The edgy, the radical, the mystical

This weekend I went back and slowly reread the first chapter of Paul Philip Levertoff

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47 Responses to The edgy, the radical, the mystical

  1. Great stuff, Derek. Couple of quick thoughts… In regard to a rabbinic text in which speaks of loving Hashem without reward, the words of Antiginos of Soho are the quintessential depiction of this:

    Do not be as slaves, who serve their master for the sake of reward. Rather, be as slaves who serve their master not for the sake of reward. And the fear of Heaven should be upon you. –Avot 1:3

    The Master has a similar teaching:

    Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty. –Luke 17:7-10

    It seems it is ingrained within us to want some kind of payoff for merely doing what is expected of us.
    I also have to admit that I need to take time and read people like Augustine, Bernard and Kempis. Just as you have had a previous aversion to kabbalistic works, I’ve been on the opposite side of the camp with a disdain for such works of church fathers and theologians. I think I’m finally coming into the balanced swing where I can appreciate their insights and understanding. And blog posts such as yours are some breaking down some of the obstacles that have kept me from them.
    Thanks for sharing. Keep up the great work.

  2. Joseph says:

    Nicely written Derek, lots of things to think about!

  3. Carl says:

    First, I too can embrace the concept of tzim-tzum as it concerns creation. It stands to reason that the God of Infinite Power had to restrain that power in some way in order for anything else to exist. If you track the ideas of good and evil through kabbalah, you find that evil is ultimately an illusion because only God can exist. So, God’s contraction created the illusion of evil. Hmmm.

    Second, the kabbalistic usage of tikkun olam does not involve direct action to repair the world. The world is repaired simply by the doing of mitzvot (when we wave the lulav, avoid eating trief, etc.), the world AND GOD (!) are repaired. The contemporary Jewish usage involves direct action, which is very different. I like it.

    Third, you wrote that you are “drawn to the notion of supra-rational ways of knowing the inner being of God. . .” I doubt there have been many, if any, sages (including kabbalists) who claim that the “inner being of God” can be known in any way. Something was lost, or added, in translation!?

    “If you want to appreciate the greatness of the One who spoke and the world came into being, study the aggadah, for through it you will get to know Him and cling to His ways” (Sifrei, Eikev 49)

  4. Carl:

    Thanks. Looking forward to spending an intensive week under your tutelage again at the MJTI summer course in L.A. Eichah Rabbah, here we come!

    By knowing the inner being of God supra-rationally, what I mean is that we can know something of him by doing mitzvot, through devekut, etc., but not that we can know him rationally. It’s an intuitive-relational knowledge. This, I feel confident, is an idea in Christian mysticism and I think also in Jewish.


  5. Carl :
    Second, the kabbalistic usage of tikkun olam does not involve direct action to repair the world. The world is repaired simply by the doing of mitzvot (when we wave the lulav, avoid eating trief, etc.), the world AND GOD (!) are repaired. The contemporary Jewish usage involves direct action, which is very different. I like it.

    Great point–I too have noticed this usage difference and appreciate the contemporary Jewish usage. However, in Hasidic sources I’ve heard, the word tikkun, instead of being translated “to repair” or “to restore,” is translated using a more technical phrase: “to make a rectification.” The idea that the faithfulness of a truly righteous person, particularly through suffering, can make a rectification of a cosmic breach, resonates with our Messianic theology, IMO.


  6. Carl says:

    Yahnatan: Now there’s a nice little topic for discussion!

    On the surface, many Chassidic ideas are similar to ours. In my experience, when I dig a little deeper, I often find unpleasant surprises. For example, when I was checking out a few references in about God’s love in Chassidic sources, I discovered that the passages refer to God’s love only for Jews, not for humanity. Non-Jews are said to have animal souls. (I’m not sure if I retained those references, but anyone can duplicate the research.) This sort of discovery has made me very cautious about Chassidism.

    • Joseph says:

      Oh okay fair enough Carl, you differentiate, which answers my concern in the above comment about reincarnation.

