Torah and Faith for All People: Barcelona Part 3 The Fourth Revolution

Barcelona Part 3: The Fourth Revolution

In the first part of a three-part class delivered in Barcelona on 3 Kislev, 5779 in front of an audience consisting of both Jews and Noachides, Rav Ginsburgh addressed the topic of the reasons for creation and creation’s purpose (appeared in the Bo 5779 edition of Ve’abita). In the second part, he described the basic meditation for Jews and non-Jews alike called “Divine Space,” a meditation that uses the six constant commandments, or Duties of the Heart, to create a sacred space clean of negative influences (appeared in the Mishpatim 5779 edition of Ve’abita).

In this third and final part, Harav Ginsburgh discusses the historical revolutions in Torah learning that have occurred over time. These three revolutions from the past set the stage for the coming fourth revolution that calls upon us to open Torah learning to sincere non-Jews who are drawn to connecting with God.

The First Torah Revolution

Some individuals have heard about the concept of the fourth revolution in Torah learning that we have been discussing for the past few years. Since it is the fourth in a series of changes that have altered the way in which Torah is learnt and by whom it is studied, we will first outline the three revolutions that preceded it. All four revolutions pertain to methods of teaching and studying Torah.

Together with the Torah that God gave Moses at Sinai, He gave 613 commandments to the Jewish People, and 7 commandments that must be observed by all mankind. The Tanach (the Hebrew Bible) comprises the Five Books of Moses (the Pentateuch), the Prophets, and the Writings. The Tanach is called the Written Torah. In addition to the Written Torah, God gave Moses the oral tradition, which explains how to correctly interpret the Written Torah according to the will of God (as mentioned in a previous section, the fact that God possesses will is a paradox). None of the commandments of the Torah can be fulfilled as God intended without the oral tradition. For reasons that are clear to God, the Giver of the Torah, the oral tradition was intended to remain oral, and God forbade it to be written down. It had to be passed on by word of mouth from generation to generation. This would enable the oral tradition to remain “organic,” and grow and develop with a life of its own, without ever becoming static in book form.

About 2000 years after the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, the oral tradition was still transmitted from generation to generation by word of mouth. However, it became clear to Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi (Rabbi Yehudah the Prince), the last sage of the era of the Tannaim—the Mishnaic era—that if they did not transcribe it now, the oral tradition would, God forbid, be forgotten. He saw that the generation was no longer capable of remembering the totality and the wholeness of the oral teachings. He instructed that the essence of the oral tradition, the Mishnah, be transcribed.

Although studying the Oral Law in book form had previously been prohibited, it now became permissible, and even a mitzvah to do so. The oral tradition underwent a total metamorphosis. Now we must write it down in order to convey it, so that it will never be forgotten.

The Second Torah Revolution

In Maimonides’ times and for several generations following, it was forbidden for a sage to receive a financial stipend to study Torah. Every Jewish scholar worked for his living and studied Torah in his own time. He was not allowed to receive financial support from the community, nor to take charity to allow him to devote all his time and life to Torah study. A Torah scholar should be independent. Maimonides was so strict about this prohibition that he said that a Torah scholar who receives a stipend from the community in order to study, desecrates the Name of God. He offers examples of Talmudic sages, who toiled to make a living and studied Torah at their own expense. Maimonides states that combining work and studying sanctifies God’s Name. This prohibition was still in force until about a thousand years ago, until the second Torah revolution took place. The reasoning was the same as with regard to the previous revolution. The rabbis were concerned that if they would continue this way, the Torah would be forgotten, God forbid.

Although it is good that a scholar is self-sufficient and does not rely on receiving charity from the community, the way life and society work are such that no-one can devote his entire life to Torah study without a source of livelihood. The sages of the generations after Maimonides, and most importantly Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488-1575), author of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), authorized receiving a stipend from the community, to enable an individual to devote himself to Torah study, even as an a priori situation. Even today it is preferable for scholars to be self-dependent and to support themselves if they can. Nonetheless, anyone who cannot support himself and desires to devote himself to Torah study is permitted to accept support from the community; he is even instructed to do so.

The Third Torah Revolution

As we approach the coming of Mashiach, a positive feministic trend is manifesting in the Torah. As taught in Kabbalah, this trend is imperative to enable the redemption. Until about 150 years ago, there was no formal education for women in Jewish tradition. Women were educated at home. Like the original oral tradition, Jewish law and values were passed on from mother to daughter. There were no formal education systems for girls or women. Many girls were drawn to secular education and this led to them straying away from Jewish tradition. The great sages of the time instituted elementary education for girls, and even higher education. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that this is not only something that happened out of need, but it is because of a positive evolution in the essence of femininity.

Kabbalah teaches that in order for Mashiach to come, the stature of the male and the female must become equal. At a later stage, the feminine figure will rise even higher than the male. This manifests itself in reality as formal Torah education for women develops.

