Divre Harav – September/16

The mystical text of the Zohar contains a notion that the Divine energy that vivifies the world depends on the unification of different aspects of God. Specifically, when God’s divine presence (known as the feminine Shekhina) is joined with the masculine aspect of Tiferet, God energy flows down and infuses the world.

The Zohar teaches:

As long as Torah is found within [Jerusalem], she endures, since Torah is the Tree of Life, standing over her. As long as Torah is aroused below, the Tree of Life does not depart above. If Torah ceases below, the Tree of Life withdraws from her. [Zohar, Pritzker ed., vol. 2, pg. 344]

The Tree of Life/Torah represents Tiferet and Jerusalem represents Shekhina. When we study and practice Torah, Jerusalem and the Tree of Life are in a symbolic union as Tiferet and Shekhina are united. If we should cease to live Torah, Tiferet breaks away from Shekhina. The practical result, according to the Zohar, is the eclipse of God’s blessings, such as rain.

Jerusalem is a city in which the ancient lives beneath the contemporary, the medieval alongside the modern, and innumerable religious streams of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and others worship side by side. It is also a city in which religious differences create tension among her inhabitants. At the Western Wall plaza in front of the retaining wall around the platform on which the Biblical Temple stood, those tensions are between the Hareidi Orthodox and the Conservative/Reform Jews who each want to worship according to their community’s custom. However, the Hareidi chief rabbis of Israel and Jerusalem, appointed political positions, have claimed the entire plaza and forbade any worship that doesn’t conform to their Orthodox standards. Another group comprised of Conservative/Reform as well as Open Orthodox women want to worship on the plaza in a women’s only minyan. A third Conservative/Reform group want to create a new worship space adjacent to the current plaza for mixed worship.

Historically, the Kotel plaza was not a synagogue and people prayed as they wished. In the earlier years of the State of Israel the Kotel was a national civic/religious space. Now, has become a battleground for the right to define Judaism. Egalitarian-optional or strictly gender-segregated. Pluralist or monolithic. These questions are being fought in the legislature, in the courts, and in the press.

I can’t imagine that this is what our sages meant when they asserted that as long as Torah is found in Jerusalem, she will endure. There is a lot of Torah in Jerusalem that is being used as a club to beat down those who live by a different approach to Torah, and that is not the kind of learning and practice that the Zohar encourages. May there be enough loving Torah in Jerusalem to arouse the God’s Presence to unite with Tiferet, and may the Divine energy infuse the city with blessing.

Hebrew Words of the Month:

  • Sefirah/Sefirot (pl) – the 10 mystical aspects of God
  • Hesed – the Sefirah of love
  • Din – the Sefirah of judgment
  • Gevurah – power, another name for Din
  • Zohar – radiance, the name of the late 13th century mystical commentary on Torah

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