Sunday, 30 September 2012

Gaining Altitude Sitting in Divine Space

Rosh Hashannah (New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) are now past and following quick on their heals is the festival of Succot. This is to commemorate living in the desert for 40 years in a miraculous manner, having all bodily needs taken care off for 40 years. It's also a harvest festival.

What this means for me is that I've just finished building the Sukkah (a temporary booth or hut) that I purchased. Unfortunately it's made of a frame of metal poles and canvas sheets for walls. The roof is made of wood sticks with branches. The reason why I say unfortunately is that my Sukkah is basically a big box kite that moves every time the wind blows.

Sitting in a temporary structure that could take flight any moment is not much fun, especially if you are looking to entertain your ancestors. As Rabbi Dennis explains in his blog, we invite one patriarch each night to come and visit.

So my solution to trying to live in a box that is symbolic of living in Divine Space (because really, is there anywhere/when that is not in Divine space/time?) is to go out and buy some soil bags. These bags of earth act as really good ballast and ensure that we have earth to grow vegetables next sprint, tying in nicely with the harvest festival.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Saying Sorry Open Thread

The day called Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement, is on Wednesday 26th September this year (2012). It always falls 10 days after Rosh HaShanna (the New Year). Rather than being a time of ecstatic celebration, it's really a time for reflection and putting right all that has gone wrong between you and your fellow human. That means recognizing what you've done wrong, asking for forgiveness and forgiving others in turn.

It's also a time to align back with the purpose that the Creator formed each and every one of us. Repentance in Hebrew is Teshuvah, literally it means return. Throughout the year we veer off the course that we're supposed to follow. On Yom Kippur we don't eat or drink for 25 hours, take some time to pray (i.e. reflect on what we need, not what we want) and make an effort to return to our original purpose.

This past year I've made a conscious effort not to save up all my teshuvah for Yom Kippur but instead to correct it as soon as I'm aware of the things that I've done wrong. However, if I have caused any offense or insult with this blog, I would like to offer you my sincere apologies.

If on the other hand this blog has made you look at things in a new light and challeneged you to re-evaluate part of your world-view, then my work here has had some benefit.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Straw Man on Luria's Influence

Here is a reply to a recent email list discussion about the Tree of Life. The question of why the ideas of Rabbi Isaac Luria continue to dominate so much since the 16th century was raised. Here is my somewhat rambling reply.

Go with the Majority opinion in Halacha
In terms of Jewish law (Halacha) we go with the majority opinion. Also we go with the most recent opinion and rely on older ones where no recent ones are available. An example of this is with identifying whether someone is a potential Messiah. As far as I am aware we still hold with the opinions of Maimonides in the Mishneh Torah.  
On the other hand, when it comes to metaphysics, angels, etc. there is no one opinion that everyone should follow. Rather opinion varies and has for many centuries. There are numerous differences of opinion between Mainmonides and Nachmanides about whether angels can corporeal or not, whether Abraham was visited by angels or whether it was all a dream. From my understanding one position is not more correct than the other.
My main point being that in Jewish law we go according to majority opinion. This does not apply to Kabbalah (although there are accepted trends such as less focus on Merkabah mysticism and much more on Sefirot and the Tree of Life)

Descent/Ascent of Generations
Related to the above, there is an idea that I have come across on many occasions which is that whilst with regards to Jewish Law our understanding is diminishing in every generation that passes from Mount Sinai to today - the opposite is true in terms of understanding the inner mysteries of the Torah and creation. The Tanach (written law) was canonized at a certain stage in Jewish history followed by the Talmud (oral law) some time later. Since then halachic thinking has adapted in each generation to cope with the challenges of the day.  
In the timeline of Kabbalah in Jewish learning there have been several major periods of "flourishing" and innovation (or revelation depending on who you read). The Merkavah mystics were around after and/or during the second temple. At the same time there are such texts as Sefer Yetzirah and Sefer HaRazim. The next period in which much gets written are the Hasidei Ashkenaz in Germany in the 12th century followed by the publication of the Bahir and Zohar in Spain in the next centuries. Then another flourishing in Tzefat in the 16th centruy under Isaac Luria (and many others), followed by the Hassidic movement in the 18th century to the revival today. OK, that is a bit of a potted history but it hopefully illustrates that the evolution of ideas, practices and body of knowledge over time. 
So to come back to the original question about why so much focus on Rabbi Isaac Luria and his version of the Tree of Life? I think that it was a pivotal moment when new ideas were disseminated that followed on from the previous big impact moment of the publication of the Zohar. Rabbi Luria held (in my opinion) quite conservative views on practical use of knowledge of Kabbalah and that still resonates with many people today. Depending on what gets taught in schools, homes and yeshivas - those sources influence people's thinking and whilst today I see that Lurianic Kabbalah has a lot of influence, Rabbi Abraham Abulafia and others are "making their presence known on stage" so to speak and I look forward to seeing how trends and practices in Kabbalah evolve and change in my lifetime. 
Sorry that was a bit of a rambling reply and in summary my thoughts are:
  • In Kabbalah, there is no hard and fast "this is right and that is wrong" only trends that define mainstream thought in each generation
  • Each generation has the potential to reveal more of the inner mysteries of the Torah in Kabbalah
  • Lurianic Kabbalah has dominated for a number of centuries in some circles but as more manuscripts get published this could well change

Monday, 10 September 2012

New Project: leaping forth from the Bashan

"Of Dan he said: Dan is a lion cub, leaping forth from the Bashan" (Deuteronomy 33:20)

The new NFL season  has started. I'll be supporting the Detroit Lions again. This year's lion inspired verse from scripture is mentioned above.

