Sefirot: In the Presence of God

The following excerpt explains why it’s so important to make the Sefirot / Divine attributes real for you.  As you count the Omer this year, keep this teaching in mind.  The excerpt is from Reb Zalman’s 2003 Shiur “Inner Space” given at Elat Chayyim, and available on the  DVD Set called “The Space Within,” which you can obtain from Aleph.  Gabbai Seth Fishman (BLOG Editor)

There’s a special thing we have as Jews and that’s the notion of covenant  …  The torah tells us that we are children of God.   It says, in effect, our dna matches that of the Ribono shel olam / God [lit. Master of the World].  We are also asked to enter into a covenant with God.  A covenant must have two sides to it, i.e., our commitments to God and God’s commitments to us.  

We chant on Rosh Hashonna and Yom Kippur:  Ki anu amecha v’ata malkenu / We are Your people, You are our ruler.  There is a relationship between us and God.   We’re connected.  A kind of relationship comes out in the liturgy because underlying this is a root metaphor that we have. 

Watch this expression, “Root Metaphor.”  It’s an important one.   It means a metaphor somehow deeper than our ways of thinking, and also deeper than our ways of feeling.  The root metaphor was established in us and it included a kind of relationship with God, a covenant, and that business of relationship is what is so essential to defining our Judaism. 

In the Jew-God relationship, there is this chutzpadike moment, infinite arrogance almost, when we say that we can make a deal with God. 

And I like the way it says in the book of Devarim, “ani heemarti … atem heemartem” / I have bespoken you …  You have bespoken Me (Deut 26:18, ff.)  You get the idea:  Bespoken, i.e. addressing, one to another.  And the Latin translation of the Hebrew really helps out here, because it shows me something still deeper about the root metaphor which goes like this:  What’s the Latin root for speaking?  diction.  And what’s the Latin root for speaking to, addressing, bespeaking someone:  ad diction

So the chumash is telling us, that God is saying, “I’ve become addicted to you; you’ve become addicted to Me.” That’s a sense that I like, davka, about addiction. 

Oy.  I can’t live without getting a God-fix from time to time.  According to Reb Yitzchak Lurie, if we don’t get called to the Torah at least once in a month, then we haven’t logged onto the source, we’ve not recharged what needs recharging.  This is a very important part in our relationship to God and God’s relationship to us. 

Now I’ve been speaking about our root metaphors, and the moment I speak about root metaphors, it brings to mind a new category of thinking.

In Philosophy the term for studying how to look at thinking and knowledge is epistemology.  Most of the time, epistemology deals with understanding what it means to know things objectively, to know things outside of oneself. 

But when we are talking about the covenant, about the special relationship with God, then the new category that comes to mind for one must not exclude one’s experience and one’s feelings.  It’s not only a reaching for something objective.  Our experience and our feelings are a vital part of this knowledge.  We are not only reaching for something outside of us.  What’s inside of us is vital to this relationship.  Because the covenant is two-sided.  So God wants something from us as well.

The term is participatory epistemology.  That’s a fancy word, but participatory epistemology.

What I know, I know not separate from me, but I know because I’m participating in it.  I’m participating in God as I connect to the parts of God that I can feel and to which I connect.

So when I ask you, “How do you look at the 10 sefirot,” the question is not how you look at something outside; it is really, “Where are you in the 10 sefirot?”  Because if they are for real, they are not outside of us; we are inside of them. 

And that sense that we are inside of them brings to mind that when we say God is Hamakom / God, (lit. The Place), then we’re inside of God.  There’s a sense that we can make ourselves present to God and God present to ourselves.  That is what I hope us to work on, so that it becomes also experientially that.  [Reb Zalman is speaking here to the participants of these 2003 sessions and the work they did over the four days.  Gabbai Seth]

It’s so strange.  If I were to talk about a particular participant of this class 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, I’m right here.  Why do you ignore my presence?”

Now take a look how often we davven words, we talk theology, or we address each other regarding God, and 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.  Without that, if that’s going to be missing, it’s like what I call angelsh-t.  

When people do the kind of talking that is, “Ah!  The sefirotAtzilut!  etc,” and there isn’t a sense of being in touch with it (i.e. participatory, experiencing it, being in God’s presence), then 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, I am in touch with that, and it is in the present, and God is here.”  (Elat Chayyim, 2004)

One Response to “Sefirot: In the Presence of God”

  1. Ariel Says:

    You are totally right about connecting to G-d and being in His presence.
    I agree that you have to acknowledge that G-d is always around you and with you, and you have to verbally acknowledge this. Because if we ignore G-d, and we neglect to mention His presence – His presence is constantly around us, throughout the world – then that is the ultimate in chutzpadike. I also try speaking to G-d one-on-one (so-to-speak) to get a more intimate knowledge of Him, to have the highest consciousness of Him.

Leave a Reply