Uncertainty and Ambiguity Are My Friends

Winter                                                                Imbolc Moon

winter solstice4Kabbalah last night. It’s an odd experience for me in some ways. I’m learning a lot, seeing how to see in a very new way, looking at the bones of the universe. The thought world of the kabbalists is strange and wonderful, allowing for a peak behind the curtain of creation. Yet. There is too a limiting factor.

When the great German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Hegel did his exhaustive philosophy of history, he finished it by discovering that all of history up to then pointed at, wait for it, 19th century Germany. In the same way kabbalah peels back the layers obfuscating the journey from singularity to this world and discover that it culminates in, wait for it, the Torah. If you’re familiar at all with the history of ideas, you’ll know that this is not an isolated phenomenon.

The odd experience factor, which I’ve encountered many times, is that to learn it well there has to be a suspension of disbelief. That means following the logic and the imaginative leaps as a believer, yet knowing that that stance is a heuristic, not a life choice. This is, of course, much easier in a college classroom where the whole idea is to embrace new ideas, learn them, then move on to the next one. Schopenhauer. Kierkegaard. Logical positivism. Wittgenstein.

20-the-map-is-not-the-territoryIt’s more difficult to follow this approach in a faith community, even one as open and accepting of diverse thought as Beth Evergreen. The kabbalists influenced the prayer book and worship practices of all Jews, orthodox to reconstructionist. The Jewish civilization which Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan wanted to further through his project of reconstruction, though it has universalist instincts, remains firmly rooted in the tribal history.

And, it cannot be otherwise. Studying kabbalah is always going to point toward the Torah, toward a specifically Jewish world, even though its implications push well beyond it. The task for me is to learn it as authentically as possible while maintaining my pagan/pilgrim worldview, seeking within the knowledge of the kabbalists the threads leading outside the civilizational fences which it necessarily erects.

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