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The Daily Wisdom: Perception as Creation

By Marc Gafni

The language of God is man. We are not just God’s messengers, we are God’s language and voice, the means by which she shares her message. This idea becomes a little easier to access in light of quantum physics. One of the essential mind-bending breakthroughs in quantum physics is that the observer is part of the experiment. That is to say, the perceiver influences the outcome of the experiment. Said more broadly, perception not only observes reality, it creates reality. To say that love is perception is therefore to say that love – far more than a mere emotion- is erotic creative force which in-forms all of being.

The Erotic and the Holy
Marc Gafni

Daily Wisdom: Inside, Outside


By Marc Gafni

From my book, The Mystery of Love:

Love is all about insight–in-sight.  It is the ability to see in, to the inside of the inside, to the Holy of Holies that is your lover.  Eros is being on the inside.  Thus, love is an erotic perception of the highest order.  Naturally you have to move way beyond sexual seeing.  Sex only models eros.  To be an erotic lover you have to understand that “what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

When something is far from you, you have to open your eyes really wide to see it.  As it gets closer you squint your eyes, when it gets really really close, you close your eyes.  Seeing with closed eyes is when we perceive way beyond seeing.  The adjective close and the verb close are the same word.  Closeness–intimacy–higher vision–all happen when we close our eyes.  We move beyond sight and invite the other faculties of perception to guide us.  Smell, sound, touch, and taste all become alive in a deeper way when we close our eyes.

Photo Credit: presta

Protest as Prayer (Part 10): God’s Emotions

God emotions

By Marc Gafni

This post is continued from Part 9.

To go one step further — God feels the pain of the sufferer through the agency of human beings who feel the pain of other. God feels, not only but also through, human agency. We are God’s emotions.

Based on this understanding a number of mystical writers provide us with the vocabulary to re-think the idea of God’s Kingship. It was with this quandry that I introduced the problematics of God-language in a world that suffers. How can we call God King?

Borrowing a text from the Songs of Songs, early Hasidic writers describe God as a “King bound in chains.” God may be King but he is bound — waiting to be redeemed. The image of a King bound in chains refers to the Shechina in exile.

In light of this tradition we can now understand the ostensible proclamation of Gods Kingship — “Hamelech” which begins the morning prayer service of the Jewish high holy days. If it is interpreted simply as a declaration of God’s kingship then it is profoundly difficult to understand. For, as we noted at the beginning of our discussion, King means more than just relationship. Kingship is an expression of control. Kings rule overtly. They are not hidden. Kings decree and the decrees are obviously implemented.

If God is King and his desire is for Good (God =Good) then it is difficult to understand how we can declare God’s kingship in a world ravaged by distended stomachs and unparalleled brutality. If God loves truth, and truth means that our theological language needs to be true to our experience of God in this world, then we cannot yet declare God to be King.

Indeed I believe that the cry of “Hamelech” at the beginning of the Liturgy is not a declaration by the human being of God’s Kingship. It is far more profound. It is a human cry pleading with God to be King. “God,” cries out the human being, “reveal yourself as King!” It is a plea for the redemption of world. Deeper still, it is a human plea for the redemption of God. Echoing in Hamelech, however, is a second voice of overwhelming power.

“Hamelech” is the cry of Shechina, of God, re-sounding through the mouths of human beings.

The Shechina cries out to the assembled congregation – “Please, I beg of you, Let me be King … I am caught, bound in chains, free me, redeem me!”

Photo Credit: Stuck in Customs

Protest as Prayer (Part 8): Ten Sefirot


By Marc Gafni

This post is continued from Part 7.

An early Kabbalistic text, Bahir, declares that there are ten levels which link the world of the divine with the world of man. Each one of these ten levels of divine presence represents another dimension of God in our world. They are referred to as the Ten Sefirot. When we perform a commandment, says Luria, we participate in one of these levels of the divine.

Indeed the mystical writers point out that the word ‘Mitzvah’ has more than one meaning. Simply of course it is man’s commandment. The human in doing a mitzvah is thus seen as responding to a divine command which comes from outside the human being.

