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/ 4 Tamuz, 5766
Awe + Law = Love
Rabbi David Aaron
'This is the statute of the Torah'. R. Isaac opened with the text: 'All this I have tried (to fathom) by wisdom; I said, I will get wisdom; but it was far from me' (Ecclesiastes 7, 23). Thus spoke Solomon: I succeeded in understanding the whole Torah, but, as soon as I reach this chapter about the Red Heifer, I searched, probed and questioned, 'I said I will get wisdom, but it was far from me.'
Yalkut Shimoni 759
The Torah portion begins with: "This is the statute chok of the Torah." In other words this is the Torah's ultimate chok, the mitzvah that most clearly shows how beyond human comprehension its divine commandments. Regarding this chok we are taught that G-d said, "I have decreed it, and you are not permitted to question it."
What is the meaning of commandments in general and those that are trans-rational specifically?
THE YOU IN I
A well-known Hasidic saying declares: "If I am I because you are you, and you are you because I am I, then I am not I, and you are not you." People often misinterpret this to mean "be independent," but that is not its true meaning. Rather this saying expresses a profound principle regarding the source of true identity. This how one Jewish philosopher put it: "Through the you a man becomes an I…I become through my relation to the you, as I become I, I say you."
Real identity and self is not achieved through "having." To be selfish is actually self-diminishing, because real selfhood, the real "I," is a function of relationship to a "you." When this is understood, we then experience our personal definition to the inclusion of all others, realizing that we are not self-defined. My "I" includes your "you" in its very definition.
This is graphically expressed in some of Escher's brilliant pictures, showing distinct individuals interdependent and interfaced. The belly of the fish is the top of the bird's wing. Eliminate the fish, and you erase part of the bird.
This illustrates not only a psychological need but also a fundamental principle in contemporary science. There are no such things as isolated independent realities. All is interdependent, inter-defined; all is a function of relationship. Definition is dependent upon the type of relationship established. This is obvious in chemistry. Carbon atoms, form charcoal when related in one way, but in combination with other elements they become diamond. Throughout science we find that isolation is impossible, while relationship is a sine qua non. Interdependence, therefore, is not just a matter of psychological need of religious commendation; it is the most encompassing fact of human and physical reality. We are transformed by our relationship with others.
Thus, if each individual "I" includes a "you," then taken a step further, an "I"
that stands in relation to an "Eternal You" embodies that eternity into the very definition of his human "I."
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This is the meaning of the mystical notion of the Shechina, the Divine presence and indwelling Spirit. The Shechina is this sense of relatedness to the Divine, as "Divine Presence," and ultimately the internalization of the Divine "You" into our human "I" as "Indwelling Spirit". This reflects the enigmatic paradox of Divine transcendence, meaning that G-d is totally beyond the human, and Divine immanence, where the Divine is within the human being. Such is the mystery of love: Although the lover and the beloved seem to share a single identity, they simultaneously accept their "otherness" and distinction. While experiencing my beloved as part of me, I maintain the awareness of how other she is. We are one, yet not one and the same. In a similar way, we and G-d are one, yet never one and the same.
Thus, the secret of Jewish survival against all odds is not based on any inherent quality they possess, but on their relationship to G-d. The Jewish identity is about being a human "I" defined to the inclusion of the Eternal "You.," The Shechina is with such a person. The Talmud teaches that the Shechina joins us in our suffering. If we were to rely on the natural conditions of life and history to confirm and maintain Jewish identity and existence, we would be extinct long ago. When our nation is totally dispersed, our land and property confiscated, our family ties consistently broken -What do we have left? The answer is, "G-d." "Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you, G-d, are with me." The Zohar comments, "Really!!" Even if a Jew chooses not to relate to G-d, G-d is still relating to the Jew. To that Jewish history testifies.
LAW AS AN EXPRESSION OF LOVE
The very meaning and joy in the performance of mitzvahs (religious duties) are only within the context of a relationship of love and mutual inclusiveness between us and G-d. The mitzvahs are essentially responsibilities derivative from the human-Divine relationship.
