Friday, March 25, 2005

Sinful Thoughts, Painful Penitence, and Perhaps Too Many Secrets of Judaism Revealed.

This entry may be worth your time.

71. My eyes are drying out which means my body has just a few minutes left before I either fall asleep or get my second wind and end up staying awake until late tonight; sleep has been advised.

I admit that the image I posted in lieu of my profile is startling at first, but when you look at it more carefully, you'll realize that the image is made up of fragments of many pictures, none of which are of me. The hand looks a little bit like mine. Yet, I would posit that each fragment resembles an important part of me. The frightening thought is when you look at the complete image; those that know me will see me looking back at them.

Those of you who are reading the blog have started to react to my slithering jests towards religion, my best friend and my nemesis. How can I be religious you ask, while I seem to hate G-d? Your comments, specifically here and here react to my angst about the world being apparently devoid of G-d's revealed presence. It also seems to disturb you that I lack enthusiasm for the promise of reward in the world to come for my present acts; you think this, combined with my fear of punishment is a childish view of religion, as has been commented.

I will let you in on a little secret, and then I will tell you why I choose to stay religious in spite of my objections noted in prior blogs. The basic premise of any religious belief system is the belief in a creator, a G-d. Logic reveals G-d's presence by using infinite regressions; eventually one comes to a point where the question of "... and who created that?" gets tiring; it is at this point that the concept of a first creator is revealed. Even the big bang theory starts with a giant explosion of unfathomable proportions, and yet the theory begs the question "who turned on the light?”

My little secret is as much as I am sad and frustrated why I cannot see G-d, he's the creator of the devil on my shoulder, he's the witness of my every crime against him, and he's the giant face without a form to whom I have the kind of imaginary relationship that a little girl has to her imaginary friend. With my thoughts, I talk to him all the time because there is a part of me that can not deny his existence. I feel that he is with me and he is me; I am not him, I am of him. And yet what bothers me is, what an ego I have -- as if I were any kind of equal to him, whereas when something goes wrong, who do I blame? At whom do I shake my fists? To whom have I on many occasions challenged to a duel?

These are not the acts of a religious man who serves G-d and who follows G-d's will. Serves G-d?!? When I follow his will I do it begrudgingly because he's the one with the bigger muscles. I don't even understand the reasons why one should be religious. The logical arguments are circular and stupid. G-d said so in his Torah; G-d is truth; G-d wrote the Torah; Torah is truth; Do what is True; Do what G-d says, or else. How is this any different from someone who approaches you with a knife and says, "your wallet or your life"?!? And of course we learn in Judaism that we have free choice whether or not to follow G-d's commandments. What moron would not follow when given such a choice? Yet when I do disobey, I feel as if I am spitting in G-d's face and saying "do something about it, I dare you" as if I were a rebellious child dying inside for more than de minimus attention from his aloof father.

And then there are those rules of morality which I just don't like. What is the spiritual significance behind the prohibition against taking interest? It just feels like for the specific issues I deal with, I am wired differently than the rule requires me to be. There is a chassidic concept that says that G-d wouldn't give you a challenge unless he would also give you the faculties, the means, and the strength to overcome that challenge. Yet the challenges he gave me didn't seem to give me the clarity to serve him; they seemed to lead me down the other direction. Yet for almost five years now, I have not transgressed even once. I have built my life around protecting the sanctity of these moral rules and I have cut off any possibilities of transgressing. For that, I chide G-d almost daily that he better not have been joking around when he gave us this decree because I've been following it and his other decrees to the letter and it has made me a very unhappy person because many things I once valued as being good are now forbidden.

Then, there is the contradiction that despite this, I stay religious. Who likes to observe a Jewish holiday where the main theme is usually "they tried to kill us, they failed, let's eat!" Furthermore, there is all this praying and dancing and doing acts that seem to make no sense except to mark a testamentary, reminiscent reminder of the specific event that befell us. But add in the concept that every physical act has a spiritual counterpart, and I am hooked. Suddenly where the Torah says to do something like eat bread or break Matzah (unleavened bread), suddenly there is a spiritual significance that does something and has a physical effect on our world. Suddenly, everything I do, even eating a cookie or going to sleep has spiritual significance because I say a blessing on the cookie which raises the holiness within it (think Super Mario Brothers and getting the coins), or because I ask G-d to protect my soul from bad forces while it leaves my body for the night while I sleep. Every moment of my life, even going to the bathroom, suddenly has significance. No matter what I am doing, there is a right way to do it and a wrong way, and further, there are the good intentions or the lack of them when doing this act. Dimensions of depth and meaning have been added to my life just by that one concept. All the more so with everything else that I have learned.

