"May Adonai bless you and protect you! May Adonai deal kindly and graciously with you! May Adonai lift up his countenance upon you and grant you peace!" (Torah, Numbers 6:24-26) And Jesus said, "Allow the little children to come unto me. Forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of God. Truly, I say unto you, unless you receive the Kingdom of God as a little child does, you shall not enter therein." (New Testament, Mark 10:14-16)
Sojourning at an Oasis Paradise
Most of what you will see here is the result of extensive personal study, combined with some careful speculation. Occasionally, I may simply offer some Scripture or an inspirational text. I am a wide reader, and the connection of some topics and ideas to matters of faith and religion may not seem immediately obvious, but perhaps I may spell it out in the end... or maybe, you will decide that it was just a tangent. Anyway, I hope that you will find my meanderings to be spiritually enlightening, intellectually stimulating, or at least somewhat entertaining.
In the coming weeks and months, I intend to transcribe a series of essays that I wrote about 20 years ago in the hope that I might get them published. They represent the nucleus of my spiritual life and the focal point around which my wanderings revolve like an electron in an atom. I hope that they might eventually serve as a springboard for discussions about the common spiritual heritage of humanity. May we come together and embrace each other in peace.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
It was an old proverb that admonished us: " Neither a lender, nor a borrower be," but even corporations and businesses have walked into this trap today, and succumbed to the lies of the greedy. "Debt is good, so long as it produces income," is the new mantra. The investor doesn't care about the well-being of the borrower. He only wants his money back with interest. If you are foolish enough to agree to his terms and sign his contract you become his servant, spending your efforts to make him richer and only deluding yourself that you are in pursuit of your own goals. For now, he has an enforceable claim on you, and can at the very least make your life miserable if you are late with your payments. He demands what you owe, on time, regardless of your needs or other obligations.
The penalties for "default" have been both various and severe in different places and different times. They have ranged from enslavement of your self or your children, to a term of captive labor in prison. At the very least, you would lose all that you thought you were working for, your house, your land, your chattels, since the creditor could come and seize your property and sell it to reclaim what you owed him. This humiliating process could very likely leave you homeless and destitute, with your name and reputation ruined, so that you must now wander in search of work and sustenance for your family. Of course, no one will give you any kind of a loan. You can soon become a beggar in the streets. And all for what? A dream of a better life? It may not even have been your fault, you did everything you were supposed to do... but the combinations of bad weather, or the vagaries of the market, or just plain bad luck ruined all of your hard work and good intentions. And the creditor does not care, nor will he give you a second chance. No one would be one bit surprised if you simply give up in despair, and wander off into the wilderness to die of shame, hunger and neglect... or worse, go and hide in the alleyways of the city to become a criminal waylaying the innocent.
But this is not the kind of world that God wants. Not at all. He has warned us away from this evil every time He has given us a revelation of his Will. Every Scripture has some prohibition against usury. The loan of money at interest is forbidden by God's law - because it is the antithesis of all He wants us to pursue. Usury is the opposite of Love, Wisdom, Freedom, and even Truth - and yet, it is allowed by all of the Laws and regulations of Man. Why? Because the one who has the gold is the one who makes the rules. The only alternative is violence, or the threat of violence that the rich man's gold can be taken away. But civilization cannot be sustained by violence, only by the rule of Law. Whether by peer pressure, altruistic conscience, sanctions from authority, or submission to the will of God, only by cooperation with Law can civilization survive. And yet, in our world, riches are power. Men desire power - to command what they will and watch to see it done. And always, more is better. Greed is megalomania. Man would usurp God's own power if he could. Money becomes the idol that he worships, and the love of money becomes the root of all evil.
