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Jewish World Review
You can have Heaven on Earth
Rabbi David Aaron
Discovering the ultimate reward that awaits us
And the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
Spiritual Experience or Divine Encounter?
I recall a story someone once told me about the Jewish Philosopher Martin Buber that illustrates the difference between a spiritual experience and a divine encounter. Buber was very involved with spirituality, mysticism and meditation. One day, he was meditating in his room, and he entered into an incredible state of mystical ecstasy. Suddenly he heard a knock at the door. He was so high, he wasn't sure he had heard it right, so he waited a few moments. Again, he heard the knock at the door. Buber had to tear himself away from his ecstatic experience in order to answer the door. He opened the door and saw a fellow he didn't even know, a stranger. Buber stood there looking at this stranger who obviously wanted something.
Now, perhaps you've had the experience of dropping in on someone, and when he or she opens the door, you realize, "Oh my gosh, I came at the wrong time." You feel awkward. Just so, this fellow realized he was interrupting Buber, and he really felt awkward. "I'm sorry, Mr. Buber, I must be disturbing you. Let me come back another time."
Buber, being a gentleman, said, "No, please, come in, it's fine."
So Buber let him in, and had him sit down in his salon, and tried very hard to listen and focus on what his visitor had to say, but most of his mind was still absorbed in the high he had just experienced. The visitor stuttered and stammered and obviously did not feel comfortable to share with Martin Buber what was on his mind or in his heart. Finally, the fellow apologized, excused himself, and left. And Buber returned to his room and tried to get back into his ecstatic state of consciousness.
Later, Buber heard that this fellow killed himself. Buber was absolutely devastated. He realized that the man had come to him because he desperately needed help, and Buber wasn't there for him because he was so absorbed in his spiritual experience. That's when Buber realized how fake a mystical high can be. If it doesn't open one up to hearing the call to duty, if it doesn't increase one's ability to respond, it is having an experience, but it is not encountering G-d in a relationship.
Many people want to have a so-called "G-d experience." But this is really just spiritual materialism. Just as some people like to amass cars, clothes, and big houses, other people like to amass spiritual experiences. But that's not what a relationship with G-d is all about.
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A true encounter with G-d means seeing, hearing and responding to G-d in your life. In Hebrew this is called teshuva, a word often mistranslated as "repentance," but really meaning "answer." To do teshuva is to answer G-d's call.
In that light, we can understand the oft-used Biblical expression, "stiff-necked people." What's a stiff-necked person? Someone who, when he is called, does not turn to listen. He just keeps going. teshuva means turning to say, "Yes, I'm here. What can I do for you?"
In the stories of the Torah, G-d initiates a dialogue with Abraham by calling, "Abraham, Abraham," and then waiting for Abraham to respond, "Hineni. Here I am."
That's teshuva, turning to hear the call and to respond to it.
The Essence of Life
A direct encounter with G-d rather than a spiritual experience is the essence of life itself. As we learn from the Proverbs: "In the light of the King's countenance is life." (1)
An encounter with G-d is actually the ultimate reward for the fulfillment of any mitzvah — commandment.
The Torah records in this weeks' portion:
And it came to pass in the first month in the second year, on the first [day] of the month, [that] the tabernacle was erected…..And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of the congregation, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And when the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys: But if the cloud were not taken up, then they did not journey till the day when it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD [was] upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys
Regarding the Tabernacle, the biblical commentary, Nachmanides explains:
Now this revelation of Shechina — Divine Presence came as a mark of distinction and honor, as it is said in connection with the dedication of the Tabernacle, "And they [Moses and Aaron] came out, and blessed the people, and the glory of the Eternal appeared unto all the people," (Leviticus 9:23) as it was on account of their effort in fulfilling the commandment of building the Tabernacle that they merited seeing the Shechina. Now, the revelation of the Shechina was not at all for the purpose of charging them with some commandment or to impart some communication. Instead, it was the reward for the commandment, which had already been performed… as it says, "As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake, beholding Your likeness."
This is the eternal joy experienced in the World to Come, which is the era that follows the coming of the Messiah, as it is recorded in the Talmud: (2)
There the righteous will sit with crowns on their heads enjoying the splendor of the Shechina.
Maimonides, the great Codifier of Jewish Law, explains: (3)
They know and grasp the truth of the Holy One Blessed be He… this is the reward, no other reward could be better, this is the goodness, no greater goodness could follow; this is what all the prophets desired.
The ultimate reward that awaits us is the very loving relationship we nurture through living G-d's commands — expressing our love for G-d and feeling G-d's love for us. Then His glory fills the tabernacle as well as the inner sanctum of our souls-and we experience heaven on earth.
For more on this topic, please see Seeing G-d: Ten life-changing lessons of the Kabbalah
(1) Proverbs 16:15
(2) Berachos 17A
(3) Laws of Repentance, Chapter 5
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Rabbi David Aaron is the founder and dean of Isralight, an international organization with programming in Israel, New York South Florida, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Toronto. He has taught and inspired thousands of Jews who are seeking meaning in their lives and a positive connection to their Jewish roots.
He is the author of the newly released, The Secret Life of G-d, and Endless Light: The Ancient Path of Kabbalah to Love, Spiritual Growth and Personal Power , Seeing G-d and Love is my religion. (Click on links to purchase books. Sales help fund JWR.) He lives in the old City of Jerusalem with his wife and their seven children.
© 2005, Rabbi David Aaron