Jewish mysticism and Absorption into the Universal Soul

Christianity teaches that God created the world out of nothing. It bases this doctrine on the first words of the Hebrew Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” In Genesis 1:26, “God said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness (Hebrew root dama, from which we get ADAM).

What does the Bible mean by man being created in the image, in the likeness  of God? What is certain – if we accept that God is Spirit (in Christianity, when the Word was made flesh, the picture changes, of course) –  is that man is a composite of spirit and flesh, while God is pure Spirit. Genesis 1:26 does not specify what it means by man as the “image of God.” When a Christian examines the rest of scripture, the following human attributes emerge, which man shares with God: creativity, power to reason, power to make decisions, moral conscience and personal relationships. These are called the communicable attributes of God. The attributes that God does not share with man are God’s incommunicable attributes, for example, his omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful) and eternality (no beginning), immutability (unchanging).

Traditional Judaism of which a large part is mystical Judaism (Kabbalah, Chassidim) teaches that man’s soul (neshamah) is a piece of God. Some parts of the Talmud say that only the Jewish soul is a piece of God. Most Jews maintain that the Talmud says no such thing. But see here. Reconstructionist Judaism, in stark contrast to traditional Judaism, says that traditional Judaism has got it all back to front. So, to put the record straight, a little reconstruction is needed: Man is not a piece of God; God is a piece of man (God is a human construction). (See Logotherapy, Torah Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism: God, man and God-man).

I’d like to focus on two prominent rabbinical scholars of Kabbalah: Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet and Rabbi Akiva Tatz. In his “Mystical Judaism,” Rabbi Schochet sets his sights on donkey scholarship:

“The sterile type of life and ‘scholarship’ of the “donkey loaded with books,” unfortunately, is quite symptomatic of the modern age and its method of alleged rational inquiry, of ‘logical positivism’ and its atomizing games of linguistic analysis. The mystical dimension forcefully counters this and bears a pervasive message of special relevance to modern man. With this message we are able to extricate ourselves from the contemporary mind- and soul-polluting forces that threaten to stifle us, and to find ourselves. For it is the tzinor, the conduit connecting us to ultimate reality. It is the stimulant causing “deep to call unto deep” – the profound depth of man’s soul calling unto the profound depth of the Universal Soul to find and absorb itself therein. Thus it brings forth and establishes the ultimate ideal of unity, of oneness, on all levels” (p. 36).

 For Rabbi Akiva Tatz, the tzinor does not only connect human beings to ultimate reality, but every else in the universe as well. In his Thirteen principles, part 5, 45th minute:

“The worlds above are like water, sometimes described as light…but if you take the world of water in the upper spheres. Water is undifferentiated, all the parts look the same. Imagine water in a bath. Underneath the bath there are small holes. What happens is inside the bath the water is all one, but outside it is flowing in specific channels, which are called tzinorot (צינורות) … a pipeline. You have the undifferentiated oneness in the higher world, but it comes into this world as specific differentiated channels that bring it down. Each channel is bringing an object into existence, or an event or a phenomenon. And of course you don’t need to look at the object, you can look at the channel and you will know more or less how the object will be or what will happen.”

All religious systems, by definition, assume a close connection between “ultimate reality” (Schochet) and the universe, which consists of human beings, objects and other (invisible) beings. Schochet and Tatz derive their views from the Kabbalah/Zohar, of course. While Schochet’s tzinor (pipeline, conduit) connects the human soul to the “Universal Soul to find and absorb itself therein,” Tatz’s tzinor connects ALL created beings to “the world of water in the upper spheres,” which is a different description of Schochet’s “Universal Soul.” The two descriptions – ”Universal Soul” and “the world of water in the upper spheres,”are metaphors for the “Endless One” (En Sof).

Schochet’s “Universal Soul to find and absorb itself therein,” is Buddhism – or Pythagoreanism – without idols. Kabbalah and Pythagoras have much in common. This does not necessarily mean that Pythagoras, or a similar system, influenced Jewish mysticism, for what is more expected than human beings wanting to become absorbed in the ”Universal,” or “Upper Waters.” Jews often insist that Greek and Jewish thought are poles apart. On the contrary, Jewish mysticism, Greek mysticism, Eastern mysticism, or any other kind of mysticism all sing the same absorbing universal tune.