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  1. I’ve been talking these past few days about Transcendental Judaism – a term formulated by my friend, David Lieberman, and the title of his excellent book, available on Amazon in just two weeks. The Transcendent—which is to say, what lies beyond our usual experience of mind, body, and senses—is an obvious part of Jewish teaching.  But somehow, in most cases, the Transcendent gets completely overlooked.
  2. Maybe it should come as no shock that the Transcendent in Judaism is hidden in plain sight. The Transcendent, being beyond our usual sense experience, is hidden from our usual view.  But Transcendental Judaism holds that while the Transcendent may be out of sight, it’s not out of mind.
  3. In fact, the mind and brain seem to be constructed in such a way that it’s possible to experience the Transcendent on a regular basis. This in spite of the fact that in Judaism, as it’s normally practiced, there doesn’t seem to be much opportunity for transcending.
  4. The commandments of the Torah—all the do’s and don’ts of Jewish ethics, all the ritual commandments around Shabbat and the holidays–are mainly focused on activity. Most of the time, these activities involve projecting our awareness in an outward direction–which is natural enough.
  5. There’s only one, big problem. And that is, it contributes to the habit of always projecting our awareness outward, except for the time we spend sleeping. And I would say, this is the plight of the vast majority of humanity, down through the ages.
  6. And I would also say, this tendency is more prevalent today than ever before. Our focus on the objects of outer perception actually has yielded both sweet and sour fruits.  Because of the scientific method and its intense exploitation of the natural world, we enjoy a level of material life unprecedented in human history.  In fact, between the Internet, and cell phones, and big screen televisions, the allure of “things out there” has never been greater.
  7. The downside is, our dazzling material and technological achievements have created a monster—oneI like to call, “scientific materialism.” Basically, scientific materialism holds that the whole of reality is material, measurable, and quantifiable.
  8. Practically speaking, if we compare the whole range of life to a chicken egg, scientific materialism consists of an intensive analysis of the egg shell. Again, the fruits of this approach have been impressive.  But it ignores the other 99%, of the egg of existence.  And this is where God, religion, and Transcendental Judaism can play a life-altering role.
  9. Abraham Joshua Heschel once said that as long as we regard God as just another object of perception, we’re never going to be able to find Him.  And why?  Because God is the ultimate Subject, and WE are the objects of HIS perception!
  10. Therefore, if we really want to know God—which is to say, in more than an intellectual or speculative way—we’re going to have to change the nature of our search for Him. Not that we should give up what we already do in the way of study, prayer, or Tzedakah. But by adding a practice of reversing the direction of our awareness to our life routine—the rewards can be very great.
  11. What do I mean when I say, “reversing the direction our awareness”? The common name for this is meditation.  But this does raise a question: is meditation really a part of Jewish tradition?  The answer is, it’s been there all along–hiding in plain sight.
  12. Part of the reason for this is, meditation practices have been reserved for an elite. The rabbis of old (Tosefta, Tractate Chagigah) tell the story where…
  13. Four, entered into Pardes—(that is), the orchard, of direct experience of the Divine. (Their names): Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Elisha ben Abuya, and Rabbi Akiva…Ben Azzai gazed, and lost his life…Ben Zoma gazed, and lost his mind…Elisha ben Abuya gazed, and became a heretic…Only Rabbi Akiva, entered in peace, and left in peace…”
  14. Hence, the very conservative approach of the past has been, if even these great sages experienced difficulty with the Divine, then all the more so should we be cautious with such knowledge.
  15. And yet, as is so often the case over the long span of time, then was then and now is now. Given modern conditions, including the fact that we’re well-educated and well-grounded in the material world, many people are more than ready to enter directly into the realm of the Spirit.
  16. Many people today actually call themselves, “spiritual, but not religious.” This has created a false dichotomy between being spiritual and being religious—such that indeed, spiritual people tend not to be religious, and religious people tend not to be spiritual.  But the truth is, spirituality desperately needs religion, and religion also is in desperate need of more spirituality.
  17. My own experience over the past fifty years is that meditation has greatly enriched my Jewish belief and practice. In fact, it’s my firm conviction that meditation saved my Jewish soul.
  18. I grew up in a synagogue where there wasn’t much time devoted to spirituality. The primary issues of that era were survival issues: issues of history, sociology, and Middle East politics.  The word “God” was only rarely uttered aloud in English in my synagogue.
  19. Consequently, the Judaism in which I came of age, didn’t seem much like a religion. It was more like a culture; a community; a people. It fulfilled the need of my family of origin, and many other families of that time.  But my own needs were left wanting.
