The Sabbath as an “architecture of sacred time”

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972) posits that the Sabbath is an “architecture of sacred time.”[1] He poignantly argues that while it is true that all peoples of antiquity venerated certain places as holy, the Torah places a far greater emphasis on the sanctification of time versus the sanctification of space. It is no coincidence that the word for sanctity is first associated with the Sabbath. When God blesses the Sabbath day (Gen. 2:3), it literally becomes, “a sanctuary of holy time.”

Sabbath rituals exemplify Judaism’s quest to sanctify time. To the pagan, the notion of holiness is inextricably related to sacred space; as a result, there is a tendency for the primal psyche to project its concept of the divine into an object that is found in the phenomenal world. But the Sabbath is radically different. With the Sabbath, as Heschel notes, human beings leave the realm of holy space and enter into the realm of holy time.[2]

Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn; a shrine that even apostasy cannot easily obliterate.[3]

The Sabbath also exerts a profound economic impact upon a society. As a symbol of sanctified time, the Sabbath releases men and women from the tyranny of a consumer-driven market economy. Keeping the Sabbath must be more than just a mere activity—it must foster a renewal of the soul. The Sabbath symbolizes the ideal state of creation where every creature great and small, stands in cosmic unity together in honor of the Creator. As a symbol of rest and renewal, the Sabbath signifies an inner serenity that permeates the spirit. Continue reading “The Sabbath as an “architecture of sacred time””

Haredi Rabbis “declare war” on the Internet (Part 2)

Understanding the “Real” War Against the Internet

Strangely, Rosenblum neglects to mention the most important aspect about the  Haredi war against the Internet–they fear its self critiquing and self-examination much more than the erotic websites.  Banning the Internet promotes the conspiracy of silence it desires.  Ynet news uncovered a document where the rabbis denounce the websites – the majority of which are daily news publications unsanctioned by the ultra-Orthodox establishment – on grounds that they “pursue all manners of news and gossip that defame our public” and “spread slander, lies and impurities to thousands.”

Haredi rabbis want to create a hermetic seal that will prevent their people from critically examining its community’s leaders, many of whom have been exploiting their flock in almost every conceivable way for decades.

In the same Ynet issue, Jerusalem “modesty squads” says computers containing “abominations” found in apartments rented by yeshiva students, calls on capital’s residents to “stand guard” and have forbidden the ownership of computers in the yeshivas.

The real animus against the Internet is not so much toward the erotic sites, it is toward the news services that openly criticize Haredi power and undermine their authority. Micromanaging or lobotomizing its Haredi community cannot solve the problem here.

What the rabbis are really trying to prevent is the emergence of self-reflective Haredim who are willing to take a hard and serious look at the level of dysfunction within its community. There was a time when child-molesters in the Haredi community could hide and get away with a cloak of unanimity. The Internet has made it virtually impossible for pedophiles to hide. Nor will the Internet hide the financial shenanigans we see among many of the most prestigious leaders of the Haredi community–they too, are now accountable. Continue reading “Haredi Rabbis “declare war” on the Internet (Part 2)”

Synchronicity and Its Meaning for Experiential Faith (Part 2)

The Scarab’s Tale of  Death and Renewal

Here is the story how Jung arrived at this original concept. One of Jung’s patients had a strong rationalistic bent to her personality. Indeed, she challenged and may have even frustrated Jung on many different levels. Jung describes her rationalistic temperament:

My example concerns a young woman patient who, in spite of efforts made on both sides, proved to be psychologically inaccessible. The difficulty lay in the fact that she always knew better about everything. Her excellent education had provided her with a weapon ideally suited to this purpose, namely a highly polished Cartesian rationalism with an impeccably ‘geometrical’ idea of reality.

After several fruitless attempts to sweeten her rationalism with a somewhat more human understanding, I had to confine myself to the hope that something unexpected and irrational would turn up, something that would burst the intellectual retort into which she had sealed herself.

