God is here!

From Reb Zalman’s 2004 lecture given at Elat Hayyim and published by Spirit of the Desert Productions, R Sarah Leah Grafstein, may she be blessed!

Samachti B’omrim Li Beit Hashem Nelech. I was so happy to come to Shul today because there was a resurrection of a part of the Davvenen that, by and large hasn’t been happening anymore in the way in which one finds it in the average synagogue.

How so? Because when you’d come in to shul on Shabbos morning, first there are [only] a couple of old-timers there. [Then,] they send an old-timer over to the Amud and he buzzes through Pesukei D’Zimra.

So the worlds of Assiyah and Yetzirah [where one is to get in touch with] the action directives where Torah flows into our lives and the places where we get excited over God, that was sort of [glossed over]…

Finally, the Cantor would get up and sing, “Shokhen Ad Marom“, etc. and then it would begin, (as far as the “service” is concerned).

Barukh Hashem we are resurrecting the body in Birkhot Hashachar. And it’s so beautiful to see how people get into their bodies and dedicate the sight of the eyes [with] Pokeach Ivrim, Zokef K’fufim / the stretch and everything else; and we are in the body.

And then, for all the times that it says, “Praise God with a drum and with a dance,” and people were saying that [buzzing through quickly], what was happening [in the text], i.e., a drum or a dance or something like this, wasn’t happening in shul.

So for this, I’m very very grateful: Shehechiyanu v’Kiy’manu v’Higianu Laz’man Hazeh that I lived to see this being resurrected and brought back to people in davvening.

There is another area which needs some great, great work. And I feel like Jacob on that night he had to go across the river and pick up the last bits that he had left there. So before I can go on up with the ladder and deal with things that come at the end of life, I feel that the Pachim K’tanim [that] there a few containers, small containers that haven’t been recovered yet.

And it turns out this one happens to be a biggie and not just a small one. It may look small, but it’s a biggie. Let me spell that out.

Every one of us went through a period when we were doing the debunking of childhood religion. “So God is not an old guy with a beard sitting in the sky!”

And we did some philosophy and we did some meditation. And there, we got to hear about Eyn Sof.

I remember when I heard of Eyn Sof the first time, [I thought,] “Wow!!!!” All of a sudden, the little God, Gottenyu, became Eyn Sof.

How wonderful it was. it opened me up to understand the words of the Adon Olam: Adon Olam Asher Malakh B’Terem Kol Yetzir Nivra. Lord of the world you reigned before anything was created. In other words before the Big Bang God. L’et Naasah B’Heftzo Kol Azai Melekh Sh’mo Nikra. So from the Big Bang to the last black hole ever is God’s present Adonai Melekh. After the last black hole, Adonai Yimlokh L’olam Vaed. Wow!

And it was such a mind-stretcher to figure that from the beginning of this universe to its end is God’s now, God’s present. And that mind stretching helped me a great deal to the point that I got to see that when we talk about the Ofanim, the wheels, that instead of thinking Ezekiel saw a wheel way in the middle of the air as a sort of windmill there, I got to ask myself who are the wheels? And I figured they are the planets. And then, when you see that from Mercury to the moon and all the way out to Pluto [is so vast]; and Pluto’s Shannah Tovah happens once in 250 years. And when you get to see these are just the Ofanim [we are talking about], and we still haven’t yet gotten to the Hayot Hakodesh, then Wow!

So who are the Hayot Hakodesh / the holy animals? We call it the Zodiac, the Zoo-diac, the Great Zoo. The great Bear, Leo, Aries, all those wonderful animals. And you begin to understand the vastness of time and space that we include when we say Hayot Hakodesh.

And then, while our tradition say that the Serafim have six wings, with two they cover their face, with two they cover their leg and with two they fly, and when you figure the Serafim are standing up in adoration to God raising all six wings fiery, then you can understand what a menorah is about. [It is alluding back to the Serafim!] Picture that in your mind’s eye.

So this is [all] so wonderful because it is mind stretching.

And [from this place] the God [notion] doesn’t become small; in fact, God becomes a little too big. In which way too big?