Take a look at the banks, even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that loans money to national governments... They are ruled by the profit motive. They may be regulated by governments, but they will do everything they can to increase profits, to increase their capital funds and enrich their owners and managers. They will charge every cent of interest, and every fee that they are allowed, depending on to whom they are lending. Banks are owned by investors. They do not exist to serve the public. They are the modern equivalent of the tax collectors so hated in Jesus' day, collaborators with the rich and powerful, yet professing to be just like ordinary people while they get rich at our expense. Jesus called Matthew, and he dumped his investment and left his job collecting taxes to follow, for the good of his people and the salvation of his soul. Collaboration with those who worship idols, with those who would set themselves up as gods, is a sin which demands a radical change in one's life. You cannot serve both God and money.
But where is God in all of this? The Christian would say that you should only lend money where you do not expect it to be returned, and to forgive your debtors. Islam forbids loans for interest, allowing one only to collect what one has placed in the other's care. Judaism, more ambiguously, forbids usury and leaves the definition open to debate, but clearly enough it means excessive interest for profit. God does not want us to ruin each other for greed. We are meant to love God with all that we are, and our neighbors as much as ourselves. If we would do that, investment would become collaboration with the borrower and sharing in the profits, or the losses. Investments are more humane as joint venture contracts. The lender has a stake in the borrower's success, and so cares enough to help and give his best advice. The banker would try to measure the chances of success of each venture by the skills and knowledge of the borrowers, and offer his own skills and services toward that success. He would know that failure would demand forgiveness of the debt, not foreclosure on the properties of the unfortunate.
But there is no banking without interest. There is no motivation without an expectation of a return. Our riches cannot be solely in heaven, for we must eat each day that we live here, and we must work or we will starve. So, we must ask, how much interest will be excessive and leading to greed for profits? The Scriptures do give us some values from which we may draw inferences to keep our expectations in balance. In Judaism, God requires a tithe, ten percent, of all produce as a sacrifice to the Temple. Christianity requires the same tithe from our income as an offering to the Church. And Islam requires the faithful to give charity to the poor. Evidently, God Himself only requires and demands that we dedicate to his service ten percent of what we earn. So proper humility would suggest that anyone who demands more would be setting himself above God. That is the primary sin of the man who loves money and power, that he would usurp God's place and demand that which is due only to God. Therefore, the upper limit of any expectation of return on an investment, by one who does not share in the labor of the borrower, must be placed just below ten percent. Ideally, of course, we should give loans for the sake of charity, to uplift our brothers and sisters for the approval of God alone, but we are frail creatures and such motivation is insufficient, as is our compassion for each other. We must be allowed to expect some small reward in this world, or else no action will be taken. God knows this, and accepts the limitations of his creatures. His choice to accept our devotion of ten percent of our produce to his service shows that he knows how much we can bear. It is too burdensom to shoulder any debt that requires more than a tithe of its produce in interest.
By the same inference, we can know how much debt any person can borrow. At most, only ten percent of anyone's income can be dedicated to the service of debt, for we must all remember that we have family obligations, government taxes, and our tithe due to God. How else can we keep our responsibilities in order, except to demand that they remain in balance and proportion?
One caveat must remain: Watch the banker and the investor to be sure that their services fairly earn the return on each investment. To simply give a loan is a service worth less than ten percent, and many loans are today given at much lower rates. Beware those who would charge interest on unpaid interest, although periodically adding interest upon unpaid principal can be agreed as fair. Nor should they be allowed to multiply "services" meaninglessly to add more fees to burden the borrower. Those who use such tricks seek to evade the risk of losses that it is their duty to share. If the lender cannot forgive a debt that has failed to be repaid, lest he himself be ruined, let him hold the borrower obliged to repay whatever amounts he can, as soon as he can without suffering hardship, until the original loan is returned without interest. If the borrower has offered no goods to secure the loan, the lender can not seize any property to regain his money. The risk of such an unsecured loan is to be shared.
