Search our Archives:
» Opinion & Society
By Yechezkel Gold
Abraham, ultimate progenitor of the Jewish people, is credited as the discoverer of monotheism. The Midrash tells us that at the age of three years old, or according the other versions, at the age of 40 years old, after Abraham sought the truth persistently and earnestly, God was revealed to him.
This intensive search that Abraham undertook, like everything about the fathers of our nation, is universal. It was an effort to develop a proper conception of life. Often, the urge to search comes from internal discomfort. In fact, internal discomfort is a hallmark of life. Life in the material world is characterized by an individual's internal, implicit ideal state conflicting frequently with the external state of affairs. We make continuous efforts to change and improve matters.
After a period of spiritual search, we come to a point of decision. The decision is how much to validate the internal ideal. Frequently, people decide that the external world is "right", and dedicate their lives to living in its terms. They will devote little time subsequently to discovering in more depth what lies in their internal reality. Their ideals pale and they consign themselves to work and/or to pursuit of superficial pleasures. Such people characterize the world as material and unspiritual.
Abraham's notion was different. He considered ideals and meaning central to reality. Hence, spirituality and mysticism were essential components of his world. Not surprisingly , the result brought him into conflict with his environment, and he was forced to flee the land of his birth. On the other hand, he founded a spiritual movement and system of thought whose continuing influence on history is immeasurable. The power behind this movement derives from the constant search for the ideal; most importantly in Torah study, the profound investigation of the ideal realm . In continually actualizing and searching for the ideal, Abraham and his descendants have had enormous impact on man's notions of reality, discovering many fundamental truths - i.e. ideals - in all realms of human thought and endeavor. There have been important Jewish thinkers throughout the ages, of course in Torah, but many of them also leading philosophers, scientists, doctors, economists, psychologists, etc. Despite its difficult and often tragic character, the march through history by Abraham's progeny has been tremendously successful. Abraham's notion, to greatly validate the internal world and to de-emphasize the relative importance of physicality in the scheme of things, that is, to consider the perspective of materialism erroneous, appears to have been correct.
The Midrash also tells us that Abraham's father, Terach, had a shop for selling idols. He once departed, entrusting Abraham with minding the store. Abraham, who already had concluded that idols were false and had no power, took a big stick and smashed all the idols except one, the largest of all. Then he placed the big stick in the hands of the remaining idol. When his father returned and found the destruction in his shop, he was incensed. Abraham, though, related that the large idol had gotten into an argument with the other idols and had smashed them all in its fury. Terach did not believe Abraham's story. Abraham retorted that if Terach did not believe the idols had power, he should not worship them. Here we see another dimension of Abraham's monotheism. He was staunchly iconoclastic.
Actually, although Abraham is credited as discoverer of monotheism, he is not the first to encounter God. As we see in the chapter of Genesis, Adam and his son Cain, and Noah had prophecy, as we see in the Torah. The rabbis tell us that Shem the son of Noah and his great-grandson, Aver, had academies for studying the Divine wisdom. Indeed, Isaac, the son of Abraham, and Isaac's son, Jacob, studied in this academy. Rebecca, wife of Isaac, consulted Shem and Aver to know the Divine meaning behind her unusual pregnancy pains.
Nevertheless, Torah and tradition credit Abraham as being the discoverer of monotheism. We can understand this by distinguishing between encounter with the Divine, and development of a credo. We understand that encounter with God is a profoundly overwhelming experience. Indeed, before he was circumcised, Abraham himself would fall to the ground during prophecy . Most prophets had visions whose significance they themselves often could not fully appreciate. On this overpowering level, it is inappropriate to speak about ideas and credos. Only after the prophecy, when the prophet collects his thoughts and tries to organize what he experienced, do thoughts, concepts and credos become relevant.
It seems, then, that all Abraham's predecessors did not conceive of the credo of monotheism. Their prophecies were private affairs which did not need translation into the terms of intellect and language. Abraham's discovery of the credo of-monotheism may rank him above Noah, and even above Adam. After all, he later had prophecy which we have no reason to suspect was less than his predecessors, and in addition, he developed this credo of monotheism, the greatest idea ever conceived.
On the one hand, a credo is far inferior to the supernal, mystical experience. A credo, after all, operates on a human level. It is graspable, manageable and stable. In comparison to the exaltation of prophecy, it is quite paltry. On the other hand, the unique greatness of the Patriarch Abraham was first expressed in his introduction of the credo of monotheism. It had an inspiring message for all of mankind and all of history.
