Composer Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring dances effervescently out of my computer. This airy, playful sound of the violin relaxes the air, inviting me to inhale deeply and focus on rays of light leaping through the windows onto the shiny surface of the glass desk. The backyard outside is encircled by a richly textured row of trees from which emanate gleeful bird chirps. What more could I ask for but this pleasant ambience to accompany me as I sit here pondering where I am from and where I am going. I am asking myself great questions, seeking great answers. I am saliently aware of a cosmic narrative of which my experience at this moment is a single thread within. I feel the whole paradox of being a ben adam, a being whose experience spans the land to the heavens, the mundane present of bodily corporeal existence tethered at apex of the mind to an awareness of being an actor in some great no less mysterious divine plan manifest as the flow of history. I can engage with it in my intellect when I study Torah. The great joy of perceiving a fragment of the great song to G-d that is life is interrupted by the sudden shiver induced by my recognizing the seventeenth of Tammuz looming ahead as a storm cloud.
The meteorologists operating from a modern perception of the weather certainly do not experience the emotional intellectual flux of the Jewish calendar inside the self as a feature of reality no less real than the sun, the clouds, and the rain out there in the world. Our tradition binds the entire human experience together so that life is totally submerged in a freshwater pool of G-d awareness. How when we read weather.com‘s forecast for crying clouds this week can we not be stirred to our being by the clouds bespeaking a cosmic cry, the Creator searching through the labyrinth of the world, looking for his lost children, waiting for them to jump from around the corner gleaming with joy and excitement, bursting with the cry “father, we’re back!”
Let’s be honest, is this poignant vision representative of our sentiment towards our tradition? Have we truly plumbed into our tradition to determine precisely what the path out of the maze is and have we bound ourselves to it like tefillin around the arm? I wish tears would stream from my own eyes, just a wave of goosebump percolates down my arms when I feel, even in the tranquility of the writing environment I have created for myself, a sense of emptiness hovering over me. My heart runs forward to look for the divine presence; all I see is the darkness and decay of our world, and our collective complacence-by-indifference with our exile scenario. Who ought we seek but G-d himself, to know him and his ways, as Maimonidies defines as the basic mandate of our people at the beginning of the Mishneh Torah. G-d wants us to seek after him.
Certainly we have an eye to our future but I daresay not to our ultimate future; we seek to perpetuate the mesora[tradition], we do what we can, but it is sacrilegious to argue this mode of existence is all G-d has intended for us, especially with his servants before us having laid the foundations for a future of total spiritual sovereignty latent in the secular Israeli state. I say secular as opposed to Kodesh rather than secular as opposed to religious because the category of “religion” does not do the Jewish people justice and we are won’t to get rid of the term. In my mind, to a first order approximation, a state that is Kodesh is one which knows who it is and can endure in its own singularity and self-assuredness in the truth of a culture-spiritual, political, intellectual all of its own without feeling threatened.
The fundamental teaching of our Torah is our own will actuates history forward starting from when we wake up in the morning. History is designed so that once G-d has arranged for a certain plan to be manifest a human being need only will it and it will be. Avraham’s heeding the call to journey to the Land culminated an epic moment of deliberation where his own will was the missing creative force necessary to initiate the arc of our national history, one which we still hope will lead to our founding an ultimate kingdom under G-d as our Creator-King, where his glory is manifest as our commitment to our covenant. There music of eternity fills the air, the pure effervescent light of divinity radiating from our awareness of G-d and empathic treatment of and communication with each-other. This is the ad olam[~permanently] which G-d has promised us if only we are to respond to a call reverberating throughout millennia of exile. Let me tell you, we have a guidebook. The soul was not dropped into the foreign land of corporeality without a guide back.