Well, I was sitting opposite her one day, with my back to the window, listening to her flow of rhetoric. She had had an impressive dream the night before, in which someone had given her a golden scarab – a costly piece of jewelery.

While she was still telling me this dream, I heard something behind me gently tapping on the window. I turned round and saw that it was a fairly large flying insect that was knocking against the window-pane in the obvious effort to get into the dark room.

This seemed to me very strange. I opened the window immediately and caught the insect in the air as it flew in. It was a scarabaeid beetle, or common rose-chafer (Cetonia aurata), whose gold-green color most nearly resembles that of a golden scarab.

I handed the beetle to my patient with the words, ‘Here is your scarab.’ This experience punctured the desired hole in her rationalism and broke the ice of her intellectual resistance. The treatment could now be continued with satisfactory results. [1]

Why was Jung so effective in dealing with this type of individual? Maybe because  Jung recognized that modern people have an ontological hunger  for mythic meaning in their lives. Freud would have considered such thinking as an illusion, but Jung believed that the archetypal patterns and symbols reconstellate themselves within the psyche in the form of myths and dreams.

Archetypal Reverberations

The scarab is a good case in point.  In archetypal symbolism, the ancient Egyptians believed that the scarab  symbolized the self-renewal of the sun’s rays upon the earth and also resurrection. Re, then, characterizes the powerful and bright noonday sun, while Atum symbolizes the old and worn-out evening sun. The Egyptian word for this beetle was kheper, a homonym for their word meaning “to come to be” or “to happen,” and the word also became the name of the early-morning sun deity. Continue reading “Synchronicity and Its Meaning for Experiential Faith (Part 2)”

Synchronicity and Its Meaning for Experiential Faith (Part 1)

A Bridge Across Time?

You have probably heard of  this  story before.  Every time I come across this citation, it makes me pause and wonder. American presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy were both tragically assassinated during their terms in office. Despite the difference in time, both of these men share a number of unusual circumstances–or more precisely, coincidences. Consider the following.

– Lincoln’s name has 7 letters
– Kennedy’s name has 7 letters

– In Lincoln’s & Kennedy’s names the vowels & consonants fall in exactly the same place, in the order of c, v, c, c, v, c, c

– Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846
– Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946

– Lincoln was elected president in 1860
– Kennedy was elected president in 1960

– Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln
– Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy

– War was thrust upon Lincoln almost immediately after inauguration
– War was thrust upon Kennedy almost immediately after inauguration

– Lincoln gave Afro-Americans freedom and legalized equality
– Kennedy enforced equality for Afro-Americans

– Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863
– Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963

– Lincoln was loved by the common people and hated by the establishment
– Kennedy was loved by the common people and hated by the establishment

– Lincoln was succeeded, after assassination, by vice-president Johnson
– Kennedy was succeeded, after assassination, by vice-president Johnson

– John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Lincoln, was born in 1839.
– Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated Kennedy, was born in 1939.

– Both assassins were known by their three names.
– Both names are composed of fifteen letters.

– Lincoln was shot at the theater named ‘Ford.’
– Kennedy was shot in a car called ‘Lincoln’ made by ‘Ford.’

– Lincoln was shot in a theater and his assassin ran and hid in a warehouse.
– Kennedy was shot from a warehouse and his assassin ran and hid in a theater.

And the lists goes on and on . . . .It definitely sounds like Fringe or X-Files type material.

Are these parallels just an urban legend, which break down upon deeper and more sober analysis? The skeptic in me would probably answer that question in the affirmative. On the other hand, I am fascinated by the psychology that seeks to discover anomalous parallels.

Faces in the Clouds?

While our minds are hardwired to look for patterns and order in the universe,  sometimes our minds sees things of its own fabrication and invention. It’s a little bit like the stories one reads in the National Inquirer about people in Mexico seeing the face of Satan in the clouds, or like pious Christians who see the face of Jesus etched in the snow. The mind can play tricks on itself–as we know all too well. Just ask David Copperfield, the illusionist extraordinaire. Continue reading “Synchronicity and Its Meaning for Experiential Faith (Part 1)”

A Pre-Shabbat Meditation: “When Shift Happens . . .”