The credo of monotheism translated supernal transcendent mystical truth into the terms of natural and social reality. In this conception, Abraham accomplished an awesome creative feat . In Cabalistic terms, Sefer Yetzira describes God's revelation as One, Alone, and Unique. The prophetic experience is of God Alone, which does not readily lend itself to rational understanding. Abraham's profound insight was that God Alone is manifest as the One God.
Truth and Reality
This is the character of truth. Truths links two disparate realities, such as experience and intellect. Falsehood separates them. Thus, monotheism is a truth.
The Torah hints to us how Abraham came to this impressive achievement. Until he was circumcised, at the age of 99, Abraham was actually known as Abram. His name, like all Torah names, had a meaning. . The letters "Ab" of his name (actually Av in Hebrew), mean father. "Ram" means lofty. Abram means "lofty father". The significance of this name is clarified when we know some Cabalistic terminology. In Jewish mysticism, "father" denotes wisdom and insight, the ultimate source of intellect. "Lofty" means a supernal level. Abram then, signifies supernal wisdom.
On the one hand, this supernal wisdom had access to supernal, mystical reality, the transcendent eternity beyond temporal creation. On the other hand, this supernal wisdom generated insights and concepts that connected to social and natural reality. This contact by a human with the Divine is still transforming history.
If the Torah alludes to this process, it must be to teach us. Torah means teaching. We must be able to appreciate something of this profound level from which the notion of monotheism sprang. Moreover, we must be able to experience at least something which affirms Abram's monotheism.
In other words, people of our generation can relate to something of the supernal wisdom which Abraham possessed. True, the cultural gap generated by 3700 years of history is significant. Probably more germane is the high degree of mechanization and technology which tends to blind us to our profound humanity. We are so engrossed in our modern world that we often forget or ignore our fundamental human sensitivity. Nevertheless, our sensitivity is only submerged, not gone.
If Torah eludes to Abram's supernal wisdom, it must be that this supernal wisdom has to do with our fundamental humanity transcending culture. Like the place of human sensitivity in our own lives, supernal wisdom is not explicit in the text, but very much present only slightly behind the scenes. To the extent that we cultivate and value this ultimate human level, it emerges as the true standard of realism. Let us note this extremely important point. The true standard of realism has to do with an intrinsic sensitivity to the value of things, not primarily to the mere facts of their material existence. .
Let us compare this sensitivity to appreciation of music. The subtleties of music affect us on a level deeper than volition. For someone who is musically sensitive, each phrase of music produces a reaction and an awareness which far surpasses the simple sensation of sound. It is, specifically, openness and sensitivity to the emotional, spiritual, and phenomenological nuances of the passage which lead to the true perception and appreciation of the music. Noticing and characterizing mere sound patterns is not only an incomplete perception of the music, it is missing the point of the music entirely.
Truly hearing music, then, involves a level of personality simultaneously open and objective so as not to become overly caught in the externals of the music, and exquisitely sensitive to the spiritual nuances and feelings produced by the sound. This level of personality appreciates the music by having the sounds reverberate openly on the sensitivities of the soul. Only the implicit awareness of the spiritual meanings, and more broadly, spiritual context implied by the sounds brings truly hearing the music. This level of personality brings appreciation of essence.
This level of personality is enhanced through meditation. Opening ourselves to the subtle perceptions of the soul generally requires frank focus on spiritual nuances, and still deeper, on the soul itself and it's inner reality whose sensitivity and awareness links the heights of sublime spirituality to the events of the physical world. Meditation, this inner focus which removes one from over-involvement in externals and insensitivity to inner perception, brings us an inkling of Abrams lofty wisdom. Lofty, because access to this level entails removing one's self to a certain degree from the impingement of the lower world. Wisdom, because this meditation brings access to the true spiritual context and meanings implicit in worldly events.
The Midrash tells us that Abraham can be compared to a man sitting on one side of a river, with the rest of the world on the other. This is the lofty aspect of the lofty father. The Baal Shem Tov taught that the true abode of the soul is always in heaven , and only emanations of the soul connect that lofty reality to the events of the body and of this world. Abraham, our lofty father, focused on the soul in heaven and discovered its transcendent, eternal character. Then, by discovering monotheism, he opened the gates of heaven and linked this to dimensions of outer, worldly reality.
