Does the universe have a soul?

Does the universe have a soul?

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks digging back into the Torah and Talmud with an objective and academic lens. I’ve always enjoyed the stories in Genesis. I’m not saying I believe in talking snakes and donkeys or that a 500 year old man loaded a boat with 2 of every kind. It’s not necessary to believe these stories as historical events to learn from them. Instead, one can look at the various ways men and women are portrayed. (As a side note Sarah and Rebecca, are clearly more influential than their husbands. How’s that for the man inspired myth of male dominance?)

The Talmud makes so many interesting points on the incorporeal nature of god. This got me thinking about how many religions have always done the exact opposite. They’ve applied characteristics like “jealous god” or even actions like “walking in the garden” or “remembering.” How would an incorporeal spirit do this? Isn’t it more likely that the writers of these text were just personalizing god because its easier to understand when we make god like us? The Torah is a book of instructions (not just rules) and I believe Genesis does more teaching because it really does have the best stories.

Now… let’s step out of the Torah and the Talmud and look inward. We all think, act, and feel things in our own way. We tend to “think” that we know what love means, but does my concept of love align with yours? Does my sense of morality align with yours? Can you really “know” how someone else is “feeling?” Think about that for a minute. We all exist in a physical sense, but then there is that other part of us. The part that “feels” and “loves.” Whether these are merely neurons and electrons firing in certain sequences, does not take away the fact that these are actual nonphysical or visible attributes. What’s to say the universe with its numerous stars and worlds teeming with life in forms we have yet to comprehend, doesn’t also have this attribute? Wouldn’t that explain your ability to “connect” with someone you love by merely making eye contact? Wouldn’t that explain those occurrences when you are thinking of someone only to find in a phone or text conversation that they were thinking of you at the same time?

The mystery of the universe is the greatest of all mysteries and our desire to understand it and relate to it is manifested in many ways.. worship, experimentation, exploration, reverence, appreciation, and inquiry. We all try to discover that mystery in our own way. It’s how our soul interacts with the mystery, that universal soul…

Life, Free Will, and Reason

Some of you may or may not know this but, I have read and studied the Bible, the Quran, the Book of Mormon, and various other ancient (aka sacred texts). Religion is something that absolutely fascinates me and it is also something that scares the heck out of me. The fascinating part is the various views on the nature of God and the scary part is the mindless dogma and violence that can result from an uneducated approach to those views. I have always believed that while it may not be necessary to go to the extent that I did with reading, everyone should at least know their own scriptures and the basic tenets of their religion. It is so common to see misquotes and uniformed ignorance with people on this topic. This is mainly because few people actual take the time to read for themselves and to me that makes them pretty bad followers of whatever religion they follow. How can someone be a good Jew if they have not read every single word of Torah at least once? How can someone be a good Christian if they have not read every word of the Bible at least once? How can someone be a good Muslim if they have not read every word of the Quran at least once? Especially since even reading them once is no where near enough.

Although I was raised a Christian (The Lutheran flavor) when I got older I became skeptical, almost slipping into the ignorance of atheism. I couldn’t make up my mind what to believe so I read any holy book I could find (some of them more than once) and after the last 5 years of studying, I find the peace and comfort that I’ve been looking for in Judaism. This awakening occured to me when I started studying Mystical Judaism (Kabbalah). Kabbalah (which is fascinating by the way) requires extensive knowledge of the Torah. So as I said in my last post, Torah is now what I spend most of my time studying.

The origin of humanity is a topic of much debate and multiple cosmogonies have been discovered and the Torah contains a blend of a few of them that have been masterfully woven into one. These cosmogonies are allegorical and have been interpreted throughout the centuries through various commentaries. It is my belief that the Christian view of them as being literally true is wrong but, I also realize that the core of that faith requires it. So my views may not sit well with them. Nevertheless, I base them on some very intense study of the texts themselves, various Rabbinic commentaries, the Talmud, and translational reference material.

It is my belief we were all created with 3 very special divine gifts:

  • The Breath of Life
  • Free Will
  • Reason

The Breath of Life, as its name implies, gives us life, a soul and it is the very sustaining essence of God within each and every one of us.

Free Will is the freedom that God gave each of us to choose for ourselves what our actions are and what kind of person we are. All of us have both light and dark, good and evil, within us and it is the choices we make that define what path we take and who we are.

Reason enables us to understand the differences between good and bad. It encourages the mind to seek and understand the nature of God and to discern the order and operation of nature. When employed correctly it gives us a moral compass that governs our free will and when properly followed will always lead to God.

How did we get these gifts?