Perhaps such a system of credit is not perfect, but in my view, it would be far better for the common man than the one we have now, and it would be flexible enough to allow our economy to function nearly as well, without many of the risks and abuses that we currently suffer. I offer to discuss it at length with any economist who wishes to explain why it would not work. Any comments are, of course, welcome.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
It is all I can do to keep in mind the goal of my desire, which is simply to find an image of my beloved to put in my pocket to remind me of the sweet time we spent together. I know that my beloved lives in a faraway land. The postmarks on her letters are so faded that I can hardly read them through the tear-stains I have inadvertently dropped on them. But I met her here one lovely day, when she touched my hand and whispered into my ear, asking me to meet her at her home for dinner some day. When I asked her where she lives, she laughed, saying that she dropped a photograph of herself somewhere in this bazaar, and that it has her address and directions written in her own hand on its back. I come here every day to search and try to find that photograph.
I still remember that day when she took me by the hand, and led me from the bazaar. We walked through the winding streets of the town, until we passed its gate and found ourselves wandering in the hills. The flowers smelled so sweet and the air so fresh, but they failed any comparison to her kisses and the fragrance of her hair. And yet, she was leaving for home that very day, and all I could do was to promise to come after her. She sends me letters once in a while, but I cannot read the language on the envelope. My only hope is to find the photograph that she dropped.
As I wandered between the stalls today, I met an old lady begging for coins. Her clothes were ragged, and she smelled of kitchen-smoke. One of her teeth was missing, but she smiled nonetheless. She tugged at my sleeve. "Mister, can you spare a coin?" she asked. "My daughter wants a stamp for her letter." The strangeness of it stopped me. She was not asking for anything for herself, not saying she was hungry, or needy in any other way... I felt my pockets, indeed I had a coin. I pulled it out and handed it over, saying "I'm looking for a photograph of my beloved lost somewhere in this bazaar. Have you seen it?" She looked at me closely. "That's odd," she said. "My daughter told me she lost her photo here long ago, and I've only just found it. Could this be what you're looking for?" She held out a battered and dirty square of paper. I could easily tell that it had been glossy before, but now the face was faded and scratched. There was writing on the back, but also smudged beyond deciphering. I studied the face again. "Maybe..." I began to think how to ask for a description, but the old woman grabbed my sleeve again and began pulling me toward the street. I almost pulled away, but my heart was pounding. Could it really be?
Once outside, the old lady spoke again. "She said you would be there, looking. Come with me. Dinner is cooking." She led me through the streets of my own town, the ones I had walked on since I was a child, but they hardly seemed familiar now. It was as if I was seeing them for the first time. She lives here? I asked myself. "But of course," the old lady said, as if I had spoken aloud. "She is as close to you as your own heart. She knows you go to the bazaar every day, but you never buy anything. You only go there to search for her picture. She told me where to find it, and to give it to you." I had to watch you for myself, to see if you were worthy, but I should have trusted her. She is wise beyond her years, that one." Then we came to a door, partly open, and I could smell the cooking... but there was something else in the air, a fragrance barely remembered. "Go on, Go on. She's waiting," the old lady urged me toward the door. "I've got my own places to go," and she turned and hobbled away back down the street.
As I opened the door, I could hear her quietly humming a melody to herself, and I knew I had come home at last.
Monday, December 14, 2009
In order to make room for this universe, God (BhS) began to withdraw within Himself (tsimtsum) so as to create a region where He was not, an empty space which He could thereafter fill by the simultaneous processes of self-revelation and creation. Basically, God (BhS) had put a limit on Himself and in so doing had created the formless void, out of which the universe was created.
During this process of creation, God (BhS) began to recognize the various apects of his own Being, discerning their differences and potentials. He was disturbed to discover a harshness in his own Judgment (Din) and sought to isolate this aspect, pushing it away into the emptiness He had just created. But He did not abandon it there forever. Rather, He saw its potential for becoming destructive, and sought to temper it with Mercy (Chesed). Thus creation itself became an act of infusing the universe with the various aspects of Divinity - even unto the emptying of Himself also of his "person-ness" so as to create an "other" person to whom God (BhS) could speak and listen to an "other" voice. In effect, this creation was intended to allow God (BhS) to be able to communicate with a mirror image of Himself. This "other" person would be differentiated from Himself only by its separation within a capsule, a bubble of God's own divine light.