The Hebrew verse (Deut 33:22) uses the words "Gur Aryeh", meaning lion cub or young lion. The phrase sounded very familiar and a quick Google search confirmed that it is the title of a supercommentary on Rashi's Pentateuch commentary by Rabbi Jehuda Leow ben Bezalel. This being the same Rabbi who is famous in folklore for creating a Golem from clay to protect the community.

In the Artscroll Stone edition of the Tanach the comment on Deut 33:22 is as follows:

"Dan's province being on the Mediterranean coast, he was the first to encounter sea-borne maruaders."

I interpret this to mean that teams whose names are in some way related to sea borne raiders will be a threat to the Lions this season.

Anyway, rather than post about my preparations every week there will only be occasional updates on boosting the Lions performance. Having experimented with several different techniques last year in "A Lion has Roared" project, one Divine in particular has been very effective in getting results. That is the one that I will be using before every match.

One side effect though is that whilst using this Divine name is slightly over the top, in a similar way that using a wrecking ball to open a nut is over the top. It does give me a thumping headache a day or two afterwards, particularly when I am out of practice with meditation in general.

Game result:
Sun, 09/09 at 1:00 PM EDT
St. Louis Rams vs Detroit Lions
Home: Ford Field
Win: 27 - 23

Thursday, 6 September 2012

A Breakdown Structure of Angels

The other day my eldest child asked what an angel was. The word “angel” had appeared ever so briefly in conversation and whilst my wife was reluctant to answer the question to one so one, my response was “it's a servant of the Divine”.

However, as soon as I said that sentence I became rather conflicted. Fortunately my conflict was masked by an animated discussion on farm animals and how best to lay them out on the playmat. But in my mind there was a raging debate whether I should follow Maimonides' explanation of what angels are, or follow those Rabbis at the other end of the who hold quite different views.

Whilst in Jewish law there are numerous opinions and the minority opinion is recorded, we rule according to the majority (and even then there is some difference of interpretation). Not so with regards to metaphysics and ideas about for example angels. There is a spectrum of opinions and it's not the case that we follow the majority opinion.

Here are a few quotes from Rabbi G. Dennis' “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism”:

pp.14 column 2

“...There also emerges a fundamental disagreement about the nature of angels. Some consider angels to be God's “embodied decrees,” while others regard them to be elementals made of fire, like an Islamic ifrit, or from an impossible combination of fire and water (Sefer Yetzirah 1.7; S of S R. 10; J. R.H. 58; Gedulat Moshe). Others regard them as immaterial, disembodied intellects. Likewise, there seems to be an ongoing controversy about what, or whether, angels eat (Judg. 13; Gen. R. 48:14; B.M. 86B; Zohar I: 102b)...”

As you can see there is quite a variety of opinion and the debate carries on today as it has for the past millenia and will continue for the next millenia. The dillema for me though is, whose opinion do I quote when I get asked: “but what is an angel made from?”, “can I see one?”, “do they drink milk?”, “why do they follow us back from payers on a Friday night?”.

Rabbi Dennis continues, p14. Column 2 (lower down)

“...Unlike the biblical writers, the Sages allow themselves to speculate on the origins of angels. They teach, for example, that angels did not pre-exist Creation, but were formed as part of the heavens on the second day (Gen R. 1:3, 3). Another Rabbi posits that they came into existence on the fifth day, along with all “winged” and “gliding” (bird and fish) creations. Later traditions reconcile the different positions by asserting different kinds of angels came into being at different stages of Creation (Chag. 14B; PdRe 4)... Gradually a distinction emerges between names angels, which are enduring, and anonymous ephemeral angels, which are constantly coming in and going out of existence (Chag. 14A; Gen R. 78:1)...

Maimonides does not believe that angels ever take corporeal form and that they are either human impulses or Aristotelian “intelligences”. Nachmanides on the other hand believes that they do take on corporeal form and can pass as human. More modern thinkers such as the Chassidic Rabbis take a psychological view of angels.
“...Good deeds created good angels, destructive behaviour created destructive behaviour...” (pp.15 collumn 2).

Having thought about whether to go with Maimonides or Nachmanides, I've decided to go with both and neither. To embrace the differences of opinion as both being right and emphasize that differences of opinion make us stronger. The one thing that I will emphasize though to my child is that angels are not cuddly, nice or have much in common with humans. They are creations like us that serve a purpose and experience has shown that they don't always approve of having us call their attention.