The musings of a previously unemployed Jewish Freemason. I write about the job search, about Judaism, and about Freemasonry.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Bechukotai: Sugar for Sugar and Salt for Salt

Let's imagine for a moment that God is an anthropomorphic being that lives in the sky, watches us from above from his throne in the sky, and judges us according to whether we obey the least arbitrary rule, or rebel against his yoke. This God makes rules, and these rules are ethical only because they are His rules, rather than being ethical by human standards. Imagine that He gave Moses these rules, and they all have to be obeyed; that there is no real difference between eating rabbit and murdering a human being, between incest and wearing a garment spun of wool and linen, between homosexual relations and allowing a disobedient son to live. This God of our thought exercise is going to punish us for disobedience, in essence, the only possible crime. This God is going to reward us for obeying all the rules all of the time, without error, without equivocation, and without circumspection.

In this thought exercise, we move between two poles: God's wrath, and God's material blessings upon us. We express our devotion to our Sky King by obeying all the rules, and we are showered with bounty: our crops grow superabundantly, our animals are astonishingly fecund and robust, our enemies collapse before our might, and the whole world envies us. We waver in our devotion by deviating from the rules, and our crops fail, our animals and our children die, some of whom we are forced to eat in our famine, our enemies easily mow us down, rape our women, slaughter our babies, and enslave us while our Sky King watches our agonies in indifference bordering on disgust.

That is this, the final Torah portion of Leviticus, interpreted in the most literal possible manner. Why worship this God? Out of fear of punishment, and out of hope for reward. In the scheme, the entire purpose of consciousness is mindfulness about obedience to a system that has nothing to do with each individual will. Humans do what God tells them to do, or they enter a world of hurt. God's love is absolutely conditional on Israel's compliance.

I've never liked this version of religion. No Jew likes this this version of religion, with the possible exception of the most fanatical but least mystical of the ultra-Orthodox. Oddly, many Christians think that's what Judaism is, this bargain. That being the presupposition about Judaism, of course the sane ones clamored to Jesus' revelation, if only to get out of such an awful bargain. What kind of an idiot would stay in such a dysfunctional relationship?

Now, let's try another thought exercise. Imagine that we notice that:
The everlasting universe of things Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves, Now dark—now glittering—now reflecting gloom— Now lending splendour, where from secret springs The source of human thought its tribute brings Of waters...[Percy Shelley, Mont Blanc, opening lines]. 
 Let us imagine that we try to find these secret springs, and we notice how consciousness and nature seem both to lead to the same source. We still our inner monologue, and find a stillness behind it. We notice that the stillness is pregnant with the potentialities of things, and we notice that in that stillness is an intelligence greater than our waking minds, an emotion more powerful than the hungry ghost that chases after memes that we think is our emotional center (but isn't).

We find a flow, a direction, a purpose, a center, and everything seems to point to it, align with it, and resonate its vibrations. And we are gobsmacked when we first perceive that it loves us.

It loves us with an intensity we cannot possibly be capable of. It loves us even though we seem helpless and crude and banal and cruel and thoughtless compared to It. Does It have a personality? Compared to It, do we?

Whether or not we call this Presence God is less important than to understand that the authors of the Torah did. These authors, these primitive men, were writhing in their crudeness and antiquity, and looking up from the chaos, the violence and savagery, the heedlessness of idolatry and butchery and ignorance and superstition to see if there wasn't a Power that could pull them out of the nightmare. And what they found, they called God. What they found, they immediately lost and scrounged and searched for. They spent much more time lost than found. And yet they found. They saw. Each stood before the Presence before losing that link forever, and died in darkness, only to have others learn from their discoveries and find the Presence again and lose it.

Abraham found what he called God, and used the force of his faith to be the progenitor of the loftiest dreams seeded in spiritual condition of billions today. And yet in his madness he bound his son Isaac to sacrifice him carnally before the Presence intervened. And Jacob found what he called God and wrestled with His angel from midnight to dawn, dislocating his hip in his struggle. And Joseph found God in a prison in a world of slavery and bondage, surrounded by enemy aliens, and God freed him and set him at Pharaoh's right hand. And yet he made sport of his treacherous brothers until they groveled before him.

