The Ancient Greeks’ metaphor for a person traveling through history was that of a rowboat upon the river of time. The bow of the boat is headed in the direction of the future but the rower faces the stern, able to see only the past, as she pulls, in the present moment, into the unseen future. This strikes me as a picture just as vivid today in the Western world as it was to the Ancient Greeks. As I find myself gravitating more towards meditation and Kabbalah as resonant expressions of spirituality, I perceive the nature of the miraculous in Judaism as that of being pulled invisibly, as if by a soul magnet, into an already certain future, leaving behind encumbrances and facts of the past.
I once embarked upon a “Reverse History” tour that took me from the US to Germany, Tuscany and Rome, Greece, Israel, and across the Sinai to Egypt. One of the most striking aspects of the journey was the realization that at all the sites save one, there were crowds of tourists from all over the world, paying homage by posing for photos, buying souvenirs and generally having a good time doing what tourists do. Yet there was no one at the Foro Romano praying to the Roman gods. Nor were there any prayers being uttered to the pantheon of Greek gods atop the Acropolis. Again, at the Pyramids, no one worshiping the gods of Egyptian antiquity. Only at the Western Wall was there sincere and devout prayer to the God associated with that ancient Temple. I may take issue with a great many details of how the devout there worship and attempt to allow or prohibit others from engaging in sincere worship in that space but I cannot take issue with the fact that they are engaging in an expression of reverence that has stood the test of time in that place in a way other forms of religious expression have failed.
I have friends involved in the search for the “God particle,” the Higgs Boson. One of them is an atheist of Jewish parents and finds the data he helps uncover supportive of his position that there is no God. Another is an active Conservative Jew who relates the Parsha on any given week to his work and the great scientific strides we’ve made in recent years. It’s all Relative. It’s all a matter of point of view. The levels of energy required for this research are the stuff of science fiction as recently as 50 years ago and the stuff of madness in the physics of just 100 years ago. Yet contemporary physics has confirmed that there is far less matter in the universe than we like to think and that the position of any bit of matter is actually quite random and subject to extraordinary possibilities at any given moment. Moreover, all that matter is illusory. Ultimately, it’s all energy. It’s all Light.
All these things come to mind as I approach Hanukkah. When the Dalai Lama enquired of some Jewish leaders how it is that we have survived exile, he was paying respect to a singularity of our experience. While it seems that many other peoples and belief systems are subject to the forces of history, we seem to be oriented in a place of inevitability in a just, peaceful and Light-filled future. Spiritually we stand (or perhaps “sit”) in that future and envision how it is we should go about dragging our physical selves into that reality. Historical forces come and go, as do the empires they spawn. Yet these eras are ultimately illusory and have only the power to create detours and delays on the path to an inevitable and seemingly miraculous future. Perhaps this is the true nature of our “chosen-ness,” that in every generation we recognize those things that need doing in the world which confronts us. We are taught not just to seek peace but to *pursue* it. We embrace opportunities to perform Tikkun. The Temple is desecrated and yet we triumph and rededicate it. There is only enough oil, physical matter, to light the lamp for a day. Yet rather than bemoan that fact, we light the lamp and, miraculously, it lasts eight days. Historical circumstances may be factual and yet not quite “true.” Hanukkah presents us the opportunity to put physical reality aside and to focus on being able to see the Light, perhaps to be filled with the Light, perhaps even to be the Light.
Originally from Poland, Daniel Winter is putting down roots in the US and the Director of Sales for The Wordsmithy. http://www.whyshouldicareontheweb.com/
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