Byline: March 5th, 2010 — 5:45 PM

Life’s Unexpected Upheavals

With all the economic upheaval and uncertainty we face these days, it is important to not lose faith in the possibilities of today’s momentous hour. Nobody can afford the luxury of a negative thought—whether we like it or not, we are on a journey. Where exactly the road is taking us, is anyone’s guess, but the boundaries that have for decades been intact are in a state of movement. When I think about the earthquakes that have devastated Chili, Haiti, and other places in recent times, it reminds me of the economic, psychological and spiritual earthquakes that are forcing us to reinvent ourselves anew.

So far, this has been one real unusual year. It is amazing that life brings us on the threshold of new experiences whether we are ready for it or not.

Shift Happens

A professor once lectured how the borders of the various European nations were all in a state of shift after the cold war was over. The borders of the Czechs, the Hungarians, Russians were changing and so on; all changed. One fellow, with a wry sense of humor, offered the following double entendre: “I hear that even the Poles were shifting (e.g., the North and Southern Pole),” to which the professor quipped, “So what does all of this prove? It proves that “Shift happens.”

Attitude and Change

Indeed it does. Shift happens, whether we like it or not, one must learn to embrace the changes, because if there is any one constant in the universe, it is that change is—and  will forever be—inevitable–except when it comes  from pay phones and vending machines. The evangelical scholar Charles Swindol once said something I can actually agree with, “The remarkable thing we have is a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… We cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.”

The Eternal Flux of Creation

My favorite modern Sufi thinker, Hazrat Inayat Khan, wrote about the ontological nature of change–from the macro–to the micro:

“Life is full of inconstancy, at least so much of life as we can see. It is constant changing activity. A mystic calls life motion. It is constant motion in every aspect, both fine and gross, and in all its planes. Where there is motion there must be change and diversity. If there was no motion there would not have been creation and without change, there could not be diversity. The first two aspects of nature are male and female and the significance of them we can notice by keen observation in all objects and even plants, so that we may see the outcome of motion and diversity in life. Colors and sounds are due to rays of light and the changes of vibrations. The diversity of sounds come from uneven and invisible vibrations, while those of colors are even and visible. So that all that is visible and perceptible in form is constantly changing. It is nature which makes them intelligible and we recognize them as life  . . .”

Our attitude colors the way we experience change. A negative attitude can cripple us, a healthy and buoyant attitude can make all the difference in the world.

Yes, change is inevitable. The boundaries of our lives are always in a state of shift and change. Sometimes we have to touch the nothingness and void in order to experience the miracle of resurrection and renewal. All of this is doable, provided we have but the courage to embrace the impossible, and She [the Shekhinah] will do the rest.

The Three Princes of Serendip

Let me share with you a caveat.

In the medieval period there was a legend about the “Three Princes of Serendip”  (the ancient name for Ceylon). Three young noblemen take off to discover the hidden treasures of the world before them. Rarely did they find the treasures they were actually looking for. But as Providence would have it, these three princes constantly found themselves discovering other treasures that were equally great or even greater which they were not seeking.  In looking for one thing, they found something else.

It dawned on them, that this was one of life’s clever and wonderful tricks. When they realized this, they developed a whole new slant on life, and every day resulted in a new and thrilling experience. Continue reading “A Pre-Shabbat Meditation: “When Shift Happens . . .””

Can a Golem be counted as part of a minyan?

Childhood Memories

As a child, I used to love reading the golem stories attributed to Rabbi Judah Lowe, a.k.a., the famous “Maharal of Prague” (1525-1609).  Since my father came from Czechoslovakia, I grew up hearing many family tales about the golem. These stories were especially delightful since my father was a naturally talented storyteller.  The golem was something like a medieval super-hero who protected the Jewish community from pogroms in its time.  It is interesting to note, that despite the numerous tracts Maharal wrote on various philosophical, talmudic, and mystical themes, never once does he ever refer to the golem that is associated with his name.

