – the idea of the importance of man as a partner of the Almighty in the act of creation, man as creator of worlds. This longing for creation and the renewal of the cosmos is embodied in all of Judaism’s goals. And if at times we raise the question of the ultimate aim of Judaism, of the telos of the Halakhah in all its multi-fold aspects and manifestations, we must not disregard the fact that this wondrous spectacle of the creation of worlds is the Jewish people’s eschatological vision, the realization of all its hopes.

The Halakhah sees the entire Torah as consisting of basic laws and halakhik principles. Even the Scriptural narratives serve the purpose of determining everlasting law. “The mere conversations of the servants of the fathers are more important than the laws [Torah] of the sons. The chapter dealing with Eliezer covers two or three columns, and [his conversation] is not only recorded but repeated. Whereas [the uncleanliness of] reptile is a basic principle of Torah law [gufei Torah], yet it is only from an extending particle in Scriptures that we know that its blood defiles as flesh” (Gen. Rabbah 60:11). Our Torah does not contain even one superfluous word or phrase. Each letter alludes to basic principles of Torah law, each word to “well-fastened”, authoritative, everlasting halakhot [laws]. From beginning to end it is replete with statues and judgements, commandments, and laws. The mystics discern in our Torah divine mysteries, esoteric teachings, the secrets of creation, and the Merkabah [the chariot of Ezekiel’s prophecy]; the halakhik sages discern in it basic halakhot, practical principles, laws, directives, and statues. “The deeds of the fathers are a sign for the songs” [cf. Nachmaniddes, Commentary on the Torah Gen. 12:6]. And this sign – i.e. the vision of the future – constitutes a clear-cut halakhah. Halakhic man discerns in every divine pledge man’s obligation to bring about its fulfilment, in every promise a specific norm, in every eschatological vision an everlasting commandment (the commandment to participate in the realization of the prophecy). The conversations of the servants, the trials of the fathers, the fate of the tribes, all teach the sons Torah and commandments. The only difference between the conversation of Eliezer and the Scriptural portion concerning the reptile is that the former extends over two or three columns while the latter is but a brief passage.

Therefore, if the Torah spoke at length about the creation of the world and related to us the story of the making of heaven and earth and all their host, it did so not in order to reveal cosmogonic secrets and metaphysical mysteries but rather in order to teach practical Halakhah. The Scriptural portion of the creation narrative is a legal portion, in which are to be found basic, everlasting Halakhik principles, just like the portion of Kedoshim (Lev. 19) or Mishpatim (Exod, 21). If the Torah then chose to relate to man the tale of creation, we may clearly derive one law from this manner of procedure – viz. That man is obliged to engage in creation and the renewal of the cosmos.

Not for naught is Judaism acquainted with a Book of Creation, the mastery of which enables one both to create and destroy worlds. “Rabba said: If the righteous desired it, they could be creators of worlds, as it is written, ‘But your iniquities have separated between you and your God’ (Isa. 59:2). (Rashi explains: We may infer from this that if they would not have any iniquities, there would be no distinction [between man and God, in the matter of creation]). Raba created a man… Rabbi Hanina and R. Oshi spent every Shabbat eve in studying the Book of Creation and created a third grown calf” (Sanhedrin 65b).

The peak of religious ethical perfection to which Judaism aspires is a man as creator.

When God created the world, He provided an opportunity for the work of His hands – man – to participate in His creation. The Creator, as it were, impaired reality in order that mortal man could repair its flaws and perfect it. God gave the Book of Creation – that repository of the mysteries of creation – to man, not simply for the sake of theoretical study but in order that man might continue the act of creation. “As soon as Abraham had understood, fashioned, engraved, attached and created, inquired and clearly grasped [the secret of creation], the Lord of the universe revealed Himself to him, called him His friend, and made a covenant with him between the ten fingers of his hand...” Man’s task is to “fashion, engrave, attach, and create,” and transform the emptiness in being into a perfect and holy existence, bearing the imprint of the divine name.