But the aspects of God cannot be contained discreetly. His powers are too immense - even though He would differentiate his potentials into as many as ten different aspects. [The sefiroth: Crown (Keter), Wisdom (Hokmah), Intelligence (Binah), Judgment (Din), Mercy (Chesed), Patience (Netzakh), Compassion (Rachamim), Majesty (Hod), Foundation (Yesod), and Kingdom (Malkuth)] AS God (BhS) filled these capsules with His own sublime incandescence, to create the "other person" with whom he could share his thoughts, the sefiroth BURST! It was an unprecedented, unimaginable catastrophe... and it scattered sparks of His Divinity explosively throughout all of creation, leaving them trapped in the formless void which He had separated from Himself.
After this, God (BhS) collected to himself as many of the sparks as He could, and decided that the best way to gather the rest would be to create the universe that we now know and are a part of. He created Adam and Eve to be vessels containing the sparks that would otherwise be lost, and gave to them that quality of "person-ness" that He had intended for his mirrored other. Thus they had the powers of speech to be able to pray, as well as fragments of all the other aspects of God (BhS). And if Adam and Eve had not sinned, all would have been well. The catastrophe would have been mended, and God (BhS) would have had the companions He so desired.
But as we know, Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden of Eden, whether from disobedience or because of God's design that they should choose to become like God (BhS) doesn't really matter. Humanity now has scattered sparks within each and every one of us. This world suffers from the lack of perfection which will come eventually as the sparks are gathered unto God (BhS). And we are left with a longing to return (teshuva) - a longing we can neither define nor fulfill until we learn to seek and find God (BhS).
And God (BhS) also is actively seeking for us. He speaks to us and guides us, and we remember and teach about Him in our religions. But not everyone can believe in the same religion. God (BhS) has given us many to choose from. The ones that become too corrupted will fade away. Yet human beings are unique, and their conceptions of Divinity are also unique - even when many agree on what they think is important. So there remain some who cannot join a religion. That is why we have been given the open and all-inclusive ways like the Laws of Noah, Sufism, gnosticism, theosophy and even the direct and simple ways of mysticism and intuition. And of course, the rigorous and rational ways of science and philosophy can also lead to God (BhS), if that is what one seeks.
It is the brokenness of the world, and the longing in our hearts that leads us to seek the solace that can only be found in God (BhS). And it is our task to help each other to repair the world (tikkun olam), and to lead each other back to God (BhS) by paths best suited to the individual's needs. We are given the task to gather the sparks of Divinity and return them to Him. And when that is done, we shall become his mirror companions, individual and unique, absorbed in our devotion and fulfilled with Divinity eternal... at least until this universe is filled with Life.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Mohammad (pbuh) became a prophet because he was discontent with the messages brought to him by those who claimed to speak for God (BhS). He retreated into the mountains to try to sort out the truth for himself. God (BhS) loves those who seek Him ardently with purity of heart, and often comes to them with visions. This time, He sent the angel Gabriel to teach Mohammad the Qur'an. As time progressed, the Qur'an became a new sacred Book. But Mohammad saw into the future and knew that even this Qur'an would eventually be covered over with humanity's dross, so he declared, "I shall be the Seal of the Prophets," and this shall be the last of the sacred Scriptures to begin a new religion. It is pointless to start any new religions when there is already enough guidance to be found by those who truly seek God (BhS).
But Mohammad (pbuh) retained his respect for the prophets who had come before him. Their Books held essential ideas and principles both necessary and sufficient to guide any one who would seek God (BhS) along the paths they marked. Mohammad (pbuh) only spoke against them in the places where they went wrong. He insisted that there can only be one God, and that He is a Unity, without any peer or divisions - which is true, and he declared that observing the 613 laws promulgated among the Jews would only succeed in making one into a Jew - which is also true. If one sincerely seeks God (BhS), it is enough to be a person of faith keeping the laws of Noah, to be strictly ethical and carefully rational, and to be devoted to God (BhS) through submission to His will and service to His plan. The People of the Book who follow in this way are of equal stature before God (BhS), even with the most pious and "good works" muslim. We all stand in need of His infinite compassion, mercy and grace.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Noah was a very wise man. He asked God (BhS) what he should do to prevent his descendants from repeating the mistakes of the past. And so, God (BhS) made a covenant with Noah, and gave him seven laws that he should pass on to future generations. If these would be remembered, those who kept them would not again fall into wickedness, but would be accounted as righteous and wise among men. These seven laws were kept as simple as possible, because Noah and his family were simple people. They can be found in Genesis, chapter 9, but one version of them I shall list here:
