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Seeing God

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  • Jeremy Huber
    Seeing God By: Rabbi David Aaron (Discarding our spiritual blindfolds is the first step in the art of spiritual seeing.) My three-year-old son was watching me
    Message 1 of 3 , May 3, 2003
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      Seeing God
      By: Rabbi David Aaron


      (Discarding our spiritual blindfolds is the first step in the art of
      spiritual seeing.)


      My three-year-old son was watching me pray one day, trying to imitate
      my
      movements, pretending he was also praying. Then out of the blue, he
      blurted
      out, "Daddy! I just saw God's feet."

      I didn't know what my immediate response should be to this, but
      quickly I
      decided that truth was my best option. "Yehuda," I said, "You
      couldn't have
      seen God's feet. God doesn't have feet."

      He seemed startled by that, but all he said was "Oh."

      A couple of minutes went by, then he tugged at my sleeve. He looked
      at me
      with his big brown eyes and, smiling sweetly, said with total
      conviction,
      "But I saw them."

      There was nothing I could do to persuade him otherwise. So I decided
      to let
      it ride. After all, he is only three-years-old. Hopefully, by the
      time he
      reaches adulthood he will have learned that God doesn't have feet. If
      he
      still harbors that concept, it will get in the way of his truly
      seeing God.

      People today truly want to meet God. They are looking less for an
      understanding of God than for an introduction to God. They want a
      personal
      audience. They want to see God. And surprising as it may sound, it is
      possible. God can be seen and wants to be seen.

      But the sad fact is that most people don't see God, can't see God,
      even when
      they want to, because in childhood they picked up concepts which in
      adulthood act as spiritual blindfolds.

      So instead of describing how God can be seen, we will address why we
      can't
      see him. Hopefully, in so doing, we will unmask and remove the major
      obstacles that stand in our way.

      The first step in what I call the art of spiritual seeing is to
      discard our
      spiritual blindfolds.

      Most of the people I have met during my years as a rabbi are wearing
      spiritual blindfolds. This causes them a lot of suffering, because
      these
      blindfolds block the eyes of the soul and they are never free to see
      God.

      Some people are aware of that they are walking blindly through life,
      but
      most are not. And that's a lot worse because if you don't know what's
      hurting you, it's harder to heal.

      CHILDISH VIEW OF GOD

      Most of us retain some sort of image of God from our childhood,
      possibly
      recalling when the idea of God first registered on our juvenile
      consciousness. Many children are influenced by the world that so
      loves to
      picture God as Zeus (even though theoretically paganism disappeared
      from
      Western civilization along with the Roman Empire). The Michaelangelo
      version
      from the Sistine Chapel is possibly the most widely reproduced
      rendition of
      the Creator looking every bit like old Zeus himself.

      It is no wonder that so many children (and sadly, adults too) imagine
      God as
      a powerful aged man with a flowing long white beard. Children need to
      give
      God a physical form in their minds, otherwise they cannot comprehend
      the
      idea--for them an invisible, incorporeal God is simply not there.

      In a child's mind, according to his level of comprehension, God has
      to have
      a body, an imaginable form of some kind, to exist. But as the child
      grows
      up, as he matures intellectually and spiritually, he needs to find a
      new
      paradigm--a new framework for understanding God, for seeing God.

      The problem is that most of us don't. This is, in fact, a very common
      problem.

      Humanity has been struggling with this problem since the dawn of
      civilization. This was the genius and earthshaking contribution of
      Abraham.
      Four thousand years ago, he told a world, which worshipped a panoply
      of
      idols representing every imaginable aspect of nature, that there is
      only one
      unimaginable source of all creation. Can you imagine what a shock it
      must
      have been to hear that back then? God is imageless? How could that be?

      The irony of it was that Abraham's father, Terach, was an idol-maker
      by
      profession. Jewish oral tradition tells us that as a child Abraham
      smashed
      all the idols in his father's shop. Responding to his father's fury,
      he
      boldly claimed that the biggest of the idols was responsible for the
      destruction. "But," countered his father, "he is just a statue; he
      can't do
      anything." And to that Abraham said simply, "Let your ears hear what
      your
      mouth has spoken."

      God who is responsible for the vastness and intricacy of creation
      cannot be
      limited to any form, and especially not to an inanimate graven image.
      A
      mature and healthy soul must deny such childish imaginings.

      As Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, great Kabbalist and philosopher living
      at the
      turn of the century, put it, "There is faith that is actually denial,
      and
      there is denial that is actually faith." When a person says that he
      believes
      in God, but, in fact, the God he believes in is really a conceptual
      spiritual idol, an image of God that he has conjured up, then his
      faith is
      actually denial of truth, heresy.