What is a Golem?

The term gōlem is a “shapeless mass” (Ps. 139:16), but according to Jewish folklore, a golem is a creature that is made from clay, and is animated by magical and mystical means. One of the more apocryphal stories of the Talmud relates how a 4th century scholar named Rava, magically created a man through the Sefer Yetzirah and sent him to Rabbi Zera. The latter tried speaking to him, but the poor golem could not speak. When there was no response, he declared: ‘You must be a  product of our colleague. Return to your dust!’ and so he died (BT Sanhedrin 65b).

Ironically, it is with no precedent in the Bible, except for the creation of Adam–except, now, it is man who is attempting to act as a mini-creator. How could such hubris not fail?

Indeed, in nearly all the golem legends, it appears that anytime mortals attempt to create human life, it is an activity that is fraught with danger. It seems that our ancestors felt suspicious about the full extent of man’s creative powers. In many of the stories, the golem goes out of control, destroying everything in sight.

Adaptations of the Golem in Western Literature and Cinema

The Frankenstein story is a European re-adaptation of the golem legends. In J. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Hobbit Gollum devolves into a treacherous shape-shifter under the malign influence of the Ring, it seems obvious that the author had these legends in mind.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, the character Data personifies  the golem legend. When attempting to integrate the emotional chip, he becomes capable of erratic behavior–even violence. Countless sci-fi films have developed this theme in numerous tales about humanoid-like robots turning against their masters, i.e., like the Terminator series. Even the X-Files had an interesting episode of a betrothed woman who turns her murdered husband into a golem, in order to avenge his death.

According to some medieval tales, the golem is indestructible; if the golem had been created by writing the Hebrew word “אמת” (emet; “truth”) on its forehead, it could be destroyed by erasing the first letter to produce the word “מת” (met; “dead”). If one had created a golem by placing the name of God in its mouth, all that was needed was to remove the parchment. Continue reading “Can a Golem be counted as part of a minyan?”

Rethinking the Theology of Prayer (Part 4)

The 13th century Christian mystic Meister Eckhart writes that true love must transcend selfish interests; love begins by being genuinely concerned with the welfare of the Other.

Whoever dwells in the goodness of his [God’s nature dwells in God’s love. Love, however, has no “Why.” If I had a friend and loved him because of all the good I wished came to me through him, I would not love my friend, but myself. I ought to love my friend for his own goodness and for his own virtue and for everything that he is in himself. . . .This is exactly the way it is with people who are in God’s love and who do not seek their own interest either in God or in themselves or in things of any kind. They must love God alone for his goodness and for the goodness of his nature and all the things he has in himself. This is the right kind of love.” [1]

Rav Dessler arrives at a similar conclusion. If a person’s love for God does not produce a loving or awaken a loving response, then the love we profess in our prayers to have for God is powerless and ineffectual–the love of God must translate into a love for life.  Anything less is a love of that is based upon receiving rather than giving. If the goal of prayer is to promote our capacity to take, then the ultimate concern of prayer is not the worship of God but the worship of the human ego and desire.

The only way we can ever come to the sincere realization that God is truly a dispenser of love and mercy, occurs when we emulate God by giving of ourselves towards others.  This is the attitude we must cultivate in Jewish life today–especially in the synagogue, for if we continue promoting a philosophy of consumption, we may die from spiritual obesity. Creating a spiritual community takes hard work, caring, sharing in creating ambiance of mutual support. Continue reading “Rethinking the Theology of Prayer (Part 4)”

Rethinking the Theology of Prayer (Part 3)

Now, there are several reasons why modern man finds it difficult to relate to such a personal view of God. Much of this problem is because of the technological and secularized world we have embraced since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, if not several centuries much earlier beginning with the Renaissance. Urban living has seriously impacted our collective and individual capacity to experience personal prayer in a variety of noticeable ways.