1. You shall not have any idols before God.
2. You shall not murder.
3. You shall not steal.
4. You shall not commit sexual immorality.
5. You shall not blaspheme God's name.
6. You shall not eat flesh taken from a living animal.
7. You shall set up just laws and courts.
There have been a few additions to this list, over the course of time, but these seven are sufficient for anyone who follows them, not because they are reasonable or a good way to live, but because they come from God (BhS).
Many years later, Abraham and his father, Terah, found that they could not live in Ur of the Chaldees, because they had reverted to idol worship. Indeed, Terah, had been am idol-maker, until he realized it was wrong and destroyed his entire inventory of merchandise. Then he turned the leadership of the family over to Abraham, and they headed south along the Fertile Crescent until they came into Canaan, near present-day Jerusalem, and met a righteous King, Melchizadek. There Abraham bought a plot of land and decided to stay. He kept the laws of Noah, until God came to him and chose him to be the founder of a new covenant, to bring His words unto all nations.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
And yet in another time, the message of impending doom was also given to Jonah, who knew within his heart that there was a chance that the Ninevites might hear his words and repent. Jonah, however, felt the anger which stirred in God's heart, and desired that the judgement foretold to fall upon the unrighteous would actually come to pass. He did not agree with the offer of mercy, which the divine warning implied. But I do.
I do not know which is the scenario that must be played out in this age. The whole world stands in the position of the city of Ninevah, rife with ungodliness and faced with the choice of reform or destruction. There are those who do not have ears to hear, nor eyes to see. They say that the message is too hard, that it is beyond the understanding of simple people, that the prophet must speak in a language that can be grasped by the common man, or else he must not be a prophet after all. I cannot help the style of the words I must use. They are the way of understanding which I was given. I can only hope that God (Baruch haShem) has not decreed that He will stop up the ears, and darken the eyes of this generation, that they should not hear, nor see the judgement that is to come.
I do not claim to be a prophet of the stature of the great Isaiah, nor do I have the certainty of Jonah, that the words of God will inevitably urge those who live in darkness to repent. I am but a small voice, whispering to the winds that blow in the desert, because I must. I have answered the awesome question, "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" with a trembling voice, "Here I am. Send me." I too have my faults, to fear that I am unworthy of the encounter with His Holiness, but I can do no less than give whatever service is asked of me. I can only hope that some shall hear, that there will be responses enough to turn away the catastrophes that would come with judgement and wrath. I must assume the stance of the eternal optimist.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Aside from the original human frailties and faults of misunderstanding and self-interest, and a consequent mistrust, there are a variety of world-views and social perspectives that seem to be mutually exclusive. One reason for this disparity is the fact of different religions existing in different regions of the world. Naturally, this has been interpreted as meaning that "our" faith is the right one, and all the others must therefore be false or somehow corrupted. I humbly beg to differ with this assumption. Rather, I see this variety of religions as a sign that God actually trusts us as human beings to seek out that which is highest and best in us - in ourselves, our societies, our deeds and aims... God comes to meet us always where we are in the moment. He communicates in language we can understand (if He uses language at all), and uses concepts which we can grasp to try to give us a sense of what He desires and expects from us. His intent has always been to guide us, and to give us a sense of purpose. He wishes to help us to grow into our full potential as worthy companions, whom He can promote to full citizenship in Heaven. This action of God, blessed be His Name, is an essential proof that He sustains an eternal faith in us. For that reason He moves to confront us with His Presence and reveal His will to us, to choose us individually and collectively for various roles within His plan, and to promise us His favor if we will follow Him. It is His expectation that enough of us will receive His Word with gladness, and try to do what we believe is right and respond in turn with faith in Him. God (Baruch haShem) comes to us, within the world as we know it, and trusts us to respond with all the goodness we can draw from our hearts.
