Once Upon a Shutdown…

Store closed sign

The American government shutdown that welcomed 2019 into the world brings to the front my of mind a stark reminder: the temporary and the eternal.

What is temporary? What is eternal? In simplistic terms, temporary is that which expires, ends, ceases, leaves existence. It has an end. It is finite. Eternal is the opposite: transcending the physical boundaries of a finite existence. Within Kabbalah, HaShem is actually referred to as Ayn Sof, which translates to “that which has no end.” Eternal does not apply to any physical thing, since all things expend energy and wear away eventually.

As a result, the eternal can only apply to what is incorporeal. The lack of physicality, in its very nature, this “nothingness,” as Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan words it, is the essence of what we call G-d. This tells me many things. Since I am physical, I am temporary. I am also not G-d. I can also say the same of any and every other human being, since every human has shared the attribute of corporeality and the laws of physics prohibit something physical becoming imphysical (or something corporeal evolving or transcending into something incorporeal). This has many implications: the President isn’t a deity to be worshipped (sorry, Donald…), the Buddha was never a deity (sorry, Eastern Spirituality), and Jesus was never a deity (sorry, Christians…). This is from a scientific and Kabbalistic perspective.

Quick sidebar for the Christian audience: there is much to be discussed regarding who Jesus was and what he did. I agree with that and intend for future posts to further discuss this and flesh out the nuanced component of who Jesus historically really was. There are theological options to, but that’s for another time as well.

There’s something quite fascinating with all this, however. Nearly every faith tradition, and my focus being Jewish tradition here, attests that there is a part of us that does have permanence. How does that work? The Sages posit that there are three parts to the human soul: nefesh, ruach, and neshama. These three levels, simplistically, are body, mind, and essence. The essence of who we are is not our mind, since we can describe and envision our mind. The root of our essence is something that we cannot envision or describe, which according to Rabbi Kaplan is nothingness itself. This is what separates us from the animal kingdom – where animals may have a form of a soul and emotion, etcetera, they do not have what is called the “image of G-d,” the likeness in which He created us: the creative essence. Humans can spark a creative imagination beyond the limits of this world. In this, we are not like G-d, but since there is nothingness to nothingness, we are rather part of G-d.

When HaShem breathed life into Adam, He breathed in the creative essence, the creative nothingness, that permits us to exist in both the physical and spiritual worlds. As such, what we do has repercussions (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction), but these repercussions are both physical and spiritual.

So, temporary and eternal. This world is temporary. This government is temporary. We don’t need to place our hope there. But a good chunk of us is temporary to and needs to rely on these temporary constructs. HaShem is eternal. What is it come is eternal (in a sense). So shouldn’t we keep our focus there?

We need to place our trust in HaShem but also be smart in how we live our lives. We need harmony. To be all here and now and never preparing for what’s next is shortsighted and sets us up for long-term failure. To be all focused on the future and never present or mindful is ignorant and sets us up for immediate failure.

The Jewish walk, as well as that of the non-Jew, is to find harmony between the physical and the spiritual and balance both worlds. We need to live in-between the realms. That’s actually one of the importance concepts behind mitzvoth and davening: they are inherently spiritual acts that require specific physical involvement.