“The earth was chaos and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep… And God said: ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.. God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day and the darkness He called Night… Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters… Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear… God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering of waters He called Seas, etc.” (Gen. 1:2-10).

When God engraved and carved out the world, he did not entirely eradicate the chaos and void, the deep, the darkness, from the domain of His creation. Rather, he separated the complete, perfect existence from the forces of negation, confusion, and turmoil and set up cosmic boundaries, eternal laws to keep them apart. Now Judaism affirms the principle of creation out of absolute nothingness. Therefore, the chaos and the void, the deep, the darkness, and relative nothingness must all have been fashioned by the Almighty before the creation of the orderly, majestic, beautiful world. “A philosopher once said to Rabbi Gamliel: Your God is a great artist, but He found good materials which helped Him: chaos and the void, the deep, the wind [ruah], water and darkness. He replied: Let the bones of that person [who so averred] be blasted! For the Scripture affirms that all these things were created. With regard to chaos and the void it is written: ‘I [God] make peace, and create evil’ (Isa. 45:7); with regard to the wind [ruah] it is written: ‘He formeth the mountains, and createth the wind [ruah]’ (Amos 4:13); with regard to the deep it is written: ‘Out of nothing I carved out the deep’ (Prov. 8:24)” [Gen. Rabbah 1:12]. All of these “primordial” materials were created in order that they subsist and be located in the world itself. Not for naught did He create them. He created them in order that they may dwell within the cosmos!

However, the forces of relative nothingness at times exceed their bounds. They wish to burst forth out of the chains of obedience that the Almighty imposed upon them and seek to plunge the earth back into chaos and the void. It is only the law that holds them back and bars the path before the, Now the Hebrew term for law, hok, comes from the root h-k-k- (which means “to carve, engrave”). Thus the law carves out a boundary, sets up markers, establishes special domains, all for the purpose of separating existence from “nothingness,” the ordered cosmos from the void, and creation from naught. “When He carved [hok] a circle [hug] upon the face of the deep” (Prov. 8:27) – hok, the carving, the engraving, the law = hug, the circle = an all-encompassing boundary. The perfect and complete ontic being extends until this divinely carved-out boundary; beyond that border is in the deep, chaos and the void, darkness, and the “nothingness,” devoid of image and form.

However, this relative “nothingness” is plotting evil, the deep is devising iniquity, and the chaos and void lie in wait in the dark alleyways of reality and seek to undermine the absolute being, to profane the lustrous image of creation. “Thou didst cover it with the deep as with a vesture; the waters stood above the mountains. At They rebuke they fled, at the sound of Thy thunder they hastened away… Thou didst set a bound which they should not pass over, that they might return to cover the earth” (Ps. 104:6-9). “When He assigned to the sea its limit, so hat they waters might not transgress His command, when He carved out the foundations of the earth” (Prov. 8:29). The deep wishes to cast off the yoke of the law (hok), to pass beyond the boundary (hug) and limit that the Creator set up and carved out and inundate the world and the fullness thereof. However, at the rebuke of the Almighty, it flees in retreat. From the sound of His thunder it is driven back and hastens to its “lair” - the lair of nothingness. The sight of tempestuous sea, of swirling, raging waves that beat upon the shore there to break, symbolizes to the Judaic consciousness the struggle of the chaos and void with creation, the quarrel of the deep with the principles of order and the battle of confusion with the law.

The mysterious power of the delineated law and the limiting boundary which the Almighty implanted in existence presented itself in all its awesomeness and majesty to King David, the sweet singer of Israel, as reflected in the natural phenomenon of the orderly ebb and flow of the sea (caused by the gravitational force of the sun and the moon and the rotation of the earth). The sea at high tide and the sea at low tide appeared in their whirl of colors as a symbolic elemental process, as a bewitching spectacle of an eternal clash of forces. It is as though the sea at high tide, rushing to meet the shore, desires to destroy the boundary and the law, as though the disorder of the primordial forces, of chaos and confusion, desires to cleave asunder the perfect and exquisitely chiselled creation and lay it to waste. Only the mighty strength of the law of the Almighty bars the path before them [the waves] and shatters them. “Thou rulest the proud swelling of the sea; when the waves thereof arise, Thou dost shatter them” (Ps. 89:10).

