Jay Michaelson
Hitler and God, p.2

But what would the world be like if you really believed what the philosophers and mystics told you, that there is only God, and that whatever comes your way -- horrible, wonderful, random-feeling, destined-feeling -- is just the arising of various forms, all of which will pass, like waves forming on the surface of the ocean? Not "believed" in an explanatory sense -- as in, believing this is for a reason, or a plan. Not at all. Indeed, the opposite: that there may be no plan, or if there is, the word 'plan' is being used in a way completely different from any one we can understand. And yet, there is Being. Here it is.

For me, this acceptance lets me really, deeply relax, and stop fighting reality all the time. Sometimes, it's important to wrestle angels, to not accept "reality" as it is, because such passive acceptance may actually mask a fear of working to change what ought to be changed, and pantheism doesn't mean "don't worry, be happy." Rather, it means looking closely at why, and who, you're fighting. What I find is that, usually, I'm not really fighting for the good of the world -- I'm fighting for my own preference. I wish things could be different, I wish I could be more successful, I wish I could match the achievements of my peers. And so I fight reality, growing ever more unhappy.

Whereas, when I let go of that fight, I can take up the real struggle -- to do my work better, to do the right thing, to be more loving. It's an interesting game of shadow-boxing, because what looks like "the right struggle" can be exactly that which is preventing the right struggle from taking place.

None of this happens if we simply ascribe our preferences to God, and deify them as holy icons. Recently, I was at a synagogue in Jerusalem, on Friday night, and the rabbi said, "So, let's think back on the previous week" -- a common practice in spiritual shuls on shabbos. "What of the week was from olam haba (the world to come), and what would you rather let go." I thought: this is idolatry. Sifting experience into "liked it - must be from the world to come" and "didn't like it - therefore, not" is exactly the mistake of egocentrism, of narcissism, and the evil inclination. That word "rather" -- that was the key. What would you rather have in your heaven?

Whereas, I might prefer to ask: what in the week gave you difficulty? Can you make room for it? Can you notice your reaction to it, without judging, and see how it affects you? Can you see if there's a different way to relate to it? Can you uplift the sparks that have fallen into that place, and do a tikkun, a mending that includes?

The difference may seem to be merely rhetorical, but actually the two views are diametrically opposed. One says that what you like is God and what you don't is -- well, I don't know, really: Satan? Dark matter? The other says that what is, is what is (ehyeh asher ehyeh), and what you like -- well, that's the work.

Theologically, I'm not really sure how the rabbi's view is supposed to play out. Does it mean there is a power in the universe apart from God? Isn't that the dualist heresy, the root of Manicheanism, and the source of Aher's apostasy in the Talmud?

Practically, the consequences are even worse. What I dislike is now cosmically evil -- not only do I no longer need to audit my preferences, but, on the contrary, my preferences are my god, my idol, shaped in the words of theology (traditional or otherwise) and imposed upon an unwitting world as a proxy for my own egoic needs. Puzzling out how the God of our preferences can exist is a dead-end, and it ends in the illusion of the self. It's not dissimilar from the error of idolatry, which says "this - this is God, and that other thing isn't." It's just a game, and everyone loses.

That's the irony: that all this pseudo-ethical fighting is just to maintain the idea of the separate self, when every one of the world's mystical traditions says that the separate self is all that's standing in the way of enlightenment. Personally, it's amazing to me how I keep falling into the same traps, every single day, over and over again, even after doing lots of work to know that they are just mistakes, and that they all stem from something which isn't even there. Of course, in what the Hasidim call "enlarged mind," even the trap is God, the falling is God, and there's nothing happening but the Knower knowing the Known. And yet, I have some errands to do, piled up in my inbox, and once I get into them, I'll get irritated. Why hasn't Verizon called? Why am I still on hold? Etc.

"Why are you unhappy," the 20th century writer Wei Wu Wei asks, "because 99% of everything you do, and everything you think, is for the self -- and there isn't one." Tell me about it.

[1]       2       [3]       [next->]
Top image: James Coignard, Spirale et vert
Lower image: James Coignard, Rigueure bleu

December 2005

The Old/New Jewish Culture
Mordecai Drache

Brodsky Begins
Adam Mansbach

A JuBu's Passage to India
Rachel Barenblat

Hitler and God
Jay Michaelson

Winter Light Promises
Jacob Staub

Beyond Belief
Joshua Furst

Our 820 Back Pages

Zeek in Print
Subscribe now!

About Zeek

Mailing List

Contact Us


Tech Support


From previous issues:

Let them Eat Myth
Douglas Rushkoff

Empowering Jewish Progressives
Leah Koenig

The Virtue of Mediocrity
Michael Shurkin

Web www.zeek.net