      However, when a person professes atheism because he just can't
      believe in
      some almighty king with a white flowing beard floating somewhere in
      outer
      space, in a sense he is expressing true faith, because there is no
      such God.

      The challenge is how to clean out such false imagery from one's
      mind--imagery that has grown thick, hard and solid over time and,
      like a
      hard wall of cement blocks, is now presenting a very serious
      obstruction to
      really seeing God.

      The place to start is with the big word: G-O-D.

      WHO IS "GOD"?

      Today people talk a great deal about God. It is fashionable to bring
      up
      spiritual matters at cocktail parties. It's even fashionable to
      believe in
      God.

      Not too long ago, it was not fashionable to believe in God. In fact,
      it was
      decidedly politically incorrect. Intelligent people simply didn't
      believe in
      God, faith was considered something primitive, passé, decidedly not
      academic.

      But what concerns me about this trendiness of God is that trends come
      and
      go. Two hundred years ago God was fashionable--the Founding Fathers of
      America put God in the Declaration of Independence and "In God We
      Trust" on
      all American money.

      Fifty years ago, God was not fashionable--the founders of the State of
      Israel, after much argument, only cryptically referred to God
      as "Rock of
      Israel" when they wrote their Declaration of Independence. Now God is
      fashionable again.

      To make sure that God isn't just fashionable, and will not fall out of
      fashion next year along with platform shoes, we have to take great
      care. To
      make sure that God really becomes part of our lives and has a
      profound and
      healthy effect in improving the way we live and relate to each other,
      we
      have to pay attention to what we mean when we say "God."

      GETTING RID OF "GOD"

      Quite frankly, the word "God" does nothing for me. If anything, it
      interferes with my true faith. Personally, I don't believe in "God."
      It's an
      English word of German derivation and is not found in the Bible, if
      you read
      the Hebrew original. That word "God" has been so overused, abused, and
      misunderstood that it actually stands in the way of our discovering
      that
      ultimate truth we are seeking.

      Thinking about this problem, I begin to understand what Nietzsche
      must have
      meant when he said God is dead. The concept of "God"--what we mean
      when we
      say "God"--is a dead concept. It is not real. The male, Zeus-like
      avenger
      floating about in heaven doesn't even come close to representing the
      reality.

      How childish and counter-productive this concept is was brought home
      to me,
      when one day, I saw a fellow wearing a tee-shirt depicting an
      exchange from
      the Calvin and Hobbs comic strip. Hobbs, the toy tiger, is asking
      Calvin,
      the little boy, "Calvin, do you believe in God?" Calvin's reply
      is: "Well,
      SOMEONE is out to get me."

      Unfortunately, many people harbor an image of God as some kind of
      Almighty
      heavenly bully, who is out to get them. No wonder they don't want to
      believe
      in that God; no wonder they don't have any idea how to connect with
      that
      God.

      Indeed, that is an awful image of "God." So, I believe that before
      real
      spiritual growth is possible we must get rid of God.

      Just like Abraham we need to smash our own graven images, free
      ourselves
      from conceptual idolatry obstructing the eyes of our soul. The time
      has come
      to see the One who we seek.

      THE ONE WHOM WE SEEK

      The name in the Bible that unfortunately has been translated as "God"
      is
      comprised of the Hebrew letters yud, hey, vav, hey and is written out
      in
      English as "Y/H/V/H." It is important to know that "Y/H/V/H" is not a
      word
      at all, but a tetragrammaton--the Tetragrammaton as there is only
      one--standing for "was/is/and/will be." The Tetragrammaton condenses
      the
      three Hebrew forms of the verb "to be" suggesting the timeless source
      and
      context of all being.

      Jewish law prohibits the pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, and
      therefore
      in prayer religious Jews substitute a completely different word--
      Adonai
      (meaning "Lord")--when they come to "Y/H/V/H."

      How very strange to see a word and say something else. Of course,
      this is
      done to remind the worshipper that what he/she sees cannot be said,
      what
      he/she experiences cannot really be captured in words or concepts.
      The sages
      of old, in their vast wisdom, understood that people love the crutch
      of
      images and therefore need constant reminders to humbly accept the
      limitations of their conceptual minds. How can a human mind grasp
      Y/H/V/H?
      How can the human mind imagine the Ultimate Timeless Reality?

      This is a very difficult idea to grasp because it surpasses our
      minds. It's
      like a drop of water in the ocean, trying to grasp the ocean. Indeed,
      the
      best we can say is that we each embody an aspect of reality, but we
      are not
      reality. Like the drop water in the ocean, we exist within reality.
      Because
      reality is Y/H/V/H.

      When Jews celebrate Passover, they sing a song from the
      Haggadah: "Blessed
      is The Place." One of the terms used to describe Y/H/V/H is "The
      Place." Why
      "The Place"? Because it suggests Y/H/V/H is the place in which we
      exist, is
      the reality within which we exist.