Focus on the soul reveals the true form and intrinsic character of reality, in which the physical dimension is subsumed within the spiritual. From the perspective of soul, the claims of idol worship are negated. Idol worship, after all, imposes a foreign, artificial outlook on the events of the world. Phoniness, and of course misinterpretation, are common, eminently human foibles. We can be forgiving to people who inadvertently succumb to them. Nonetheless, the distortion they engender is harmful and greatly diminishes the experiential quality of human life by rendering it less or falsely spiritual and meaningful. Idol worship acts in opposition to the inspiring Divine purpose in creation.
Judaism and non-Jewish Religions
To illustrate this idea, let us consider the Jewish attitude toward the truth of Judaism and its relation to the non-Jewish religions. On the one hand, we assert that the Torah and all of the commandments are true. Nevertheless, Judaism does not purport to be a religion for the gentiles. That is, the commandments which Jews are obligated to fulfil do not apply to gentiles. Rather, non Jews have their own God-given set of seven Laws, the Noahide laws, which they must follow.
Maimonides states that to be considered a righteous gentile one must follow the laws because they were given to Moses as commandments for the gentiles. Among these laws are the prohibitions of idol worship and blasphemy. We understand from this that according to Torah, Jews and non Jews serve (the same) God. The 613 commandments were given to the Jews to fulfill their purpose in the Divine plan. The seven Noahide laws were given to the gentiles to fulfil their purpose in the Divine plan. That is, both the Jewish and non-Jewish ways of life must reflect the Divine light whose revelation is the purpose of the creation.
It follows that the 613 Commandments for Jews and the seven Noahide Laws each faithfully reflect the Divine light, each in its own way. The 613 Commandments are unnecessary for the gentiles for them to live according to the Divine purpose. The Jews were chosen to live according to the Torah and to connect to the Divine light through them. We may neither add to nor subtract from the 613 laws. The gentile connection to the Divine Light, less specific and delineated, must nevertheless be faithful to the Divine reality contained within the Light. If they deviate from it, they sin. Moreover, if they practice Torah laws, they sin too, because they were chosen to reveal the Divine Light in their specific way. That is, each created being must live according to the Divine Light as it is reflected specifically within that creation. As mentioned earlier, this means making the effort to focus on this Divine Light through serious contemplation. Also, it means that if we behave falsely, in a manner contradictory to the Divine reality reflected within us, we sin.
As mentioned earlier, the seven Noahide laws should be followed because God commanded Moses so. Nevertheless, the commentators, such as Maimonides, say that the Noahide Laws are also intuitively true. These seven laws are:
1. Not to worship idols
2. Not to commit blasphemy
3. Not to commit adultery
4. Not to murder
5. Not to steal
6. To established law courts
7. Not to eat limbs taken from a living animal
The 613 Commandments given to Israel, on the other hand, are mainly not a priori intuitive. The details of Jewish ritual cannot be comprehended without actually living them. As the people of Israel said before receiving the Torah, we will do (first) and we will hear (understand) [only afterwards]. The powerful experiential connection to the Divine which fulfilling these laws produces, the awareness of transcendence and eternity they engender, cannot be arrived at without performing the Commandments. A priori intuition does not arrive to such a high level.
In either case, these laws are true. They faithfully reflect the Divine Light. Transgressions, on the other hand, conceal and oppose the Divine Light. They are evil. The practices of idol worship are evil because they conceal and oppose the Divine light. Thus, they are referred to as abominations in the Bible. These abominations include human sacrifice (suttee). Indeed, the beliefs and practices of idol worship are antithetical to the harmonious progress of the creation. The mystical states that they engender through their forms of meditation and other rituals, such as orgies and bacchanals, are destructive and disintegrative. This constitutes violation of the Divine purpose revealed by the harmonious, beautiful world God created.