The Ribbono shel olam who has to listen to the Serafim who, (even according to the Talmud), when they say holy holy holy is the Lord of hosts the whole world is filled with God’s glory each holy takes 2000 years. So one gets a sense of the timescale, etc.

So Mah Enosh Ki Tiz’krenu U’ven Adam Ki Tifk’denu / What’s a human being that You should be mindful?

And so there happens to be a receding there because God gets to be so big for us that we have to recede to the place in which we become insignificant to God. And that is a heresy that’s greater than the heresy of thinking God is too small.

Follow me with this. This is really important! In order to bring God into my life, I have to have a sense that it doesn’t matter for God whether we are dealing with a muon or a psion, (those charms, those particles that live less than a nanosecond) or galaxies that burn out over billions of years. They’re all in the presence of God. And in that present, my lifetime, your lifetimes, do have significance. Because for all that the cosmologists are telling us, this cosmos had so many things that could go wrong. And it was so fine-tuned and they call that fine-tuning the Anthropic Principle.

It’s that principle in creation that makes it possible for human beings to be conscious.

Now when I’m aware of the Anthropic Principle and then I ask myself whether I really belong here: “Am I just an oops of God?” The answer is “No!”

So if that’s the case, then how do I connect? How do I make that connection?

So when we say Barukh Atah Hashem in our tradition there’s been this wonderful sense that Avraham Avinu could say, “Come on judge of all the earth! Is that which you are about to do in Sodom what you call justice?”

That kind of awesome questioning doesn’t happen in any other religion!

And yet, I love them all. Were someone to ask whether there is a religion I don’t like, it’s not so. Because I’m a spiritual “Peeping Tom” and I want to see how people “get it on” with God. Each time I get a sense of “Oy! You know? This is real! This is real! Their God is real! There is something that’s happening between us human beings and God [in their practice]. That presence is here now!”

It’s the importance of that presence in the here-and-now which escaped us in Hebrew school. It escaped us in the books that we read. Because all that we encountered in our education, in our books are, by definition, not in the present we are addressing.

Reading and education emphasize a part of the mind that likes to deal with concepts. A “concept” is like a handle I’m using to hold up a cup. It’s a grabbing means, con capto, I grab it with my hand, I take hold of it. [But for concepts of God, there’s no handle].

The Germans call concept a Denkmittel: [Lit.] the means for thinking about something.

And when I have these things, these ways of thinking about something, I always see them as objective.

And when I was just talking about Eyn Sof and all that kind of thing, it still gives the impression that God is out there.

Same with all the Kabbalah hounds. You’ve got the hopscotch ready, all ready. Where is Keter? And where is Hesed? And where is Gevurah? Boom, boom, boom. You have it all set.

And what have you not got there? You haven’t got yourself in in the Tree of Life.

Because the scientific establishment has gotten us so used to thinking of things objectively.

When the French want to talk about a lens, they call it objectiv.

You get the idea? It’s out there. It’s a thing out there.

But when I think of God as object then I’m already saying there’s a contradiction.

Often, I like to tell people there is a God but S/He doesn’t exist (if by existence you mean something outside; if by existence you mean something that’s an object, that is in the accusative, that you can touch or see, that’s out there.) The answer is: Doesn’t exist!

But if I go into being, if I go to the place of the nominative of the nominative, the totally intransitive part, that which is the innermost of the innermost, there we are talking not about existence; we are talking about pure being.

So we have gotten to the place that we realize that we cannot think of God as objective. Good! So, many religions have good ways of connecting with God. And I want to tell you something: I’m a gonif. I stole from them. When I see something good that I think we could use, I bring it to put it into our kitchen.

Most of the time I find we already had it; I didn’t have to go shopping. But I didn’t know we had it until I learned it over there!

And so it is for so many people who have discovered meditation and spirituality outside of Judaism who then said, “We’ve got to come back and find it within our own circle!”

And so Barukh Hashem! We have! And I came and went and it’s all true!

But there is one thing that the others don’t have: That is the notion of covenant.

