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First Parish Universalist Church
790 Washington Street, P. O. Box 284, Stoughton, Massachusetts 02072 
(781) 344-6800
Worship: 10:30 AM
Children's Chapel:  10:30 AM
Church School: 10:45 AM
 

The 21st Century Kaballah

Deborah Allen, May 4, 2008


The Kaballah is rooted in ancient Jewish thought. Using the Old Testament as a reference point, Jewish mystics have used it as a guide to experience of the Divine, which is the goal of the mystic. But it also serves to ground an ethic; it can provide much material for meditation and prayer, and for people who like to work puzzles, it provides piece after piece that, once fitted together, show the whole scheme of creation.

Pretty good, don’t you think? Worth looking into, wouldn’t you say?

There’s even the further benefit of being able to use the puzzle pieces to discover the identity of the Creator, but of course it does assume that there is a Creator. Even if you’re not personally clear on this issue, you’ll find that the Kaballah has something to offer you.

By way of disclaimer, I do have to mention that this rendition of the Kaballah contains a few elements that are very much my own, and would probably horrify traditional Kaballists. But the framework is the same, I assure you, and I’ll notify you when I depart from tradition.

The Kaballah as it is studied by Jewish scholars and mystics was organized in the Middle Ages, from material gathered over centuries, evolving over time into the Holy Tree that is familiar today, represented by the glyph on the front of your order of worship. Around the year 1280 a Spanish Jewish mystic named Moses de Leon began to codify the ancient wisdom. The result was The Zohar, the canon of the Kaballah.

Three hundred years later Rabbi Isaac Luria, who inherited the mantle of mystical master, revolutionized Kaballist thought with his teaching of
“The Withdrawal”, which has been central to the movement ever since.

But first, to orient you in the tradition: we begin with the premise that God is unknown and unknowable, so far beyond our ability to comprehend that we can only allude to this force field by calling it The Infinite. An unknown ultimate entity is a concept that the eastern mind set has no trouble accepting, but most of us here come from the Jewish-Christian heritage, where God is described in detail, usually in very unpleasant ways that we have rejected, even if we have nothing to put in its place.

So this morning we’re going to put The Unknown Infinite in that place, and we’re going to state that it is Infinite Light. We do this with confidence, for Infinite Light is something that mystical experience is unanimous about. This, at least, gives us a little room in which to maneuver.

What the Kaballah does is to show us how the immaterial, Infinite Light that is the Creator, is able to produce the creation as we know it, entirely material. It’s a process of getting from Nothing to Something: from the Infinite to finite. In fact, how the Genesis account comes to be. Not only does the Kaballah present the blueprint for this process, but also answers the question we have all asked ourselves. What’s the point? Why was I born? Why were any of us born? Why would The Infinite, whole and complete within itself, boundless and without limitation, trouble itself with making a cosmos? The answer will show up as we explore a little further.

It begins with the lovely myth taught by Rabbi Luria that corresponded exactly and literally with first verse of Genesis. I’d like to remind you that today’s myth is the Big Bang. But the myth of Rabbi Luria takes us way, way back, long before the Big Bang has even has a chance to “go boom” .

The biggest problem about creation and the cosmos is that there is no place within the Infinite for anything but itself. It is all-in-all; there is nothing beyond it, so where can the creation occur? How can it occur? Rabbi Luria’s answer, entirely within the Jewish sacred tradition, was totally brilliant: the first act of creation was the production of an emptiness within The Infinite itself. A pulling back of The Infinite in all directions from a single point so that a vacuum within its very center was brought into existence. An emptiness as big as the cosmos. This emptiness, this newly created place is the Void, the one spoken of in Genesis: “In the beginning the earth was without form… void… and darkness was upon the face of the deep.”

It is important to remember that absolutely nothing exists in the Void. It is not God. In fact, it’s the absence of God. It is not Being. Nothing IS, yet. It is simply empty, and as Genesis tells us, dark. The very opposite of the Light that is Infinite. The Void is prevented from collapsing in on itself and is maintained at every instant of its existence by the power of The Infinite. In this respect we can consider The Withdrawal as an act of infinite Will. Our first clue about the nature of the Creator. We’ll come back to later on when we’re in a position to understand it.

