Thoughts on the essence and existence of God

A lot has gone on the past few weeks and I had a lot of thoughts bouncing around in my head.  I felt like chatting with you instead of writing.  So here is the first ever “vlog” post:

What’s in a name?

Hidden in plain sight from the reader of the English translations of the Bible are several linguistic nuances that range from how the shaping of the letters are to the number of letters in a parshat to the different names used for the Almighty. You don’t even have to go very far – in the book of Genesis the following names are used – Elohim, YHVH, YHVH Elohim, El Shaddai, and Yah. Some attribute this to multiple authors whose works were compiled and redacted numerous times before the canon was sealed and others believe that the various names are in relation to the different attributes of God. The 2 most commonly used names in Jewish Scripture (aka Old Testament) are Elohim and YHVH. These names have different meanings and I will focus on these 2 names for now.

Elohim
Elohim is typically rendered in English as “God”. So Genesis 1:1 when properly rendered would read: In the beginning Elohim created the heaven and the earth.
Elohim is the name that is used to describe the unknowable and almighty Creator. Elohim is not an anthropomorphic (or human like) being. Elohim a spirit which utters and wills things into existence and the interaction with man is always through a mediator – typically an angel. When used as elohim (not capitalized) it refers to gods in the plural. Keep in mind up until the second temple Jews believed that other nations had other gods and that they were to be obedient and follow their own deity. It wasn’t until the second temple when Ezra and the returning Jews changed their belief to a monotheistic one and that there was only one Almighty God and that all others were false deities and didn’t exist.

YHVH
This is the Ineffable Name and is known as the Tetragrammaton. It has typically been rendered as Yahweh and Jehovah, both of which are incorrect. The name is unspeakable and as such the English rendering you are used to seeing is “The Lord”. At times both Elohim and YHVH are used together and that combination is rendered as “The Lord God”. The first instance of this combination occurs during what many believe to be the second creation account which is found in Genesis 2:4: This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When YHVH Elohim (or the Lord God) made the earth and the heavens When the name YHVH (or the combination) is used we see a more intimate God. One who walks with man and can even be questioned, rebuked, and even wrestled with by man. While the Christian rendering for YHVH is “The Lord”, this is not a common practice within Jewish Scholarship. When reading from the Torah or when praying, YHVH is spoken as “Adonai”.  In discussions and study the name “HaShem” is also used, which another way of saying “the Name”.

Now lets tackle another position. What if Elohim, Adonai, and YHVH aren’t really supposed to be nouns. What if they are really verbs. Consider the fact that YHVH is a variation of the speakable “h-v-h” which is a verb meaning “to be”. Now consider that in Exodus 3:14 that we read: Elohim said to Moses “Eyeh Asher Eyeh..” What does Eyeh Asher Eyeh mean? Here we have seen 2 common mistranslations: one is “I am that I am” and the other is “I am who I am”.  Neither are technically right because it is more properly rendered: “I shall be what I shall be” or “I will be what I will be” and another rendering “I will become what I will become” may be as close to a proper English translation as we can get. This may seem subtle on the surface, but when you really think about it, it completely changes the concept of what the Almighty is. If our Creator is not a noun, then we shift from a Creator to a Creative process. A process that continues and does not remain stagnant. One that evolves so that it does not become obsolete.

In the Jewish (and some Christian) mystical schools of thought a person is thought to be a vessel. Each with the ability to receive as much or as little of the Divine Presence as they are willing to accept. This is the “breath of life” that was breathed into us from the very beginning. Now think about that too. The receiving of the breath started the process of breathing which started the process of life. So when one goes through life, each breath they take is the opportunity to receive more life and with it more of that which made life possible. Just as breathing is an action and receiving is an action, perhaps the old man in the skies is really the winds and the rain, the compassion and the love or to those who prefer to do without, just another breath.

Chasing the wind

Sometimes I wonder why I’m searching so hard. What if there really isn’t anything to be found? What if after all this reading and thinking and debating it turns out that I’ve just been chasing the wind? A really good friend of mind made a very interesting point to me this week. I can’t remember the exact words, but they were in the vein of to much studying takes away the beauty of the message and that it’s better to just believe. How does one “just believe” though? While I would love to have the gift of a child-like faith, unfortunately I appear to have been cursed with a contemplative and speculative mind. To those that say “turn to the Bible”, well I can’t even count the number of times I’ve read it. The Bible is a book I rarely miss a day reading. As much as I love it though, I find myself digging into texts with less obtuse messaging and even a touch more on the mystical side (since mysticism tends to soften the tone).

We live in a pretty scary world. People are greedy and self absorbed with very little interest or desire to think about things that matter to anyone other than themselves. How else can you explain a society that is so lost that it celebrates the death of an enemy and fights ways to care for their less fortunate neighbors? Children are physically and sexually abused, people eat each other, and the religious institutions just keep racking in the tithes. Praise the Lord!

God, if you are out there, do you even care anymore??

Do you care that little children are born with collapsed lungs and a young couple has to endure the stresses of the condition only to cope with the loss?

Do you care when your representatives here on earth rape children?

Do you care when an elderly lady can’t even walk from a store to her home without a thug knocking her over to steal her purse?