[Question: This sounds like modern feminism.] The feminist movement today around the world is indeed a secular movement. Nonetheless, any phenomenon that occurs in the world is an indication, a sign that a corresponding movement is happening inside. Secular feminism points to the fact that there is a corresponding rise of femininity is taking place within the context of holiness. According to Kabbalah, the rise of the feminine figure is one of the indications that we are approaching the messianic era.

 

The Fourth Torah Revolution

As the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught, the way to usher in the era of Mashiach is to teach Torah and by doing so, to arouse Jewish sparks throughout the world to return to their source. Statistics state that in Catalonia, for example, one out of five people in the population is of Jewish ancestry. There are opinions that hold that the number of Marrano Jews in the world is between 100 and 500 million. In addition to those Jewish souls who were detached from their Judaism by force, there are also countless non-Jews who have an inner spark of Judaism that is waiting to be revitalized. Chassidut teaches that in order to hasten the redemption, these souls must become aware of this spark and unite with the Torah and the Jewish People. The Jewish People are the emissaries of God to bring the light of the Torah to the entire world.

A non-Jew who converts to Judaism is called “a convert who has converted.” One of the great sages from almost a thousand years ago, Rabbi Yehuda Hechassid (1150-1217), said this means that the convert was never a non-Jew. He was always potentially a convert, because from the moment he was born, he possessed a spark that was hidden. We cannot fathom why, but God, who is the ultimate paradox, knows the purpose behind everything. This is why at a certain point in the life of the convert, that spark becomes ignited. We do not know how many millions of such sparks exist around the world. Many people all over the world have become disillusioned with the traditions that they received, and they are spiritually open to seek the truth.

All over the world hearts are opening, and this is a trend that carries the message that Mashiach is coming. By spreading the light of the Torah, we can bring this trend to fruition. We cannot know who contains that potential spark. It might be everybody, or it might be a few people. Whichever the case, now is the time to ignite all the sparks around the world. The way to ignite the spark is by disseminating the light of the Torah, even the deepest Torah mysteries.

One of the most profound Torah mysteries is that the essence of God is paradoxical. We offered several examples of four different levels. Whenever we have four different levels of something, they correspond to the secret of the four letters of the essential Name of God, the Tetragrammaton. Regarding faith in God, there are also four levels. Our purpose for initiating the fourth Torah revolution, spreading the light of the Torah to everyone, is to elevate everyone from his present level of faith to at least one level higher, if not to the highest of the four levels. So let us take a look at these levels of faith.

Four Levels of Faith – The World of Action – Idolatry

The lowest level of faith relates to fear of punishment, which can devolve into paganism, God forbid. We are commanded to believe that no force other than holiness controls us. Someone who sets his mind on evil is liable to become paranoid about things he thinks affect his life. As mentioned, the most basic teaching of the founder of Chassidut, the Baal Shem Tov, is not to fear anything in the world except for the one God, and to know that He is good. There is nothing else that can affect our lives. Wrongly placed fear is liable to degenerate into idolatry. This is the lowest level of faith, and it is not faith in God. This corresponds to the lowest of the four spiritual Worlds, Assiyah (the World of Action).

The essential statement of the Jewish belief system is, “Hear O Israel, Havayah is our God, God is One.” The next three levels of faith correspond to three different interpretations of the Sages, regarding the meaning of “God is One.”

The World of Formation – Negating Idolatry

The simplest interpretation is that there are no other gods except God; i.e., it negates idolatry. Not every form of idolatry involves worshipping physical idols. An idolater may believe that God created the world. He may believe that at one point, e.g., the Big Bang, a primal force brought the universe into being. This is the philosophical view that a first cause set the forces of nature (or other spiritual forces) into motion, but since then, it is no longer in conscious control of what is taking place. This philosophy is expressed in the phrase, “God has left the earth.” God was the first cause, but He is no longer involved in what transpires in our world. Believing that reality is controlled by forces other than God, and worshipping them, or believing that everything that transpires is a chain of causes and effects is a form of sophisticated idolatry.

Denying such idolatry is our primary intention when we say that God is One. God is the primal cause, but He is as involved with creation in the present as He was at the outset. The belief system of Yetzirah (the World of Formation), the second highest spiritual World is denying that God, or some primal cause once put things into motion, but now He is no longer personally involved.

Although the belief system of Yetzirah admits that God is involved with the world, nonetheless, He might have partners. One example of this is belief in a “trinity.” There is a controversy amongst the sages whether believing in such a religion is idolatry or not. Some hold the opinion that it is considered idolatry because it believes that there are other entities besides one God. Others state that it is not idolatry per se and for non-Jews it is permissible, because it only believes in partnership. According to this opinion, idolatry refers only to those who believe that God the Creator is no longer involved at all. Since that religion believes that God is still involved, even though He has two other gods working with Him, a non-Jew is permitted to believe in it, but for Jews it is forbidden. This opinion makes it clear that such a belief system is on a different level than idolatry.

