Hasidism Without Supernaturalism

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From the moment when I first heard the Hasidic teaching that only God (Y-H-W-H) exists, and that all is part of the One, I instinctively knew it to be true.  Not only true but The Truth.  Everything else was secondary and needed to be determined and explained on the basis of this Truth.

This was the religious revolution/revelation of the Ba‘al Shem Tov.  “There is no place (or time, or event) devoid of Him;” The whole earth is filled with his glory!”  He sought to create a Judaism that took these ancient slogans seriously.  He built on hints found here and there in Kabbalistic literature (and he found them even in the Tanakh and Talmud) that behind the mask of the personal God, Creator and Ruler of heaven and earth, it was possible to catch a glimpse of the One who is “heaven” and “earth,” the One of which/whom we are all apart.

I read of this Truth first in the writings of Hillel Zeitlin, along with his many quotations from the Hasidic sources.  I then learned it in the mind-blowing language of the second section of the Tanya, which insisted on translating the eyn ‘od of Deut. 4: 39 as “there is nothing else.

The BeSHT cared so much about conveying this single teaching that he thought nothing should be allowed to get in its way.  That included too much Talmud study, filling the mind with arguments and intellectual puzzles, leaving no room for awareness of the One.  It was especially true of the severe ascetic regimens associated with mystical praxis in his era.  He strongly denied the value of these and severely warned his students to avoid them.  While remaining fully within the orb of Judaism as practiced in his day, he also warned against what he called de’agat ‘avonot, excessive worry about sins.  He understood that there existed a religion that burdens the soul with guilt, keeping it far from the joy and exultation of realizing that there is nothing but the One.  The BeSHT wanted to use Judaism to teach people to fly.  You can’t fly very high if you’re being pulled down by the burdens of worry about sin.  This, too, was to be carefully avoided.

I signed on to this religion when I was twenty years old (having overcome a severe bout of adolescent frumkeyt).  This religion stood in sharp contrast to that of a God who commanded, cared, and watched to see how many of His commandments one kept or violated.  I have tried to remain faithful to this unitive reading of Judaism, as well as to spreading and teaching it, over the course of more than six decades.  I have also come to believe that it is urgent to articulate this sort of Jewish faith and render it accessible to many seekers who stumble before the image of what they see as just a praise-hungry Old Fellow seated in the sky and then turn away from Judaism, thinking that is what it’s all about.  More about my own torah below.

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What I did not know across the many years of this journey was that there was another Jew who was thinking very similar thoughts and struggling for a way to articulate them that would gain the ear of his many followers.  That Jew was named Menahem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh and last Lubavitcher rebbe.

Recent studies of the rebbe[1] have portrayed the role of such thinking and its deep connection to his messianism and that of his followers.  The simple unitive truth of the BeSHT is the redemptive message he has sought to bring forth to the world.  Essentially, he believed that full awareness of it is messianic redemption or even the “resurrection of the dead.”   “All the rest is commentary,” as Hillel once said.  The rebbe might have called it “frills,” externalized manifestations of this inner truth, there to attract the imagination and to draw the heart inward toward the great realization.

This message has always been at the core of HaBaD thinking, although the rebbes of that dynasty enjoyed presenting it in endlessly complex and obfuscating dialectical form.  The rebbe stands fully within that tradition, offering its essential message in ways that require much digging and unpacking within his vast corpus, an effort that soon convinces the reader that he writes in order to hide his truth as much as he writes to share and reveal it.

Like the BeSHT, the rebbe was quite cognizant of the radicalism of this unitive message and the ways in which it would inevitably be seen as a threat to normative and conventional religion.  To avoid such rejection (and the antibodies to pantheism are very strong and well-developed in the typical Jewish gene pool), he very cleverly dressed his redemptive message in the garb of Judaism’s great rationalist and quasi-naturalist theologian, Moses Maimonides.  While the 12th-century sage is usually read as a radical transcendentalist, the opposite edge of any sort of pantheism or panentheism, the rebbe read him through the eyes of R. Moshe Cordovero and other earlier and later kabbalists, who had softened that message significantly.  For the mystic, for whom worlds can readily be turned inside-out or outside-in, the gap between radical transcendence and radical immanence is not quite as great as it appears.