Re-establishing Spiritual Sensitivity
Over involvement in the externals of reality as distorted by the perspective of idol worship and the like conceals the revelation of the Divine which is the true ground of reality. In order to recover this sensitivity to the Divine truth it is necessary to stop this over involvement and remove this phony layer of consciousness. This often requires a withdrawal, such as to a Torah academy, at least temporarily. After sensitivity to the soul has been reestablished through contemplation, prayer and study, connection to the world can occur in a pure, true, and sensitive manner. Thus, at the beginning of Chapter "Lech Lecha," God says to Abraham " Go thee from the land and from the place of your birth and from the house of your father to the land which I will show you. It is important to point out that Abraham's withdrawal from the idol worshipping world of his father was specifically directed toward going to " the land which I will show you ". It did not view life as antithetical to mysticism, but rather considered the integration of both to be the ideal. Withdrawal to gain access to the soul's mystical sensitivity was the necessary first step.
This entrance into the mystical realm is analogous to the exodus from Egypt which had to precede the reorientation toward this world in the proper manner engendered by the giving of Torah. This withdrawal accomplished through meditation is represented symbolically by circumcision. Indeed, the Torah speaks of circumcising the heart in the Book of Deuteronomy, where the heart obviously means human sensitivity.
Paralleling this process in our day, a period of intense focus on pure spirituality in prayer is followed by study of Halacha, Divine Law, to develop an awareness and knowledge which mediates properly between the inner spirituality and sensitivity and our worldly actions. The Divine Law mediating between the soul's inner sensitivity and outer reality maintains the proper balance: it prevents both over involvement which tends to conceal spirituality, and callous indifference to human affairs.
God instructed Abraham to begin a greater degree of Divine service by a non destructive withdrawal from the reality created by the consensus of idol worship . This process is explicitly mentioned regarding Abraham during the Covenant of the Pieces. God promised Abram great reward and Abram replied: "What can you give me, and I am childless." The text goes on to say " and He took him outside and He said look to the heavens...." Rashi comments: " He removed him from the space of the universe ". Leaving the realm of created reality is, clearly, a spiritual process rather than a physical one. Here, indeed, Abram became the Lofty Father. He encountered eternal truth which transcended circumstance. As Rashi comments, he left his previous fate.
Let us clarify one point before continuing with our theme. The soul's perspective, as discovered by Abraham, is intrinsically monotheistic not because there is only one monolithic way of viewing matters. There might be a variety of spiritually valid ways of regarding circumstances. Regarding disagreement among Rabbis , the Talmud uses the phrase " both this and that are the words of the living God ". However, the idea that there are a variety of spiritually true and authentic perspectives does not obviate the notion that some approaches are not true. There are spiritually valid ways of relating to life, and ways that are artificial and false.
Spiritual Responsibility and Integration
An important characteristic of the spiritually valid perspective is the sense of responsibility and integration underlying it. Whether one reacts with joy or sorrow, pleasure or pain, interest or disinterest, underlying the spiritually valid perspective is an integration of and sensitivity to all, a sense of the oneness and wholeness of all of reality. As explained above, this is the character of truth: it faithfully connects two realities, revealing each to the other. The truth that Abraham discovered is that nothing exists outside of the realm of the Divine, and the Divine extends to all. This perspective is monotheism. It traces the evolution from God as Alone to God as One through a series of spiritual pathways which experientially originate in and faithfully reflect their Divine source.
Thus, implicit in the monotheistic perspective is a deep caring for mankind. Abraham was so exemplary in this matter that he has come to symbolize kindness and charity in Jewish literature. Accordingly, the sages relate that Abraham set up a tent at a desert crossroads in order to receive guests, providing them with food, water and shelter from the sweltering sun. The tent had openings on all sides to be accessible to all directions. Abraham was open and favorable to all. From here, too, sprang Abraham's commitment to justice and social activism. Thus God Himself describes him and his offspring as "they will keep the path of God to do charity and justice ".
A similar notion is expressed in the final benediction of the amida prayer. There, we say: " Bless us, our father, all together with the light of your face. For in the light of your face you have given us, O Lord our God, the Torah life and love of kindness and charity and blessing and compassion and life and peace ". The Divine Light implicitly contains all these positive attributes, as well as many others.
Let us briefly review. Abram, the lofty father through profound contemplation, connected with the Divine Light which implicitly contains the set of attitudes and attributes consistent with the Divine purpose. In mystical tradition, in Abraham's case, foremost among them were those tending towards kindness and charity. All of these attributes emanated from God as Alone, from the revelation that there is no reality outside of God. On the other hand, Abraham was eminently aware of an outer reality pervaded by idol worship and other blatant contradictions to the Divine Light underlying all of reality. His sense of kindness and responsibility for all lead Abraham to a new conception which could be grasped by all and congruent with the experience of God Alone. He conceived of God as One: monotheism.
