Rectifying the Present to Manifest the Future
There exists within the Jewish vision of redemption a basic existential paradox. No matter how hard we try to manifest a perfected future within an unrectified present, the fact remains that the present is not the future. The only way of reaching the future is by coming to grips with and repairing the present. Within this dilemma lies the importance of understanding vision as a process in progress, one that grows out of the present and ultimately gives birth to the future.
In order to further understand this process it is important to return to the intrinsic connection of vision to hod, the sefirah (the Divine radiances or powers upon which all reality is constructed) which exemplifies the power of acknowledgment in the soul. This sense is represented in the Talmudic statement: “The sages acknowledged the logic of Rebbe Meir.” Although the sages could barely grasp the intricate and dazzling argumentation of Rebbe Meir, they nonetheless had a sense of his logic’s inherent truth and acknowledged it accordingly. The same is true for the vision of redemption, which though ethereal and hard to always imagine, nevertheless strikes an innate cord of truth, resonating deep within the Jewish soul.
Another meaning derived from the root of the word hod is to “give thanks.” If one lacks a rudimentary sense of gratitude and the accompanying ability to express it, he has no viable gateway to relate to G-d. Even more basic than this is the awareness that showing appreciation to G-d begins first by expressing thankfulness to other people, especially our closest loved ones. Jewish tradition instills an attitude of being thankful for whatever we have, no matter what the circumstance as it says: “Who is rich?–he who rejoices in his portion.”
These two companion meanings of hod–acknowledgment and thanksgiving–when applied to a vision of redemption, relate to the future and the present respectively. By acknowledging the promise of a glorious future, even though at times it may seem incomprehensible in terms of existing reality, we help to manifest its possibility of occurring. By giving thanks and being joyous in the present moment we open the heart and mind to experience higher dimensions of future consciousness already seeded in the present.
A third meaning of the root-word of hod is “to confess.” It is recorded in the Talmud that judges would prod the accused with the words: “Sinner–confess.” It is most interesting to note that the word for “confess” (todeh) in this statement is spelled exactly as the word “to give thanks.” Confessing ones sins and relieving oneself from the burden of guilt is the first step of repentance. When the process of repentance and atonement is complete, one’s natural response is indeed a deep sense of gratitude and thanksgiving.
The root of the word “sin” (averah) is the same as the word “past” (avar). On a certain spiritual level, everything that is done in the past–even good deeds–in relation to the present or the future is a “sin” if one is lulled into complacency, making no attempt to improve or strive harder each succeeding day. This confirms the spiritual principle that on the “ladder of life” if one is not ascending, he is by definition descending.
Saadya Gaon, a great Torah scholar and community leader in Babylonia a thousand years ago, wrote that everyone should “repent” for yesterday, no matter how good it was, for in relation to today it is already confined and limited. He related the following true story that happened to him. Once he visited a city and was hosted extremely graciously by a perfect stranger who did not know the status of his guest. Soon after he left his house the host found out that his guest had been the great Saadya Gaon. He ran after him in great consternation and upon finding him begged for forgiveness. Saadya Gaon was quite puzzled and reassured his host that his hospitality was truly wonderful and he could not think of anything more he could have done for him. His host replied: “Had I known who you were I would have treated you a thousand times better.”
This story, which had a great effect on him, served in his writings as an example of how we should relate today to the manifold possibilities of yesterday. The response, like the gracious host, should be: Had I known the tremendous opportunities yesterday presented I would have tried a thousand times more to have converted that potential into actuality. The sense of confession andteshuvah, repentance, when dealt with in a positive light, becomes the fuel thrusting one forward in the present towards the future.
This attitude relates as well to our relation to G-d. Each day when one realizes anew how little he recognized G-d yesterday, he is impelled to reach a new understanding today. The great and enigmatic Chassidic leader, the Kotzker Rebbe, went as far as to say that if one’s concept of G-d today is exactly as it was yesterday, it is tantamount to worshipping idols.
The three meanings of hod–acknowledgment, thanksgiving and confession–relate as well to the three stages of Divine service–submission, separation and sweetening. The response of the soul to the past–confession and repentance–both depend on the qualities of submission and surrender. Being grateful and giving thanks to G-d for all the manifold blessings experienced in the present moment rests on the ability to separate the mind and heart from yesterday’s anxiety and tomorrow’s unsureness, feeling instead G-d’s presence and Divine assistance in the present moment. Acknowledging an infinitely better future reveals glimpses of a sweetened reality even now in an unrectified world. Although the vision of redemption is but a means and process, its reward is the experience of all future levels of spiritual attainment in some measure in the present.
The expression “coming into days” from the verse: “And Abraham grew old, coming into days, and G-d blessed Abraham with all,” alludes to Abraham’s ability to draw ever higher dimensions of reality into his daily life. A visionary who walks before his generation, inventing, revealing and initiating new insights of reality is termed “ahead of his times.” He is in fact a bridge above time, drawing not only the future into the present but leading the past and the present into the future.