But the rebbe was especially interested in leaning on Maimonides for two other reasons, quite separate from his view of the relationship between Y-H-W-H and the universe.  First, he was a great and unimpeachable halakhic authority, even one who was not afraid to codify his own theological views as binding legal pronouncements.  This offered legitimacy to ideas that could be seen as rooted in his words and thus not easily decried as heresy.  Second, Maimonides conceived of the messianic process in an entirely naturalistic manner.  Based on old rabbinic teaching that “There is no difference between this world and the messianic era other than [the disappearance of] imperial oppression,” he set out to depict messiah as a completely human and mortal righteous king, one who would lead the world into an era of peace and prosperity for all.

In doing so, it should be said, he stood within a certain part of the complex normativity that constituted HaBaD tradition.  It was widely claimed throughout early Hasidism, including in the Maggid’s circle, that tsaddikim were possessed of extraordinary powers, including the ability to rule over what was seen to be “nature.”  While R. Shne’ur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of HaBaD, may have agreed with this in theory, he was in fact no miracle-worker.  Neither he nor his friend R. Levi Yitshak are known to have done such things.[2]  As scholars, they would have considered it beneath their dignity, and as mystics they saw such deeds as unworthy.  In the HaBaD tradition, it is said that “in Mezritch, miracles lay heaped up under the table and no one bothered to pick them up.”

The rebbe was to some degree a modern man.  Famously, he had undertaken higher education in the field of engineering, meaning that he had some sense of science and mathematics.  Obviously possessed of a brilliant and highly curious mind, he pursued his interest in these matters throughout his lifetime (he had a brother who was a physicist in London); there is no indication that he gave up scientific reading or thinking after he became rebbe in 1951.  It was thus entirely natural that Maimonides was a major source of inspiration to him.  While he was originally raised within the much more mythic and fanciful world of Hasidic messianism, even his adolescence took place in the Soviet Union, which meant he must have been exposed to a scientific and entirely naturalistic (and actively atheist) worldview in the surrounding culture, while imbibing the Talmudic and Hasidic traditions at home and in the synagogue.  He must have had many years of practice at rethinking mythic pronouncements in rational and naturalistic terms.

The future engineer, studying in Paris in the late 1930s, had been married to the rebbe’s rather modern-thinking daughter Hayyah Mushkeh since 1928.  As has been true of traditional Jews ever since Moses, Zipporah, and Jethro, marriage is as much about the relationship between father-in-law and son-in-law as it is about that of husband and wife.  The rebbe’s son-in-law was drawn into the work of rescuing Jews, physically as well as spiritually, by the terrible events of the 1930s and ’40s. First, those were the pressures of emigration, wandering, and statelessness, leaving huge numbers of Jews in France in desperate straits.  Once his in-laws were rescued from Poland and re-settled in Brooklyn in 1940, he was based in Marseille, essentially in charge of trying both to spread HaBaD teaching and to save lives of Jews seeking to leave Europe from that almost uniquely still-open port.  He saw himself, then and throughout his life, as his father-in-law’s emissary.  Arriving in New York in 1941, he had nine years of close apprenticeship, but also caregiving, as Rabbi Yosef Yitshak Schneerson was plagued with serious health problems, including a series of strokes. His two sons-in-law, Menahem Mendel and the elder R. Shmarya Gurary, largely managed the ship.  Once R. Menahem Mendel became rebbe in 1951, he unceasingly continued to refer to his father-in-law as still living, as the leader of the current generation.  He maintained a somewhat bizarre sense of himself as his predecessor’s incarnation.

The messianic movement that sprang up within HaBaD began in the later years of R. Yosef Yitshak’s reign, which were also the years before, during, and immediately following the Holocaust.  My mentor and friend Zalman Schachter-Shalomi told me of being a bokher in the Lubavitch yeshiva in 1942 or 43, absolutely certain that the rebbe was going to bring mashiah with him and introduce him at the meshiah-seudah on the last day of Pesah.  When he heard of the rebbe’s passing in 1950, he said, the first thought that entered his mind was “How could he?  How could he possibly have died without bringing the mashiah?

All the surviving sages of European Jewry, including several who were saved while still assuaging their disciples to stay, had to find something to say that would account for the utterly unbelievable scale of Jewish suffering and loss that was progressively being uncovered and recounted.  Some of the most bitterly anti-modern, most famously R. Yoel Teitelbaum of Satmar, could say that all this was divine punishment for the sins of Zionism, religious reform, or assimilation. Even the elder Schneersohn, despite his continuing fierce anti-Zionism, could not bring himself to express such views.  Especially during the bitter Soviet era, HaBaD had developed a strong sense of loving and supporting all sorts of Jews and manifestations of Jewish life, and he simply could not allow himself to join with those eager to blame some of the victims.  This sense of the rebbes as defenders of all Israel was in the old tradition of all Russian and Ukrainian Hasidism, as distinct from that of Western Galicia and Hungary, where the Hasidic adoption of ultra-Orthodoxy had been strongest.  Neither rebbe of Lubavitch was willing to say that Jews had brought the Nazi horrors upon themselves due to their sins, nor were they willing to depict the loving God as cruel enough to have visited this terror and destruction in an arbitrary bout of divine anger.