There is however a second sense of the word Mitzvah. It means Tzavtah — to be together with. When one performs a mitzvah one literally merges with divinity. One is together with God. In the mystical understanding, each Mitzvah moves me toward merger with a different Sefira, a different level of divinity. However, says Luria, we are only able to participate in the lowest seven levels. The human being, trapped in mortality, can never touch the highest three levels of divinity in this world. And yet one word can reach the heights. Ayeh.

Ayeh in Hebrew has three letters, alef, yod, hey. Alef, says Luria, is the letter that represents Keter — the divine crown, the highest sefirah – the level of divinity in the world. Yod represents Chochmah — wisdom, the second highest level. And Hey is Binah — intuitive understanding, the third highest level. When the human being cries out to God in uncertainty — ayeh — he expresses the highest three levels of divinity and in so doing reaches beyond his mortal limits to touch “the highest.” Luria affirms that the expression of uncertainty in God does not contradict spirituality, but rather is the highest expression of the human search for divine connection.

Ayeh — where are you — the ultimate uncertainty — is then the highest level of religious authenticity!

Photo Credit: Neon23

Protest as Prayer (Part 7): The Second Ayeh Story

Sacrificial Lamb

By Marc Gafni

This post is continued from Part 6.

The pinnacle of Ayeh cries out in the biblical story of the binding of Isaac. Isaac turns to his father and asks, “Ayeh? Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Many commentators recognize that in asking this question Isaac is beginning to understand the nature of his silent journey with his father. For three days he has walked beside his father in tense silence, and now without even meeting his son’s eyes, Abraham asks the servants to stay behind as the two of them climb the mountain alone. Laboring up the incline with the kindling weighing heavily on his back, noticing the knife and firestone in his father’s hand, Isaac feels a terrible darkness approaching. Can his father truly be intending to hurt him? When Isaac speaks we feel the shattering inside, the destruction of the child within, the death of the child’s innocence: ‘Father!’ – he says – and father answers, ‘Yes my son.’ ‘Here are the firestone and the wood; but where – ayeh – is the lamb for the burnt offering?’

For the Ishbitzer Isaac’s Ayeh is the embrace of God in uncertainty.

“Ayeh?” Isaac cannot suffer the uncertainty in silence. A child at the beginning of his life’s climb through uncertainty, Isaac’s question reaches the highest place.

Kabbalist R. Isaac Luria comments on this word ayeh — where is God — in the liturgy of Shabbat, when we paraphrase the text in Isaiah and say, “Ayeh mekom kevodo? — God, where is the place of your involvement in the world?”

Just as ulai has become our indicator of deep uncertainty in biblical text, so ayeh can be seen as the code word for the deepest questioning of the justice of God.

Protest as Prayer (Part 6): The Ayeh Stories

This post is continued from Part 5

By Marc Gafni

R’ Nachman, I would suggest did not originate this understanding of Ayeh — rather it emerges out of a tradition of Biblical ‘Ayeh’ stories.

In the book of Judges, a messenger of God comes to Gideon at a time in which Israel has suffered greatly at the hand of the Midianite nation. The messenger of God offers certainty to Gideon: “God is with you, hero of valor,” and Gideon rejects this pat offer of security: “You tell me that God is with us? Then why is all this…” He cannot even give it a name. The silent questions ring out in the spaces between the words: ‘Why has all this suffering, why has all this pain, defined our lives for so many years? Why are men killed? Why are children orphaned?’ And the text goes on: “‘Ayeh’- where are all of his great wonders of which our Fathers told us, saying God took us out of the land of Egypt. And now, God has abandoned us.”

