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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Final Night in Pushkar with God

Health recovered, and with an acute case of cabin fever, I spent Erev Sukkot at Beit Chabad. A different set of rabbis were flown in from 770, and intrepid as I am, we sat together at dinner. I asked some good questions.

The universe can be explained up to a point by both science and religion. However, at a certain juncture, there is a void that requires a leap of faith. Faith is a funny thing. While one cannot rely on it entirely, or only on rationality for that matter, blind faith strikes me as having a strong element of infantilism. Nevertheless, that final gap of understanding remains, any way you slice it. Question: how can you be sure God exists?

Long discussion. Many people chiming in. The answer, roughly and in sum, is to look in the small things. Trying to find proof of the Divine with questions like why did this or that happen is like looking in the broom closet for a glass of orange juice. What’s more, at risk of spouting a cliché, throughout creation, to my mind anyway, there is some rather compelling evidence pointing to intelligent design.

OK. So assuming that God actually exists, what was His purpose in creating the universe?

Another long discussion, with quotes, verbatim and paraphrased, from all manner of sources, including the Zohar. Once again, the answer isn’t so simple, but here’s my abridged take on it, adapted to my limited understanding and worldview.

Beyond space and time, which we do know are relative and even subjective, there exists the Infinite Light. When that contracted and the universe was created in the so-called Big Bang, everything was set on course to return to Source after a given period. All cultures in humanity, with its capacity for abstract thought, expressed through language, music, mathematics, and so on, also seem to be hard-wired for religious or spiritual expression. This is no accident. This spiritual constituent of humankind is the force driving the universe back towards the Source, somewhat through ritual, but mainly through good deeds. The impetus to do such deeds comes from the Godly component, i.e. the atman, which exists in each and every one of us.

This collective divine energy agglomerates, propelling the whole universe towards what many faiths term as a type of messianic salvation, where the nature of the world as we know it changes for the better, and the ills of this illusory physical existence, such as sickness, death, and all forms of evil, no longer plague us, and we will be treated to a greater knowledge, understanding far beyond what we are capable of today, and closeness to the Creator. The details of this ultimate transformation vary from religion to religion, but there seems to be much overlap and concurrence, even in some polytheistic faiths. Discard the fire and brimstone. This is merely a grab, historically successful, at social control.

Taking strong hints from Zoroastrianism, we Jews have had the mission and honor of bringing the concept of monotheism to humanity, for which, incomprehensibly, we have been persecuted and punished from time immemorial, up to and including today. In these times, it mainly takes the form of Israel-bashing.

Whatever your opinion on the Jewish State (and Skye Frontier’s has been spelled out pretty explicitly in these pages) what you think about Israel is mistaken. It is the ultimate locus of paradoxes. You think you know it. You think you understand it. You don’t. It is a mystery. Jews, and especially Israelis, may be a problematic bunch from a behavioral perspective. But to focus on that and the details of the Middle East conflict misses the point entirely. This conflict has a solution. The seeming impossibility of reaching it is diverting the spiritual energy necessary for the salvation of the world through love and selfless good deeds. Compromise means nobody gets everything they want, but hey, that’s life. Tough cookies. Addiction to victimhood, thirst for revenge, hatred, prejudice, divisions within society and between peoples, especially when perpetrated in the name of God, must certainly be one of the greatest desecrations of God’s name, work and intentions.

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