One of the ways to study Torah is allegorically and another is personal application. In studying the allegory of Creation (yes, I believe the beginning of Genesis to be all allegory) I used my personal allegorical interpretation to develop some thoughts as to how these gifts were given to us as relates to the tale of Eve and the serpent in the garden.

The garden is symbolic of the paradise that one has in a spiritual sense when they are close to God. The serpent is symbolic of free will, except free will without the gift of Reason caused poor judgement and the selfish desire to be “like God”. The act of biting into the fruit was the introduction of the gift of Reason. It was only after Reason was introduced did Eve’s eyes “open” and she realized that she was “naked”. Naked meaning now fully accountable for her own actions and not capable of hiding who she was.

How does God respond?

With disappointment and then very quickly with love and compassion. It was never God’s intent to have a bunch of puppets that were under divine control. Free will comes with the risk of making both good and bad decisions even with the use of Reason. God curses the serpent because the serpent symbolized the use of free will to serve oneself which we know as selfishness. Mankind is then imbued with the pains and burdens of life but, then God quickly provides them with clothes to cover their nakedness. This is emblematic of how mankind, now having free will, reason and the breath of life – all gifts that come from God and when used in the “image” of God will provide man all that is needed to come close to Him. How do we act in God’s image? Those 10 little rules we have spoken of before.

And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them. JPS

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light

An old path worth exploring

The summit of a mountain, especially a very tall mountain, is not easily seen from the foothills. We can only catch a glimpse and guess what is up there. In order to really know what the summit looks like and what it feels like to be at the top of the mountain, you have to make the climb. Some mountains have multiple paths to the summit and you can choose to take one of those paths or you can discover your own path. However, in choosing a path you have allowed someone else to find the way to the summit for you and you just have to follow the path, which does not require much thought.

For a long time now I have felt that the various religions of the world have all sought the same goal – knowing and interpreting the nature of Deity. Therefore each religion is a just path to the summit. For most of my life my path was Christianity, and for whatever reason that path became difficult and I began to walk in the thistle and the brush with my eyes just focused on the summit. I then found myself trying to walk back on the path I’d know for so long and it felt uncomfortable, as if I knew deep down their was a better way. So off into the brush I went and all the while there were people on that path who instead of encouraging me to come back on the path with kindness and understanding, threw rocks at me and told me I was going the wrong way. Well, I have no intention of getting back on that path because why would I want to walk with people who acted like that (yeah, I may have thrown a rock or 2 back)? So I forged ahead and continued heading to the summit – alone. Occasionally though I found myself stumbling across an even older path. It had a familiarity to it but, it was a path that still allowed a little veering off into the brush. I have decided to give this path a chance. It is in no way a new path, in fact it is one of the oldest paths to the summit. It is one less traveled but, the people I have met along the way have never thrown stones or discouraged me and never once told me that it wasn’t OK to wander off into the brush and explore on my own for a while. It is a path that holds more significance on how you walk than on the path itself.

So, I am sure some of you are curious as to what I am talking about. Those of you who know me know that I read a lot. Most of the time I am reading about religion, theology, and philosophy. Well as I began to question things in what Christians refer to as the Old Testament, I decided that maybe the issue was the way it was being presented. So I decided to take a deep dive in the Holy Scriptures of Judaism using the Rabbinic commentary and interpretations. Much to my surprise it is a breath of fresh air. I had no idea that the various Midrash and Talmud interpretations would present things in a way to where the inner and allegorical meanings were of more importance than the literal. I knew the Torah had layers but, I had no idea that the more it’s studied the easier it becomes to understand and the easier it becomes to find parallels in today’s world and in my own life. So, I am going to spend some time studying Judaism and see where this path may lead me. Am I going to convert? Well, I’m getting ready to turn 37 and I have 3 kids and 2 of them were introduced to Christianity but, neither is really sold on it. So anything is possible but, let’s not put the cart before the horse. I still have more to study.

So there will be a change in tone and a fresh new perspective on this quest. We’ve found an old path along the way and it is one that is worth exploring.

Psalm 15 – A psalm by David.

Who may abide in Your tent, O Lord? Who may dwell on Your holy Mountain?

He who walks blamelessly, acts justly, and speaks truth in his heart; who has no slander on his tongue, who has done his fellowman no evil, and who has brought no disgrace upon his relative;

in whose eyes a despicable person is abhorrent, but who honors those who are God-fearing;

who does not change his oath even if it is to his own detriment;

who does not lend his money at interest, nor accept a bribe against the innocent.

He who does these things shall never falter.

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light