Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kabbalah: the way to God or a game for adults. (part 1)

In the last couple of decades, the Chasidic movement geared its teaching toward spiritual Judaism.  Unlike the rigid, outward, rules and regulation of Orthodox Judaism, the Chasidic movement, and especially the Lubavitch section, framed and displayed for the people a brand new kind of Judaism.  A vibrant and experimental Judaism that seeks to be relevant and truthful.  This movement, with it's emphasis of spiritual life, positioned itself to sit on the shoulders of the giant Kabbalah which is based on the "ספר הזוהר "-Sefer Hazohar- (Book of Splendor).

Great scholars like Carlibach, Kook and others, were so successful in introduced Kabbalah study to modern Judaism that today it is viewed by many as a new wave of spiritual Judaism.  Kabbalah today is identified with Jewish celebrities such as the late Elizabeth Taylor, Jeff Goldbloom, and even non-Jews as Madona.  What is the pull that the Kabbalah has on people?  Why is there a renewed interest in mystical spiritualism with all its colorful options?  To answer this question we need first to take a look at what the Kabbalah has to offer.

Some key ideas of the Kabbalah

The Kabbalah is trying to achieve an intimate union with God through personal experience.  It teaches that acquiring knowledge of the mystics of the godly realm is necessary to achieve this union.  Starting with the " ספר ההיכלות "- Sefer Hahechalot- (  Book of Palaces), the Kabbalistic mindset was aimed at acquiring a lofty knowledge on godly mystery and the higher realm.

"ספר היצירה "- Sefer Hayetzirah- (Book of creation), illuminates "Ten Sephirot"-Enumerations- which according to the belief emanates from God.  According to Kabbalah, the the Sephirot illustrate the outward embodied of God and His inward character.  " הבהיר "-Habahir- ( book of Illumination), is trying to picture God's nature by developing a theory that there are different powers and dimensions in His existence. Even the godly boundaries are investigated and mapped out by a "hidden tree" that tries to picture the structure of God's creative powers.  God, who is referred to as "אין סוף " -Ein Sof-( infinite), is an unknown.  The only way to know Him is through His attributes, as defined by the Ten Enumerations.  The Sephirot are inseparable from the Ein Sof.  As the Book of Zohar puts it, The Sephirot are God and god is the Sephirot.  Together they represent what the Kabbalists call " העולם העליון "- Haolam Haelyon- ( the higher realm).

Under the Haolam Haelyon, there exists our world " העולם התחתון "-Haolam Hatachton- (the lower realm). ( Later on, Kabbalists from the town of Tzefat will insist that there actually three worlds that are higher than our world, each of them with a similar structure of Sephirot).
The lower realm (world) is parallel to the higher realm (world), even as the higher world is characterized by perfection and harmony, the lower world is flawed and broken.  Our world, (in a Neo-Platonic way) illuminates the higher world.  The material world is a perspective to what is going on in the realms of the invisible Sephirot.  The Kabbalah claims that sin caused God to exit this world, and that explains why His presence is not available to the dwellers of this world.

The Kabbalah also teaches that since man was created in God's image, every human possesses an inner perspective of the structure of the Sephirot, נשמה -Neshama-(soul)-which is the connection to the God who sits in Heaven.  On the basis of this unnatural connection the Kabbalah teaches that humans can influence the higher world.  Every effort of humankind has a strong influence on the cosmic order of the universe.  Mankind was given a large task-repairing the damage that sin caused.  In Chasidic circle this is known as " תיקון עולם "-Tikkun Olam-(repairing the world).  The means to achieve Tikkun Olam are the Mitzvot.

Under Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, Kabbalah studies were formulated and refined to include the idea that the redemption of the world and the return of the Messiah can be enhanced through the efforts of the Jewish people, with the Kabbalah as the key.  In order to support this mystical plan, the literal interpretation of the Tanach were set aside.  The names of biblical figures and places in the Tanach became symbols pointing to the "Sphirot" and their mystical role.  All kind of numerical systems were invented, supposedly to study the "mystical codes" in the writing of the Tanach and every Hebrew letter received a mystical meaning.  Assemblies in Tzefat and later in Russia and Europe, are aspiring to reach mystical perfection in order to free the redemption and usher the return of the Messiah from heaven.

Custom like דבקות  -Dvekut- (loyalty, devotion) through mystical meditation and "כוונה"-Kavanah (intent) were employed in order to experience nearness, and partnership with the Almighty.  With the growing influence of Chasidic Kehilot, these Kabbalistic customs became an important part of modern Judaism today. Modern Orthodox scholars, like Rav Abraham Itzchak Kook and Arieh Kaplan, made the Kabbalistic theology and philosophy quite popular, as did The Lubavitch Rebbe.
But the question remains, Is the Kabbalah a true teaching?