  20. Where meditation and Judaism first met for me was in a momentous book I read fifty years ago, called 9 ½ Mystics: The Kabbalah Today, by Herbert Weiner. Remarkably, it’s still in print and available on Amazon. I highly recommend it, even today.
  21. This is where I realized that God is the core and essence of Jewish life and the Jewish soul. Somehow, in all my growing up Jewish, this point had never been brought home to me. But having been presented with so many examples of Jewish spiritual masters and their disciples in Rabbi Weiner’s book, I was ready to explore further.
  22. Over the last fifty years, meditation has given me many wonderful gifts—gifts of energy, balance, and a strong sense of God’s presence in the world.
  23. But possibly the greatest gift of all was that, over time, meditation gave me what I like to call, an experiential referent for the reality of God. It didn’t happen all at once.  But gradually, as my experiences grew, I came to realize: my deepest, truest, most expanded, inner self–was actually Divine.
  24. Not that I’m God—God forbid! Not that I had anything to do with the creation of the Universe.  Rather, I discovered that my deepest I—my Cosmic I, if you will—is that to which the Genesis Creation story refers as the “image of God.”
  25. Plus—there’s a further, very important point—proclaimed by some of our great spiritual masters down through the ages. Maybe it’s best to allow them to speak for themselves.
  26. From the 16th century Kabbalist, Moshe Cordovero, and I quote: “God is found in all things, and all things are found in God. There’s nothing devoid of Divinity, Heaven forbid!  Everything is in God, and God is in everything.  And beyond everything, there’s nothing besides God.”
  27. From the 18th century founder of the Chabad school of Hasidism, Shneur Zalman of Ladi. He says: “Everything is God, blessed be He, Who makes everything be. And in truth, the world of seemingly separate entities, is entirely annulled.”
  28. And finally, from the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, who passed away, in the early 1990’s. He says: “The absolute reality of God…fills the entire expanse of existence as we know it.  There’s no space possible for any other existences…The objects in our physical universe, the metaphysical truths we contemplate, our very selves…do not exist in their own reality.  They exist only as extensions of Divine energy…”
  29. This kind of teaching proved to be a great revelation to me—a kind of continuous Mt. Sinai. According so well with my meditation practice, it’s what made it possible for me to pursue the rabbinate, and spend 31 years in the pulpit.
  30. We don’t have time to go into the many ways in which Transcendental Judaism is hidden in plain sight. But hopefully, a few short examples will be enough to tell the tale.
  31. Think for a moment about the Aleinu prayer—a prayer which marks the conclusion of every single worship service, every day of the year.
  32. What does the Aleinu tell us? Among other things, is this potent phrase—Hu Eloheinu, Ein Od–usually translated, “He’s our God; there’s no other.”  But typical of the ambiguities of which the Hebrew language is full, it can also be translated: “He’s our God; and there’s nothing else!”
  33. The prayer goes on to say, Emet Malkeinu, Efes Zulato. Again, usually translated, “In truth, He alone is our King.” But from a more enlightened perspective, it also can be understood to mean, “In truth, He is our King; and there’s nothing besides Him.”
  34. And then, quoting from the book of Deuteronomy (4:39), and usually translated, “Know this day and take it to heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above, and on earth below. There’s no other.”
  35. But, once again, the words Ein Od, can be understood to mean, “there’s nothing else!” Notice how this changes the whole tenor of the quote from Deuteronomy. It now reads: “Know this day, and take it to heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above, and on earth below, there’s nothing else.
  36. Then finally, the climactic conclusion of the prayer: Ba-Yom Ha-hu, Yi-h’yeh Adonai Echad, U-Sh’mo Echad. What does this mean? There are many interpretations.  But, considering what we’ve been saying here this morning, it could well mean, “God will be one, and His name one,” when human perception will be flooded with the Oneness of God; when, in the words of the Lubavitcher Rebbes, everything—you, me, and the rest of creation–will be seen “only as extensions of Divine energy”…when “the world of seemingly separate entities, is entirely annulled.”
  37. We’re out of time for now. But, there will be an opportunity to explore these ideas further, and also, to receive a direct taste of the Transcendent in a study session that will take place in the Kanee Foyer after Kiddush.
  38. In the meantime, I want to wish congratulations, to the graduates of the Choosing Judaism class, and to everyone, a Shabbat Shalom, Chag Sameach, Mo’adim L’Simcha, Chagim U-Z’manim L’Sasson!