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  Mystery & Mysticism How do I find the Mystic Path?

Overview | Lives of the Mystics| Wonderful and Dark is This Road | Jewish Mysticism


by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner

A mystic is someone who has the suspicion that the apparent brokenness, discord, and discontinuities of everyday life conceal a hidden unity. Just beneath the surface, everything is joined to everything else. To a mystic, what we call reality is really only the myriad refractions of that ultimate, underlying unity. Or, as we say in Yiddish: Alz ist Gott—everything is God!

The world, you and I, everything, resides within the divine All. God is simply all there is. All reality is one and it is all God. And therefore, the separateness, discreteness, boundariedness, and autonomy of every individual and every thing is illusory. Everything is but a manifestation of God. Or, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The fullness of the whole earth is the presence of God!” (Isaiah 6:3)

In such a system, you obviously cannot have a relationship with some thing of which you are already a dimension. You are simply made of it. Ultimately, even the borderline between your consciousness and the divine becomes blurred. There is no God outside the system (That would mean that God wasn’t everything) to whom you can complain, talk or offer thanks. Instead God is the One through whom everyone and everything is joined to everyone and everything. And prayer becomes an occasion for contemplation, meditation, reciting the words of the liturgy as an extended mantra.

In Judaism the mystical tradition is called Kabbala—a system that took shape in Twelfth and Thirteenth century Provence and Castille, reaching its apogee with the appearance of the Zohar. The great Israeli scholar, Moshe Idel, once suggested that Kabbala can be characterized by three unique ideas: Ayn Sof, sefirot, and mitzvot. Let us take them one at a time.

The Ayn Sof or God is the Oneness in which all being is dissolved and from which being continuously emerges. Ayn Sof is Hebrew for the One “without end.” Ayn Sof is neither numeric nor mathematical. It means, instead, without boundary, without definition, without any characteristics whatsoever. Indeed, to say anything about it at all violates the essential notion of the term. Ayn Sof is the font, the source, the matrix, the substrate, the mother-lode of being. For Kabbalists, therefore, creation is not some event that happened in the past but a continuous and ever-present process. When we express our gratitude for the world, it is because it has literally been created anew each day, each moment.

The second characteristic of Kabbala is the process through which this infinite One(ness) manifests itself and brings creation into being. Simply through being, by its very existence, there emerges from the One a series of concentric emanations or sefirot, literally, in Hebrew, numbers. Sefirot are a metaphor for trying to comprehend how the One could possibly make this world of so many apparently discrete and discordant parts. The sefirot themselves are alternatively described as both dimensions of the divine and the human psyche, the steps in the emanative process of creation, and, because everything is made of God, the sefirot are also an image of infrastructure of reality itself. Every dysfunction in our universe can be understood as the result of a destabilization of the sefirot—which are also the divine psyche. Performance of religious deeds now becomes a kind of repair of and maintenance for the divine.

Finally, classical Kabbalah is predicated on the idea that human beings, through acts of goodness, worship, love, healing, and giving or, mitzvot, are able to influence the divine. In the Kabbalistic maxim: By means of awakening below comes awakening on High. Kabbala, in other words, necessarily involves the performance of righteous deeds. Kabbalah thus gives to the behavior of each individual Jew literally cosmic importance.

Copyright ©2004 Lawrence Kushner



> What makes
someone a Mystic?

> How do I find the
Mystic Path?

> What can I learn
from Mystic Poets?

> How can I nurture
my connection to the Sacred?



>How can I explore
the Mystery?

>What can I know for certain?

>What shows me that
God cares?

>How can Jesus help
me understand?

>Where can I touch
the edge of heaven?


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