The problem lies in the fact that not every one of us has the same experiences, the same education, the same expectations, hopes or capacities to see beyond the everyday realities that also confront us. Therefore, the messages that God (BhS) brings to us become truncated into more easily understandable and communicated forms that bend to fit the various cultures we have built over the ages. The capacities of the messenger - the prophet - and the abilities of his audience to understand, contribute to the fidelity of communication through many stages of transmission... including translation into languages that were unknown to the original prophet. God tries to limit these affectations, but again, the openness and capacities of human beings in the moment can not be entirely overcome. That is a consequence of the freedom of will and self-actualization that He designed us for. It is all a part of His plan for eternity.
But we have often thought that whatever faith we considered as "ours" was the right one, either because our parents so taught us, or because the religion that imparted it to us claimed it as so. We looked outward to imagine that the traditions and faiths of others, because they were different, must be somehow defective. And yet, amazingly, one religion on earth has seen and overcome this problem - and some of us dare to call it a "pagan" religion. Hinduism discovered this problem and evolved a philosophy and theology that related all of the various peoples' faiths back to a unitary reality... bundled them all together into the almost ineffable, unutterable concept of Brahman, which they even then insist is a poor reflection of the reality they were trying to explain. Today, millenia later, many of us still only consider the "monotheistic" faiths to be on the path of truth, but I see that original philosophy of unification to be the hope of Humanity for a more civilized future.
Let me end this monologue now with a paraphrase from the last sermon of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him):
"All mankind is descended from Adam and Eve. No one has any superiority over any other except by piety and good action. Learn that every believer is a brother or sister to every other believer and that those who believe in God constitute one family. Do not therefore do injustice to yourselves."
Thursday, December 3, 2009
I have thought about this a lot, for many years, and I have developed a few
conclusions and opinions. Many of these may be controversial, or maybe not...
I expect to open a number of subjects for discussion.
Please feel free to comment on any of these:
1. Mystical experience: there are several varieties, including enlightenment
as well as prophetic visions and personal inspiration.
2. Practical ideals: I have discerned these in the world's various sacred literatures
and Scriptures - Truth, Freedom, Love and Wisdom. I feel that they are the
foundations of morality, and the priorities that God wishes us to pursue.
3. Silence: including meditation and worship. The unlimited Way can only be
followed in the silence of one's own heart.
4. Virtue: the transformation of one's character to reflect the perfection of God.
Muslims call this the interior jihad, and it is truly a great struggle.
5. Community: God always wants us to reach out to others in His name, both for
our own fulfillment and for His joy.
6. Creation: this is a very deep subject. God wants us to respect and enjoy his, and
to find the talents He gave us for our participation in this activity.
7. Reconciliation: Clearly there is much that is amiss in this world. Thus we have
the concept of sin. We need to bridge the alienation between ourselves and God,
other persons and Nature. Thankfully, God is ready with His grace to help.
8. Prayer: How do we pray so that we, and God, get the most out of the encounter?
What does God want to hear and to say to us, and what does he want us to get from it?
Are there some secrets that the Masters know better than the rest of us?
As far as I have read in the world's various Scriptures, and I have least dabbled in
most of them, these are the central topics of most interest to God and to ourselves.
The differences are mostly cultural and/or due to differences of the personalities or
agendas of the prophets.
Of course, if you wish to suggest a new topic, feel free to email me, and I may take
it up in a future entry. Even now, I can think of a couple more... Apocalypticism,
and the Afterlife. Hmmm... more to come. I hope to hear your views as mine emerge
here. Variety and harmony also please our God.
May He bless you always with His Presence and His merciful guidance.