Increasingly, over the last twenty-five years (yes, Oslo), the Jewish Communities in Israel and those in the United States seem to have less and less in common. Burning questions in Israel concern the necessary and in-progress transformation of Halacha, and let’s remember that in addition to Jewish Law, it really means Jewish daily/weekly/monthly/yearly practice, from the Halacha of Galut (Exile/Diaspora) to a practice that which will usher in the millennia-longed-for age of Redemption.
Here we work to create the never-before-seen world-changing society, beginning with ourselves (the emphasis on individual halacha, re-calibrated for the new challenges, in order to empower and vitalize each of us to our highest potentials, but eventually inspiring others, as well, to live in perfect harmony with the deep structure of the Universe, Ratzon HaShem, the Divine Will, the full potential of Creation.
In the Diaspora, we face an equally difficult task. How to, in rapidly changing times, guarantee the survival and continuity of the Jewish People, in what might long remain hostile circumstances. The battle is often how to fight/resist assimilation, boredom and a feeling of lack-of-purpose, just as much as it to survive violent antisemitism aimed, each generation, to wipe us off the face of the Earth
Diaspora Halacha will necessarily retain, at least to a certain degree, its “circle the wagons” style of separateness, challenging and painful as that might be when talk from Eretz Yisrael is of merging, joining together and breaking down the barriers which have kept us separate for so many generations. It seems this will be a time where boundaries will and won’t be necessary, depending on where/when you lived.
It has already become difficult, and seems likely to become ever more challenging, for our two communities to coexist, let alone to support and complement each other. For one thing, we here in Eretz Yisrael seem to project our Geula goals and values, a halachic revolution that hasn’t been prepared for there on those living in the Exile while those living in the Diaspora project their values on us, here.
In other words, the Haredi world of Chumrot (ritual stringencies in all halachic matters), a remnant of two thousand years of Galut survival actually distracts and distances us from what we should be doing. Similarly, the “progressive” priority of “Peace” at any Cost with our Muslim neighbors, shifts the focus entirely from what we, involved in the Torah and Mitzvot evolution, need to do. It ignores the very real “on-the-ground” fact that 95% of encounters here between Jews and Muslims are perfectly peaceful, pleasant and mutually productive (if only that fringe of politicians could find job=training for something less bothersome to the rest of us….). Simply, while eliminating the conflict that remains between Jews and Palestinians would be nice, we have higher priorities, as disappointing as that is experienced by many of our well-meaning brothers and sisters.
Chassidim recite a short passage from Zohar (Trumah 163-166), Kagavna, on Friday nights, just after Kabbalat Shabbat and just before Ma’ariv for Shabbat. In other words, just as we transform our reality and focus from the mundane, work-week to the elevated consciousness of Shabbat.
Before we go much farther, we need to point out a number of equivalences. As we just said, the higher realm is often associated with Shabbat, the mundane with the week. God, HaKodeshBaruchHu (or, in Armaic, Kudsho Brich Hi) with Shabbat , Am Yisrael (The Jewish People) with the week. The Jewish Community in Eretz Yisrael, Olam HaBa (the world to come), while the diaspora community(ies), to the work-week and Olam HaZeh. It’s vital to emphasize here that these do not represent rankings or value. Male is no better than female, upper than lower. Both are essential and it’s better to look at them as giving/receiving, the two “endpoints” of every relationship. As both become fully engaged and fully active, the universe approaches it’s intended state (sof ma-aseh b’machshava t’chila–the final, culminating state is identical to the goal as first conceived). Each stage along the way is absolutely needed to create the perfected world (which is our privilege as Am Segula, a chosen people, to partner with The Creator.)
Back to Kagavna, we describe the King taking his throne, the highest energies entering our “real” world of physicality and material, the merging of pure spiritual into the fully manifest, i.e. the transition to Shabbat at it’s highest experience. We learn that the mysterious Unification that takes place in the highest reaches is exactly as we unify in our realm, with One receiving One and remaining One.