Does the Tanach support the idea of Kabbalah?

 The complete base of Tanach Mitzvot (holiness and love for neighbor) was newly defined and directed by the Kabbalah.  Whereas the Tanach reminds us of the need to fight sin and return to God with vigor, the Kabbalah teaches that God's respite can be achieved through the efforts of mankind.  The mystical composition of the Kabbalah bestows upon mankind powers that it actually does not posses.  the Kabbalah is trying to be a kind of cosmic machine, fueled by a religion that is based on human works that allegedly can control diety. " The "trick" of Kabbalistic theology is its effort to try and change completely the sovereignty of God.  The role of keeping the Mitzvot was newly defined.  Instead of keeping the Mitzvot because "that is what we supposed to do," The act was given a cosmic meaning which gives mankind the role of a star on the stage of redemption, taking away God's role in it.  It of course stands opposite the message of the Bible that clearly teaches that God Himself is the Initiator and purchaser of redemption.

Next: Redemption, Kabbalah VS. Torah.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Is our God small minded?

There is a growing movement within Messianic Judaism that insists we cannot understand God's word, His Laws, rules and regulations, therefore we must rely on the teachings of the Oral Torah as a necessary partner to the Scriptures. Sometimes I find myself questioning if God really cares for the small thing? Is nothing too small for God? Does God really care if we walk more than five steps without a Kipah (yarmulka)? Is He really upset if we eat a sandwich outside the Sukkah? If I turn the light on Shabbat, eat a cheesecake after a good New-York steak or forget to kiss a Mezuzah once in a while, am I going to hell? Is this the main purpose of God? Is God that board as to tell us not to wear strong colors only balck and white? Will He punish, hate or seek revenge if we don't study Torah 12 hours a day? If we use logic, the answer to these questions have to be a resounding, NO! Is watching over us to keep all the thousands different Mitzvot, halachot and prohibitions, is what God is so interested in, or is He beyond this samall-mindness? The halachot, mitzvot, the do's and dont's create traditions, Traditions create religion, religion creates separation between people, it causes pride in the individual, because he comes around to thinking that somehow, by doing mitzvot and deeds that the other don't he is better than them. Note the "Kosher" and the "Glat Kosher." Logic will tell us that God is not basing His evaluation of us on the keeping of this or that mitzvah. Good deeds are suposed to come from the heart, not from seeking any reward. Even in a cursory reading of the Torah, we discover that the mitzvot God gave us were completely different in their intent, and way we are supposed to do them from what we understand and do today. Moreover, the mitzvot change according to the time, culture and place. God did not wake up one morning and decided "today I will prohibit them from eating Cheesburgers!" God gave us Laws and commands to remind us on a permanet basis who we are, who He is,His person and attributes. Of course the glaring problem, throuout the Tanach and until today, is that our people, led by the religious leaders, failed to understand this. Instead of serving God, the religious leaders want us to serve the laws that are supposed to remind us of Him. They made the rules, the fence, the frame to be holy, instead of the One the frame is pointing to. Throughout the years, instead of concentrating on God, the Rabbis expended the frame to include more and more new, invented rules and regulations. Even thogh God gave us a different message: " For I delight in loyalty, rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings." (Hosea 6:6). Since Israel failed, God promised, through the Prophet Jeremiah, that in the future He will cut a New Covenant with His people. (Jerem. 31:31-34). The New Covenant will bring a few chnges: 1) The Laws will be absorbed in the heart of the people who will accept the New Covenant. 2) " They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them..." That means that our ties with God will be renewed only through this Covenant. Young or old, priests or ley people. 3) "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." That means that the New Covenant will be the perpetual sacrifice for our sins. More than a third of the commandments are not possible to keep today. But the principles behind them are still valid. Throughout Jewish history, the Jewish people lost the understanding of the tenets of the commandments. So much so, that between the Judaism of 2000 years ago and today's traditional Judaism, there is no connection or similarity. God made it clear to the Israelites, theoughout the Tanach, that He does not want their empty deeds, and their "pretends." God wanted their hearts "...For man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Sam. 16:7). See the story of the serpents in the desert (Numb. 21). All the people needed to do is to look up to the bronze serpent and have faith. So, we can see, that traditional Judaism today is in a dilemma, one one hand it has to provide a קרבן -sacrifice, on the other hand, there is no Temple and no way to offer a sacrifice. The Sages constructed a whole labyrinth of rules and regulations to remedy this problem, but the Tanach offered a simple solution, THE MESSIAH. OH, please Lord, open their eyes...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The oral Torah. Authority of God or man?