Monotheism is a credo and therefore accessible to outer reality in a manner that the deep contemplative state of the Lofty father is not. Its purpose is to mediate the correction and perfection of the outer world by serving as a basis for organizing life and society. The urge to do so derives from the experiential , spiritual imperative to unify the soul and outer reality rather than to relegate the secular, mundane realm to spiritual oblivion, as the mystical practices of idol worship tend to do.
Unification of the Soul with Outer Reality
If we return to the Midrash's comparing Abraham to a man sitting on one side of the river, with the rest of the world on the other side, we can understand something of the experiential, spiritual imperative to unify the soul with outer reality. Part of the exquisite spiritual sensitivity in the meditative state is loneliness. Having a strong yearning for truth and right tends to separate a person from most others. This separateness is antithetical to the powerful sense of love and responsibility for all which emerge spontaneously from the soul. That is, the contemplative state of the lofty father is experientially, intrinsically incomplete until it is fulfilled through expression in outer reality. The Ab, father, of Abraham, also was a loving, fatherly concern for everyone.
One might say that although the concept of monotheism developed gradually , the completion of this new conception coincided with the name change from Abram to Abraham. In renaming Abram, God said that he is rendering Abraham the father of a multitude of nations. The " ha " which was added has several connotations. Most simply, it derives from the Hebrew word "hamon" which means multitude. That is, whereas until now Abraham's connection with God was mainly a private affair, it was now time for it to become universal.
Significantly, the "ram" denoting "lofty" in the name Abram was retained in the name Abraham. The intimate, private experiential connection with God remained, giving meaning and fervor to the more mundane credos and conceptions of monotheism and their expression through active service in the outer world. Universalism and activism became integral to the private connection with God. Or, the deeply personal, intimate connection with God is integral to the idealistic conceptions and practical activity in outer reality.
We see how the notion of a spiritual, ethical community is implicit in the profound contemplative state of lofty father. Torah makes it obvious that actualizing the soul's potential for practical ethical and religious involvement in the world is a significant advance for Abraham. To emerge from the profound, private spirituality of the lofty father to a life of religious and social activism is nothing short of self-transcendence. Self-transcendence means going beyond one's own, privately contained domain and reality to another sphere.
Consistent with this idea, another connotation of the letter "Hai" is revelation, revelation to some domain from which one was formally concealed, as denoted in the mystical interpretation of the letter "Hai", the fourth and final letter of the Tetragrammaton, God's name. Although the Hai is the last and thus the lowest of the letters of the Name because it merely receives content from the preceding letters in order to reveal that content to the lower, created realms, its spiritual root is nevertheless higher than all preceding letters in the Tetragrammaton. Its spiritual root is in self-transcendence, far higher than the other letters of the Name which define the internal content of the mystical realm. Similarly, the letter "Hai" added to Abram signified a new, higher level, self-transcendence which enabled Abraham to integrate the profound mystical reality of the lofty father with social and practical religion. Previous prophets did not attain this level
Thus, an important new spiritual dimension, which distinguished Abraham from earlier prophets, is the notion of a Torah community living according to the Divine purpose. Thus, God himself describes him and his offspring as " they will keep the path of God to do charity and justice ".
The Spiritual Community
Abraham's notion of a spiritual community, like all the products of his awesome genius of which we know, is transcendent. He did not conceive of a religious, moral society only for his time, but for all of history. He undertook nothing less than the ongoing perfection of this community and the progressively developing, eventual, perfection of mankind and the world.
Abraham was eminently aware of the vicissitudes of history. He had lived through the period of the Tower of Babel and seen a unified culture crumble and scatter in all directions with a myriad of languages and, presumably, systems of thought developing. He knew that merely establishing a culture and tradition based on spiritual truth did not ensure its perpetuation. Therefore, he sought a vehicle for monotheistic values and practice, which would survive despite the many cultural and historical changes mankind undergoes.
His astonishingly ingenious solution to this problem itself perfected and corrected an important dimension of the level of thought even before its implementation corrected the level of human action. Abraham recognized that each aspect of creation serves the divine purpose. Even the seeming independence and recalcitrance of physical reality which appears to be the cause of human departure from the inner spirituality of the soul, has an exalted divine purpose. Indeed, this very independence and recalcitrance to change was the key to the solution of Abraham's problem.