So in a way it seems silly for me to moan about what I can no longer do because my eyes have been opened to concepts I spent my life dreaming that one day I would know. And further, the magnificence of every spiritual act that manifests through a mere hallucination of imposing new meaning onto something otherwise ordinary baffles me beyond recognition. I would cry if my eyes were closed to the miracles within the ordinary acts most take for granted. I would be misdirected if I were blinded to the now obvious spirituality taking place within each physical act. I stay religious because I wouldn't trade this viewpoint for anything, and it would be inconsistent for me to act otherwise.

On this topic, there is one irk I have with Judaism, and you can only appreciate this when you get deep enough into it. The deeper you get into Judaism, the more spiritual everything becomes, and your eyes change and they attune to see the spiritual within the physical. If one thinks deep enough, one can even see the G-dliness within something as physical as the empty Fruit-2-O bottle that is sitting to the left of the computer I am using to write you now at 1 am. In sum, Judaism molds its followers into sorcerers and magicians, training us to see the magic in everything. At a certain age and rite, we are even privy to learn how to practice that magic, namely through the meditative practices within the Kabbalah. We can master the world with the biblical spiritual technology at our fingertips. Yet for a Jew, sorcery is prohibited. Practicing magic is forbidden. Changing the world through unnatural means is highly destructive.

To further exacerbate the problems one faces, the worlds are set up in a way where the odds are stacked against the Jew who tries to indulge in the most desperate desire of all; to become a god. Stories and hints of it are given in the written Torah starting with the story of Adam and Eve and of Noah's Ark, but if one tries to practice sorcery or to transgress a commandment, the forces of evil and good by their nature and their manifestation in the worlds, and the spiritual beings that inhabit each world will tear up and destroy the soul and the person of anyone who dares to transgress the word of G-d and practice magic (akin to idolatry).

That would be okay for us because most often we don't feel the effects of the soul. But one who practices any form of sorcery, even the kind that could be permissible will literally go crazy or will lose his life if he is not a proper vessel to channel the kind of energy that is invoked by doing the kind of incantation or action that invokes such power. That doesn't bother me because I tried to learn the stuff and had no idea what it was talking about, even after I was knowledgeable about the topics. Plus the meditations were so complex that they would take days to do, and would take more patience than I'll ever have to even get it right.

More so, Jews today cannot practice these skills -- they are basically outlawed in practice because we cannot be vessels unless we have the Temple in Israel rebuilt. Because we have no Temple, we cannot do a few hundred of the commandments. By that fact alone, our souls are not complete enough to be vessels to conjure or invoke or handle the powers (because they physically cannot perform all the commandments because they are not available to be performed) and so we don't even engage in such acts. Yet where this becomes significant is that those same bad entities that can kill us and kick our butts if we do something that changes the world in an unnatural way either through magic or otherwise, these same evil forces gain power and affect our lives when we transgress one of G-d's commandments.

So no longer is it G-d's problem if we don't observe the laws, it becomes our problem when people transgress. Keep in mind that only Jews are obligated to keep the letter of the law and the commandments within the Torah; non-jews are obligated only to the 7 Noahide Laws given to them around the time of the flood, centuries before the people stood at Mount Sinai and took on the obligation of the Torah and to become Jews. That seems simple, you might think. Wrong. It is a big responsibility for every Jew to keep the laws because by doing so they affect the world in a way they could not imagine. And if you are a non-jew, I would say that you have an even greater responsibility to keep the Seven Noahide Laws because if a Jew needs to transgress 613 commandments to cause utter chaos, how much more physical and spiritual damage can you do as a non-Jew by transgressing the seven Noahide laws. (By the way, as a fun fact, non-Jews are not prohibited from practicing sorcery or magic; they knew of the arts and practiced them in the times of Abraham, and they even practiced them during the times of the Pharaohs while the Jews were slaves in Egypt.)

3 comments:

ariadneK, Ph.D. said...

Hey there Hirsch... :-)

This is a very interesting blog entry, but as you may have noticed before on your blog and my own, I don't mention relgious beliefs/followings much...and that's something I will probably get into at some point later on in my blog. BUT: when I read things like you have written here, it makes me feel "odd" in the religion-department, like guilty or something. I've never felt that way before, ever, but you bring out a true intensity about devotion that I rarley see. Just an observatyion, NOT a criticism, and hopefully you won't think I'm a totally heathen for saying as much. :-)

later dude,
ariK

Zoe Strickman said...