Gideon the Judge, in the tradition of Abraham, turns to God and says, “Does the Judge of the entire world not do justice?” Gideon the Judge challenges God, challenges the messenger and challenges the message. The divine response seems unclear, enigmatic and troubling; but also powerful, inspiring and deeply directive. God answers Gideon: “Go with this strength of yours and save Israel … behold, I have sent you.” (Judges 6: 12-14)

What “strength” is God referring to? I would suggest, and at least one Midrash implicitly supports my reading, that God meant: ‘Go forth with the power of your uncertainty.’ God is confirming that if Gideon has the ability to doubt that this is the best of all possible worlds, this means he shares a common moral language with God. The wrestling with God in itself implies messengership on behalf of the divine: “Behold, I have sent you.” God confirms the Chassidic tale that initiated this chapter: to grapple with God is indeed to touch God, and to enter into the wrestling ring is to be a representative of all Israel, to plead redemption for all the world.

Gideon says to God’s messenger: “Where, ayeh, are all of His great wonders?” — echoing Moses’ and Abraham’s uncertainty about God’s dealings in the world.

Protest as Prayer (Part 5): Certainty of Rage

This post is continued from Part 4

By Marc Gafni

Said differently, by holding uncertainty and not settling for explanations of suffering that our soul intuitively rejects, we reach a higher certainty — the certainty of rage. It may well be that in a century that has seen one hundred million people brutally killed the only path back to God is the certainty of rage. Those who deny the holiness of our anger deny God.

Babies are part of our core certainty. They remind us of all that is pure. They somehow cut though our posturing and touch something deep inside us. Have you ever seen a baby brought into an office — no matter how serious the office — grown men and women almost immediately revert to baby talk, to goo goo gaga. Babies cry out for our protection. They call us to rise to our highest selves. Perhaps this is what Leah understood for the first time as she looked down at little Judah. Until Judah’s birth Leah had been so intent on using her children to get Jacob that she hadn’t really seen them. Only when she gives up her need for Jacob is she able to see her baby. It is from this place she cries out — “I have found myself before God.”

Babies being ripped apart — my mother’s youthful vision — destroy that core certainty. “Where Is God” writes Weisel, “he is hanging on the gallows”…. In the body of a young boy. Incarnation is reversed in the horror of suffering. God becomes human and dies on the gallows. In the reversal is the death of God about which some post-holocaust theologians wrote with such pathos. The Biblical response is different. Biblical men and women work their way back to God, not through pious imprecations justifying God nor through pathos-filled announcements of God’s demise, but through the certainty of rage.

Photo Credit: dariuszka

Protest as Prayer (Part 4): Where — is God


This post is continued from Part 3.

By Marc Gafni

R. Nachman of Bratzlav in a profound and daring teaching reveals the light shimmering in Alyosha’s speech. It is a teaching on the word ‘Ayeh’. Ayeh in Hebrew means where, in the sense of ‘where is God?

Ayeh encapsulates in one word Alyosha’s entire oration. I want to share with you R. Nachman’s teaching directly, in my trans-interpretation of the original Hebrew text. The bracketed words are my additions:

‘When one follows the path of intellect – (certainty)
one may encounter
multiple mistakes and pitfalls
There are many who fell
and who caused the world to fall
and all through their intellect (false certainty)

….. when you fall into uncertainty
the fall perse
and the descent
are the ultimate ascent.
For all of creation…
derives sustenance
from the ten revealed utterances of creation(certainty)
but the place of the fall
derives sustenance
from the hidden utterance. (uncertainty)
(which is keter)
…in the place of the fall
certainty can give no nourishment
there only the hidden utterance – uncertainty
gives nourishment.
When a person says ‘Ayeh’- where is the place of his glory
when he realizes how distant he is
how deeply he has fallen into uncertainty
this – itself is his fixing

Nachman teaches that in the depth of uncertainty is certainty- the experience of worth, value and being loved. In the anger at evil is the profound intuition that our rage matters – and that it is holy.

Note: This is part of an ongoing series.

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney

Protest as Prayer (Part 3): Two 19th Century Russians, Nachman and Dostoyevsky


By Marc Gafni

Note: This post is continued from Part 2.

