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.
“...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…”
“...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.