A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Love: Where Mussar Gets Mystical

Parts of Sha'ar Ha-Ahavah, "The Gate of Love" in The Ways of the Tzaddikim, are hard going (see my previous post on this topic).

Along with other religious traditions, Jewish teaching suffered under the illusions of patriarchal thinking for centuries. Passages like those on 108/109 and 122/123 are reminders that we have to be vigilant in fighting attitudes that denigrate the dignity and full humanity of any person groups of people. In the terms of Torah, this is the ongoing work of hitgalut, revelation.

There is nonetheless much beauty in this chapter. "The Gate of Love" is a doorway to contemplation of the bounds of love and the relationship between love and wisdom. Negotiation of such boundaries are central to the spiritual path of mussar - and central to the human experience.

This middah is also a gateway to mystical dimensions of mussar practice. Focus in particular on pages 124/1255 through 130/31. When the text refers to "knowledge" it is brushing up against a central idea in Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). The word for "knowledge" is da'at and is one of the ways that Divine consciousness manifests in the universe. This is very far from our understanding of ordinary knowledge, which usually refers to information of some kind. Our awareness of da'at takes us to a realm of consciousness that is far beyond ordinary knowledge. We will have a chance to dwell deeper into these mystical dimensions on Thursday.

Love also plays a central role in the theology presented in Rabbi Stone's A Responsible Life. Here he talks in quite different way about the relationship between Divine-human love and love between human beings. Love is central to the idea of responsibility and embracing of ever-widening circles of love and responsibility.

I want to draw out one point in particular: in both Ways of the Tzaddikim's "Gate of Love" and in these first three Chapters of Stone's A Responsible Life we see the idea that the ethical (relationships between human beings) and the mystical (relationship between humans and God) are inextricably bound (see in particular Stone p 24-25). We must never choose between being seekers in the spiritual sense and being people who carry a sense of responsibility and obligation with regard to other people. Their integration is core to a true understanding of Torah.

See you soon.

No comments:

Post a Comment