A poet’s endorsement of the new Genesis commentary


The journey to wholeness may not be lacking in terrors, but it exerts an equally compelling fascination. Metaphors for our desire to be reunited with the mystery from which we come abound throughout world culture; often it begins with a traumatic separation from the source. The Quiche Maya tell us that the gods glazed the eyes of our ancestors so they could no longer see into the Heart of Heaven and watch the gods making love, but left them with a vaguely apprehended memory of that spectacle. The Gnostics spoke of it as a longing. Genesis presents us with its own unique etiology of this longing, a traumatic separation, which Augustine labeled as “Original Sin” for which we must atone. Rabbi Michael Samuel, in his new book, Birth and Rebirth Through Genesis: A Timeless Theological Conversation, has another reading, one which, true to his title, opens the conversation; he prefers to view expulsion from the Edenic womb as an “Awakening.”

More than a decade ago, I found an unoccupied chair across from a dark haired man pouring over a book at a local breakfast haunt, Cool Beans, in Glens Falls, NY. The man noticed my book, Carl Jung’s “Answer to Job,” then asked me what I thought about it. I told him that I was intrigued by the idea that God might learn from man, that a creator might expand his consciousness through his creation. I made this point every semester to students in my Creative Writing classes at Adirondack Community College by quoting from the Tablet of Ptah, perhaps the earliest Egyptian account of creation, which Joseph Campbell dates at least to the second millennium BCE.

What the eyes see, the ears hear and the nose breathes

they speak to the heart. It is the heart that brings forth

every issue, and the tongue that repeats the thought

of the heart. Thus were fashioned all the gods…*

“Rabbi Michael Samuel,” he stuck out his hand. “You can call me Michael.”

Michael told me that he, too, was moved by Jung’s idea that both the unfolding of creation and the dialogue between man and God represented the birth and expansion of consciousness. What was thought by the heart, and spoken by the tongue into recognizable form, might also describe the fundamental process of psychological development Carl Jung called Individuation, which drew on latent intelligence of both the personal and the collective unconscious rooted in the history of the species through time. Michael pointed out that this was the process described in the first book of Genesis where Elohim speaks the universe into existence, an increasingly complex unfolding of matter from ineffable depths of mind.

From that point on, three mornings a week, we ate our bagels with generous dollops of cream cheese as we shared our explorations. We agreed that myths, including the creation in Genesis, were psychological road maps to the mystery at the center of our own longing to realize the potential for wholeness in each of us. I saw this in relation to my students, so embedded in a culture that assaulted them with an endless fusillade of corporate images and expectations, often at odds with each other, that they had forgotten even the memory of the mystery they contained. Michael was drawn to the challenge of renewing his own tradition by directly evoking in his congregation a longing that moved us to reach for something beyond our grasp. Unless he and his colleagues were able to do this, he observed, they would watch their following diminish, particularly among the young people who craved an experience that gave their lives meaning. Common to both of us was finding a way to open their hearts to the vitality of the world and the interconnectedness of creature and creator, or what the Maya called the gods making love.

Reading Michael’s book, Birth and Rebirth Through Genesis, A Timeless Theological Conversation, I am delighted to find that the heart-thoughts of our past conversations have made it to the Rabbi’s tongue. In these pages, he has uncovered the pulse in the book of Genesis; to feel it is to renew the longing which is the precondition for psychological growth; to hear it is to revive the memory of an origin and destination buried in each of us.

The book is a profound exploration of metaphors, symbols and structures in Genesis that embody the design of divine mind projected as source and destination, that through the unfolding of this ever increasing complexity we move toward the recovery of wholeness. Rabbi Samuel does this through an inter-disciplinary approach that calls upon the Biblical scholar’s command of history, tradition and philology, the humanist’s grasp of literary narrative, the application of anthropological/sociological resources of the social scientist, and the analytical psychologist’s understanding of developmental and archetypal patterns. His ability to synthesize the intelligence from these disciplines allows him to distinguish the Jungian archetype of The Shadow, that part of the dark material in the individual and collective psyches that must be integrated rather than projected, from the objective existence of Evil, “which has an ontology all of its own” derived from primordial chaos. He discusses The Fall not as the grand betrayal of God by man, but the true awakening of consciousness that can only proceed from the painful separation from the unconsciousness of Eden.

At Cool Beans we talked about the need to evoke the longing that connects us to the enduring forms. Without this, the roadmaps to psychological and spiritual development will dissolve into unguided urgencies and impulsive confusions. Genesis is a text that speaks directly to this if one can read it as Rabbi Samuel does: “God and human-kind co-created human evolution and spiritual growth.” This book gives us a way to read the road-map: “Genesis denotes an inner movement toward the highest possible degree of being…”

At the conclusion of this journey, Rabbi Samuel invokes the spirit of psychologist Viktor Frankel, a Holocaust survivor and the inventor of Logo Therapy. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankel advocates for personal choice based on the developmental goal suggested by the Logos Function in Genesis—the ongoing enlargement of consciousness through a dialogue with the conflicts of daily life. We must engage our Edenic legacy of love and loss. It is a fitting way to end a book that does just that. Most remarkable about this stunning array of insights is that it leaves space for personal discovery, and time to hear the beat of heart-thoughts behind the words. When I remember of our breakfasts at Cool Beans, and see what has become of them, I feel fortunate to have been a part of this genesis.

Paul Pines,

author of My Brother’s Madness.

When Speaking of the Ineffable


When Speaking of the Ineffable

Like Philo of Alexandria over a millennium before him, Maimonides boldly asserts that the negative attributes of God represent the true attributes.[1] Thus, when we say that “God exists,” that means to say that He is not nonexistent; when we say that “God is wise,” that is another way of saying that God is not foolish. When we describe “God is knowing’” that is another way of saying that God is not ignorant, hearing and seeing excludes ignorance, and so on; in no way is God ever circumscribed by the qualities that mortals project unto Him. This approach is sometimes called the via negativa (“the way of negation”). Maimonides regards all Biblical predicates about the personality of God as homonyms, i.e., when speaking about God, all anthropomorphic descriptions connote an entirely different reality than is commonly assumed.

Maimonides writes that we cannot know anything about God per se; God’s essential character is completely incomprehensible to mortal minds. Human beings at best can only describe what God does in the world but will never be able to discern what God is.[2] In all likelihood, Maimonides would have agreed with Otto’s language that God is “wholly other,” in that the Holy utterly transcends the bounds of human reason. Maimonides concurs, for him, God cannot be categorized by human thought per se. The way we represent God to ourselves cannot adequately describe the nature of the Divine reality. Maimonides’s”negative theology” emphasizes the discontinuity between God and the world, Though God’s Presence (Shekhina) is intimately and organically related to the cosmos, God is also sovereign over the world. “If the Heavens cannot contain You” (1 Kings 8:27), how much less can philosophical categories hope to represent the nature of the Divine continuum! According to negative theology, every idea—however lofty and spiritual—nevertheless remains a mental picture and thus limiting. Without it, God becomes a creature of the human imagination. Maimonides warns his readers about the dangers of defining God in any image or metaphor.[3] All positive affirmations of God when pushed to the limit must always bow in silence before God’s mysterious nature and being. Maimonides recalls a Talmudic story about how once the rabbis heard a man praying: Continue reading “When Speaking of the Ineffable”