Prior to the 18th century, it was easier for the farmer to realize to that the success of his crop depended upon weather conditions that were completely out of his control. In a matter of minutes, a severe rainstorm or hail could cause damage to both crops and freshly cultivated soil. Hence, early man’s keen sense of vulnerability led the farmer to humbly rely on a Supreme Being who would look after him and his needs.

In contrast, the majority of the modern world has access to local supermarkets, purchasing whatever he needs. In the event of a shortage, assignment of blame and responsibility falls not on God, but on human agents, after all it is human beings who do all the sowing, planting, weeding, and harvesting. In short, our perceived sense of self-sufficiency makes us feel as though we are no longer dependent upon a benevolent Shepherd Who looks after our well-being.

For this reason and more, petitionary prayer reminds a worshiper just how depends upon God’s tender mercies.

Judaic wisdom teaches that although it is  physician exercises great skill in carrying out an operation, it is God Who grants the physician the skill and wisdom in facilitating healing for his patient, much like it is still God who grants wisdom to modern farmers in developing technology to combat the effects of drought or insect infestations. With each human skill we employ in our technological world, it behooves us to be thankful to God for giving mortals the ability to improve upon nature. Petitionary prayer can instill an attitude of gratitude.

Along these lines, Ramban (1195-1270) writes: God demands naught of the lower creatures with the exception that man should acknowledge and be grateful to his God for having created him. Aside from the advantages of communal prayer, people should have a place to assemble and express thankfulness to God for having created and sustained them, by simply saying before Him, ‘We are Your creatures.'” Ramban’s point is well taken; petitionary prayer prevents people from idolizing themselves as the source of their prosperity and blessings. Continue reading “Rethinking the Theology of Prayer (Part 3)”

Rethinking the Theology of Prayer (Part 2)

Human beings, since the earliest stages of its history, has always participated in a world of prayer. The English word “prayer” derives from the Middle English preiere, which derives from Medieval Latin precāria, from feminine of Latin precārius, “obtained by entreaty.” In the last posting, we briefly talked about some of the difficulties modern people experience with prayer.

One of the most intriguing critiques regarding prayer expressed in Late Antiquity, comes from one of the most famous and brilliant of the Early Church Fathers–Origen (c. 185-254). Deeply influenced by Hellenistic thought, Origen felt that the idea of asking God for things seemed absurd, for if God is omniscient, He knows what we need without us having to tell Him so. Furthermore, if God is good, He will give us want we need without being asked. He writes:

God knows all things before they come into being and there is no nothing becomes known to him from the fact of its beginning for the first time when it begins, as though it were not previously known. What need then is there to send up prayer  to him who knows what we need even before we pray? For the Heavenly Father knows what things we need of before we ask him (Matthew 2 6:8). And it is fitting that he, being Father and Maker of all who loves all things that are, and abhors nothing which he has made (Wisdom 11:24), should order in safety all that has to do with each one, even without  prayer, like a father provides for his little children, and does not wait for them to ask, either because they are quite unable to ask, or because through ignorance they often want to receive the opposite of what is of use and help to them. And we fall short of God more than those who are quiet children fall short of mind of those who begot them.” [1]

Among modern philosophers, Immanuel Kant wrote nothing about the efficacy about petitional prayer in any of his three great critiques, but in his  philosophic classic, Religion Within the Limits of Reason, Kant  blasted petitionary prayer much in the style of Origen and Maimonides:

“Praying, thought of as an inner formal service of God and [183] hence as a means of grace, is a superstitious illusion (a fetish-making); for it is no more than a stated wish directed to a Being who needs no such information regarding the inner disposition of the wisher; therefore nothing is accomplished by it, and it discharges none of the duties to which, as commands of God, we are obligated; hence God is not really served. A heart-felt wish to be well-pleasing to God in our every act and abstention, or in other words, the disposition, accompanying all our actions, to perform these as though they were being executed in the service of God, is the spirit of prayer which can, and should, be present in us ‘without ceasing.’ But to clothe this wish (even though it be but inwardly) in words . . . ”

He notes, “It is no more than a stated wish directed to a Being who needs no such information regarding the inner dispositions of the wisher; therefore nothing, is accomplished by it, and it discharges none of the duties to which, as commanded of God, we are obligated, hence God is not really served.” [2]

As we mentioned above, Maimonides probably would have agreed.

