ROSH HASHANAH 5777

Superior mystical minds penetrate God's reality cross culturally, and then express their discoveries in terms originating in their own cultural milieu, through their religion's symbols and structures. But they intuit a single, real, divine reality. On this Rosh Hashanah eve, as we prepare to repent, I offer parallel spiritual observations from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz and Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

We Jews are entering our annual period of our contemplation, analysis, confession and repenting of sin. Both Tanya and The Divine Milieu (see below) witness to our attempts at realizing our living in continuous communion with God. In both, sin distances us from not only the divine intent, but also the divine existence. We experience joy in God's presence, and a dull ossification separated from God.

Both humility and truth are essential components of spiritual life, and both are lacking in the destruction of American culture in our present environment. The constant vilification and dehumanization of women, minorities, other races, religions and nationalities separates "brother from brother and sister from sister," isolating ourselves from and causing enmity between images of God where networks of affection are necessary to enable spiritual living.

Encouraging and massaging our hatreds not only destroys the commandments "love your neighbor as yourself, and "Let us create humanity in our image," it creates a growing necrosis within the communal body that deadens us to the vitality with seek within a single God who creates us all.

Steinsaltz points out how environment creates the context and breeding ground in which we succumb to our desires, with the encouragement of those who egg us on and selfishly gain from our sins along with us. But those sins feed the demolition of vitality, and just as a drunk regrets his previous night's celebrations in the light and headaches of the day, so we are awakening to the enmities and insecurities we are creating between police and citizenry with our guns, between men and women with the encouragement of unbridled sexuality, and among our neighboring races and religions with our violence in the streets. In driving wedges between us we are also destroying the very soulfulness that gives life its aesthetic, security and meaning. These are the unforeseen consequences, the "fallout," of our expressions of animosity that threaten to destroy the national character of the American people and our very humanity.

We do well, in this season, to not only look at our petty actions and arguments, but to examine carefully and dispassionately how our disparagements of "the other" are not only touching ourselves and our immediate victims, but our daily security, happiness, and the cultural air we breath. There is no better, nor more urgent time for our personal reflection and change.

Ken yehi ratzon. L'shanah tovah tikateyvu.

"The world we live in subjects us to unrelenting temptation. Such constant, formidable pressure applied over an extended period is very difficult to withstand. This person faces not an occasional and temporary desire that can be dismissed with relative ease but the pervading influence of his entire environment. In that atmosphere and among those who create it, even someone ordinarily immune to such temptations finds that over the course of time, as 'the eye sees,' eventually the heart desires.

Environment influences all of us individuals. Even one who is intrinsically on a high level may capitulate. That environment will certainly affect a person who has strong passions...

Temptations overcome a person only when some measure of conscious complicity exists. Feelings, holy or otherwise, do not arise in a vacuum. they develop within one's conceptual realm, with the image of the world as one understands it.

Even if a person cannot dominate his feelings -- his heart -- he can control his intellect. He can use the power of his mind to visualize God gazing at all that he does until this awareness becomes part of his worldview, a tangible component of his reality. If this picture is sufficiently robust, he will develop a fear of sin and a fear of heaven; both will give him the strength to withdraw from and transcend the evil inclination and temptations that assail him. (Understanding the Tanya, Volume Three, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, pp. 77-78, 80)

To begin with, in action I adhere to the creative power of God; I coincide with it; I become not only its instrument but its living extension. And as there is nothing more personal in a being than his will, I merge myself, in a sense, through my heart, with the very heart of God. This commerce is continuous because I am always acting; and at the same time, since I can never set a boundary to the perfection of my fidelity nor to the fervour of my intention, this commerce enables me to liken myself, ever more strictly and indefinitely, to God.

The soul does not pause to relish this communion, nor does it lose sight of the material end of its action; for it is wedded to a creative effort. The will to succeed, a certain passionate delight in the work to be done, form an integral part of our creaturely fidelity. It follows that the very sincerity with which we desire and pursue success for God's sake reveals itself in a new factor -- also without limits -- in our being knit together with him who animates us. Originally we had fellowship with God in the simple common exercise of wills; but now we unite ourselves with him in the shared love of the end for which we are working; and the crowning marvel is that, with the possession of this end, we have the uttrer joy of discovering his presence once again. (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu, p. 26 "Communion Through Action)

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© 2016 by Rabbi Mark H. Levin.