By Simcha Krause
With the help of humour the author throws light on how God is perceived by Kabbalah, the mystic heart of Judaism
Harry: What is green, hangs on the wall, and whistles?
Stanley: I don’t know. What’s green, hangs on the wall, and whistles?
Harry: A herring.
Stanley: But … a herring isn’t green!
Harry: Nu, so you could paint it green.
Stanley: But a herring doesn’t hang on the wall!
Harry: Nu, so you could hang it on the wall.
Stanley: But a herring doesn’t whistle!
Harry: Ok, so it doesn’t whistle.
God, the creator of the universe, is limitless, formless, all-knowing and present. Although God has no specific gender, we refer to God as He, because that is how the neutral gender is rendered in Hebrew, the language of the Torah. To reinforce God’s genderlessness, there is a feminine aspect of God called Shechinah, which comes from the root word ‘to dwell’ and denotes God’s transcendent presence as it dwells in the physical world. God is, was, and always will be. He is known as the Ein Sof – Never Ending One, and is called, The Primary Being of the world, according to Kabbalah, the body of Jewish mystical thought. In fact, God is all there is.
According to the famous kabbalist, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (the Tzemach Tzedek) (1789-1866), it is only God’s existence that has no beginning. All other existence, in contrast, is comprised of new creations that did not exist before they were brought into being by Him. God is not time-bound; He alone existed, before time was created. When He created the world, He also created time. To say that God has always existed would limit the expression of God, because always is an aspect of time. God exists independent of time, above the entire framework of chronology. Time is relevant only to created beings.
I told you all that hoping you would ask what our herring joke has to do with God or even if it is a joke. Whether you think it is a joke or not, if you delve into the words a little deeper, you will discover a parallel with how God created the world, according to Kabbalah.
God looked to see what he wanted to create, and then he created the thing He desired from nothing, from no previous existence. Just as Harry, the joke-teller above, could set up his punch line any way he wanted while Stanley tried to poke holes in the logic of it. So too, God is not limited by a linear or logical way of thinking. We may not understand God’s ways, but that doesn’t invalidate them. All it means is that we are limited in our ability to grasp. Nevertheless, in his great mercy and love for us, God patiently allows for and invites our questions.
Benjy was asked by his mother what he had learned in Hebrew School. “Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. When he got to the Red Sea, he had his engineers build a pontoon bridge, and all the people walked across safely. Then he used his walkie-talkie to radio headquarters for reinforcements. They sent F-16s to blow up the bridge and save the Israelites.”
“Now, Benjy, is that really what your teacher taught you,” his mother questioned. “Well, no, Mom,” said Benjy, “but if I told you what she really said, you would never believe it.”
Can God fit an elephant through the eye of a needle? This is a famous riddle posed by the Talmud. The answer is yes! But how? Would he make the elephant smaller? Would he make the eye of the needle bigger? He would do neither. The elephant would remain unchanged, as would the eye of the needle. And under that exact set of circumstances, God would fit the elephant through the eye of the needle. If you say this makes no sense, you are right, but having created that set of rules called logic, the master of the universe is certainly entitled to ignore them.
To enter quotes in story use following :
|We may not understand God’s ways, but that doesn’t invalidate them|
In the beginning, God created heaven and earth. Immediately God was faced with a class action suit for failure to file an environmental impact statement. He was granted a temporary permit for the project, but had trouble complying with the cease and desist order. Appearing at the hearing, God was asked why he began the project in the first place. He replied that he just liked to be creative. Then God said, let there be light. Officials immediately demanded to know how the light would be made. Would there be strip mining? What about thermal pollution? God explained that the light would come from a huge ball of fire. He was granted provisional permission to make light, with the proviso that no smoke would result from the ball of fire, that he would obtain a building permit, and, to conserve energy, would have the light burning only half the time. God agreed and said he would call the light day and the darkness night. Officials replied that they were not interested in semantics.
The six-pointed star of David: a symbol of Kabbalah
God said, let the earth sprout vegetation, seed-yielding herbs and fruit trees producing fruit according to their kind. The EPA agreed as long as native seed was used. Then God said, let the waters swarm a swarming of living creatures, and let fowl fly over the earth, across the expanse of the heaven. Officials pointed out that this would require approval from the department of game. Everything was okay until God said he wanted to complete the project in six days. Officials informed him it would take at least 200 years to review the application and the environmental impact statement. After that, there would be a public hearing. Then it would be 10-12 months. At this point God created Hell.
Kabbalah speaks of four worlds:
• Atzilut (the World of Emanation), is the highest world. It contains the revealed potential for further creation. It possesses no perceived existence, which is independent of God.
• Beriah (the World of Creation), is the second highest world. It holds the beginnings of creative potential, born of Atzilut, which begin to take on the perception of form or independent existence. The higher order of angels dwell in Beriah as do created souls and the upper Garden of Eden, where certain privileged souls journey as a reward for their meritorious conduct during their lifetime on earth. The divine throne also resides in Beriah. It embodies the concept that the divine begins to lower itself in order to touch the lower worlds.
• Yetzirah (the World of Formation), is the third highest world, where the blueprints are drawn up for final creation and where specific steps are taken to bring them to fruition. The lower order of angels – those with a specific mission – resides in Yetzirah, and the lower Garden of Eden abides here as well.
• Asiyah (the World of Action), is the fourth world, the world in which you and I live. In Asiyah, we witness the most convincing representation of independence from God. Sadly, this is because in Asiyah, we are the most removed from Him, and the dazzling radiance of God is the most concealed. This total concealment gives rise to free choice, such that a person is permitted to choose whether he will serve God according to his will. Asiyah embodies the ultimate purpose of creation, where God has provided us with both the map and the guidebook so we can actualise that purpose, to make our world an abode in which he will desire to dwell. From free choice springs the notion of evil and the threat of hell.
According to Kabbalah, evil was created from the sitra achra, the other side of God. In other words, it originates from God, so it must have hidden elements of goodness, but not in the way you may think. Evil is a way by which God tests humanity’s actions. This is compared to a king who sends a temptress to seduce his son, the prince. The temptress must follow the king’s orders and do everything in her power to seduce the prince, all the while hoping that the prince will not succumb to her allure. Therefore, too, evil, in the form of our evil inclination, entices us with all sorts of worldly attractions, hoping that we will reject them.
Simcha (Sam) Krause has taught Kabbalah/Chassidut, as an adult education introductory course and is currently working on two other manuscripts.
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