Before performing a mitzvah, we should existentially hear the call of G-d; only then is our act of mitzvah a response. Joining our self to our Divine Beloved, we experience each mitzvah as an opportunity to express our relationship with the Divine, to enjoy the "Divine You" immanent within our human "I." Thus each mitzvah represents the call of G-d to us, and our ability to respond in return. This is true responsibility. Neglecting the mitzvahs is like turning our back to the Divine and ignoring His call. Tshuva, which is loosely translated as "repentance," literally means "response," a turning around face to face with G-d.
Prior to performing a mitzvah, we say a blessing, which is a preparatory mediation: "Blessed are you, G-d, who kiddishanu with Your mitzvahs." The word kiddishanu is translated as "sanctified us," but it actually means much more. In a Jewish marriage ceremony, the groom uses this very terminology when giving the ring to his bride, thus establishing their mutual devotion and relatedness. In fact, the ring encircling the finger suggests the profound process of mutual inclusiveness of your "you" in my "I." So too, we experience each mitzvah as the ring of our Divine Beloved, revealing the relatedness, expressing the devotion, and accepting the "Eternal You "into the definition of our human "I." Each mitzvah reveals the Shechina, and draws the Indwelling Spirit.
Unfortunately, for many, the mitzvah experience has dwindled from the joy of Divine Presence relatedness and indwelling Spirit, to another form of "having" and possessing. Collecting mitzvahs like some of coupons, to be cashed in, in a future world, at the end of the game, is an uninspiring parable which repels many. Consequently, many turn from the path of mitzvahs, leaving their souls thirsty for G-d, without any avenue of approach. I am sure that our great-great-grandfather Abraham looks on in disappointed wonder that the religion he inaugurated with such ecstasy of Divine love could be so widely represented as a mechanistic religion of lifeless rituals and picayune laws, "Let it be know," he cries, "the reward of a mitzvah is the mitzvah itself, in the here and now, a taste of timeless self, an outpouring of Divine love, the mystery of the Shechina.
Imagine that you get married and a friend advises you, "Tell her three times a day that you love her." Your declaration of love must be a direct expression of your devoted relationship. If it is not, then no matter how you daily regulate yourself, routinely saying, "Sweetheart, I love you," in morning, afternoon and evening, your declaration will be meaningless and useless. If it is not said within the context of a real relationship, for the purpose of solidifying and expressing the relationship, it ultimately becomes an obstacle to love. If it is just routine, automatic, after a while the words, "I love you," become a wall rather than a bridge and a medium for expressing the unifying relationship.
So too, a mitzvah is no more magical than the fulfillment of any responsibility implicit in the relationship of lover and beloved. The motivation to do mitzvahs must not be in order to have, but in order to be in a relationship with G-d, revealing the Shechina, fulfilling G-d's will.
Many Jews ask, "why should I fulfill laws that I don't understand?" The attempt to rationalize all the laws into some logical form, actually undermines their dynamic essence. If I will only do those acts requested of me by my beloved that make sense to me, then I am not really relating to my beloved, but only to myself. If, however, all my beloved's requests seem irrational, that too would undermine a healthy relationship, requiring total self-effacement. Torah law consists both of acts which are morally and ethically comprehensible referred to as mishapt, and of those which are beyond human rationality called chok. Precisely these latter acts, however, contribute greatly to the ecstasy of love because they are opportunities to fulfill G-d's will with pure response.
I have often heard the question: How can an ancient way of life be relevant in our fast changing world? I buy a video camera today, knowing that perhaps in a few months it will be almost obsolete. In a world where that which belongs to the past quickly becomes devalued, we put our faith in the future. With all the change and progress, however, one thing seems to have never changed: our search for meaning and love. We all still yearn to discover how his individual self relates to some greater whole. Welcome to the love life of Torah!
For more secrets on love and happiness listen to Rabbi Aaron's latest audio book: Kabbalah Works: Secrets to Purposeful Living
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Rabbi David Aaron is the founder and dean of Isralight, an international organization with programming in Israel, New York South Florida, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Toronto. He has taught and inspired thousands of Jews who are seeking meaning in their lives and a positive connection to their Jewish roots.
He is the author of the newly released, The Secret Life of G-d, and Endless Light: The Ancient Path of Kabbalah to Love, Spiritual Growth and Personal Power , Seeing G-d and Love is my religion. (Click on links to purchase books. Sales help fund JWR.) He lives in the old City of Jerusalem with his wife and their seven children.
© 2005, Rabbi David Aaron