Our Torah is a channel through which we, alive in the dynamic and uncertain flux of the everyday, interact with the ultimate, eternal, absolute reality of our Creator-King. Through the mesora we bear our ancestors legacy as our living-mandate, a relentless commitment to upholding-by-living the brit of Har Sinai. In our diaspora we dream of once more meeting G-d at the place of his dwelling on that singular hill in Jerusalem, upon which that great house once stood and still stands in our collective consciousness. By now Yip Harburg’s Over the Rainbow is playing, reaching a stirring high note. Cascading down and invoking a heavy sigh are my feelings of yearning for a great world that once was and still can actually be. The merkava still travels with us, says Yechezkel; look up and you will see it.
The secret formula is not a great secret at all “and now Israel what does Hashem ask from you but to submit in awe to his will, to walk with your whole being along his path, to cling fiercely and passionately to him, to do his work with your whole self. To eternalize the commandments and statutes of Hashem the Transcendent, which I, Moshe, transmit to you for your own Good” (Parshat Eikev)
What must we do? Very simple – pray to G-d to show himself to us when we do the mitzvot. He has promised us in parshat va’etchanan to respond to our every calling out. This formula was invoked by our ancestors in the Egyptian bondage and was exactly what triggered a divine response.
Halachic behaviorism is not enough. As humans and specifically Jews, we are G-d knowing corporeal artificial intelligences. It is only through G-d aware action that the blessing to our forefathers will flow from our dream into our everyday.
Indeed if we truly consider the present era on the world stage a climax is conceivable. The redemptive process of Jewry in our return to Israel as a purely naturalistic phenomenon is an absolute fact of history. There we are thriving and sowing deep seeds which with a combination of our initiative and G-d’s blessing can grow into big trees centuries from now. Think about what Israel can look like in five hundred years, a thousand years, two thousand years!
I think there is apprehensiveness as to the exact nature of the commitment G-d has made to our people with the founding of State of Israel. It takes one truly embracing the narrative of history taught by the Torah to totally suspended emotional and intellectual disbelief and internalize the possibility that this moment in history is ripe for our actively making it the end of the exile. Perhaps if we dream big and act prudently in the interests of national preservation and flourishing we really can create an entity which will endure for eternity, one without strings attached to it. This would be the rational conclusion after an induction on the upwards arc of history that has accelerated in our day. I dream of a day when we can let the anxiety of the diaspora fade away – whether it be fears of assimilation, a desire to emulate the other nations, fear of the outside world, questions how to resolve the paradox between western civilization and judaism, you name it – and start embracing our own tradition in a totally holistic and idealistic manner. When we will be the ones who define our own national ethos rather than it being reactive to the conditions of exile, when we will let the divine wisdom radiate forth, then we will have achieved redemption. This process I am confident asserting is in our hands to realize. It starts with a pioneering vision to actually seize a moment of keen G-d awareness and run with it. We need to convince ourselves how real this narrative is and how heavily the moment calls for us to really reach out to G-d.
A pasuk from yechezkel comes to mind: וְיָשְׁב֣וּ עַל־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁ֤ר נָתַ֙תִּי֙ לְעַבְדִּ֣י לְיַֽעֲקֹ֔ב אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָֽשְׁבוּ־בָ֖הּ אֲבֽוֹתֵיכֶ֑ם וְיָשְׁב֣וּ עָלֶ֡יהָ הֵ֠מָּה וּבְנֵיהֶ֞ם וּבְנֵ֤י בְנֵיהֶם֙ עַד־עוֹלָ֔ם וְדָוִ֣ד עַבְדִּ֔י נָשִׂ֥יא לָהֶ֖ם לְעוֹלָֽם׃
“And they shall dwell on the land I have given to my servant Jacob, which your forefathers have dwelled upon and you and your children and descendants after them will for eternity, and David my servant will be a prince over them forever. “
And we say with a teary eye:”you mean forever?”
G-d says: “that’s right, forever and ever,”
We, still incredulous and choking in tears at this point respond once more: “you mean…this is it, it’s over, really over…forever?”