Skepticism should not be thought of as a dirty word. Even for believers. There is nothing wrong for us believers to question things that Judaism sees as sacred, such as the Talmud. Quite often the Apostolic Writing is bashed by traditional Judaism, for the reason that it claims to be as authoritative as the Written Torah. But at the same time the Rabbis own a vast amount of documents that were written many years after the Torah itself was written, which they claim as holding a greater authority than the Torah. According to traditional Orthodox Judaism, Moses, at Sinai, received two sets of Laws, rules and regulations. The "written Torah" which includes the five books of Moses, and the "Oral Torah" that they claim, was given in order to be transmitted to the leaders of Israel. This "Oral Torah" is a series of arguments, opinions and commentaries that enable each generation to interpret the Torah according to the needs of that time. In this way, the Rabbis say, the Written Torah remains inflexible, and irrelevant. The need for such an accompanied document is usually explained in this way: "God told us not to work on the Shabbat day. But what constitutes work? God surely would not tell us to do something without explaining how to do it in the right way, right? Therefore the "Oral Torah" is absolutely necessary." Because of this claim, the Rabbis own an incredible vast amount of volumes that explain every outlook of the everyday life of a Jew. This, astonishingly, makes the Rabbis not only emissaries of the new laws, but the makers of these laws. Orthodox Jews will say that this transfer of authority is part of God's plan, like it is really a fact that God gave His authority to this process. Some, explain it in this way: "actually, God limit Himself from intervening directly in the halachic process. He prefers an orderly process instead of miracles and voices from Heaven. When supernatural events are allowed to sway halachic decisions, all the structure of Torah study-the pillar on which all Judaism leans- will collapse. The moment the ability of the Sages to interpret Torah is stripped, the arguments and conversation of the Talmud become meaningless. If Judaism is supposed to be a dynamic way of life, which refereshes itself time and again, it is the right of the Sages to decide on a halacha that have to be independent from godly authority of cancellation." ( Natan T. Lopez Cardoso The torah, written and Oral P. 76. So, the question arises, how do we become the people who decide at what level God is involved or not, in the decision making? The Mishnah was the first time that the Oral Torah appeared in writing. It includes data that was available 100 to 200 years beforehand. But, is there any proofe that these "laws" originated at Mount Sinai? This is an important question. If at Mount Sinai there was no authority given to interpret the Torah and set up halachot, then it means that the Rabbis never had any Godly authority to do so. By the same token, Non-Orthodox Jews need to understand that the traditions of their belief are man-made. A tradition that denies Yeshua as Messiah. Many are pointing to certain writings of the Sages that speak of Yeshua cannot be who He is. But aren't these writings a response of Rabbis who lived in the time of Yeshua, who decided that Yeshua is a threat to their authority? Leaders who cared only for their political standing? How accurately was the Oral Torah transmitted from generation to generation? Between Moses and the writing of the Mishanah there were 1000 years in which the Jewish people went through many storms and changes, that included, Living in the Land, exile and assimilation. These events, often, caused the people to forget the Torah Laws. If the Written Torah was neglected so easily, how much more is the case of Oral Torah? Is it really possible for the Oral Torah to be remembered in exactly the same way from Sinai to the Mishnah? The Rabbis state many different reasons to the importance of keeping the character of the OT (Oral Torah), as oral compared to the written Torah. One of the reasons is that keeping the rules oral protects the OT from falling into the wrong hands. If this reason is so important, then why write the OT in the first place? The Rabbis answer is, that if the laws of the OT would not have been written, Judaism would have not survive. They point to the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. But didn't the OT survived the destruction of the 1st Temple? Would not God continue to protect her, if her validity is the case? Is there any hint in the Written Torah for the existence of an Oral Torah? The Rabbis will point to Deut. 17:8-13 and say, that the Rabbis have sole authority to interpret the Torah and tell us how to live our lives. Anyone who refuses to listen to them is guilty of sin in the eyes of God. This is a complete fabrication of the text. These verses do not mention any Rabbis. They only relate to the role of Judges who set at the city gates and decide on difficult cases. The passage does not give the Rabbis, who came later in history, the authority to say to the Jewish people how to handle every detail in their private, or corporate lives. In fact, there is no mention in Scriptures that gives humans this kind of authority, an authority that exceeds the words of the Torah and the Prophets, who spoke through the inspiration of God. The Talmud says that anyone who reject the notion that Moses gave us the written and Oral Torahs, does not have a share in the world to come. There is no hint to that in the Scriptures. Bottom line is, whereas the Tanach does not say anything of Oral Torah, it speaks of a New Covenant to come Jerem. 31:31-33. It is not that the Talmud is devoid of value, but when Rabbis read what Rabbis before them wrote instead of reading the Scriptures themselves in order to seal their authority, authority which denies Yeshua, the Oral Torah has to be questioned.