Abraham's solution to this problem was twofold. He required a system which would work independently of cultural variation. He also needed a way to guarantee transmission of this system throughout history. God's description of Abraham, referred to earlier, shows us Abraham's ingenious solution to these problems. As the verse states, "that he will command his sons and his household after him and they will preserve the path of God to do charity and justice ... " To preserve the path of God, Abraham commanded his sons and his household after him. He conceived of the idea of the commandment. And, most significantly, the commandment was to do something practical and specific. To preserve the path of God throughout the future despite changes in culture and thought Abraham commanded his progeny to do. The deeds, themselves, contain the seeds which will ensure the growth of spiritual awareness and truth. The variations in articulation and interpretation from individual to individual, from locale to locale, and from generation to generation will only highlight, and not obscure the Divine light contained within these commandments.
Obviously, God formally gave the Torah only in the time of Moses and it was God who gave the commandments. They are not a human invention. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that through prophecy and profound insight, Abraham discovered these Divine truths. Moreover, it sounds from God's description of Abraham that the details of the 613 commandments were not given to him explicitly. Perhaps one could say that Abraham's prophecy and insight focus mainly on the spirit of Torah. This would be consistent with Rabbi Akiva's stating that the commandment " and you shall love your neighbor as yourself " is the central underlying principle of Torah. Earlier, Hillel said: " what you detest, to not to your fellow . This is the entire Torah, and the rest is only commentary". Thus, Abraham commanded his progeny to do charity and justice specifically. Nevertheless, we must be mindful that according to the Talmud, Abraham as well as Isaac and Jacob lived according to Torah commandments down to the minutest detail before the Torah was formally given. It seems then, that Abraham had a more detailed notion of a religious system whose practice would bring internal connection to God as well as expressing the Godly Light in social activism. Key to maintaining the link to the Divine Light was the commandment to do.
Concept of a Jewish People
The second component of Abraham's conception was the notion of the People of Israel. From this perspective, we can understand the importance of a theme reiterated in the story of Abraham many times. From our first encounter with Abraham and Sarah in the Torah, at the end of the Chapter of Noah, we learn of the centrality of the question of progeny for them. Their childlessness is mentioned there, again at the beginning of Chapter Lech Lecha, and again in the middle of that chapter regarding the Covenant of the Pieces. Then, Sarah gave Hagar, her maidservant, to Abraham, hoping that if Abraham had children with Hagar, Sarah would also be blessed with children. Some thirteen years later God promises Abraham that he and Sara will have a son whom they should call Isaac. At the beginning of the next chapter, the angels again promised Abraham that he and Sara will have a son. And finally, later in that chapter, Isaac is born.
The question of progeny was so central to Abraham that when God wanted to bless him, Abraham responded: " Lord God, what can you give me and I am childless ". When considering a righteous and man as Abraham, we understand that his concern for progeny was deeply spiritual, not just the natural, fervent hope many people have to have children. To understand something of the spiritual dimension of Abraham's desire for children, let us examine an idea whose origin is in the Book of Akaida by Rabbi. Isaac Arma'a.
A fundamental doctrine of Jewish mysticism is that God's revelation is infinite: the Infinite Light. A simple understanding of the Infinite Light is to characterize the mystical experience, and indeed our understanding of godliness, as overwhelming, ungraspable, and uncontainable within the creation. Someone who has had a glimmer of the Godly light can never, ever, really come to terms with it. Our created, finite, relative world can not contain the absolute, transcendent reality of the Infinite Light.
The Book of Akaida introduces a new perspective. It states that the infinity of the Godly Light also is expressed in the operation of nature. According to his understanding, the irresistible sequence of sunrise and sunset, for example, and the passages of the stars in the firmament reveal an irresistible power through infinite repetition. Perhaps we may allow ourselves to adapt this notion to modern conceptions by focusing on the uniform, repetitive application of natural laws under virtually all circumstances. The irresistible, repetitive application of natural laws reveals an infinite power.
This revelation of the Infinite Light is so
powerful that modern culture assumes we are fully defined by it, by
nature, often attributing to it absolute, fully independent existence,
ignoring or denying God's transcendent reality whose revelation is the
source of spirituality and meaning.. Modern culture even defines realism
as accordance with normal, natural functioning of outer reality. As
discussed above, this approach tends to lead to idol worship, fixating
on pure physicality while ignoring spiritual truth. As discussed above,
Abraham's first job was to rediscover this spiritual truth. He then
dedicated himself to bringing the world back to God.
