Sunday, February 24, 2008

God of TaNaKH, God of Kabbalah

[Moses encounters God in a humble bush - from the Golden Haggadah]

Having followed the Berditchev Rebbe explaining God is "the All," essentially a monistic doctrine of existence, a reader asks:

Question...I like the abstract aspect to your concept of God. "God is the All, etc..." Although, my question is how do we reconcile this transcendent/ metaphysical understanding of God with the rather immanently involved personal God displayed in the Bible?

Excellent question. Buber and Scholem argued on precisely this point, the concern that God as envisioned by the Kabbalists was an abandonment of the personal God of the Bible (Scholem embraced it, Buber felt like it was a denial of a fundamental part of Judaism). Buber argued that Hasidism, while using the monistic language and ideas of Kabbalah, stepped back from a total abandonment of the divine "Thou." I certainly think Buber is on solid ground when it comes to the teachings of Yitzkhak Levi. The Hasidic master expounds on God as simultaneously "No-thing" and "The All." We are part of the All, and therefore nothing in ourselves. And yet...

Yitzkhak Levi's song, with which I concluded the discussion, "....everywhere - You!..." is itself a paean to the unity of all things in God, yet it is premised on a dualistic POV; there is myself and there is You (God). We live in this paradox. In addressing God as a subject (or Buber's I- Thou), the Berditchev Rebbe acknowledges that we cannot escape experiencing the world as multiplicity (Buber opens his magnum opus by saying that the world is "two-fold").

This paradox is always with us. The rabbis of antiquity taught that the reason God appeared to Moses in a burning bush was to teach him no place is devoid of divinity. Yet Moses still experiences the presence of God "outside" himself and it is described as a personal encounter with a personal God, with dialogue, disagreement, and command.

I think the Berditchev Rebbe would say there is nothing wrong or false in experiencing God in personal terms, as described in the Bible. God is "outside of us," for there is Yesh, being (and all being is bounded and limited), and God is Yesh (See first entry). But in meeting the personal God, we are only seeing one side of the coin, as it were. Our understanding of God is incomplete if we see God only as separate and outside ourselves. Most Kabbalah-based metaphysics embrace both the experience of duality and reality of God is All.

Zal g'mor - to own the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism, go to: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050


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