The Attraction Of The Mystical

May 5th, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God Who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” (Galileo, 1615) I agree with Galileo, however, I seem to be in a shrinking minority. I have recently been inundated with stories of chimneys that serve as doorways for demons, lit matches that bring angels, and eggs under the pillow that help people find their future spouse. I’m convinced that there are invisible spiritual forces and beings around us, but I choose to use my “sense, reason, and intellect,” to make my choices. I fear paying attention to these mysterious and unexplainable things lest I fall into the habit of forgoing the use of my mind.

Judaism has practices that are based on the mysterious, but it never asks that we suspend our reason. People are constantly searching for the logical basis of each mystery that has been formalized in Jewish law because we know that the Divine gift of intellect is the most precious and demanding of all.

We translate Kabbalah as Mysticism, although it is the opposite.  Kabbalah seeks to explain the spiritual structure of existence. It is sophisticated and complex, which is quite different from mystical. It is only mystical to those who are unfamiliar with it.

The Hebrew word for world is ‘Olam’, which derives from ‘H’elem’, or ‘Hidden.’ Of course there are all sorts of spiritual realities hidden in our world. Our job and blessing is to discover and reveal that which is hidden. It is not to worship the hidden at the price of the rational. The verse says, “Reishit Chochma Yirat Hashem,” “The beginning of wisdom is awe of God,” which means that we acknowledge there is an area beyond our comprehension, but what comes immediately after the acknowledgement is Chochma, wisdom.

A person approaching the Temple to make an offering has a choice. Will he focus on the mysterious powers of the offering to bring forgiveness and blessing, associating the Temple Service with a different dimension of existence? Or, will he approach the Cohen, in his most important role, as a teacher who will explain the process as part of the structure of life? The first person will not be able to take his Temple experience home with him. The second will have used his offering to continue to transform his life long after he returns home. I choose to be the second person.

We face the same choice before we take our three steps back when we finish prayer: Am I leaving the prayer behind because it is not part of my “real” world, or will I take my prayer experience with me? I choose the latter.

The mystical offers an escape from life. Judaism focuses on Torat Chaim, living this life with passion and meaning. The mystical is a release from our limitations. Judaism guides us in how to overcome them. Mysticism is often a search for the magical, what I call Cheating. Judaism is a demand to be practical. The Mystic celebrates the magical powers of the righteous. The thinker rejoices over their teachings, wisdom and insight.

Hopefully, things will turn out better for me than they did for Galileo, because I’m sticking with him on this one. I invite you to join me.

Author Info:
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