This seemingly left no alternative but the messianic path.  The tradition, reaching all the way back to the later prophets, had long spoken of terrible apocalyptic “birthpangs” that would precede and herald the messianic era.  The trials of the first half of the 20th century, from the October Revolution of 1917 and on through the terrible war between Germany and the Soviet Union, including the Holocaust, must surely have appeared that way in the eyes of a hasid living in western Russia, the original heartland of HaBaD.  The Second World War, experienced in that part of the world essentially as a battle between Hitler and Stalin, must have echoed loudly of Gog and Magog, the great pre-messianic conflict.  When R. Yosef Yitshak began crying out, in the late 1940’s “Le-Alter li-Ge’ulah!” or “Redemption Now!” his son-in-law was surely asking himself how to translate that into a religious language that both he and other somewhat modern-educated Jews could believe.  That was the origin of his neo-Maimonidean messianism, redemption within the bounds of nature.  For him, as for his medieval master, that was essentially an intellectual and imaginative redemption, a universal expansion of human consciousness until “the earth would be as filled with awareness of Y-H-W-H as the water fills the sea (Is. 11:9).”  

In his worldview, Maimonides was fully cloaked in the mantle of the BeSHT.  Redemption meant the awareness of the Ba‘al Shem Tov, as developed in HaBaD thought, that there is nothing outside Y-H-W-H, that all of us are part of that single divine One.  The original Hasidic revolution had remained incomplete.  In order to be accepted by late 18th and 19th century Jewry, Hasidism had embraced many manifestations of popular faith, keeping its panentheism hidden behind the mask of old-style Jewish Father-in-Heaven spirituality.  Now the rebbe came to see this sort of faith in God as other as an obstacle to truly enlightened religious consciousness, much as the BeSHT had viewed asceticism and the burdens of religious guilt.  The kabbalistic universe had always seen unity as the source of all blessing and division, reaching back to the splitting of the two trees and the resulting expulsion from Eden, as the root of all evil.  Now the rebbe began to see the separation of God from humans as the most primal of all separations, the root of alienation, a sense of distance from divinity and inability to reach it, as the frustrating source of humanity’s pain and perhaps even the root cause of its turn toward evil, including the ultimate evil we had just witnessed.  The Hasidic message of redemption, the actual content of what it meant to be redeemed, was the awareness that all is One, an awareness that the rebbe himself had fully developed and that he increasingly came to see himself as incarnating.

To understand this insight of the rebbe in the broader context of intellectual history, we might do well to compare it to the thought of a perhaps surprising contemporary of his, Kabbalah scholar Gershom Scholem.  In the introduction to his masterwork Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Scholem outlines a sort of metahistory of western religion.  In the pre-historic universe, he says (based partly on anthropological evidence and partly on his own intuition), the presence of the divine was ubiquitous.  Trees, rivers, animals, etc. all bore totemic qualities and were something like objects of worship.  As a civilization, with its hierarchies and political structures developed, the divine came to be manifest in personified ruler-like gods.  These dwelt elsewhere, on high mountains or in the depths, and had to be depicted by representative statues that symbolized their presence.  Ultimately the gods, and then the single God of monotheism was seen as dwelling in heaven, far from His subjects on earth.  He became unknowable, abstract, amorphous.  In the religion of Israel, it was His law and authority that came to replace the more concretizing statues that the Torah detests so bitterly.  Within the history of biblical and rabbinic Judaism, he went from fierce tribal deity to universal loving Father, but He was still distant, reached by the early mystics of Merkavah voyages only by a perilous journey through the seven heavens.  Then along came the philosophers of the early Middle Ages, culminating in Maimonides, who stripped the deity of all attributes, emotional as well as physical, rendering him utterly remote to anyone but the most subtle of philosophers, embodied by Maimonides himself.