It is this paradox that Dostoyevsky in Brothers Karamazov does not fully grasp. He does not understand that the rage of Ivan is the rage of ‘heresy that is faith.’ Ivan, responding to Alyosha’s certainty of belief, has just described to him the brutal murder of a child torn apart by dogs for sport. Ivan’s uncertainty burns with the fiery anger of faith:

Although the passage is longer than what one would usually expect in a quoted text, it is so germane to our theme and so compelling that I did not shorten it. Thus I invite my dear reader to experience the truth and power of Ivan’s plea. He needs to be read as a modern echo of Abraham’s cry “Will the judge of the entire world not do justice?”

I must have justice, or I will destroy myself. And not justice in some remote infinite time and space, but here on earth, and that I could see myself. I have believed in it. I want to see it, and if I am dead by then, let me rise again, for if it all happens without me, it will be too unfair. Surely I haven’t suffered, simply that I, my crimes and my sufferings, may manure the soil of the future harmony for somebody else.

I want to see with my own eyes the hind lie down with the lion and the victim rise up and embrace his murderer. I want to be there when everyone suddenly understands what it has all been for. All the religions of the world are built on this longing, and I am a believer.

But then there are the children, and what am I to do about them? That’s a question I can’t answer. For the hundredth time I repeat, there are numbers of questions, but I’ve only taken the children, because in their case what I mean is so answerably clear. Listen! If all must suffer to pay for the eternal harmony, what have children to do with it, tell me, please? It’s beyond all comprehension why they should suffer, and why they should pay for the harmony. Why should they, too, furnish material to enrich the soil for the harmony of the future? I understand solidarity in sin among men. I understand solidarity in retribution too, but there can be no such solidarity with children. And if it is really true that they must share responsibility for all their father’s crimes, such a truth is not of this world and is beyond my comprehension.

Some jester will say, perhaps, that the child would have grown up and have sinned, but you see he didn’t grow up, he was torn to pieces by the dogs, at eight years old. Oh, Alyosha, I am not blaspheming! I understand, of course, what an upheaval of the universe it will be, when everything in heaven and earth blends in one hymn of praise and everything that lives and has lived cries aloud: ‘Thou art just, O Lord, for Thy ways are revealed.’ When the mother embraces the fiend who threw her child to the dogs, and all three cry aloud with tears, ‘Thou art just, O Lord!’ then, of course, the crown of knowledge will be reached and all will be made clear.

But what pulls me up here is that I can’t accept that harmony. And while I am on earth, I make haste to take my own measures. You see, Alyosha, perhaps it really may happen that if I live to that moment, or rise again to see it, I, too, perhaps, may cry aloud with the rest, looking at the mother embracing the child’s torturer, ‘Thou art just, O Lord!’ But I don’t want to cry aloud then. While there is still time, I hasten to protect myself and so I renounce the higher harmony altogether.

It’s not worth the tears of that one tortured child who beat itself on the breast with its little fist and prayed in its stinking outhouse, with its unexpiated tears to ‘dear, kind God’! It’s not worth it, because those tears are unatoned for. They must be atoned for, or there can be no harmony. But how? How are you going to atone for them? Is it possible? By their being avenged? But what do I care for avenging them? What do I care for a hell for oppressors? What good can hell do, since those children have already been tortured? And what becomes of harmony, if there is hell? I want to forgive. I want to embrace. I don’t want more suffering. And if the sufferings of children go to swell the sum of sufferings which was necessary to pay for truth, then I protest that the truth is not worth such a price.

I don’t want the mother to embrace the oppressor who threw her son to the dogs! She dare not forgive him! Let her forgive him for herself, if she will, let her forgive the torturer for the immeasurable suffering of her mother’s heart. But the sufferings of her tortured child she has no right to forgive; she dare not forgive the torturer, even if the child were to forgive him! And if that is so, if they dare not forgive, what becomes of harmony?

