B"H Thursday, 24 Sivan 5779 | June 27 2019
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 What is Kabbalah? 

Kabbalah: That which is received. That which cannot be known through science or intellectual pursuit alone. An inner knowledge that has been passed down from sage to student from the earliest of times. A discipline that awakens awareness of the essence of things.

We enter this world and our senses meet its outer crust. We touch the earth with our feet, water and wind splash against our skin, we recoil from the bite of fire. We hear sounds and rhythms. We see shapes and colors. Soon we begin to measure, to weigh and describe with precision. As scientists, we record the behaviors of chemicals, plants, animals and human beings. We video-tape them, observe them under a microscope, create mathematical models of them, fill a supercomputer with data about them. From our observations we learn to harness our environment with inventions and contraptions, and then pat ourselves on the back and say, Yes, we got it right.

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 How Can One Love an Unknowable G‑d? 

We're told that G‑d is unknowable, but also told to love G‑d. I don't get it: how can one love something that is "Unknowable"?

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 How Can One Love an Unknowable G‑d? 



I am not religious but I read Chabad.org's Daily Thought section each day. Sometimes it indicates that G‑d is unknowable and at other times it indicates to love G‑d. I don't get it: how can one love something that is "Unknowable"?


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 Am I just a Figment of Someone's Imagination? 
To the ancient sage of Israel and pride of Latin America, the chief rabbi of the outskirts of certain parts of suburban Guadalajara and director of the Guadalajaran Mind-Body Spa,

Dear Guad,

Ever since I was a small child hooked on The Cartoon Channel, I've had this nagging, ominous sense that I'm no more than a figment of some nutty animator's imagination. I've gone for psychiatric help about this, but they generally start giggling nervously as I begin my description of the phenomenon, eventually exploding into full-blown laughter. What do you recommend to help me overcome this pathology?

--F. Igment

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 How to be Humble without being a Wimp 
Photograph: Sarah Kranz


Should I be humble or should I be assertive? These are both supposedly good things to be, but one precludes the other, doesn't it?


There are many reasons for being humble. Here are some of the common ones:

  1. You think you're kind of ugly and stupid.
  2. You perceive that people like you better when you are humble.
  3. It's just your nature to be humble and keep your mouth shut.
  4. You keep on falling on your face, so what's there to be proud of?
  5. You didn't sleep well last night, so you're kind of depressed.

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 Because we're all one 
Jewish and many Jews not Jewish at all.

It's a lie. We are all one. If one Jew eats pork or does work on the Shabbat, G-d forbid, it's as if we all transgressed along with him. When the same Jew stretches out his hand to give to a needy soul, to wrap tefillin on his arm or to light a candle before Shabbat -- all of us stretch out our arms together.

We are not a religion. We are a soul. A single soul radiating into many bodies, each ray shining forth on its unique mission, each body receiving the light according to its capacity, each embodiment playing its crucial role. Together, we compose a symphony with no redundant parts, no instrument more vital than another. And our path back towards that original source of light is through every other ray that extends from it.

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 Prayer as Madness 
Photograph: Zalman Kleinman
Prayer is a form of madness. Tell me that it is rational to talk to the Force of Being as though this were your closest confidant
To the Master of Cosmic Code, Impervious Storehouse of Higher Memory, Processor of Divine Wisdom and Divulger of Secret Things, the Illustrious Yet Not-Yet-Widely-Recognized-Enough Light-Emitting-Diode of Our Generation, the Guadalajara Rebbe,

Dear Guad,

Over the years, I've been collecting evidence. By now, it's almost conclusive: The universe is a set-up job. The laws of physics, mathematics, biology -- you name it -- they're all a façade.

I could fill a library with my proofs. But here's the core outline:

Mathematics: Infinity. Kantor proved that all the finiteness we deal with in everyday life is really infinity in masquerade. Then Goedel went and proved that logic itself is infinite and never ever resolves.