Kabbalah was first articulated aloud in anti-Maimonidean circles, as an attempt to restore the possibility of a more intimate and personal relationship with the divine.  Y-H-W-H became accessible through the rich symbolic language of the sefirot, creating a new mythology and system of poetic self-expression for the emotion-laden religious mind.  Kabbalah, however, remained somewhat ivory-towered, the possession of a small group of enlightened seekers.  Only after the expulsion from Spain and the migration to the Ottoman empire did Kabbalah really become the spiritual lingua franca of Judaism.  Its romantic and erotic elements made it a symbolic language that drew a large following, and the intimacy of devekut, often linked to the love-language of the Song of Songs, carried it far.  In later generations, however, Kabbalah became afflicted with the same over-intellectualization as did Talmudic studies, and its devotional heart was largely obscured.

This was the situation that the Ba‘al Shem Tov inherited.  He sought to cut through it with the simplest and clearest of all mystical proclamations: All is God and God is all.  Now the rebbe sought to revive that message, seeing it as the vehicle of redemption, making everything subject to it.  When the rebbe says that the Ba‘al Shem Tov came to reverse the alienation of humans from God that began with the expulsion from Gan Eden, he is expressing in mythic language something quite close to Scholem’s history of religion.

For Judaism in practice, of course, any messianism has to deal with the question of Torah and mitsvot as they will exist in the redeemed future.  If the rebbe wants to take us back to humanity as it was before the expulsion from Eden, will Torah, too, revert to its original Edenic state?  There is many a Hasidic text ready to testify that Torah then had not taken on the garb of either historic narrative or obligatory mitsvot.  Some even say it was nothing other than a repository of divine light, not yet converted into language.  If humans are to be restored to primal innocence, does the Teaching also remove its this-worldly veil?  If it does, is there anything left of religious obligation?

Some of this discussion among the prior kabbalists focuses around discussion of a belief in cycles of cosmic sabbaticals, a doctrine that was considered particularly esoteric and was even excluded from the main sections of the Zohar (but the rebbe would have known it well from Nahmanides and elsewhere).  These sources claim that our obligatory form of religion exists only because we happen to be living in shemitat ha-din, the judgment-oriented cycle.  Once this era ends, the tif’eret cycle will bring forth a new Torah, one that we cannot yet imagine, but that will liberate us from our current form of obligation.  Because these teachings were used by followers of Sabbatai Zevi, they became quite unpopular in later Jewish esoteric circles.

The rebbe’s teachings on these matters are veiled in much intentional obscurity.  They all involve certain advanced unfoldings of the future redemption, which are laid out in the details of several successive stages, such as “arrival of messiah,” the “age of messiah,” the “resurrection of the dead,” etc., based on categories derived from Maimonides.  But we must remember that all of these are to be redefined in totally naturalistic terms.  Thus even “Resurrection of the Dead” is a matter of the perfection of human consciousness, a full realization that we are all truly alive within the One!  The “arrival of messiah” seems to have already happened within the latest years of the rebbe’s life.  Was he, then, any less obligated to fully observe the commandments, due to his state of enlightenment?  Again, we are back to Maimonides, who counseled the enlightened philosopher (i.e., himself) to continue with the forms of religion in order to serve as a proper example to the masses.  The rebbe seems to have thought the same.

Here Ha-Koken Uriah’s investigation is particularly insightful and challenging.  There is a possible “moderate” reading of the rebbe’s writings on this question that claims only that the obligatory nature of the mitsvot will be suspended, as it will no longer be necessary.  Humans will be so enlightened that a life of both moral perfection and spiritual devotion will become fully natural and volitional for them.  There will be no “evil urge” or rebellious spirit that needs to be reined in by “commandments.” Therefore the mitsvot will exists only as Hasidism re-defined them, opportunities for intimacy with Y-H-W-H, based on the Aramaic tsavta, “togetherness.”

Such a reading, Ha-Kohen Uriah claims, is really inconsistent with the true thrust of the rebbe’s oeuvre.   The rebbe often refers to his own theological position as that of ‘atsmut, “selfhood,” here meaning the recognition that there exists nothing but a single divine Self, of which we are all apart.  But then, Ha-Kohen Uriah claims,  

the inner logic of ‘atsmut consciousness, if it is to be of a piece and consistent, seems to point toward it not being proper to preserve fulfillment of all the concrete mitsvot of the Torah as they are presently revealed, even if they were to be performed spontaneously…Fulfilling the mitsvot of the revealed Torah depends on a theistic mythic-personalist consciousness.  That is created by a world of imagination and the possibility of error, one motivated by a distinction between good and evil…But in a future world of a unity embracing all of its parts, with no polarizing distinctions, the Tree of Life or Tree of Freedom will appear – where there will be no room for all these dichotomising conceptions.  How will we keep and fulfill a Torah that not only fails to serve this prophetic-intuitive-spontaneous consciousness, but even strengthens the imaginings to which this ‘atsmut consciousness is opposed?[3]