Next step: The Infinite Light must enter the Nothingness of the Void. And so God said, “Let there be light.” In a contracted, single ray, The Light of the Infinite enters the emptiness, very intense, but very small. Anything more would destroy what has begun. Too much Light and Poof! The darkness, the Void, is gone.

In an act of Infinite control, the single ray of Light blooms into the first emanation of God in the darkness. It’s a little hard to tell you what this sort of a “bloom” is. I think it’s a dimension of its own, contained in a sphere that is called “sefira”. The Kaballah names this sefira KETHER, which you’ll find on the front of today’s program. Simply put, Kether is Infinite Light – impossibly contained. It is The Infinite, now inside the Void while at the same time remaining in its usual and customary place outside the Void, surrounding it. That’s your first piece of real work this morning: being able to hold onto the idea that The Infinite is simultaneously outside the Void while being present within it.

Kether is maintained by a constant in-flowing energy of the Infinite Light. It never separates from The Infinite, and instantly is filled to the brim with pure energy, pure potential, the pure light, which then overflows into a new emanation, a new sefira, separate from the source. Now the energy and power of Infinity is wholly present in the Void. It is called CHOKMAH by the Kaballah. It contains within itself everything to come, and now we know something more about The Infinite that we didn’t know before. Chokmah contains within itself everything that will exist in the creation. This tells us that The Infinite Light, its source, contains everything that will be as well, long before it enters the Void.

No sooner than the sefira of Chokmah is emanated, its might and energy unleashed, then the next sefira blooms: Binah, the organizing force that has the power to shape this fireball. The emanation of Binah occurs nearly simultaneously with that of Chokmah, lest the Void be destroyed. The Light and energy of that is God Infinite is now structured, given form and shape.

The triad of Kether, Chokmah and Binah is called “the enclosure of the Infinite”. The Light with all its potentiality is now present in its own, self contained space within the Void, with the result that the Darkness of the Void is squeezed a little, pushed aside, made smaller. I must point out that The Darkness and the Light are complete opposites, and like oil and water. They never mix. Darkness simply becomes more dense as more and more Light enters the Void, and Light, as we know, is Infinite. It just keeps on coming. This particular point – this compressing of the Darkness, is not traditionally Kaballist. I have to take responsibility for it – but it works, as you shall see.

From the Triad of the Enclosed Infinite the primordial, endless energy and force that is Chokmah, shaped and formed by Binah, flows into the Void --remember – it cannot be contained! and forms a new sefira. The circle just below Chokmah, represents this new sefira, CHESED.

With this emanation a new aspect of the Infinite enters creation . We call it the Mind of God. Kaballah refers it as Transcendent Consciousness. Consciousness was not needed as such before the Withdrawal. There was nothing to be conscious about! Within Transcendent Consciousness are both Intelligence (which is what the word Mind implies to us) and Response, or interaction with what is being created. Wisdom is part of Consciousness, too, and Insight, and Understanding, in this case of cosmic proportion.

The first Cosmic Response of Transcendent Consciousness is Chesed, which translated means Love.

That’s right. Chesed is Love.

Love – infinite, unconditional love, God’s first Response. Kinda blows you away, doesn’t it? It blew me away, big time! What they’ve been saying all along, what Jesus said over and over again, is true. God is Love.

But that’s not all God is. Wonderful as it is to think about, the sefira of Chesed cannot and does not stand alone. Exactly as occurred in the first instance, a counterforce to contain this Infinite Love instantly appears, else nothing by way of creation can happen. We’d just have all this love, dynamically swirling around, and nothing else – no galaxy, no earth, no us. It must be contained somehow, in order to have operational power within the Void.

This counterforce is Gevurah. It’s the sefira opposite Chesed. Kaballah calls it Justice. Just as creation would not occur if Binah were not part of Hokmah, nothing will happen in creation if Gevurah is not present to give shape to Chesed. Gevurah is the power of God’s self-restraint -- the original of which was seen in the Withdrawal that created the Void itself. Gevurah -- Absolute Justice –channels Love, and is the seat of judgement.