Is there in the whole world a being who would have the right to forgive and could forgive? I don’t want harmony. From love for humanity I don’t want it. I would rather be left with the unavenged suffering. I would rather remain with my unavenged suffering and unsatisfied indignation, even if I were wrong. Besides, too high a price is asked for harmony; it’s beyond our means to pay so much to enter it. And so I hasten to give back my entrance ticket, and if I am an honest man I am bound to give it back as soon as possible. And that I am doing. It’s not God that I don’t accept, Alyosha, only I most respectfully return Him the ticket.

A 3,500-year-old text anticipates Ivan. Moses says to God – ‘You have promised to redeem the people in the future — that’s not good enough — for how does that help the babies brutally killed and buried in the mortar of Egyptian brick?’

The outraged existential challenge which Ivan, Moses and Abraham hurl against God is also God’s highest embrace. When we rage like Ivan we affirm the dignity and validity of our rage. We recognize that the rage is holy, welling as it does from the deepest recesses of our being. We refuse to invalidate our core certainty of self and capitulate to the indifference of dogma that denies the uncertainty of evil. We refuse to deny our rage, and in so doing we affirm the holiness of our moral intuitions. In giving voice to our deepest uncertainties, we paradoxically confirm our inner certainty of the divinity in ourselves. Dostoyevsky’s mistake was only that he thought Ivan’s speech to be heresy.

Photo Credit: Bradley Wind

Protest as Prayer (Part 2): The Answer

Japan Prayer

By Marc Gafni

It is to this paradox that we will now turn. We dance in the paradox of certainty and uncertainty. As we hear of recent tragedies in the world –hurricanes, earthquakes, and last year’s catastrophe in Japan — we enter into a space of desperately of grappling with God within the uncertainty. Where are you God? Where are you within me and within the word?  Within the very recesses of the uncertainty however is a powerful experience of certainty. Of the non dual realizationof I Am.  It is in I Am, when I experience the core certainty of self, and therefore of my divinity- of my being loved by God.  This experience is not only not in contradiction to the question, it wells up from the question itself. In the question is God. The question is the answer.

Photo Credit: -= Hobo=

Protest as Prayer (Part 1): A Response to Tragedy the World Over

AIDS Quilt

By Marc Gafni

The mandate of biblical consciousness demands that the human being enter into partnership with God in the task of perfecting the world. The classical expression of this in the lineage of Kabbalah is the obligation of Tikkun. Tikkun means not merely to hear or to fix but to be co-creative evolutionary partners with the divine.

This evolutionary mandate to co-create and the heal the world with and as divinity, emerges, paradoxically, not out of answers but out of questions. The fact that the human being can challenge and that God accepts the human challenge implies a covenantal partnership between the human being and God. Both the human being and God share an understanding of the good, and thus God can turn to the human being and say: ‘I invite you, nay, I demand that you be my partner, my co-creator in the perfection of the world. I began the process of creation; I established the moral fabric of the world. It is up to you to take that cloth and to weave it fully. It is up to you to complete the tapestry, it is up to you to risk to grow and to create a world in which good, love, justice and human dignity flourish and are affirmed.’ A human being who cannot be trusted enough to challenge evil can also not be a partner in fostering the good.

It is true that God very often seems silent in response to our challenge. Yet Jewish consciousness, expressed through biblical text and tradition, affirms that God accepts the validity of the question. In doing so God affirms our role as God’s partner in history. If I am able to recognize evil for what it is, then I am ipso facto obligated in tikkun olam – the obligation to act for and with God in the healing of the world. Man is the language of God. We are God’s adjectives, God’s adverbs, God’s nouns and sometimes even God’s dangling modifiers. We are God’s vocabulary in the world. When I love, when I am able to be truly vulnerable and intimate with another human being, when I am able to share the pain of another and to rejoice in their deep joy, I am acting for God. I become God’s chariot in the world.

More than this: if I can wrestle with God, if I can express my uncertainty with God in the intimacy of challenging relationship, then paradoxically, I convert my doubt into the core certainty of divine relationship.

Note: This post is continued at Part 2.

Photo Credit: enric archivell