And G-d responds: “forever, and ever, and ever, I’ll be with you always…”
…I am confident in the truth of my conviction that the barrier standing between the Jewish people and the beginning of the process leading to the actual messianic age is a vacuum of substantial understanding in thought and action of who G-d is. It would be too much to say we should all need to become metaphysicians or kabbalists but to actively and rigorously cultivate serious and mature views seeking to merge our phenomenological world and our notion of G-d could go a long way for us collectively.
It is the intellect, symbolized by the Menora, which happens to be the symbol of our State of Israel, from whence all wisdom and understanding descends, that which enlightens and invigorates with the energy of divinity. The tanach is essentially a storybook revealing history as an ongoing dialogue between human will and the stage set by G-d. The historical process is transformed into a divine drama when a human being is gifted thought at the frequency at which G-d operates and is then able to discern a consistent pattern to the story of humanity, the Jewish people, and to their own self. The latter is no less a component of the divine drama than tanach itself is. Certainly there is a great epistemological barrier between the quality of revelation in the tanach and that of life in 2020. The difference is one of order of magnitude rather than absolute in category. Our notion of G-d is in fact to a large part determined by the natural circumstances we find ourselves in, what Maimonides would call natural revelation and the chassidic tradition would reference as the light of the Ein Sof which fills all worlds (mimale kol almin beshaveh, present in all realms of consciousness equally). The fact the oral Torah is taught out of texts rather than transmitted orally, that some of us, like myself, have a foot or more in western civilization, and the particular form of judaism we practice at this day are all artifacts of the historical process of exile we have endured all inform our notion of the actual G-d of our real experiential world.
We are missing a certain sensitivity to the divine apparent in the everyday in our real experienced world. This very moment is mundane only because its location in the matrix of the divine plan isn’t apparent. We can feel a certain emotion or have a certain thought but very difficult is to reach a point of unequivocal perception of a guiding divine hand. The more we seek after G-d and commit rigorously to engaging with him in life the more we grow in our perception of his immediate involvement in our life narrative. To see the world this way is a choice but is also a necessity if we are as a nation to collectively revive an era when our actual lives would be experienced as sequela to biblical narrative.
In the realm of truth, the Halachic act is the pedestal upon which one forms a strong awareness of G-d at every juncture as one lives life. The Torah wraps mundane action in the garments of infinity. An observer external to Judaism could not possibly perceive the cosmic significance to a Halachic act. The Torah is encrypted so that only those within the mesora are calibrated to appreciate its truth. Those on the outside may see flashes of immense wisdom in Jewish life and ideas but the core of our mesora is impenetrable to anyone unwilling to make the ultimate commitment to it.
We are currently in a national state of exile, meaning we are embedded in a foreign reality and not our native space of consciousness; because of our relentless commitment to fulfilling our role as ovdei hashem [servants of g-d] and as fierce and unrelenting guardians our mesora we have merited to persevere ad hayom haze[to this day]. Keen sociological-psychological-philosophical understanding cannot explain the mechanism by which our people has remained in existence until today. It is unequivocally the case then our tradition behaves like an eternal fortress, one which to the outsider may be nonsensical but to a committed oved hashem is the most advanced form of technology introduced within history with which the Jewish family acting in the immediacy of the present space-time-mind moment to participate in the cosmic drama orchestrated by G-d..
It is self evident over the course of our exile down to the present day the extent to which divinity is present amongst us in a revealed fashion has relatively dwindled since the era of the first beit hamikdash[temple]. The eternal kedusha [sanctity] field first to descend upon Avraham Avinu has never left us; so long as we fulfill our basic commitment to the path set by the torah G-d remains committed to his side of the covenant. We have undeniably succeeded to this day because of the mutual contributions of our own perseverance and the protective divine hand. Even as we submit to the reality of our exile in Western civilization and commit to normal lives as ovdei Hashem in this context, it remains our existential mandate as a people to attend to our greater and existential national calling.