Can you imagine a deeper description of all realms, for our example the current realm of Am Yisrael still living in the diaspora, trying to organize and unify and make sense of all the many contradictions within it to somehow become mutually supporting and loving itself in a way that it can possibly accept the unification with and complete love from the world of AM Yisrael, currently living in Eretz Yisrsael, in all our incompletion and imperfection, trying to discover/create/collaborate in the highest possible form of Mitzva, Mitzva from tzevet, to group or bind together.
Imagine our Friday preparation in this material world as working to develop our Olam HaZeh to its highest level of unified harmony in order to be able to accept Olam HaBah, likewise refined to it’s highest degree, blending its perfect One with the perfect One of this world within the Absolute Perfection of The One, HaKodesh Baruch Hu. This sounds an immense improvement over merely making sure the cholent is cooking, lights set up for Shabbat and that we haven’t run out of wine.
Likewise, the goal of preserving Jewish practice in the Diaspora at this point in time might well have transformed from a defensive “circling the wagons”, a rejection of everything and everyone not already familiar (and easy), but rather beginning the process of gathering the Netzutzot HaKodesh, all those sparks of ultimate holiness which, over time, have become separated from our people but whose re-engagement is absolutely necessary to the ultimate goal. Rather than make Judaism difficult and forbidden, we need to lovingly invite the reunion and re-integration of all those who have become lost over the millennia.
Similarly, here in Israel, where, for the first time in two millennia we are both the numerical majority, but also enjoying the responsibilities and freedom of sovereignty over our lives and land, we look forward to a Judaism, a world of Halacha and Tefilla all trying to encompass the totality of being rather than merely the shadows and foundations of what was.
Describing the Psalm we recite on Shabbat, we declare, On Shabbat they would say A Meditative Song for the Day of Shabbat, a Meditative Song for the advancing future, to a time when it is always Shabbat…..When the Universe and Everything comprising it and contained in it is unified in perfect harmony.
Looking forward to reading. I recommend that you send out more than a quarter hour before Shabbat! Shabbat Shalom, Jeff
I agree. This essay, especially, was so hard for me to finish and when I saw the clock approaching, for yet another week, candle-lighting, I decided to just call it done and send it out.
Hopefully future essays will be less resistant to feeling finished.
Loving so much of the music you send out!
It is always a treat to get your thoughts. I think you are describing your own transformation. I wish what you describe was more true for religious communities in Israel. I think many of the Haredi still believe they are in Galut.. Others are more interested in what they can receive from the government than what they can give to Am Yisroel. Shabbat Shalom.
I definitely agree that I am transforming, but I think I’m just part of a larger transformation. Yes, there are still many Haredim who remain unaware of the shifting realities around them, but I find that they are fewer than many think, fewer than I once thought, and are shrinking. Of course, as a demographic they grow with high birth rates, but no one really talks about the drop-out rates among them, often not just leaving the ultra-orthodox, but leaving the religion completely.
A life style and world view stuck 200-400 years in the past just isn’t viable. Merely to survive above poverty, and fewer and fewer are satisfied to raise their children in primitive conditions. More and more haredim enter the work force. Their numbers of internet-addicted rival all the other communities here. The great Rebbes, and there are a few left, see or talk about keeping devotion to God alive in a world where technology is taken for granted, where it’s seen as a gift from The Creator.
So, yes, I see the entire community also transforming. Transforming to their vision of the future, that is, rather than to my vision of what their vision may, be.
Am Yisrael Chai!
Thanks. This was great to see you!! Love, nathan
For me as well….
Walking through Machene Yehudah with friends last night I couldn’t help but wonder if the Geulah will come by drinking beer and accompanied by loud techno music. If so, we are on the way.
Our world is changing every minute, every second, at a pace so hard to comprehend. Let alone predict!
But the desire to get close to the Holy, that, I hope will never change.
Whatever way it takes….