Thanks for the comment; you brought a smile to my face. I sometimes ask myself whether I gained for myself a burden, a friend, or an enemy when I decided to become religious, and I think the answer is all three and much more.

No worries about the heathen comment, I was fully anti-religious for many years before I decided to swing the other way. I use the pendulum to describe what happened.

Lastly, I would feel terrible if you got any message that detracted from your spirituality; if you're feeling a bit odd, or perhaps if you're getting an itch, then that's a good thing. I read a book a few years ago by -- I forget his name, something with Wilde or Wilder about the path of the warrior or something related to that, but in either case, the Celestine Prophesy gave the same lesson in a more exciting story line that taught me to see the spirituality within the physicality.

Once I knew this, I knew what I was looking for when I delved back into and found what I did in Judaism. However, on my path back, I found some really interesting books describing the concepts of Ayurveda (the real one, not the one Deepak Chopra popularized) and of Huna (my favorite). I found both of these philosophies fascinating and lacking in religious or dogmatic overtones.

Anyway, I remember reading in one of those books that our bodies are made of the same cosmic star stuff as the universe, and on some level, we have a connection to everything out there; almost like a cosmic consciousness. I don't know what Judaism would say about that because the topic never came up in my learning, but I remember that the book came to the philosophy that the universe sends out messages to each of us all the time, and we'll hear the message when we are ready. Jewish philosophy discusses a similar concept of synchronicities in the universe called "Divine Providence".

My point with all this midnight jabber? Perhaps feeling odd is a good thing. If you are getting a personal reaction or message from reading the blog, maybe you were reading these words at this particular moment for a reason.

if not now, when? said...

I will not touch your sorcery/magic/kabbalah discussion with a ten foot pole!!
except to say that to assert that "Judaism molds its followers into sorcerers and magicians."
as if to say that that is the purpose behind judaism is quite wide of the mark. Judaism is about communing and building a relationship with god and building a home for god here on earth - ie helping to perfect ourselves and creation.

If all judaism was about was magic and incantations - it'd be nothing more than parlor tricks.

that being said - I do have a few comments

"Logic reveals G-d's presence by using infinite regressions; eventually one comes to a point where the question of "... and who created that?" gets tiring; it is at this point that the concept of a first creator is revealed."

just a quick point -
there are (have been) alternate theories of the existence of the universe:

1. perhaps the universe is now as it has always been, never was created. (i think this is the idea behind "cosmos" of greek thought)
2. perhaps the universe has always existed but oscillates from being infinitesimally small to being infinitely big similar to an accordion.
3. etc.


"what an ego I have -- as if I were any kind of equal to him, whereas when something goes wrong, who do I blame? At whom do I shake my fists? To whom have I on many occasions challenged to a duel?"

I don't know if it's so egotistical; after all, didn't abraham argue with god regarding sodom? didn't moses demand that god not destroy the hebrews in the desert?


"When I follow his will I do it begrudgingly because he's the one with the bigger muscles. I don't even understand the reasons why one should be religious. The logical arguments are circular and stupid."

I hate to sound redundant - but try to forget the "logical" arguments and get back to the point! you started out on this journey with a question, you were seeking something. (you may disagree with my (Heschel's) "religion is only relevant as an answer to the most fundamtnet of questions" concept, but you know why you got on the path in the first place).

The reason why logic doesn't work is we can't fully understand and really know the infinite (god)with our very limited and finite human minds.


"your wallet or your life"?!? And of course we learn in Judaism that we have free choice whether or not to follow G-d's commandments. What moron would not follow when given such a choice? "

Any cigarette smokers out there not realize that they kill, but do it anyway?


"There is a chassidic concept that says that G-d wouldn't give you a challenge unless he would also give you the faculties, the means, and the strength to overcome that challenge."

Not only that, but wouldn't you also say that god wouldn't have to command us to do something if we would always do so naturally?
how many times does god command us to breathe or sleep or eat?
God commands us because it's not something we would likely do, because generally we're programmed to do just the opposite - ie take interest on a loan or not really want to cut that foreskin off our little babies.


"Who likes to observe a Jewish holiday where the main theme is usually 'they tried to kill us, they failed, let's eat!'"

as long as the food's good, why not?


"suddenly there is a spiritual significance that does something and has a physical effect on our world."

Isn't that a great feeling?

"Every moment of my life, even going to the bathroom, suddenly has significance."

That somes up a lot very beautifully!!! better than vegging out for a whole life isn't it!!


"fun fact, non-Jews are not prohibited from practicing sorcery or magic"

except to the extent that the sorcery has intimations of idolatry (one of the 7 laws)