“R. Johannan said: When David dug the pits, the deep arose and threatened to submerge the world… David thereupon inscribed the ineffable name upon a sherd, cast it into the deep, and it subsided.” “When David began to dig the foundations of the Temple, he dug 15 cubits and did not reach the deep. Finally he found one potsherd and sought to lift it up. Said [the potsherd]unto him: You may not. Said [David] unto it: And why not? Said [potsherd] unto David: Because it is I who am restraining the deep. Said [David] unto it: And for how long have you been here? Said [potsherd] unto him: Since the Almighty proclaimed on Mount Sinai ‘I am he Lord they God’ (Ex. 20:2). At that moment the earth trembled and began to sink and I was placed here to restrain the deep. David, nevertheless, did not listen. As soon as he lifted it up, the waters of the deep arose and sought to inundate the world.

Thus the deep desires to burst out of the enclosures of the law and shatter the realms of orderly creation, the cosmic process, the regular course of the world, and plunge them all back into “nothingness,” into desolation and ontic emptiness. However, it is held firm in the grip of the mighty laws and principles.

All of kabbalistic literature is imbued with this idea. The “other side”, the “husks”, the “mighty deep”, and “angels of destruction”, the “offspring of chaos”, etc. all symbolize the realm of emptiness and the void, the domain of “nothingness,” devoid of any image or stature, that does battle with glorious existence enveloped by the luster of the image of the Divine Presence.

However, this view, which threads its way through the entire course of Jewish thought is not just a mysterious theoretical notion but a practical principle, a fundamental ethico-halakhik postulate.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Re-Integrating – Part 2

At the moment, amongst the many books that I am reading is “Halakhic Man”, by Rabbi Jospeh B. Soloveitchik. Truth be told I struggle with some of the ideas in his book. Not their understanding as such, but more whether I agree with them or not. The back of the book states:

“Rabbi Jospeh B. Soloveitchik has ordained more rabbis than anyone else in history; his student and followers in all branches of Judaism have shaped the character of modern Jewry; his teaching have stood as paradigms of philosophical insight and religious sensitivity.”

Anyway, he sums up very nicely in this book my growing understanding of how all levels of interpretation play an integral part in day to day activities. Kabbalah is not something foreign grafted in to the religion but a core strand that weaves its way in and out daily practices and observation that make up a way of life. Rather than a system of religious practices with a mystical spin, that form a separate part of people’s lives.

Pp92.

“...We have already emphasize earlier that Judaism does not direct its glance upwards but downward. The Halakhah [Jewish law] does not aspire to a heavenly transcendence, nor does it seek to soar on the wings of some abstract mysterious spirituality. It fixes its gaze upon concrete , empirical reality and does not allow its attention to be diverted from it. Halakhik man does not compartmentalize reality – this is the domain of eternal life and this is the domain of temporal life. On the contrary, he brings down eternity in to the midst of time. He does not enter in to a hidden, pure, transcendent realm even in his intimate prayer-colloquy with his Creator Even when Halakhik man enters the synagogue or house of study he does not leave his this-wordly life behind. His prayer is replete with requests regarding bodily needs: healing, prosperity, political freedom, a good and peaceful life, and such…”

Pp93-94.