Do you care that millions of children will go to bed hungry tonight and tomorrow night too?

God, if you are out there, did you ever care?

If your chosen people are the stock of Abraham, why are your chosen people always fighting each other?

If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, why do I have to lock my doors at night and arm an alarm system?

If we are to do unto others what we would want done to us, why do I need insurance to protect my own identity?

God, where are you? Have you given up on us?

With all the violence and hate, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that sometime I question whether nature is just random. To my friends who say all of these natural disasters and the obvious moral collapse of our society are prophecies that are being fulfilled: I not subscribe to an ending times apocalyptic view requiring me to resign myself to believing that the very Creator that fashioned the cosmos in their unknowable and infinite majesty, did so just to destroy it. Nor do I believe that a blood sacrifice was needed as a condition for anything.

To understand a holy unity, examine the flame rising from a candle. We see at first two kinds of light, one glistening white and one blue or black. The white light is above and rises in a straight line, the blue or black light is beneath and appears to be the source of the white; yet the two lights are so closely united they form one single flame. But the source formed by the blue or black light is, in turn, attached to the wick under it. The white light never changes, it always remains white; but several shades are distinguishable in the lower light. Moreover, the lower light moves in two opposite directions; above, it is connected to the white light, and below, it is attached to the burning matter; this matter continually consumes itself and rises toward the upper light. It is thus that all that is, reunites with the one unity. — Zohar

Perhaps the Divine Essence is within all of us as a thread to weave us together with a sense of oneness. The more the focus is on me instead of we, the weaker that thread becomes. Perhaps what I’ve been looking for in this Quest has been within me and those around me all along, bottled up and waiting to be let out.

The entire lower world was created in the likeness of the higher world. All that exists in the higher world appears like an image in this lower world; yet all this is but One. — Zohar

The Winding Path

The Quest has always been about searching for and understanding the nature and essence of Divine Truth. Rather than focusing on dogmatic concepts and restrictive rules there has to be more rational approach to something seemingly so enigmatic. For thousands of years man has been searching for answers and trying to discover our purpose in the grand design. The search for answers has resulted in the various different religions that have existed throughout history. I have spent the last several years contemplating and searching for answers and now find myself on a journey that has broadened my sense of purpose and brought me closer to understanding how the complex can be made simple and the seemingly simple becomes more complex. Several months ago I began an in-depth study of the Torah. The primary reason is that the majority of the people of the world are adherents to one of the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) and the foundational text of those religions is the Torah (even though most of the followers of those faiths have little to no knowledge of it). I realize that taking a non-literal approach to the Torah rocks the foundation of both Christianity and Islam but, truth be told, the Torah is more than a literal text. In fact, it is my belief (and anyone who has really studied it) that it was never intended to be just literal. As one begins to peel off the several layers you discover an ethical application which we see through the Mussar teachings, there is also a theocratic legal code which you see in the Halacha system, a modern commentary approach, and the mystic and esoteric approach found in Kabbalah.

The Zohar is a literary body of work that is the foundation of Kabbalah. Kabbalah has gained in popularity recently due to certain celebrities who claim to be adherents to it however, what they really follow is a store-front blend of mystical, astrological, and self-help precepts wrapped up in a Kabbalah bow. I’ve read a number of books about Kabbalah and some books based on its concepts and they all make it very clear that in order to absorb and retain any of the teachings and precepts of Kabbalah requires an understanding of the Torah. So I studied the Torah mixing the yearly plan of both the Orthodox and Reform Judaism. They both touch on Kabbalah and to my surprise the foundational text – the Zohar – is in fact largely another commentary on the Torah itself.

We now start a new leg of the quest. While this too may be an old path, it is different as it does not use a rigid dogmatic system. It is mystical and open to giving the Divine the liberty of multiple emanations and dimensions. As I now begin a deeper study of the Zohar it is evident that it will take me quite a while to walk this path because it is a winding path to the summit. Most religions force you into a straight and narrow path with no liberty to go to the right or to the left. Kabbalah is different – the path is winding and at times it even requires you to circle back before you can ascend further.

Questions are immensely important as they are half of an answer. Without questions there can be no answers. So here are some questions for you to ponder.

  • What is the purpose of creation?
  • Is there an active Divine presence, is it in exile, or is it merely an illusion?
  • Does human action have an effect on the cosmos?
  • Are our thoughts and prayers mere electromagnetic impulses or do they gain substance?
  • Is there an essence of evil or is it merely an absence of light?

I hope that those of you reading this will open your mind to the concept that this quest can be yours as well. You do not have to force yourself into beliefs because of family traditions or fear of damnation. We were given a mind to reason and to think. The more we begin to unravel the mysteries of nature through science, the more it is evident that simplistic and dogmatic views of the Divine will eventually be obsolete and unfulfilling. Science may prove a lot of things but, it requires an element of faith and pre-existence. Science can begin to explain the unknown with theories but, even theories themselves have an element of unknowns and preexistent origins and fundamentals. If life and science have layers then wouldn’t the Divine as well?

To close I would like to offer a thought: Our Creator created us to be happy. From our very beginning the intent is happiness and bliss. The proof of this is evident when you observe a child..

© Nelson Rose, The Quest for Light