I need to spell this one out:

In Islam, I’m supposed to surrender totally to God: Aslama. Allahu akbar, Allah is greater than I am. And therefore, I put myself at the service of Allah. And that’s all that I can do. Because, Allah is not a begetter and Allah is not begotten. As it says in the Koran: lam walad wa lam yulad / neither a bearer giving birth nor one who was born.

If I go to Christianity, (and by this, I don’t mean Matt Fox’s Christianity. I mean the Christianity of Augustine, etc., i.e. tradition of Christianity) I get to a place where [one would say,] “I once was lost. And I can’t do anything about it unless I’m found. And the way in which I’m found is if I take on Jesus to be my personal Savior. Because I can’t bail myself out. I’m powerless in that way.”

But that sense by which the Torah tells us we are children of God [is as if], in other words, we have the same DNA the Ribbono shel olam has. And we are also asked to enter into a covenant. And the covenant has a double side to it. As we chant on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: Ki Anu Amecha V’Atah Malkeinu / we are your people you are our ruler. And that creates a relationship.

That kind of a relationship is brought out because we have a root metaphor. Watch that word! It’s an important word.

A root metaphor.

A root metaphor means a metaphor that’s deeper than our way of thinking, than our way of feeling. But once this root metaphor is established in us, we have a relationship.

And that business of relationship is what is so essential!

In that relationship there is this chutzpadike moment, arrogance that’s infinite arrogance almost, that we say that we can make a deal with God.

And I like the way it says in the book of Devarim: Ani He-emarti Atem He-emartem. You have bespoken Me, I have bespoken you.

You get the idea [God has] addressed you

And like the way in which the Latin helps out because that shows me something still deeper about the root metaphor which goes like this: How do I say to speak? “diction” How do I say to address, i.e. to speak to someone? “ad diction

So it is as if the Chumash is telling us that God says, “I’ve become addicted to you, you’ve become addicted to Me and it’s that sense that I like, davka, about addiction. I can’t live without getting a fix from time to time. It’s almost as if I want to say according to Reb Yitzchak Lurie, if I don’t get called to the Torah at least once in a month I sort of haven’t logged on, I haven’t recharged what I need to recharge.

That it is a very important part in that relationship.

Now the moment I begin to speak of root metaphors a new category of thinking comes into my mind: When you talk to people about how one thinks they’ll call it “epistemology.”

Most of the time the epistemology is one in which I know things objectively outside of myself.

But what I’m trying to get us to experience and feel is Participatory Epistemology.

That’s a fancy word but participatory epistemology, i.e., what I know that is not separate from me; what I know because I’m participating in it. Got that?

So when I asked you before how you look at the ten Sefirot, the question is going to be, “Where are you in the ten Sefirot?” Because if they’re for real, then they’re not outside of us. Rather, we are inside of them.

And that sense that  we are inside of that comes when we say God is Makom, HaMakom, [then] we are inside of God.

That sense that we can make our souls present to God and make God present to ourselves, that is what I hope for us to work on [in this week] so that it becomes also experientially [accessible to us].

It’s so strange! If I were to talk about alter Barkan and start describing him and say all kinds of things as if he weren’t there, after a while it would be such an insult. “What are you talking about? I’m right here! Why do you ignore my presence?”

Now take a look how often we davven words, we talk theology and we address each other and we forget to address the One about whom we are talking.

So the best way of doing theology would be saying like this: “Dear God! Let me describe You a little bit to those people who are here!”

You get the idea? It’s like getting the sense of being Nochach P’nai Hashem / in the presence of God.

That part of placing oneself in the presence of God is such an important thing that without that, if that’s going to be missing, it’s all going to be… How would I say it? I’ll say it in a gross way:

Fritz Perls used to talk about different rungs of sh*t. He would say there’s chicken sh*t, etc., Finally, he had elephant sh*t on top. And I want to add another Madrega:  Angel sh*t.

That is to say that when people do the kind of talking that is “the Sefirot, Atzilut,” this and that, and there isn’t a sense of being in touch with that, then it’s empty; it’s empty, empty words, empty calories.

And so the point in which they begin to make some sense is to be able to say what I’m talking about Hir I’m in touch with and it’s in the present and God is here.

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