The entire structure of “mitsvot between humans and God,” or the devotional forms of biblical-rabbinic Judaism, is based on a model of an external Deity, one who is worshipped by humans who consider Him to be a separate Being.  All of our prayers are written that way, as is well known.  If that dualistic consciousness is what most needs to change in order to effect redemption, the forms of religion will indeed have to undergo a radical transformation as well.

Of what will that change consist and how far will it go?  The rebbe is at least as cautious and self-hiding as Maimonides on that question, who included laws of the Temple in his code, even while hinting elsewhere that he was interested in moving forward rather than backward in the ways Jewish faith should express itself.  Will some of our current forms of praxis be “kept on the books” for spiritual reinterpretation once the age of spiritual “resurrection” arrives, without actual needing to do them?  That seems very hard to imagine, particularly in the context of HaBaD, where the actual physical fulfillment of mitsvot plays such a central role.

Did the rebbe believe the first stages of this process were really about to dawn?  Was he ready to prepare his flock for a march toward it?  On the question of what might actually change in the future, not coincidentally, it is easy to avoid an answer.  Hilkheta li-meshiha, “praxis for messianic times,” is a traditional Jewish way of dismissal, a sort of  ”Don’t bother me with ridiculous questions.  We’ll find out when messiah comes.” Perhaps he was just in a long line of Hasidic masters who liked to fantasize about future changes, while being quite confident that he would not have to orchestrate them in his lifetime.

Of course, there is another element that Rabbi Schneerson seems to have inherited from Maimonides. That is the RaMBaM’s great disdain for the intellectual capacity of the masses.  While the rebbe was absorbed in this great drama of a naturalistic redemption, he does not seem to have pushed its non-miraculous quality very hard in communicating it to his followers.  The aversion to wonder tales about the rebbes that may have characterized HaBaD in the early generations seems to have disappeared from the movement in his day.  Gross and shocking portrayals of the rebbe’s divinity were part of the way his message was transmitted, its subtle refinements completely ignored.  Miracle tales about him, even about his poor wife, who wanted no part of this, are a dime a dozen.

One has to wonder about some other things as well.  How could a man with his intellect and exposure to science continue to brazenly proclaim belief in a geo-centric universe only 6000 years old?  Had he studied science only to deny it, even in this most total of ways?  Or was this position, too, to be read allegorically, or in some elaborately twisted dialectical manner, by the very few in the know?  And why did a man who believed so fully in the divinity of the natural world spend countless hours giving out “blessed” dollar bills (supposedly for charity, but often kept as talismans), seeming to smilingly cast his blessing over American capitalism?  Couldn’t he just as well have been passing out blessed pictures of wildflowers or of endangered species, each of them a unique garbing of the divine One?   How and why did he tolerate the “pop rebbe” figure fashioned by the media, with the enthusiastic support of so many of his followers?

  •          *.         *

My own work, following on several prior generations of neo-hasidic thinkers (including both Zeitlin and Reb Zalman), has been a similar yet deeply different attempt to revive the unitive message for contemporary seekers.  I, too, believe that there is only One and that the personified images of God often get in the way of people in our day.  It is time for the panentheism so clearly believed in by the early Hasidic masters to come out of the closet and to be presented as a fully acceptable form of Jewish faith.  

I have tried to deliver this message as I think it most needs to be heard, clearly and unambiguously.  Here I am very much unlike the rebbe.  I also think we cannot flee it because we are afraid of its implications for questions of religious authority and halakhah.  The fear that Judaism’s structures will collapse without a heteronomous source of authority, an actual “commander” of the mitsvot, becomes ludicrous in an age that has digested both biblical criticism and comparative religion.  We understand that our forms of devotional praxis, like everyone else’s, are of human origin and have evolved and developed over many centuries.  For many of today’s Jews, mitsvah will work much better if linked to tsavta, “togetherness” or “intimacy,” as it is in Hasidism, rather than defined as commanded by a God as a Supreme Other who watches and counts which ones we observe or transgress.