And Moses, the fugitive murderer who had been the apple of the old Pharaoh's eye, who was tending his sheep near Mount Sinai, carrying a lost lamb who had strayed from the flock, saw a burning bush and had the presence of mind to notice that the bush was not consumed by the flame, and he beheld God. He spoke with I WAS, AM, AND SHALL BE WHO I WAS, AM, AND SHALL BE, and armed with that consciousness, he led his people from bondage to liberation. That Presence stayed with them, as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. It dwelt in the Tabernacle. It fed them food from heaven. In the Presence, their clothes did not wear out on their bodies, not for forty years of wandering. And yet, as we will see in the Book of Numbers, the Israelites retreated into their familiar crudity and petulance and idiocy. Sometimes Moses joined them in their cruelty, and sometimes Moses held firm and shared the light of God with the people.

What does it mean to walk in the Presence? What does it mean to find the Force, the Tao, the meaning and purpose of life? It means that you will plant crops in the way that will heal the land, give the maximal yield, and flow with such bounty that there will be plenty left over for the hungry, the stranger and the destitute. It means that those who oppose you as you walk in the Presence cannot possibly succeed. Those who create a bulwark against the Force will have that bulwark collapse on them. "And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people." [Leviticus 26: 12].

What happens if we join the forces of ignorance, superstition and brutality, and give up on our search for the Lost Word? If we embrace ignorance, we lose the gift of intelligence. We suffer all that ignorance brings, and make all the mistakes that burden us. We plant our crops in the wrong place and have no yield. We breed our animals at the wrong time and they grow infertile, skinny and rangy. We become bickersome and petty. With superstition, we begin to worship something less than the One. We walk for too long far away from the Presence, and loss ever having missed it. We lose all compassion and become cruel. We are so disorganized, dispirited and foolish that those who oppose us can easily scatter us, enslave us and destroy us. "And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you." [Leviticus 26: 17].

Eventually, our decisions will harm our children. We will allow our world to become polluted, and our children to sicken in a polluted world. We will exploit the wealth of the next seven generations, seizing and consuming it ourselves, robbing our children of their future livelihoods, trying to feed the hungry ghosts inside us that are never, ever satisfied. As we hunger for the Presence we have forsaken, and as long as we are too proud to return to the Source, we continue the devastation of our own crazy, soulless stupidity. The Presence, the Force itself, speaks:

And if ye will not for all this hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me; Then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins. And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat.
And I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you.
And I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation, and I will not smell the savour of your sweet odours.
And I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it.
And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.

Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies' land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths.
As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it.
And upon them that are left alive of you I will send a faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; and the sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee, as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth.
And they shall fall one upon another, as it were before a sword, when none pursueth: and ye shall have no power to stand before your enemies.
And ye shall perish among the heathen, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up.
And they that are left of you shall pine away in their iniquity in your enemies' lands; and also in the iniquities of their fathers shall they pine away with them.

If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me;
And that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity:
Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.
The land also shall be left of them, and shall enjoy her sabbaths, while she lieth desolate without them: and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity: because, even because they despised my judgments, and because their soul abhorred my statutes.
And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them: for I am the LORD their God.
But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God: I am the LORD. [Leviticus 26: 27-45].
Forget the Sky King metaphor for a moment. This is what it is like to live outside of the Tao. Imagine that the Presence is addressing us directly. What happens if we pervert nature in our greed and boredom? What happens if we feed the hungry ghosts instead of noticing, as Jacob did, that "Surely the LORD is in this place"? [Genesis 28: 16]. As we fight the flow of all purpose, we find that the Universe itself resists us.  Nature will reclaim what we have spoiled. Devastation and suffering will lead us to look for the Lost Word again, to again seek the Presence.

This is the deterioration that led to the destruction of the Temple, the Exile, the scattering and the Lost Tribes. And the passage back, the return, the teshuvah, the Passing of the Veils, the Crossing of the River in the 15th Degree, is the work we have to do to rebuild what we have lost.

It is customary in Torah study, when a student or group of students finishes studying a book of Torah, to say: chazak chazak v'nitchazek. This could be translated as "Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened."
חזק חזק ונתחזק

No comments:

Post a Comment