Jewish learning Judaism for the World
“How do you pray to God?” asks Hebrew College Rector Rabbi Artur Green in a blog post about his newest theological statement, Judaism for the World: Reflections on God, Life, and Love, which was recently published by Yale University Press. His answer:
You don’t. You just need to be present, to let the prayer blow through you. The words and tunes are mere background to that sacred process. You are just the shofar, the ram’s horn, through which the prayer is blown. God is the pray-er, the pray-ee, and the prayer itself.‘People think you pray to God,” said one of the Hasidic masters, ‘but that is not the case. Prayer is God.’
Rabbi Green says his newest work is a book about two journeys—that of the growth of Jewish mysticism during the 18th Century through the Hasidic movement, of God’s presence everywhere, of seeking the magnificent within the everyday, of doing all things with love and joy, of uplifting all of life to become a vehicle of God’s service; and that of taking this Hasidic mystical Judaism, conceived in the closed society of the late medieval world, and turning into a living faith for the 21st century seeker.
Rabbi Green, who founded the Rabbinical School at Hebrew College, has been on his own spiritual quest as a Jewish scholar and seeker for decades. Trained as an academic scholar, he began writing his own books about Jewish renewal theology—based on his own experience and beliefs—nearly 30 years ago, beginning with Seek My Face, Speak My Name: A Contemporary Jewish Theology (1992), followed by EHYEH: A Kabbalah for Tomorrow (2002), Radical Judaism (2006), and now, Reflections on God, Life, and Love. His newest book, he says, “assumes the mantle of neo-Hasidism” much more clearly than in the past.
“My own theological writing for the last 30 years has been in the Neo-Hasidic spirit, but my thinking has changed and grown over time,” said Rabbi Green, who has published more than a dozen books related to Hasidism and Neo-Hasidism. “Radical Judaism was my own Judaism, influenced by Hasidic sources. I now have realized my Judaism really is neo-Hasidism.”
This newest work comes after Rabbi Green, 79, edited an unprecedented new two-volume work on the history and future of this approach, A New Hasidism: Roots and A New Hasidism: Branches, co-authored with his student, Stanford Professor Dr. Ariel Mayse. The lead essay in his newest book continues that theme, picking up on how to retool Hasidism for the 21st century, which Rabbi Green said can provide answers for young American Jews today.
Below is the full blog post, originally posted by Yale University Press:
MYSTICS AND LOVERS
By Rabbi Arthur Green
There is only One. That is the great truth of mysticism, found within and reaching beyond all religions. That One embraces, surrounds, and fills all the infinitely varied forms that existence has taken and ever will take. We Jews call that truth out twice daily in reciting Shema‘ Yisra’el, “Hear, O Israel.” “Y-H-W-H is One” means that there is none other. Our daily experience of variety, separate identity, and alienation of self from other renders an incomplete and ultimately misleading picture of reality. “You were One before the world was created; You are One since the world was created.” Unchanged, eternal; worldly existence covers over the reality of that deeper truth, but human consciousness is so constructed as to permit glimpses of it to shine through. The one Being is clothed within each being. It reveals itself to the human heart that stands open to it. Such moments, reaching beyond any separation between “Self” and “other” are the core of sacred awareness. All the trappings of religion exist in order to bring us to such moments and – no less important – to bring us back, enriched and transformed, from them.
But if this is our religious truth, what does it mean to love, or to be loved by, God? We religious minorities, living in a Christian society, feel the pressure of that question all the time: “Do you believe that God loves you?” But love, so it seems, is a relationship between two distinct selves. I love you (or You), and I hope that you love me in return. But what is a love in a world where there is only One?
“He blew the breath of life into his nostrils,” Genesis (2:7) says of God and Adam. One of our early commentators wrote: “Whoever breathes into someone is blowing of his own breath.” Human breath is divine breath. We return that breath to God in the daily cycle of praise, as the concluding verse of the Psalter says: “Every breath praises God. Halleluyah.” The word for breath in both of those verses is neshamah, which also comes to mean “soul.”
“The human soul is a part of God above,” teach the Kabbalists. But God is one and indivisible; therefore God is entirely present within each human soul. The God within us, our very breath of life, senses that it is part of something greater, the divine Self present in every other creature as well, and in the great mystery surrounding and embracing us all. It longs to open us up to make that longing real, to bring us into harmony with all the other God-bits scattered throughout the world. “On that day will Y-H-W-H (“”Was-Is-Will be”) be One and its name one (Zech. 14:9).
Question: How do you pray to such a God?
Answer: You don’t. You just need to be present, to let the prayer blow through you. The words and tunes are mere background to that sacred process. You are just the shofar, the ram’s horn, through which the prayer is blown. God is the pray-er, the pray-ee, and the prayer itself. “People think you pray to God,” said one of the Hasidic masters, “but that is not the case. Prayer is God.”
Want to read more? See my JUDAISM FOR THE WORLD: Reflections on God, Life, and Love, just published by Yale. This a book about two journeys. The first is that of Judaism itself. How does the seemingly very dualistic (God and person as completely separate, confronting one another) tradition of ancient Israel come to re-read in this very unitive and mystical mode? The second: How do we take that mystical Judaism, conceived in the closed society of the late medieval world, and turn it into a living faith for the 21st century seeker?