Abraham must quickly have encountered resistance to his spiritual plans, and discerned that the world's resistance is not only stubbornness or error; this independence is really the nature of created reality. If Abraham could not change nature, (performing miracles is God's prerogative) he understood that there is something about nature which, itself, is Godly. His creative inspiration must have been something like the insight of the Book of Akaida that this repetitive, seemingly independent behavior of the physical creation is an expression of the Infinite Light. Abraham's challenge, then, was to integrate the pure spirituality he discovered in meditative states, the direct, pure revelation of the Infinite Light, with the other manner of revealing the infinite, expressed in the irresistible repetition of nature.
Infinity in Life
A very striking instance of this form of revelation of Infinite Light is life. Living creatures contain the seeds of infinity in their ability to procreate . Abraham realized that life, particularly human life, contains both aspects of the Infinite Godly Light. On the one hand, the essential, true spiritual revelation of infinity as contained in the soul is accessible through profound contemplation and deep study. On the other hand, the potential to transmit this infinitely, through all generations, resides in the body, and most specifically, in the ability to procreate.
To fulfill his God given a mission, then, Abraham needed children. He conceived of a nation, a people all of whom are related, essentially, one great extended family who share this Divine mission and transmit it to their children throughout the course of history. Israel, then, the Jews, have the privileged mission of revealing -through living according to Torah, and indeed themselves are - the Divine Infinite Light: the eternal truth expressed in the permanence of physicality through the body and through procreation throughout history . This, itself, constitutes correction and perfection, both of the Jews and of the world.
Of course, Abraham could not be certain of the permanence of the nation he was destined to progenate. In his own life, Abraham may have seen the demise of entire nations. The destruction of Sodom and its neighboring cities may be an example of that. He could not be certain that the nation which would descend from him would remain permanently. From this perspective, Abraham's undertaking this mission was an act of supreme faith.
This is the meaning of the covenant of the Brit Mila between God and Abraham from Abraham's point of view. Thus, the text states: " And Abram was 99 years old and the Lord appeared to Abram and said the to him, I am El Shaddai (God), walk before me and be whole. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and multiply you very greatly. And Abram became prostrate and God spoke to him saying behold my covenant with you and you will be a father of a multitude of nations. And your name shall not be called Abram any longer, and your name will be Abraham for I have made you father of a multitude of nations. And I will multiply you very much and I will make you into nations and kings will issue forth from you. And I have established my covenant between Me and you and your progeny after you for the generations after you as an eternal covenant to be your God and your progeny's after you. And I have given to you and to your progeny after you the land in which you dwelled, all of the land of Canaan as an eternal holding and I will be God for them. And God said to Abraham: and you will guard my covenant, you and your progeny afterwards for their generations. This is the covenant which you shall guard between Me and you and your progeny after you to circumcise all of your males"
This covenant was proposed in a state of prophecy. When Abraham resumed his more usual, human state he still had to decide whether to trust it. Indeed, the sages relate that he consulted his neighbors before proceeding with the act. The conscious decision to trust the prophecy regarding the perpetuity of the nation which would descend from him was an act of supreme faith.
We, Abraham's progeny, continue and perpetuate this covenant of supreme faith, the covenant of circumcision , in each generation. Reviewing the spiritual achievements of Jews throughout history shows this covenant to have been effective, with both partners of the covenant doing their part. True, we Jews have strayed sometimes, but essentially we have remained committed to our mission. To that extent, God has blessed our efforts. Greatly overshadowing the not inconsiderable material blessings our people has occasionally enjoyed, though most of our ancestors in most generations were poor, have been the spiritual blessings, accompanied by the profound sense by most Jews that the effort has been eminently worthwhile. This sense that the effort is eminently worthwhile accounts for the great commitment to remaining Jewish our people have demonstrated throughout history despite massive adversity.
We, the People of Israel, continue to dedicate our lives to the covenant with God, to the true purpose of creation discovered by Abraham: to unify the sublime, profound eternal truths with the actualities of the physical world. In the process, both domains are elevated to merge with the Divine Light. As Zohar stated: " Israel, Torah, and the Holy one, blessed be He, are One.
from the October 2001 Edition of the Jewish Magazine