Physics: Particles. There aren't any. We reduce the cosmos to its most basic parts and madness stares us in the face. Things that disappear and appear somewhere else as something else and never occupy any real space to begin with. I can quote Richard Feynman, who said his lectures on quantum mechanics were to demonstrate, "Nature as She really is: Absurd." Rabbi, how do you explain a normal universe made of pieces that are totally nuts?


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 The Meaning of Making Money 
Photograph: Sarah Kranz

"If life is full of meaning, why am I spending it hustling other people for their money?"

Don't think the question was invented by our bourgeois-bohemian, save-the-world-and-get-rich-too generation. It's been around since G-d handed Adam a hoe and kicked him out of the garden. Just that most of Adam's children worked that hoe with their hands. Today, we are all plowing the earth with our heads. And that can mean a pretty muddy head.

We plow the earth with our heads. And that can mean a pretty muddy head... Some of us like mud. Some think mud is disgusting and run away from it. A lot of us try to compromise--we'll just get a little bit dirty and try to wash up often. In which case we end up with a bifurcated life in which our principal occupation is making money and finding meaning is a pastime.

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 Rosh Hashanah Unwrapped 

Judaism is mysterious. It comes gift-wrapped from heaven with ribbons, strings and knots, each unraveling to disclose yet another mystery, an ever-widening unknown of yet more knots to untie, more strings to follow along an endless path. And with each unraveling another discovery and with each discovery a deeper wisdom.

Rosh Hashanah is one of those great mysteries. How is it that the beginning of the year appears on the first day of the seventh month? Why are we blowing a ram's horn and why do we give it such a central role? What is the cosmic drama of this day and what is our part in it?

Most puzzling is the Torah's reticence. It speaks cryptically, as though discussing something we are expected to know without it telling us.

"It will be a day of sounding for you,"1 we are told. Sounding what? That we are not told. Kind David wrote in his psalms, "Sound the shofar at the new moon, at the hiddeness of our festival."2 And that is the singular biblical reference we have for our tradition that we are to sound not our voices, not a trumpet, nothing else but a ram's horn.

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 Achieving Man 2.0 
Photograph: Sarah Kranz

Woman 1.0 was a harsh and judgmental version, not at all user-friendly. The only hint to her in Genesis is Adam's enigmatic dual metaphor, "This time [she is] a bone from my bones, flesh from my flesh." The "bone of my bones"—her name was Lilith, with a personality as inflexible as a dry bone. Adam dumped that one fast.

"Flesh from my flesh" refers to Woman 2.0, a.k.a. Chava (somehow that became "Eve" in English). She was more easy-going, less critical, far more responsive—as flesh is relative to bones. This worked really well for a long-term relationship. (You can't say "user-friendly" on 2.0, since this is more of an interactive, client-to-client relationship. We'll get to that soon.)

1.0 relied on technology from the World of TohuThe two versions had much to do with the technology implemented. 1.0 relied on technology from the World of Tohu. That's a world, previous to ours, which is built on absolutes. Absolute light, absolute darkness, absolute kindness and....absolute harshness.

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 How Do I Know That I Really Believe? 

Lately I've have been struggling with the concept of G‑d, existence, and my own death one day. I realize that I don't like this idea of one day not being here anymore.

What bothers me is that perhaps G‑d and the eternity of life are just constructs of our mind to protect itself from that which it can't handle. I want to believe, but that is exactly what worries me. How do I distinguish between what's truly true and what's just a comforting thought?


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 Closing up on Shabbos 



How can I stop working on Shabbat? That's when all my business is!


You're born into this world and your time is limited. While here, the most important decision you'll make is: Who's in charge?

You can decide that "the world" is in charge. It sets the rules, and its big and scary. You'll try to get as much as you can out of it without getting burnt too badly. But unfortunately, you'll have to work on Shabbat--that's one of the rules.

Or, you can decide that you're in charge. Who knows, you may win. But there's going to be some stiff competition--a few billion people out there think the same thing.

The third alternative is to decide that the One Who Made This Place is in charge. You're just here as His rep. He says, "I left some of this world for you to fix up. Give it a try and do your best. I'll be there to help you."