One of Maimonides’ outstanding innovations is that although they are not correct in their belief system, the “rebellious daughter religions” that were born out of Judaism represent a positive progression relative to the paganism that preceded them. Their establishment brings the world closer to the ultimate monotheistic belief in one God. The redemption depends on all mankind progressing towards a correct belief system. As mentioned, this relates to purifying one’s thoughts of all diversions from belief in one God.

The World of Creation – Negating Partnership with God

Belief in God at the level of Beri’ah (the World of Creation) corresponds to the second interpretation of “God is One,” i.e., that there are no other powers with free will who work in partnership with God.

Yet, even the oneness of God at this level does not relate to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in whom we believe. Of such a God, who is involved in the world and has no partners, we cannot yet say that His oneness is unique. We cannot yet say that “there is nothing like unto Him.” As Maimonides teaches, there is something anthropomorphic about such a God. Maimonides is strongly opposed to anthropomorphism, because God is not like us, nor like anything else we can imagine. God has no comparison. The essence of such a belief system is that our logic is like God’s logic.

The World of Emanation – Belief in God as the Bearer of Paradox

Unlike our logic, which is binary logic, God is paradoxical. Whereas in human logic, two opposites are contradictory, God is infinite, yet at the same time, He appears to us in finitude. In human logic, infinity and finitude are opposites and cannot exist simultaneously. Either something is finite or infinite, but it cannot be both at one and the same time. The true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob contains any two apparent opposites simultaneously. This relates to the third interpretation of “God is One”: “There is nothing like unto Him.” As Maimonides states, the reality of God is the only true reality. We believe we are here, we are not dreaming, but we are not true reality. All our meditation and all the spiritual enlightenment that we will receive as we approach the messianic era, will deepen the revelation that God, the Creator, who is present here and now, so much so that I can speak to Him in prayer, is a personal God, not a philosophical God. Our God is not the impersonal God that Spinoza described and that Einstein believed in. God is a personal God. Nonetheless, He is simultaneously infinite. This is the paradox that only God can bear. Eastern religions solve the paradox by claiming that reality is a dream. They strive to abandon reality. For them there is also no purpose to life. They do not know the secret of true unity between infinite and finite. They cannot fathom how God has a passion to dwell in the lower, finite Worlds.

The goal of the fourth Torah revolution is to bring all of humanity to the level of Atzilut (the World of Emanation). This is the one true belief system: that God is absolutely unique. Even though one’s goal in life is not to reach bliss (but to fulfill the God’s will), reaching the belief that God paradoxically is infinite yet takes an interest in every one of us is the ultimate bliss of life. This is the ultimate goodness and blessing of humanity.

 

Question: Is meditation an acceptable tool for approaching God?

Answer: Yes. According to some Torah opinions meditating is one of the 613 commandments. The purpose of meditation is to know God.

The Torah commands us, “You shall love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” but love is an emotion that happens naturally. How can one command someone to love? The Ba’al Shem Tov acknowledges that it is impossible to command someone to love someone or something. Nonetheless, you can command someone to meditate upon the positive qualities of the individual or object. Doing so will naturally arouse love. For example, a parent may tell their son, this girl is the best match for you. If the boy does not love the girl, but he thinks about all her positive qualities, it may ignite the potential for love (the same is true for a girl). Similarly, the commandment in the Torah to love God, means, “Contemplate those things about God that arouse your love.” Moreover, by contemplating those things that arouse love with sincerity, even if you do not yet experience love in your heart, and even if it does not appear to work for you, at some level of your psyche you have fulfilled the commandment to love God.

Many souls around the world are attracted to the God of Israel. For a convert to convert he or she must be sincere. The most important example of an insincere conversion is when one converts to marry a Jewish man or woman. Nonetheless, if he/she converts and they do live a Jewish life, and fulfill the commandments, the conversion is valid. If they do not continue to live a Jewish life, the conversion is null and void.

In the past, anti-Semitism was so common that non-Jews were rarely attracted to the Jewish People. Even today, for every non-Jew who loves the Jewish People, there are far more individuals who hate the Jewish people. Nonetheless, because of our return to the land of Israel, and seeing our success in developing a government and an economy (despite all the spiritual issues that have yet to be resolved), many non-Jews are attracted to the Jewish faith.

Yet, falling in love with the Jewish People is not yet enough reason for conversion. If falling in love with one Jew, a Jewish boy or a Jewish girl is not sincere, then falling in love with the entire Jewish People is also not the ideal. We can only know that such a conversion is valid once the individual has converted and continues to live a Jewish life.

True conversion is falling in love with the God of Israel. Igniting the lost spark is falling in love with God, as Jacob fell in love with Rachel at first sight. When a convert recognizes God at first sight, he or she falls in love with God. Such a conversion is so potent that Maimonides says, that the convert is greater than a Jew. Someone who recognizes God’s unique Oneness and falls in love with Him and converts to Judaism is greater than someone who was born a Jew.

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

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