      If you believe in the Big Bang theory--that the world came into being
      as a
      primordial explosion with masses of hot, whirling gases, which
      eventually
      condensed into stars and planets--you would still have to ask: Where
      did all
      this happen? What place was this in which the explosion took place?
      Who
      facilitated this event?

      The answer is Y/H/V/H, the Ultimate Reality--the One who embraces all
      time,
      all space and all beings.

      THE ULTIMATE REALITY

      The Kabbalah warns that we should not to affix any name or letter to
      the
      Ultimate Reality. (The Kabbalah refers to the Ultimate Reality as Ein
      Sof,
      "the Endless One.") We can't stuff something as vast and abstract as
      that
      into any rigid concept or image. Even the Tetragrammaton is, at best,
      only a
      hint, because the One to whom it refers is beyond names and concepts.

      So what are we to do when trying to speak of Y/H/V/H without getting
      stuck
      in the dead concept that we are trying to get rid of? The Jewish
      answer is
      to avoid the problem by simply saying Hashem, which in Hebrew simply
      means
      "the name." This avoids becoming too familiar with any name, indeed it
      avoids using any name. Saying "the name"--Hashem--reminds us that the
      Ultimate Reality is, in fact, beyond all names, all terms, all
      images. When
      we say Hashem, we realize that we only possess a simplistic, limited,
      inadequate understanding of the Ultimate Reality, the Source of All
      Being,
      the Place or the Context of All That Exists.

      We don't--indeed, we can't--have an understanding of Hashem, but we
      can and
      do have a relationship with Hashem.

      God is dead; it is a lifeless concept, a dead word. But Hashem is
      alive, the
      Ultimate Living Reality.

      The Kabbalah inspires a complete paradigm shift. It teaches that
      Hashem does
      not exist in reality--Hashem is reality. And we do not exist alongside
      Hashem, we exist within Hashem, within the reality that is Hashem.

      Hashem is the place. Indeed, Hashem is the all-embracing context for
      everything. So there can't be you and God standing alongside in
      reality.
      There is only one reality that is Hashem, and you exist in Hashem.

      You exist within reality, embody an aspect of reality, participate in
      reality. That's a completely different understanding.

      PERSONAL GOD

      When I talk about reality, sometimes people object. They complain that
      "reality" sounds too impersonal. "What happened to the personal God?"
      they
      ask.

      But the Ultimate Reality, Hashem, Y/H/V/H, is not impersonal. This
      reality
      embraces you and me and is the source of and context for you and me,
      therefore, Hashem couldn't be any less personal than you and me. In
      fact,
      Hashem is infinitely more personal.

      People think that reality is dead empty space, but reality is actually
      conscious, alive, and loving. Therefore, we cannot speak of reality
      in an
      impersonal way. We can't ask, for example, "What is reality?" We must
      ask,
      "Who is reality? Who is the source of all consciousness? Who is the
      source
      of all life? Who is the source of love? Who accommodates everything
      we see
      in this world?"

      The answer is Hashem.

      One metaphor that can be helpful for understanding our relationship to
      Hashem is the relationship between the thought and the thinker. If I
      create
      a man in my mind, where does that man exist? In my mind. That man
      exists
      within me, yet I'm not that man. That man is not me. He continues to
      exist
      as long as I continue to think him. If I stop thinking about him, he
      ceases
      to exist but I am no less who I was before I created him in my
      imagination.

      Similarly, we are the product of Hashem's creation. We exist in
      Hashem. But
      we are not Hashem and Hashem is not us. It's a mystical idea. There is
      nothing devoid of Hashem. Everything is in Hashem, Hashem is in
      everything,
      but Hashem is beyond everything.

      We exist within reality, we embody reality, and yet we are not
      reality. And
      if we would cease to exist, reality would continue on, no less than
      before
      or after our creation.

      A MATURE VIEW

      When I tried to explain this to my seven-year-old son, it went like
      this:

      "Nuri, where is Hashem?"

      "He's over there," he answered confidently pointing to the sky. "In
      heaven."

      "No. Hashem isn't over there, Hashem is everywhere."

      "Oh."

      "Now, where are you and I?"

      "Well," he was more cautious now, expecting something tricky within
      the
      question. "We're over here."

      "No," I said, "You and I are actually within Hashem. Do you
      understand that?
      Hashem isn't over there, and you and I are not over here. Hashem is
      everywhere and we're in Hashem."

      My son thought about this for a few moments, trying to understand it.
      Then
      he exclaimed, "I got it! I got it! Wow! Hashem is so fat!"

