by Alexandre Safran
Most eminent scientists today admit that they are incapable of meeting the requirements of true science, that is, of touching the essence of reality, of grasping it in its entirety, of expressing it in an adequate language and so, of precisely formulating its unity, this of course being the ultimate goal of science.
In every age, reason has been regarded in the scientific world as the sole route to attain this goal, which researchers thought was within their grasp. Consequently, they used to celebrate the absolute, exclusive, intellectual omnipotence of reason. They proclaimed its pure, "impartial" objectivity, free of all personal or contextual influence.
Now, for some time past, the "impersonal" objectivity of reason has been in doubt; man's character, his inclinations, and his prejudices do not allow the completely free exercise of reason. It is admitted that a certain subjectivity intervenes in the exercise of reason, in its approach to reality, in its apprehension of living beings; a certain scission separates the subject from the object: the object is what the subject would like it to be...
For scientists up to the last century, as for the Greeks long ago, there was no criterion of truth without rational demonstration and experimental proof, but today there is ceaseless and many-faceted questioning of the ideas of reason and truth, of experiment and proof. There are no definite answers to the philosophical-scientific problems that confront researchers. They are compelled to doubt the value traditionally ascribed to reason, to which their predecessors attributed the power of explaining everything, of sustaining great material and technical undertakings, and of leading to truth.
Reason can no longer guide researchers to the goal of their quest. Some eminent scientific philosophers, doubting the efficacy of reason and the validity of its results, even speak of a "crisis of rationality"; others do not hesitate to speak of its "bankruptcy." One renowned thinker and scientist is happy just to put forward a "revision of rationality" in recommending a new approach.
And so, today's men of science are discovering the sense of mystery!
As for the Kabbalah, it underestimates neither the value nor the function of reason. It recognizes that reason has an important role, both in intellectual scientific research and in man's religious and moral conduct. However, the Kabbalah never gave it primacy in the realm of science as did the Greeks.
The Kabbalah appreciates reason as a "gift of God to man" to help him to understand His creation and to take care of His universe, in the midst of which God has placed him and given him responsibility. The kabbalist does not forget that reason clarifies man's service both to God and to his fellow man...
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The three master works of Judaism are, in order of importance, the Bible, followed by the Talmud, and then the Sefer ha-Zohar, the "Book of Splendor," which comprises the fundamental teachings of Jewish mysticism. This latter magnum opus is a key work presenting the mystical doctrine of Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai, the tanna who lived in Galilee during the 2nd century.
It was disseminated in Spain during the 13th century. It was in the 13th century that the term kabbalah began to have a particular connotation with mysticism, without, however, losing its halachic import. On the contrary, the Kabbalah is closely linked with Jewish law, which it illuminates "from within."
Since that time, the term kabbalah has been used in the current Hebrew language to mean Jewish mysticism.
However, the Kabbalah continues to be an oral tradition. The kabbalists, the Sages of the Truth (that is, those who wish to know the Truth), those who know the hidden wisdom (that is, those who wish to know it), pass on their teaching orally to their friends and colleagues, and to those disciples who are worthy of it. Nevertheless, these Sages, who transmit their teaching orally to their companions and even give them practical counselling on how to "cleave to God" and "serve Him," can hardly impart to them their own mystical experiences, since such experiences occur in the depths of a rare human being and cannot be communicated.
"The Kabbalah is transmitted by the kabbalist, who having already received the Kabbalah, is thoroughly steeped in it, to the recipient, who grasps it (also) by his own intelligence." Thus, Nachmanides (13th
century) defined the conditions for the "transmission" of the Kabbalah from master to disciple. Only those who live a pure and holy life can transmit the Kabbalah, and only those who have attained great "spiritual" maturity can receive it. Down the centuries, these restrictions have been respected when the Kabbalah has been taught and practiced.
The Sages state that it is "only at the age of 40 that the disciple is fit to understand properly the thought of his master," for "40 years is the age of wisdom." That is why, in general, the kabbalists prefer to "transmit" their teaching to disciples who are at least 40 years old. In their opinion, at that age the human soul becomes spiritually mature. The Hebrew word 'neshamah,' soul, confirms this; the letters which compose it also make up the words 'mem shanah,' 40 years.
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In the Book of Deuteronomy (11:22) we read: "For if you shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you, to do them, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways and to cleave unto Him..."
Devekut, man's cleaving to God, his search of God in an attempt to be united with Him, is compared to the "cleaving" of man to his wife, leading to their union. In its purity, loyalty, and "holiness," his conjugal devotion metaphorically mirrors the Devekut that binds man to God. In turn, man and wife should even draw inspiration from this Devekut as a basis for their relationship.
Indeed, in the Book of Genesis (2:24) it is said: "a man... shall cleave
(ve-davak) unto his wife, and they shall become one flesh." The "moment" of their union as "one flesh" blossoms into the loving kindness that each demonstrates for the other. Yet both partners, enriched by their union, keep and respect their respective identities.
Nonetheless, it is patently clear that the Devekut that exists between man and his God is of quite another kind.
The ve-davak that binds a man to his wife is a physical union which has a moral, spiritual objective and takes place in the confines of space.
The Devekut between man and God, between the human soul and the "Soul of Souls," has no location, for it is a Devekut that binds man, who is within the world, to God, who is "the Place of the world, though the world is not His place." The Devekut that binds the spirit to the Spirit cannot be located in a confined space. Even when man comes near to God and God comes towards him, man remains the prisoner of his human status while God remains God! Each retains his own, disparate identity.
Reprinted with permission from InnerNet Magazine