      Still, aren’t we picking and choosing from Hasidism what we already believe according to Yeshua’s teaching?

    • “Non-Jews are said to have animal souls. ”

      Carl, could this simply be a reference to their sinful / idolatrous state (from Jewish point of view), the evil (animalistic) inclination that rules idolators, than a racial statement (obviously, converts to Judaism were not considered to have “animal souls”?

      For example, even in Brit Hadasha we have the following:

      “Yet these men speak abusively against whatever they do not understand; and what things they do understand by INSTINCT, like UNREASONING ANIMALS — these are the very things that destroy them.” (Jude 1-10)

      • Joseph says:

        But isn’t this all true of Jews too? Why would Gentiles have animal souls and not Jews?

      • Carl says:


        I wish I had the time to find my original source, but the first chapter of the Tanya [the founding text of Chabad] expresses similar thoughts: the souls of Gentiles arise only from “unclean kelipot” and are capable only of self-interest, while Jews have souls arising from “shining kelipot, capable of both good and evil. The Hebrew and Chabad’s official translation of the entire passage can be found here:

        I’m not claiming that this is racist.

        I want to add that I am not anti-Chassidic. I am personally drawn to certain aspects of Chassidic spirituality. But I have read too much Tanya and other sources to be anything but cautious about adopting Chassidic notions uncritically.

      • Thanks, Carl… I’ll have to take a closer look at Tanya.

        From your studies, how is this Chassidic view of Gentile compare in harshness to the Jewish religious attitudes towards Gentiles in the first century and just prior? It seems that, just by analyzing various statements in NT, Gentiles were generalized as inherently sinful by nature, with harsh language often employed to describe them in comparison to Jews, for example:

        “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners'” (Galatians 2:15)

        And then there are whole paragraphs in NT generalizing Gentiles as sinful, such as Eph.4:17- 19.

        It seems that Chassidism is being consistent with pre-Yeshua Jewish attitude toward non-Jews and even some post-Yeshua attitude of Jewish believers (like Paul) toward “unconverted” heathensl, saying things that would sound scandalous today if published by, say, Chabad. Of course, I am sure that a good chunk of their view of Gentiles was colored by pogroms.

      • Gene – I’m in total agreement with you. Just think about Peter’s words to Cornelius in Acts 10:

        You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection.

        It’s evident that pre-Yeshua Jewish attitudes toward non-Jews was very disfavorable. And this is due to many things.

        I believe there were the normal factors, such as anti-Semitism, which they had felt strongly throughout the ages. But then they had to factor in the purity laws, since they were a people living in a Temple context.

        I believe Peter’s concerns here are purity-based, as we can infer from his words. If a Jew were to visit a non-Jew in his home it was almost improbable that he would come into contact with something tamei (unclean) that would ritually defile him.

        I believe the Mishna also records that the spittle of a non-Jew would render one unclean, which is a big problem for close conversation or even personal contact. Lots of factors to weigh in on this general attitude towards non-Jews that would have been unconsciously ingrained into a people.

      • Carl says:


        You make some very valid points. The Chassic and Messianic perspectives, whatever their similarities, differ in several significant ways. E.g.,

        1. The Tanya,ch. 1 represents the ultimate theological stance toward Jew and Gentile. The passages you mention do not represent the ultimate theological framework of the Brit Hadashah. In other words. . .

        2. (Based on passages such as Romans 1 &2 with Tanya, Ch. 1, it seems that, in admittedly simplistic terms,) for the Brit Hadashah the main distinction in humanity is between the righteous and the unrighteous, for Chassidut the main distinction is between Jew and Gentile. (Jews are then broken down into righteous, in-betweeen, and unrighteous; but even the unrighteous are better off than Gentiles).

        3. In the Brit Hadashaha, the solution to unrighteousness is t’shuva. In Chassidut, the solution for Jewish unrighteousness is t’shuva; the solution to being a Gentile is to become a Jew.

        I use that phrase “BEING a Gentile” very intentionally — the Gentile is has an ontological problem (that is, his very being is irreparably defective; he needs to obtain a Jewish soul to escape being a Gentile), while the Jew does not.