With the advent of Unconditional Love, through the constraint of Justice, to exist in the cosmos, we can catch a glimpse of the Will of God more clearly than before. Think about it. Infinite Love. Love itself. What is it without an object to adore? Without a destination? Love as we understand it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum when it is Infinite, either. It has – must have – an object.

For all its unimaginable power and omnipotence, The Light that is God cannot within itself satisfy the driving demand and impulse that is called Love!

In fact, God is incomplete without a Beloved.

The whole point of creation, then, is to create a Beloved Other. You. Me. Us. Somehow. Sometime. Somewhere.

And this Beloved must be Other, else God would only have a clone to love. It is our very differentness from the Divine that is the object of its Love. But we have to do a lot of work to understand of what this differentness might consist, and so, as did the Lord of the Universe, we move on to the next Response of Transcendent Consciousness: Tifereth.

Peace.

As it emanates from Love and Justice, Tifereth is also the sefira of Compassion, Mercy and Grace. We know a little about these characteristics, but in Tifereth they are not just described: they ARE. If we are able, in meditation or prayer, reach a Tifereth state, we know this, and we are at Peace for quite a while afterwards. Yes – we’re getting closer to home!

The Light of the Infinite is now manifest in six spheres, three of which contain its Presence, and three that contain its Mind and Heart. Emanations within the Mind and Heart of God continue, but our limited time requires us to move on to the next step: the creation of a blueprint and its transfer.

Before we do, I again have to remind you about the Darkness of the Void, which is now much more compressed than it was before, when there were only three emanations. In fact, it is becoming somewhat substantial, rather than being Nothing. It has nowhere to go, remember. So it can only become more dense.

Now we are approaching the actual creation which will be the third triad. Laws must be laid down that will contain the creation to come and govern it – laws of physics, of quantum mechanics, of cosmology, of chemistry, of biology, of geology and, finally, of evolution itself, the crucible that will generate the human being.

Plato called this the Logos, and those of you who have studied Plato will agree, I think, that Logos is exactly what we’re talking about. In respect to the Kaballah, however, we must remember that these Laws are in fact permutations of Infinite Light capable of entering matter itself. It’s important to remember this: the Laws of the Universe are not separate from God. They ARE God, greatly altered and reshaped in order to meet the necessities of creation.

Given that the Laws that will control the Universe are now in place, we can consider the last three sefirot very easily. They are part of life as we know it, and we see them in operation constantly, if we’re looking.

The sphere that emanates from Tifereth, Peace and Compassion, is that of Infinite Beauty called Netzah. You’ll see that it lies below Hesed, and this is no coincidence. I am sure you have experienced the beauty of Love, such that I don’t have to explain it! But Beauty also extends to the creation itself, where we have found it since we were small, in sunsets and rainbows and little puppies and
7.

flowers. The fact is that everything Beautiful encased in matter or held in the human heart is actually God’s very presence, manifest in the only possible way at this level of creation.

Making Netzach possible is its counterbalance, Hod. Observe, please, that the sefira of Hod lies beneath Gevurah, which gives the shape of Justice to Hesed. Hod gives the shape of Truth to Netzah – the “truth” in this case meaning “that which is true”. Meaning the fact, the reality of the matter. Lying also below Binah, Hod reflects the intelligence of the universe. When you’ve had a eureka! moment, or even a more gentle swell of pride and pleasure at having understood something that was obscure before, that’s because it is shot through with Truth – with Infinite Light, in fact.

The now attenuated Light of the Infinite, veiled in so many derivations that it can be safely interact with us, is ready to be actualized. Creation is ready to emerge, the last sefira, called Malkuth, the Kingdom. But, of course, it’s not matter that emerges. It doesn’t, ever, emerge. It’s always been there. The darkness of the Void is now compressed into matter as we experience it, hard and dense and very – material. What happens next is that matter is given form and design. Shot through the atoms and strings and held in the embrace of quantum mechanics and gravity and all the stuff that goes on by virtue of the Logos – the Law – creation emerges – the universe as we see it, and our earth. And yet there is yet more.