However, not every modern Jewish thinker thinks so critically about prayer. Rabbi Eliahau Dessler, one of the 20th century’s greatest  Judaic teachers of  the Mussar Movement, takes a different tact. According to Rav Dessler, utilizing prayer as a means for obtaining goods is nothing more than spiritual consumerism; such religious devotion cheapens the very act of worship.

Once this happens, the worshiper becomes what he terms as “a spiritual taker” and that all his/her prayers will  inevitably be by definition, devoid of sincerity. True prayer must divest itself from any tinge of selfish interest for profit. Every worshiper should specifically pray that, “May God’s Name be sanctified through me.” He adds, “If we are to be solicitous of anything, we should pray our prayers should enable us to pursue our ultimate goal and concern: to increase the light of God’s Presence in the world.

The goal of all worship should not be aimed at taking from God whatever we want but instead ought to be dedicated towards giving, for it is by giving we can discover Transcendence. We become most like God only when we give of ourselves. Rav Dessler’s point reminds me of a well known aphorism of the 20th century preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick, who  often said, “God is not a cosmic bellboy for whom we can press a button to get things done.”

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Notes:

[1] Origen and Eric George Day (trans), Treatise on Prayer (London: SPCK, 1954), 94.

[2] Immanuel Kant and Stephen R. Palmquist (trans.), Kant’s Critical Religion (Farnham, UK: Ashgate Pub Ltd, 2000), 456.

Rethinking the Theology of Prayer (Part 1)

Hello everyone,

I thought it would be nice to focus on a topic that I think many of us struggle with–prayer. Here are a few of my meditations.

In our modern age, it is not uncommon for people to think of traditional prayer as childish, if not absurd. Many years ago, I came across an interesting theological objection to the enterprise of petitionary  prayer: If God is allegedly “Omniscient,” then surely God knows what we mortals need, without having us to remind Him!” The question gets even more complex. The individual of the 21st century generally believes more in the physics of natural law than the metaphysics of mysticism.

In a universe governed by natural law, is asking God to alter the laws of physics even appropriate? To petition God in prayer, or to suggest that God can somehow be persuaded to “change His mind,” or show “sympathy” and “mercy” is, from a strict Maimonidean perspective, theologically pointless—even ridiculous. Following Maimonides’ attitude on this subject, the late Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, Lord Jakobovits plainly admits:

“What purpose can be served by formulating our pleas to God? Does the all-knowing God, who knows our needs better than we do, require their articulation of what we feel in our hearts? Still more difficult theologically, how can we hope by prayer to change His will? Our very belief in the efficacy of our petitions would seem to challenge God’s immutability, and even questions His justice, since we should assume that whatever fate He decrees for man is essentially just; why, therefore, do we seek to reverse it?…  But such questions are based on a false, indeed pagan, understanding of prayer as a means of pacifying and propitiating the deity and thus of earning its favors. It was against these perverse notions that the Hebrew Prophets directed their denunciations so fiercely when they fulminated against the heathen form of sacrifices, the original form of worship later replaced by prayer. Like sacrifices, prayer is intended to change man not God. Its purpose is to cultivate a contrite heart, to promote feelings of humility and inadequacy in man, whilst encouraging reliance on Divine assistance. Through prayer, the worshiper becomes chastened, gains moral strength and intensifies the quest of spirituality, thereby turning into a person worthy of response to his pleas.” [1] Continue reading “Rethinking the Theology of Prayer (Part 1)”