This past weekend I was at a Lutheran Church in San Francisco teaching with the Spiritual Paths Institute faculty on the “Mystic Heart” of our respective traditions. Here is the gist of what I taught.
First, let me make it clear that the Mystic Heart of Judaism I will share with you is my own understanding and not that of any authority. This is how I see it, and you are free to see it otherwise. Second, let me say that the Mystic Heart of Judaism has to point beyond Judaism. When a religion only points to itself you can be fairly certain you are hearing propaganda rather than prophecy, and you are engaged in a exercise of marketing rather than mysticism. Mysticism is the direct experience of Reality without the conditioning of words, theologies, ideologies, isms of any kind. Marketing is just clever ways of proving that my way is the best way, or even the only way.
So what is the mystic heart of Judaism? Where does Judaism point beyond itself? I suggest you find it in the opening verses of Genesis Chapter 12:
Now the Ineffable said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your parent’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3)
Unpacking these verses will reveal the Mystic Heart of Judaism. And to do so rightly we have to be clear that Torah is talking to you; God is talking to you. If God is just talking to Abram, who cares? If Torah is just for the Jewish people, my talking to those of you who are not Jewish is a waste of your time. But God addresses each of us continually—first with a question, then with a command or challenge.
The question comes in Genesis 3:9: Ahyeka? Where are you? Where are you in your life right now? Where are you conditioned and enslaved? Before you can become free you must realize you are stuck. Where are you stuck? Genesis 12 tells us: we are stuck in our country, our kin, and our family; that is we are conditioned by the propaganda, prejudices, biases of nationalism, tribalism, ethnicity, religion, gender, race, sexual orientation, all the psychological madness imposes upon us by our parents and our families—indeed everything we use to hide beyond rather than step out of hiding and face the reality of the Unconditional naked, raw, and unconditioned.
So the question is, ahyecha, where are you enslaved? The challenge is lech lecha, get free! In the story lech lecha appears to be an external going forth; Abram and Sarai leave home. But the Hebrew is more nuanced than that. Lech means to walk, lecha means toward your Self. Not the conditioned egoic self, but the unconditioned Self that is an expression of the Ineffable Reality Judaism calls YHVH, and which we reduce to either the highly conditioned, patriarchal “LORD,” or to the essentially vapid and all-purpose bit of noise pronounced “God.” YHVH is neither.
In Hebrew YHVH isn’t a noun, but a verb. YHVH is a form of the Hebrew verb “to be.” God is the be’ing of Reality, the is’ing of Reality. Not a Being or a Supreme Being somewhere else, but being itself in all its variations and multi-dimensionality. Abram is being confronted by Reality, and that confrontation challenges him to free himself from the blinders that keep him from realizing the true nature of things as manifestations of the singular nonduality Jews call YHVH.
How do we do this? By walking inward, but leaving behind all we know and think we know. By walking without isms and ideologies to a Land that only the Unconditioned can reveal. I am not talking about the actual geographic Land of Israel, but the inner Land of Israel, literally the Land of God-Wrestling, the place where you encounter the Absolute.
And what happens when you arrive? You become a great, blessed, and well respected. That is to say your impact on the world is larger than you imagine, and it is for the good. Those who bless you are blessed; those who curse you are cursed.
Be careful how to think of this. If you think with the conditioned egoic mind you imagine you are Chosen, or saved, or better than others. But this is incorrect. Think in terms of electricity flowing through a wall socket. If used well, it can light your home. But if you stick your finger in the socket it can kill you. “Those who bless you” are those who see you as a paradigm for what they themselves can achieve. Those who curse you are those who see you as a guru to be followed. If they do as you do, practice lech lecha and attain freedom (an on-going process, by the way, and not a once and for all state), they are blessed. If they turn you into another hide out, another layer of conditioning, they are cursed.
You are a vehicle for blessing: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” That is the sign of one who is free. They are a blessing. They want nothing from you: neither money nor obedience nor loyalty. They aren’t asking you to follow them, but to free yourself. They offer you what God offered Abram: a territory to walk, but no map with which to walk it.
And that leads us to the mystic heart of Judaism—walking without a map. This is what I call fierce faith. YHVH doesn’t tell Abram where he is going. YHVH just says, lech, go! And Abram goes. No map, no brochure, no video showing him how glorious the destination. Nothing. He just goes. This is fierce faith, in Hebrew betachon, trust.
It is common today to mistake faith for belief, but they are not the same. Belief is all about content; faith has no content. Abram, Jesus, Mohammad (PBU), Arjuna, and the Buddha didn’t need beliefs; they encountered Reality directly. They freed themselves from what was supposed to be true, and saw for themselves what was true. And then—and this of course my opinion—they called us to do the same; and then—and this of course is my opinion—we betrayed them and turned their pointing to truth into a series of beliefs behind which we hide from that truth.
Fierce faith, the faith of the founders of the world’s great wisdom traditions, is a faith that dares to free the Self from the self and see what is without someone defining what is for us.
Fierce faith does not lead you deeper into the maze of your religion. Fierce faith doesn’t make you a better Jew or Christian, or Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim. Fierce faith makes you free. And freedom is the mystic heart of all religion that dares to speak the truth.