      Somehow he had to make a picture of Hashem, fat enough to encompass
      two
      other people, because a child's mind cannot deal in abstractions.
      That's why
      if a third grader is having trouble figuring out how much is 14 minus
      9, you
      tell him, "If you have fourteen candies, and you give away nine to
      your
      sister, how many candies will you have left?" He'll get it right
      away. He'll
      see the candies disappearing in his mind.

      But as he matures, he is expected to let go of childish, limited
      concrete
      concepts. He can't be thinking of candy each time he adds or
      subtracts, nor
      can he be thinking of a fat balloon each time he thinks of God.

      If we want an adult relationship with Hashem, then we must be willing
      to
      change the paradigm. Letting go of old concepts, however, is extremely
      difficult. The human mind can be like a prison. To get out of the
      prison of
      our imagination is sometimes more difficult than getting out of a
      prison
      made of stones and bars. If we become prisoners to the unhealthy
      concept
      God, then we view all of life through a framework of God vs me. And no
      wonder that religion turns us off.

      When we read that an omnipotent being over there gave us this or that
      commandment, we say in our childish minds, "Oh yeah? So what?" It
      becomes a
      question of who is going to win. Are we going to surrender to that
      being
      over there?

      But, if we can make the jump from counting candies to the
      abstractions of
      algebra, we can also succeed in freeing our minds from unhealthy
      stilted
      images of God.

      Only when we remove from our mind's eye those blindfolds of dead
      concepts
      can we begin to open the eyes of the soul and see in a new way. But
      once we
      do, we also become open up the possibility of truly seeing Hashem.




      _____

      This article has been adapted from the newest book by Rabbi David
      Aaron,
      "Seeing God: Ten Life-changing Lessons of the Kabbalah," recently
      published
      by Tarcher/Putnam.

      Rabbi David Aaron is the founder and dean of Isralight, an
      international
      organization with centers in Jerusalem, New York, and Florida. He is
      also
      the author of "Endless Light: The Ancient Path of the Kabbalah to
      Love,
      Spiritual Growth and Personal Power" now available in paperback.

      <http://aish.com/issues/philosophy/Seeing_God.asp>
      http://aish.com/issues/philosophy/Seeing_God.asp
    • luvpotion121
      Dear Jeremiah, Rabbi Aaron presents a very sound philosophy, that I recognize as important truth for all to realize. I did note this statement: We
      Message 2 of 3 , May 3, 2003
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        Dear Jeremiah,

        Rabbi Aaron presents a very sound philosophy, that I recognize as
        important truth for all to realize. I did note this statement:

        "We don't--indeed, we can't--have an understanding of Hashem, but we
        can and do have a relationship with Hashem."

        Jeremiah, it is not true that we can't have an understanding of
        Hashem. There are some souls who experience the Ultimate Reality of
        being the Source, and after experiencing the Infinite Beingness or
        the One Being without beginning nor end, so choose to return to the
        lesser reality of space, time, and matter, yet with the Ultimate
        Truth firmly in place.

        Bless you for sending a bit of his book.

        Love, Polly
      • Polly
        We cannot minimize the vastness of the Infinite Perspective. To a soul merged into One, there is only Infinity and Eternity experiencing a vast Voidness, no
        Message 3 of 3 , May 4, 2003
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          We cannot minimize the vastness of the Infinite Perspective.  To a soul merged into One, there is only Infinity and Eternity experiencing a vast Voidness, no possibility of a timeframe to limit this Sublime and Blissful Experience.
           
          ----- Original Message -----
          Sent: Sunday, May 04, 2003 4:30 AM
          Subject: Re: << lovingpurelove >> Re: Seeing God

          Dear Polly
          I would agree that now and again, maybe for an infinitesimal millisecond of time we might touch on this Oneness with the Universal Source. This is the Utopia, the Shambhalla of feeling which once experienced we strive to meet again. Having had the experience it is not forgotten but oh so indescribable. - it just IS.
          from one soul traveller to another
          Me - here, where I AM
          ----- Original Message -----
          Sent: Sunday, May 04, 2003 2:02 PM
          Subject: << lovingpurelove >> Re: Seeing God

          Dear Jeremiah,

          Rabbi Aaron presents a very sound philosophy, that I recognize as
          important truth for all to realize.  I did note this statement:

          "We don't--indeed, we can't--have an understanding of Hashem, but we
          can and do have a relationship with Hashem."

          Jeremiah, it is not true that we can't have an understanding of
          Hashem.  There are some souls who experience the Ultimate Reality of
          being the Source, and after experiencing the Infinite Beingness or
          the One Being without beginning nor end, so choose to return to the
          lesser reality of space, time, and matter, yet with the Ultimate
          Truth firmly in place.

          Bless you for sending a bit of his book.

          Love, Polly



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