  7. Carl – while I can’t say I necessarily agree with the chasidic concept of the soul of a Jew vs the soul of a non-Jew, the statement that non-Jews have “animal souls” is probably not the best translation, as it is a more literal one. The Tanya speaks to this, and their is some good audio out there explaining what is meant by it.

    Joseph – I don’t know that it’s the “copying” of chasidus that we’re after, as much as looking at the teachings of Yeshua & his talmidim through a new filter we’ve never really seen before and exploring them from a new perspective in order to gain new insights.

    • Joseph says:

      I am interested, Darren, I’m thinking aloud though 🙂

      I find the idea of tikkun gets in the way of understanding Yeshua’s teachings.

      It’s one thing to explain to a Hasidic Jew that the forgiveness and atonement which Messianic Jews experience through Yeshua is similar to the Hasidic concept of tikkun and the tzaddiq.

      It’s another thing altogether to say that these Hasidic concepts have any theological merit for believers in Yeshua, or that they express spiritual and cosmological ideas in a clearer way than Paul or the prophets do.

      • I understand. But for me, personally, it really helps to begin to understand some concepts regarding salvation, etc. which have always been elusive to me, and in fact actually not made any sense. Studying the concepts of chasidus has actually brought illumination to the underpinnings of our faith in the Master and the nuts and bolts (per se) of how it all fits together. To me it’s only increased my faith and made me fall in love with our Master in a time where my love was waning due to my questions which would continually be unanswered, and therefore unreconciled. I really see tikkun (both concepts) as a major component of Yeshua’s kingdom message of repentance.

      • Joseph says:

        That makes sense, thanks.

    • Joseph says:

      Fair point actually.

    • Joseph says:

      Using teachers to lead us to Yeshua, fine. But when we read theologians and teachers more than we read the Word of God itself – I think that can lead to problems. I like keeping things simple, cleave to God’s word and you can’t go wrong!

      • I really wish I could agree with you on this. However, sola scriptura doesn’t work that well with translations of Scripture, and even when we may understand the original Hebrew or Greek, we have to have a context. And while the Jewish people are not the final authority on Scripture (as many have debated), they are definitely the context that help us to understand it.

      • “I like keeping things simple, cleave to God’s word and you can’t go wrong!”

        I wish it were that simple, Joseph. For example, in 1 Timothy 2:15 it says: “But women will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.”

        Say what, Paul?

        That is to say, some things in the Bible are not so clear-cut to understand and are very easy to misinterpret to mean what we want them to mean. You and I, we hold different positions on many subjects – how did we arrive at our convictions reading the same Word of G-d? I can tell you one thing – I read the Bible more than I read the teachers.

      • Joseph says:

        They can be, but the post-Sabbatean anti-Litvish spiritual movement within Judaism as discussed by 18th century Polish rabbis is hardly “context”.

      • Joseph says:

        I can tell you one thing

    • Joseph says:

      Why is it that Jews are born into a covenant, and non-Jews are not?

      This is why (Deuteronomy 7:7-9):

      7The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples,

      8but because the LORD loved you and kept the (B)oath which He swore to your forefathers, (C)the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

      9″Know therefore that the LORD your God, (D)He is God, (E)the faithful God, (F)who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who (G)love Him and keep His commandments;

      In any case, Gentiles DO NOT have animal souls!

  8. you guys are going to have to continue without me. i’ve spent more time on this today than i’ve spent on any kind of blogging or responses in the last 6 months. Gotta make the donuts… 😉

  9. Joseph:

    Here is a big point I want to make. You say it is a problem when people quote too much Calvin or Baal Shem Tov and not enough scripture. We should just read scripture.

    Problem: scripture is not a complete book about how to live and what to believe. It requires interpreting. Interpreting works best when we build on what others have done instead all inventing the wheel.

    I know many people think they are scripture purists. If they examine their beliefs carefully, they derive many ideas from other sources. By they I mean all of us, including you.