There is the Beloved Other, for whom all this effort has been made. Forgot that, didn’t you! There’s so much in the Kaballah that it’s hard to keep it all in mind at once. But here we are. The creation of the Beloved Other is now possible. The matrix that will support the Object of Infinite Love is generated through the agency of Yesod, the place of interface with the spheres above and creation itself below. Yesod is the door or passageway through which the divine presence and power in the form of microcosmic and minute filaments of light enters actual creation. Yesod is envisioned as the “mechanics of the Universe” and you can see why!

With the entrance of the Infinite into the Kingdom come also Holy Sparks of Infinite Light made very, very small, around which we – you and I -- will grow.

Remember the problem of Divine Love? That without an object it would be unable to express itself in creation? That The Infinite needed something other than itself in which to rejoice. It must have something other than itself to embrace, to protect and adore. It must have an Other that will love it in return, for without reciprocity, love withers.

The reason I call this, as listed in your program, the 21st Century Kaballah, is my conviction that the spark of Divinity within us becomes differentiated from its Source by its very immersion in matter – which, after all, has always been “other”.

I believe that the very pathways of our lives, the tough times and the good, the twists and turns, the developments of your own individuality which, as you know, is unlike that of anyone else – and especially the choices you make -- these shape the divine spark of Consciousness within you so that, over time – perhaps, for all I know, many lifetimes – your very soul is able to become God’s Beloved Other. The body is a crucible through which we learn about infinite love, everlasting compassion, the attainment of grace. Matter is the necessary matrix, the necessary container for the Sacred Spark in its return to its Source.

And then, the Kingdom, the final sefirot, well – you’re IN it. This is Malkuth – the cosmos, the galaxy, the earth, this room, the place where all of creation wraps itself around tiny bits of divinity that have been traveling toward it, deep within blades of grass and trees and babies – and you. The human being and creation itself is a holy vessel that embodies the divine presence and power and provides, wave after wave, the ongoing evolution that will culminate in the joining of man with God. It is matter, with all its dirt and decay and difficulty that is the vessel containing our very own “piece” of Infinity, that makes it possible for us to eventually be united with the Creator. Matter, much maligned, is after all the final horizon.

Does this sound a little esoteric? Something only students of sacred literature, and priests of sacred places, who devote their whole lives to its study, can even begin to understand?

Untrue. You understand it already, but haven’t identified it. No one may have explained that the joy you experience in a sunrise or sunset is the response of the holy spark within you to its Creator, and that the beauty of that sunrise or sunset itself is the announcement the Creator’s Love for you. No one probably thought to tell you that the awe and excitement you have felt when you first saw the Zakim Bridge or the St. Louis arch or the Taj Mahal – products of man’s great ingenuity – is the rising up of the tiny particle of Infinite Light that is your soul in acknowledgement of God as Truth, Intelligence, the Source of genius.

And Art! Have you ever been stopped dead in your tracks, brought to your spiritual knees by a painting or a sculpture or a poem? A friend told me that when his wife first walked into the Chartres Cathedral, she burst into tears. I can understand that! I felt that way when I first saw the Grand Canyon.

And let’s not leave out the joy and wonder of lovemaking! The overwhelming and uncontainable love for your child that overwhelms you at times, and joins you in those moments of being overwhelmed to the infinite love of Chesed. And after? After love-making, after tucking the baby in, after being transported by the beauty of the earth you have found, I am sure, a peace more profound than you have ever known, a peace that is there whenever you give yourself over to the times and places where God awaits you.

Yes, you are already well on your way to the Sacred Space where dwells the Cosmic Lover, but perhaps you haven’t realized that all this time you have the key that will unlock the next door if you choose to use it, and will nag at you until you do. Experience of the Holy begins here. We don’t have to understand it. We have only to seek it, and open ourselves to the lessons it can teach us if we allow ourselves to learn. And what is more, when we do open ourselves, we will be able to experience this earth – Malkuth – as the Kingdom it truly is.

“God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together, he called Seas. And God saw that it was good, and the earth put forth plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And then God said, Let us make man in the image and after the likeness of Myself: Truth, and Beauty, and Peacefulness, and Justice, and above all, Love.”


 


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