“...The Halakhah declares that man stands before God not only in the synagogue but also in the public domain, in his house, while on a journey, while lying down and rising up. ‘And thou shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down and when thou risest up’ (Deut. 6:7).
The primary difference between Halakhic man and homo religious is that while the latter prefers the spirit to the body, the soul to its mortal frame, as the main actor in the religious drama, the former, as has been stated above wishes to sanctify the physical-biological concrete man as the hero and protagonist of religious life. Therefore, the whole notion of ritual assumes a special form in Judaism. The standard notion of ritual prevalent amongst religious men – i.e. ritual as a non-rational religious act while whole purpose is to lift man up from concrete reality to celestial realms – is totally foreign to Judaism. Acording to the outlook of Halakhah, the service of God (with exception of the study of the Torah) can be carried out only through the implementation, the actualization of its principle in the real world. The ideal of righteousness is the guiding light of this world-view. Halakhik man’s most fervent desire s is the perfection of the world under the dominion of righteousness and loving-kindness – the realization of the a priori, ideal creation, whose name is Torah (of Halakhah), in the realm of concrete life. The Halakhah is not hermetically enclosed within the confines of cult sanctuaries but penetrates into every nook and cranny of life. The marketplace, the street, the factory, the house, the meeting place, the banquet hall, all constitute the backdrop of religious life. The synagogue does not occupy a central place in Judaism...”

I think that it is important to understand this context to gain an insight in to Kabbalist teachings and practices.

Whilst the Kabbalists of 13th century Spain where busy studying the Bahir and Zohar to build up a framework for how the observance of religious obligations had a theurgical effect on the world – Rabbi Abaraham Abulafia seems to fall in to the category of homo religious mentioned by Rabbi Soloveitchik.

But whilst Rabbi Abraham Abulafia’s writings were placed under a ban by the Rashba – he was not declared a heretic. He operated in the same Halakhik framework and was part of main-stream rabbinic Judaism at the time. Centuries later his works are referenced and quoted by some of the great Kabbalists such as Rabbi Chaim Vital and Rabbi Haim Yosef David Azoulay.

Rabbi Soloveitchik has some very interesting things to say (in my opinion) on chaos and void (Tohu and bohu) mentioed in Genesis and Sefer Yetzirah – as well as time in the realm of the spiriti and unidimensional time. So in parts 3 and 4 we’ll hopefully be exploring a depth of beginning & end as well as a depth of evil and good.

Re-Integrating – Part 1

When I started this journey just over five years ago, I was coming from a place of interest in Jewish Magic & Mysticism from a narrow angle. Trying to plumb these mysteries without much knowledge of Hebrew or core Jewish texts, there was only so far I could go. Don’t get me wrong, authors such as Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, Prof. Moshe Idel, Prof. Gershom Scholem, and a whole host of other authors took a quite a long way in to this vast area of study.

However, as I started trying dive deeper – the main barrier that I kept coming up against was my inability to read primary source texts due to my lack of knowledge of Hebrew. Rather than focus on just learning the language, the path that I took was to study the core texts and try to build up a small portion of knowledge that many of the great Kabbalists over the centuries assume their readers have already gained in their early years.

What I have discovered since then is that when not dealing with the complex realms of Jewish laws, there is a huge wealth of opinions, philosophies, and world-views that have flourished. Since the exile following the Roman conquest there has not been a central religious authority (Sanhedrin) to impose uniformity. There is a main stream current of Rabbinic laws, but even within that there is room to manoeuvre as each ruling is judged on an individual basis. Traditions and customs carry a lot of weight too.

Four levels of Interpretation

When I mention that there is plenty of leeway for creativity, interpretation, and innovation of thought in interpretation of texts – I am of course referring to the four levels of interpretation. These are referred to as PaRDeS.

Here are some handy links:
  • Chabad link on PaRDes 
  • Ohr Sameyach link on PaRDes
  • Wikipedia link on PaRDes
The four levels of intepretation of the Torah are:

  1. Pshat: is the simple interpretation of the Torah
  2. Remez: is the different hints and allusions which are contained within the Torah.
  3. Drush: expounds upon the deeper meaning of the verses of the Torah.
  4. Sod: is the esoteric, mystical part of Torah.
The last part, Sod, contains within it Kabbalah.