Tuesday, February 28, 2023

cleaving to God

 Mystical philosophers long for immersion in the silence of absolute unity. The Greek philosopher Plotinus and all those who followed him were filled with such secret longings. But Judaism’s goal is not the same as that of the mystics with their via negativa, or negative way. The latter aspired to overcome the variety and uniqueness of man’s personality, recommending the negation of people’s variegated mental and physical existence for the sake of attaining pure, simple unity with no objective content. In denying the ontic independence of human beings, they came to deny their essence as well. They therefore recommended the via purgativa (method of elimination), which leads to unio mystica (mystic unification). The individual must empty out the content of his variegated life and freeze into a focal eternal point, lacking all dimension and context, and confine himself to the One.

But Judaism, directed by the Halakha says, “This is not the way.” First of all, one cannot speak of man uniting with God, but only of man cleaving to God. Second, man does not cleave to God by denying his actual essence, but, on the contrary, by affirming his own essence. The actual, multicolored human personality becomes closer to God when the individual lives his own variegated original life, filled with goals, initiative, and activity, without imagining some prideful insolent independence. Then and only then does the personality begin to have a divine existence. Judaism insists that destroying man’s uniqueness and originality does not bring man closer to God, as the mystics imagined. Man’s road to God does not wind among faraway hidden places – in which man concentrates on a mysterious pyre in which his individuality goes up in flames – but, rather, among the spaces of real being, filled with movement and transformation. (Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, And From There You Shall Seek, MeOtzar HaRav, pp. 87-88)

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