    Sola scriptura was always an exaggeration. The Reformers were no more sola scriptura than the Roman Church of their day. None of us can be sola scriptura.

    It’s a little like admitting that all our knowledge is tentative and subject to missing the mark.

    Scripture itself speaks of tradition, community, teachers, etc.


    • Joseph says:

      I’m listening. I do agree in a broad sense, and I wouldn’t describe myself as a fundamentalist.

      I know many people think they are scripture purists. If they examine their beliefs carefully, they derive many ideas from other sources. By they I mean all of us, including you.

      Could you give a specific example which we could discuss perhaps?

      Scripture itself speaks of tradition, community, teachers, etc.

      Okay but how then do we choose which teachers we should and shouldn’t listen to?

  10. Joseph:

    Any theological/Biblical topic at all is colored in our understanding by cultural factors, personal history, teachers, etc.

    Here’s an easy one: salvation. What does it mean? How does the Bible use the term? Who is in and who is out? Your thoughts and mine are bounced off of a thousand influences on this topic. Some we resist, others we naively submit to, and others we hold off as a mystery.


    • Joseph says:

      I think people can help make it clearer – even Peter admits Paul’s writing is tricky to understand. I don’t pretend to fully understand all the intricacies of salvation, I am clear that salvation = Yeshua, and if you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Yeshua is Lord, you will be saved. Of course there are unanswered questions, and people who can help us, and I’ll appreciate any teacher who can do so, but I’d still rather discuss the New Testament itself rather than what religious leaders say about it.

    • Joseph says:

      I wouldn’t extrapolate from that that Yeshua literally considered Gentiles as dogs, but Yeshua knew how she’d respond, and asked the appropriate question. On the flip side, there’s the story of the Good Samaritan, and the Roman centurion to whom Yeshua said “truly I have not found such faith in all Israel.”

      Anyway, Gene, you don’t think Gentiles have animal souls do you? Why are you arguing against me on this one?

  11. Joseph says:

    To be fair I think the “animal soul” is actually a concept common to Jews and Gentiles alike in mainstream Hasidic literature, and it’s something one can escape:

  12. rightrudder says:

    Great post Derek,
    I am with you on Kabbalah, people on my side of the fence try to shun it like it is a mystical occult practice, but from what I have seen it is about people trying to dig deeper and deeper. Some people have dug in wrong places, but that is expected.

    First off, Gerals Schroder wrote a book titled “The Science of God.” He references Nahmanides and the Bible in an attempt to repair separation between church and science. Great book if your into nerdy things, like I am. Also there is Kabbalah Toons for children – but good for me too.

    Learning about Tikkun Olam through SOI and my own studies has changed the way I see the bible. I am astonished that the baptist and presbyterian churches I grew up in did not teach this since the NT is littered with this idea. But setting my mark at repairing the world has brought me to understand many passages in Ecclesiastes that I had trouble with IE:… do not be too wise, do not act too righteous, do not be too wicked and do not be a fool…It is good that you should take hold of one without letting go of the other. That is the imagery of grabbing at God and the world to pull them together. We are to repair the world.
    It is funny this argument between people like Bono and the fundamentalist christians. All the fundamentalist want to do is “perish in riotousness” where Bono asks them to get up off your knees and repair the world. The imagery of people on their knees praying to God, meanwhile God is on his knees begging us to do it. Jesus told Peter to keep his flock for a reason. We are to intervene in the name of Yeshua. It is funny how people like the Kabbalist, and even the Hindu Ghandi caught on to this but too many fundamentalist christians don’t have a clue. Religion to me boils down to James 1:26-27.
    Here is a link to the U2 song Please:

    If there are some good books on Tikkun Olam let me know. I am very interested.

  13. There are beautiful thoughts in kabbalah. Didn’t read the comments, but just want to say that issues like more persons in one G-d are familiar in Kabbalah. (Trinity is kabbalistic 😉

    And you say: “The idea of emanations or lower forms of his [G-ds] glory being present with us and among us is also true.” Yes, and not a lower form, but the full glory of G-d is in Yeshua.


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