It is impossible to deny the process of history is actuated by human beings. Avraham was gifted a sensitivity to this knowledge. He chose to begin the transhistorical narrative of the Jewish people when he internalized the reverberating call of lech lecha. It became a reality because he understood the laws and purpose of history which G-d has designed and reached such a comprehension so as to recognize the immanence of the command bearing down on his own person. He experienced the abstract awareness of the human being made to know G-d so very real it bore down on his own will, calling him to action to become the progenitor of the people who would vindicate history. He knew in a way nobody else could know his descendants would ultimately establish an enduring body politic built around the basic principle he had discovered humans are designed to follow after the single G-d, the Creator-King, and to emulate this G-d they know in their thought and action.
The basic teaching of the torah is that history is made as moment to moment action accumulates into lasting effect on oneself and others. The accumulation of a great many decisions to perfect oneself and to know G-d results in lasting individual growth, that which overspills as a blessing to others. Manifest as an enduring tradition passed down parent to child for millennia it can actually come to have a bearing on the arc of the collective human narrative. To the Jewish people, the momentary vacillation to orient towards the divine will or to choose otherwise has consequences which reverberate through time and space with existential ramifications. In a more immanent sense the life of an individual is made whole by their unrelenting willingness to participate in G-d’s drama when they eat, when they think, speak, and work. The torah is the script and we, the people, are actors invited to bring our own individual selves to the basic framework taught to us by Moshe. We bring the script to life by narrating our own lives with it; without us the torah would be a dead parchment.
I am concerned we have collectively lost a sense for what the experience of living as a child of Avraham really is supposed to be like.
For a moment suspend your cynicism and consider the reality of biblical life. G-d reveals himself uniquely to each biblical figure and by extension to us through the literary self presented in the biblical text. Biblical figures are embedded in the narrative they play a role in. Their actions within the particular and local circumstance in which the narrative occurs reveals universal principles vis a vis the divinely orchestrated structure which contours the narrative. As external observers, we cannot penetrate into the lived biblical reality as it was. As heirs to its legacy and agents of the fulfillment of the divine plan, we know it will be real once more. I argue the fulfillment of such a yearning is contingent on our own willingness to make it be so. Basically, the challenge is whether as a nation we can all get to the point of hearing the resounding lech lecha which echoes across spacetime from the actual words which came from Avraham’s throat. We know the call to return to G-d is there but fear responding to it. But it is evident the Torah is the most advanced explanation of the tangible and intangible aspects of being known to humanity(Rabbi Bannet on yesodblocks.com has a very avant-garde presentation).
Ask yourself who you want your descendants a thousand years from now to be. The Jewish condition is to always be looking ahead. Just like G-d’s ineffable name bespeaks his transcendence – haya, hove, viyhiyeh – the Jew stands as the force in the present propelling past into future.
I have learned I attach myself to a certain conception of truth based on a combination of the possibilities my intellectual, moral, emotional predispositions generate and my will which makes one option real amidst an array of alternatives. How relate to the present moment is a choice which I am not confident has been well addressed in our day. Unless one is Moshe himself, it is extremely dangerous to be certain one’s own perspective, even within the Tradition, is completely aligned with the true arc of the divine narrative. I have asked myself over and over again: had I lived in the days of prophets would I see the world as I do now. It has become ever more evident to me my entire perception of reality needs to change. My notion of self, my usage of language would all become absorbed in a gestalt of G-d awareness which I am trying to construct.
If there is anything Jews themselves can do which would propel them into the prosperous future of spiritual and political self determination which we have dreamed for during our millennia of exile we ought to take such advice extremely wisely. If we do not it is either because we are sure the advice is not fitting or if it is strategically calculated to produce a desired effect it is us who are not attuned to perceive the truth in it.
The point of my vignette is to demonstrate how collectively difficult it is for us to finally let down our existential garb of worry. We have lost so much and are able to get by on so little that we can’t ourselves see the full picture of the divine gift that is up for the grabs RIGHT NOW!!!!
Reader, on behalf of us all I beseech you to follow Avraham’s lead in making a resounding declaration of total and existential commitment
Sing the word aloud, again and again until you have given it Reality.