Now, this Big and Awesome G-d you're working for isn't planning to make things easy. You can bet on it that He'll throw a few mighty challenges along your path. How else is He going to get you to put your all into it? But you can also rest assured that He's on your side every step along the way. And He's in charge. One hundred percent.

 Fallen Sparks 

He pondered our world from every side and every angle and he realized something must have gone wrong.

Something at the very beginning. Something before Time had begun and there were moments to count; before the laws of nature had been established and matter had yet a chance to form. Something at the very core of reality, and if he could find it, all the cosmos could be healed.

He continued his meditations on the banks of the river Nile, his fasting, his recitation of Psalms and his sleepless nights poring over and over the scrolls of the Zohar his teacher had left him. He received wisdom from ancient souls, as had Rabbi Shimon and his son when they hid in the cave. He gazed upon the river wildlife at day, the stars of the Egyptian sky at night. He pondered all that he learned. But most of all, he pondered existence.

There is wisdom here, he thought, but wisdom gone mad. There is beauty, magnificent beauty, but she is shattered. If all the world is an epic novel, the words have been tossed in the air and scrambled; if it is a grand symphony, the musicians have lost sight of their conductor, each playing his melody on his own time. As though an explosion had occurred, blowing apart the pieces that were meant to create a harmonious world, creating instead a cacophony of melodies, a chaos of fragments.

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 At the Threshold 
Photograph: S. Kranz

In any field of inquiry, the most interesting aspect is always thresholds. Interfaces between two systems.

To an ecologist, mountains are interesting for their alpine forests and vertically oriented fauna. Plains are interesting for their grasses and swamps. But nothing is as fascinating as the foothills, where two ecosystems meet.

One of the most interesting (and useful) fields today is that of "human interface" -- the place where people and their machines meet. And then there is the study of chaoplexity -- the fascinating border between rigid order and total randomness where things such as amoebas, bond traders, Chabad House rabbis and the like occur. In Halachah (Torah law), there is much discussion on the status of twilight -- the gray area between when day stops and night begins. A gateway is one of the most common metaphors of Torah: A place where you are neither in nor out, but part of both.

Torah generally talks in terms of dual systems: Heaven and Earth; G-d and Man; Creator and created; Nothingness and something. So if we want to get into fascinating territory, we can ask: Where do they meet and what happens there?

The first description of such a place was given by Jacob, the third of the three fathers of the Jewish people. On his way leaving the land of Canaan he slept at a place and dreamt of a ladder with messengers of G-d ascending and descending. When he awoke, he exclaimed, "Y-H-V-H (--we pronounce that 'Havayeh', as the Torah instructs us not to pronounce the four letter name of G-d the way it is written; more about this name later--) is in this place, and I didn't realize!" Once this realization had hit him, he trembled and said, "This place is awesome!" (The classic Aramaic translation reads, "This is not a normal place.") And then, "This could only be the house of Elokim, and this is the gateway of heaven!"

It was more than seven hundred years before Jacob's vision could be fulfilled, when King Solomon built the Holy Temple on that mountain, placed the Holy of Holies around that spot, and placed the Holy Ark on the rock where Jacob had laid his head to rest. The rabbis of the Talmud call that rock, "the foundation stone" -- because, they say, from it the world was begun. Read that as "the origin of something from nothing and the place where the two meet."

What happened in that space? It met with anti-space. This is how it worked:

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 Genesis, Darwin and Life in Two Worlds 
Photograph: David Brook


I feel like I'm living in two worlds at once. Teaching biology, I frame my lessons around evolutionary theory, which seems to hold all the parts together in a single whole. But at home, I help my son with his Hebrew homework, including the story of creation in Genesis.

I'm actually very inspired by Genesis, particularly through the prism of the classic commentaries and the little I've tasted of the Kabbalah. But despite all I've read on the subject, I've yet to find an honest and plausible resolution of these two perspectives on life and its origins. Yes, plenty have written on the subject, but I find their solutions very distant from the spirit of the text.

Is a resolution possible? Or is a Jew meant to live in two mutually exclusive worlds?

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