Monday, September 24, 2007

Spirituality and Mysticism: Love (part 1).

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I read the book by Prof. David Blumenthal, (PDB), Philosophic Mysticism, where he argues that Rambam understood that there is some kind of post rational mysticism in the quest for God. The book is excellent and makes some very good points. I agree with some but I have a different understanding in others. I am grateful to PDB as he triggered many thoughts which I will try to clarify to myself by writing them down. But first, I would like to define terms used by PDB in his book so that we are talking about the same thing.

“Spirituality” means experiencing the existence and Presence of some ultimate force in / or beyond, the world of daily experience. In Judaism, this force is called “God”, but people’s experience of it varies considerably. In other religions (and non – religions) the ultimate force (or forces) has other names and the experiences of it differ widely. To be “spiritual” is to be attuned to that Presence, to live in its company.

“Mysticism” is a subset of spirituality. For an experience of the ultimate to be “mystical”, it must have two qualities: First, it must flow of a well-recognized hierarchy which the mystic must navigate to arrive at the mystical awareness. Navigation of the hierarchy requires specialized knowledge – “gnosis”. And second, the awareness itself almost always has an abstract, non-representational quality.

The above is almost verbatim as defined by PDB. Before I get into this subject which I expect will take more than one post, I would like to make an observation. Rambam’s philosophy is probably one of the most studied since it was written almost 900 years ago. Immediately after publication, while he was still alive, commentators started addressing some of his ideas. In fact, he responded to some early critics as we see in Iggeret Techyat Hametim. Since then, there is not a generation that passed that many books were not written about his thought in both Halacha and the Moreh Hanevuchim. Rationalists, Kabbalists, European Philosophers from Aquinas to Kant to contemporary thinkers, availed themselves of MN and addressed Rambam whether overtly or indirectly. Haskallah starting with Mendelssohn and almost every subsequent Maskil dealt with Rambam’s thought. Scholars at universities in Europe at the turn of the last century and throughout the 20th century into our days have written about Rambam. Journals that deal with Jewish subjects all have at least one article dealing with him. Perusing all this literature, one finds two approaches to Rambam: the religious and the dispassionate/scholarly. I believe that although the dispassionate/scholarly approach has given some excellent insights into Rambam thought, it cannot capture the real essence of it. Rambam was a religious Jew par excellence, as Professor Leibowitz dubbed him “the Great Believer”, and it is impossible to understand him without sharing some of the experience he had as he thought and wrote. Professor Blumenthal recognizing this prefaces his book by introducing himself as a religious Jew. It is the only way to approach Rambam if he is to be understood in depth.

Now let us turn to Rambam and see where we can find a description of these two experiences, Spirituality and Mysticism.

Let us start with love. In sefer Hamitzvot positive commandment 3 we read –

ספר המצוות לרמב"ם מצות עשה ג

והמצוה השלישית היא שצונו לאהבו יתעלה וזה שנתבונן ונשכיל מצותיו ופעולותיו עד שנשיגהו ונתענג בהשגתו תכלית התענוג וזאת היא האהבה המחוייבת. ולשון סיפרי (פ' שמע) לפי שנאמר ואהבת את י"י אלהיך איני יודע כיצד אוהב את המקום תלמוד לומר והיו הדברים האלה אשר אנכי מצוך היום על לבבך שמתוך כך אתה מכיר את מי שאמר והיה העולם. הנה כבר בארו לך כי בהשתכלות תתאמת לך ההשגה ויגיע התענוג ותבא האהבה בהכרח

The third Mitzvah is that we are commanded to love Him. That means that we should contemplate and understand His Mitzvot and His deeds [note the two methods to be used – understanding God’s laws and the universe] until we apprehend Him and we experience the ultimate enjoyment in His apprehension. This is the obligatory love. In Sifre we read: From the words, “you should love Hashem your God” I would not know how one loves God. We are therefore taught, “these words I command you today should be on your heart [mind – heart means mind in certain contexts in Tanach] because that is the way to know the One who said the world should come into being. The Rabbis thus taught that through contemplation, apprehension is confirmed which brings enjoyment which automatically leads to love.

Rambam is telling us that true love can only come when there is an intimate knowledge of the beloved. In our quest to apprehend God, we learn about Him through the things He created and through the laws, He gave us. As we apprehend Him, we experience the ultimate enjoyment; having an insight in a difficult and elusive subject is the source of great enjoyment. It is the oft-described experience of those who made great discoveries in all disciplines. This apprehension and enjoyment then are translated into an emotional attachment to the discovered subject which is true love.

Rambam breaks down this process into its components. In Hil Yesodei Hatorah 4:12 he writes –

[יב] בזמן שאדם מתבונן בדברים אלו, ומכיר כל הברואים ממלאך וגלגל ואדם וכיוצא בו, ויראה חכמתו של הקדוש ברוך הוא בכל היצורים וכל הברואים--מוסיף אהבה למקום, ותצמא נפשו ויכמה בשרו לאהוב המקום ברוך הוא; ויירא ויפחד משפלותו ודלותו וקלותו, כשיערוך עצמו לאחד מהגופות הקדושים הגדולים, וכל שכן לאחד מהצורות הטהורות הנפרדות מן הגלמים, שלא נתחברו בגולם כלל. וימצא עצמו, שהוא ככלי מלא בושה וכלימה, ריק וחסר

When a person contemplates these things [physics and metaphysics as they pertain to our existence] and gets to know all created things, angels, spheres, man and similar things, he sees the wisdom of HKBH in all creations. His love of God increases, his soul thirsts and his flesh pines to love HKBH. He becomes fearful and scared [realizing] his own relative lowness, poverty and lightness when compared to one of the great holy bodies. How much more will he see himself as a vessel full of shame, empty and lacking when compared to the pure matterless Forms that never attach themselves to matter.

The process one takes in the search for God is working backwards analyzing the results of His willing things into being and trying to understand how they are all causally connected leading back to an apprehension of God. That process makes us aware of God’s greatness and an urge to love Him overcomes us. It is a mixture of awe and love that is experienced because the more we think we know we realize how far we are from him, how minuscule we are in the scheme of things yet we still want desperately to get closer to that source of all.

There are a few more citations in Mishne Torah that deal with this. I will discuss them in my next post. We will then try to see if any of this fits into the definitions of “Spirituality” and “Mysticism” that we started with.

No comments:

Post a Comment