The oneness and divinity of all Being is a great and universal religious truth, one that we cannot afford to have hobbled by issues deriving from the Jewish struggle for survival and legitimacy.  We have our own unique way of expressing it, derived from a kabbalistic/Hasidic way of re-reading prior Jewish sources, including the Torah.  That is of great value to me.  But I believe we can no longer hesitate to express it fully because it might undermine the authority of Jewish praxis.  On the contrary, I believe that such open expression of what we truly mean by standing in the presence of Y-H-W-H might invite many more into the fold of our tradition.

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For me, the presence of divinity throughout the universe, mysteriously beyond our ken, has everything to do with the sanctity of each living creature and with the need to protect our world from destruction.  As I have written elsewhere, I feel an urgent need to incorporate humanity’s current tale of origins, the drama of evolution, into the fold of sacred teaching, thus “expanding the border of the holy.” The One of ‘atsmut is also the One who on this planet has put on the cloak of evolution, having made the journey from those first one-celled creatures beneath the sea to that vast and still mysterious complexity we call the human brain, and being present in every one of them.  Religion must embrace and sanctify science rather than pursue futile efforts to combat it.

I, too, however, retain a strong attachment to traditional forms, even to wordings that are far from my belief or inner experience of the One.  I have written a commentary to the siddur,[4] essentially trying to show how a believer in this truth can still pray using the old religious language that I am not ready to leave behind.  Judaism has often done this: maintaining an old form while filling it with new meaning.  Think of the origins of tefillin and mezuzah and what they have come to mean to Jews.  Think of the contemporary revivals of Hanukkah, Tu Bi-Shvat, and the Mikveh.  Understanding that we are taking the old religious language as metaphor can allow us to affirm it.  While we are aware that all our images of God are human projections, we do not need to starve ourselves of them.  The Kabbalists, over against the RaMBaM, were right about that.

In contrast to the rebbe, I have sought to deliver this message in a totally non-messianic context.  I am, in this sense, a disciple of R. Yohanan ben Zakkai, one who believes that “the wicked kingdom of Rome” will be around, in one form or another, for a long time to come (unless much worse things happen in our world).  Our job is to maintain faith even in dark times, to keep a little light burning, train a few disciples of the wise, and hope for better days. Redemption will come “in its time.”

But I also see the great spiritual hunger we encounter among so many young Jews and others, including a massive turn away from Judaism, partly due to the frustration felt by our seeming insistence on a naïve personification of the Deity. We cannot wait for a messianic era to make the great changes in the nature of Jewish faith that the rebbe and I agree need to be made.  In short, we need to do for Judaism what the Zionist revolution did for Jews: take the risk of moving forward, rather than waiting for a heaven-sent redeemer to do it for us.  Essentially, this means a two-fold shifting of our central devotional model.  We need to shift from a vertical to an internal axis, from worshipping a God “above” to the Divine within.  This does not only mean within the individual self, but within others, within the natural world, within Torah, within all that is.  At the same time, we need to make the shift from divine Other to divine All.  Perhaps we should call that shift a from ‘avodat ha-elohim, worshipping a Deity, to true ‘avodat Y-H-W-H, a worshipful devotion to Being.  I believe that most of our religious forms can make this shift with us.  But new kavvanot, directions, interpretations, and educational models will be needed.   We will need to teach ourselves as well as others that we are living this Jewish life not to fulfill the will of someone “out there” who has commanded us to do so, but in order to become close to the One who dwells within, who seeks our return to our Source, our consciousness of the One, through whatever symbolic means we choose to do so.

I believe, along with the rebbe, that it is time to let the secret out of the bag.  It is vital to do so, and we should be willing to let the chips (halakhic and other) fall where they may.  I am no messiah and have little hope that she or he is just around the corner.  But perhaps the truth will indeed set us free.


[1] There are many such studies.  Those that most underly my own thinking here are Open Secret by Elliot Wolfson;   New York, 2009 and Kola Had (“It Is All One: The Mystical Messianic Secret of the Rabbi of Lubavitch”)  by Reuven ha-Kohen Uriah; Jerusalem: Idra, 2022.  Ha-Kohen Uriah is a Jerusalem-based scholar and educator.  His book is a re-write of a recent doctoral dissertation at Bar-Ilan University.

[2] See my forthcoming Defender of the Faithful: The Life and Thought of Rabbi Levi Yitshak of Berdychiv.  Brandeis University Press, 2022.

[3] Ha-Kohen Uriah, p. 369-370.

[4] Be’er le-Hai Ro’I or Well of Living Insight, to be published in 2022 by Hebrew College and the Institute for Jewish Spirituality.


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