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Fiery and Watery Love

A sukkah, a structure in which Jews are commanded to live for the holiday of Sukkot; this one in New Hampshire.
The roof must be of vegetation, but loose enough to see the stars through it.


by Dr David, Editor / Publisher

Each autumn there is a flurry of Jewish Holidays: Rosh Hashanah (New Years), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), Sukkot (Booths) and Simchas Torah (Rejoicing in the Law). This season of wholesale celebration reminds me of a joke. They say there is an Eleventh Commandment for the Jews: "Thou shall not buy retail."

I belonged to a sect of ecstatic Judaism, Chassidism, for seven years. Studying kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), praying meditatively, dancing during services, singing wordless communal songs, getting drunk with the rabbis, the food...

I won't say we the Jews had a monopoly on law and morality, but I will assert that we've done more than any other people to promote both. First law: The Talmud (an encyclopedic exegesis on the Jewish bible) is a monumental work of law dating back over 2,000 years. Einstein when asked at the end of his life what he would have done differently if he had the chance replied, "I would have studied the Talmud." For instance, the bible says "An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth." I say, "What good is your eye going to do me? These are Jews here; we're talking about money." The bible passage is tort law, expounded on at length in the Talmud. If your wrong causes me loss or harm, then you are legally liable.

Now morality: Rabbi Hillel took up the challenge of a prospective convert who asked that the Torah be explained to him while he stood on one foot. He answered the man saying, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn." Christianity used this Golden Rule to challenge and then conquer Rome. There were multitudes of gods before the Jews; but they were not necessarily just or particularly concerned with you as a person. The idea of fairness, of treating others like you want to be treated, is a profoundly Jewish invention.

Rabbi Hillel giving his famous answer.

This holiday season has seen me return (somewhat) to the fold. These holidays is known in Hebrew as the season of Return. I've severely curtailed my following of politics and am spending the time I've saved in so doing in watching videos of one, Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson, expound talks that were given by the founder of the Chabad movement at the around the year 1800. I enjoyed learning this seminal content back during my seven years with the movement, and it's great to return to it; not just new information, but new ways of thinking. What was taken for granted is shown with new transcendental significance.

Rabbi Jacobson is a man with much life experience, not all of it his own. Listening to him it is obvious that he's counseled people in their difficulties. His mystical explanations all have direct bearing on the conduct of our lives. Here's what he notes about the holiday of Sukkot:

When the Temple stood in Jerusalem very day of the year there were animal sacrifices in it. These offerings were partially burnt on the altar. On Sukkot in addition to these a jug of water was carried up from the Pool of Siloam and poured as a libation on the altar.

The Pool of Siloam imagined during the Temple times and photographed today.

It is taught that fire represents excitement, passion. People get passionate about all sorts of things: politics, sports, money, sex, food... But here we are talking about a passion for leading a just, moral life (a "G-dly" passion, if you do not mind the word, and I guess, if you've read as far as this, that you do not).

Rabbi Jacobson elucidates the difference between fire and water in this regard with the example of meeting a loved one after a long absence. When you first see the person, at a distance in an airport, let us say, you are terrifically excited. If you are the type, you might even scream. But later after dinner, sitting together in your living room, there is no urge to scream, there is no fiery excitement. Then, there is a different type of love, a tranquility and unity characterized by water.

Applying this to my own life I find that I have focused mainly on my passions, G-dly or not. I have been more involved with trying, struggling and achieving (or not) than I have been with being there, being one with my experience. I wrote a poem about this that ends with the stanza:

Blind runner racing past the crown
With ears deaf to your own renown
Oh, champion. Oh, trophy prized
Oh, victory unrecognized.

These days, just recently, I am happy to report that my life is more watery. I am realizing some long-term goals (including launching Lokkal). I am better able to accept the unity and abundance that is dawning or that I have been overlooking for a good long while. I keep in mind the mantra that the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Tich Nat Hahn gives to his visitors, "I have arrived."

Mystical Judaism's main message, which just so happens to be short enough to convey while you stand on one foot, is that divine fullness is only limited by the size and purity of the vessel that you make to receive it.

Tich Nat Hahn with MLK.

The holiday of Sukkot commemorates the Jews 40 year sojourn in the desert after we left Egypt. Imagine the contrast of leaving the most technologically advanced culture on the planet for the desert. No CNN. No Twitter. No Wifi. No signal.

An article in today's New York Times, A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley, quotes a high level Facebook employee using a religious metaphor, "I am convinced the devil lives in our phones."

The article opens, "The people who are closest to a thing are often the most wary of it. Technologists know how phones really work, and many have decided they don’t want their own children anywhere near them."

The Four Species associated with the holiday of Sukkot.

The majority opinion (with Jews there are always differences of opinions; ask two Jews what they think and you'll get three opinions) is that the sukkas we inhabit this holiday are in remembrance of the clouds that shaded the Children of Israel from the hot desert sun. In the desert all our needs were taken care of, we had shade and manna fell from the sky.

The holiday of Sukkot is about taking a break from what Mexicans call the "chamba." Leaving behind the hustle and bustle of the world, the pressure we live under, and focusing for a while on wholeness is an opinion on which everyone can agree.

Happy Holiday.

My "low-rise" sukkah this year.


Dr David is the author of the Kabbalah Primer

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