by Marc Gafni
The following excerpts are Chapters 6 and 7 from a forthcoming book by Marc Gafni, Levels of Consciousness in the Torah of Mordechai Lainer of Izbica: A Model of Integral Scholarship. In Chapter 6, we will outline in broad strokes the defining features of acosmic humanism. In Chapter 7, each of these features will be subject to a closer conceptual and textual analysis.
First Major Theme: Acosmism and Uniqueness
The first feature of acosmic humanism is the central theme of radical individualism that runs throughout MHs which we have already analyzed in detail. Lainer’s theory of unique individuality, and thus of individual dignity, is fully rooted in his acosmism. In Lainer’s words, if any individual is lost then ‘צורת המלך tzurat ha-melekh (the form of the King) is lacking…for all of Israel are a helek of God’. Each individual is possessed of ‘hitnasut’, a princely or exalted ontological status, each is חשוב בעיני הש”י ‘hashuv be’einei Ha-shem’ (important ontologically in God’s eyes) and מדוגל ‘medugal’ (distinctive, a special expression of the divine). This is in distinct contrast to the often impersonal nature of unio mystica (the state of being in which a person realizes their supreme identity with the Godhead).
Second Major Theme: Empowering Acosmism
The second major expression of Lainer’s acosmic humanism is its distinctively empowering nature. This is expressed in his notion of תקופות tekufot (personal audacity and determination), which, as we have already noted, is a defining characteristic of the enlightened person.
Third Major Theme: Affirmation of Human Activism
A major corollary of the empowering tekufot dimension of Lainer’s acosmic humanism lies in his affirmation of human activism. Here the essential paradox of Lainer’s theology affirms that once a person has achieved full berur, human action does not become irrelevant (as Weiss suggested). Rather, the notion of human action independent of God becomes absurd. The result, however, is not an effacing of human dignity and activism, but rather radical human empowerment through the realization of the ontic identity between human and divine action. In this reading, post-berur human activism is radically affirmed as one attains one’s full power in the realization of one’s ontic identity with the divine. The individual’s action and divine action are identical.
Fourth Major Theme: The Ontic Identity of Name and Will
The fourth major theme expressing Lainer’s acosmic humanism is the identification he assumes in many passages between the name of God and the name of the human. This is how we read-against the implicit assumption of virtually all previous scholarship-Lainer’s common refrain that human actions are ‘called by the name of man’. This is not, as has been assumed, a kind divine consolation prize to the human whose actions in fact have no ontological efficacy, but rather a veiled expression of his true position: that the name of God and the name of the human are, on some level, identical. This theme is grounded in the centrality of ratzon in Lainer’s theology, and on the identity of wills as a primary manifestation of the ontic identity between human and God.
Fifth Major Theme: The Ontological Dignity of Desire
The fifth major expression of Lainer’s acosmic humanism is his affirmation of the ontological dignity of teshukah (inner experience or stirring of human desire). In contradistinction to other contemporaneous major strains of Jewish thought, Lainer affirms that the experience of teshukah-after the clarification effected by berur to insure that the teshukah is an expression of omek ‘depth’ and not merely gavan ‘surface or superficial’ teshukah-is a primary mediator of divine revelation.
Sixth Major Theme: Lema’alah Mida’ato (The Suprarational)
The sixth expression of Lainer’s acosmic humanism, having a distinctly European Romantic cast, is his affirmation of the state of receptivity beyond normal awareness, which he terms lema’alah mida’ato (the suprarational), as a primary mediator of divine revelation. The God voice speaks through the human being, especially when the person transcends the confines of reason and thought. Lainer, however, is profoundly aware of the danger inherent within this Romantic agenda, which dominated the Zeitgeist of his age. Therefore, Lainer tempers his affirmation with an insistence that one cannot rely on the authenticity of the God voice unless one has first successfully completed a process of berur. While, as we shall see, lema’alah mida’ato has important antecedents in Habad literature, Lainer radicalizes it and brings it to antinomian conclusions that are explicitly rejected by the Habad masters.
Seventh Major Theme: The Human Being as a Source of Revelation
The seventh expression of Lainer’s acosmic humanism is his assertion, already noted, of the human being per se as the source of divine revelation that may override earlier divine revelations including that of Sinai. Lainer’s operating assumption is that the divine nature of revelation is precisely what makes it not eternal, but rather subject to change at any time. The old revelations were addressed to a different time and place and what remains of them is only their formulaic expression in the legal codes. These legal codes are nonetheless critical, for as we shall see, it is paradoxically the norms of mitzvah contained in them that effect the necessary berur to enable one to access the unmediated divine revelation. Lainer affirms that the human being can be trusted to hear the voice of revelation through the agency of human will. This theme is also based on the identity of wills between human and God.
Eighth Major Theme: The Judah Archetype and the Democratization of Enlightenment
The eighth expression of Lainer’s acosmic humanism is his democratization of the concept of enlightenment. While for some earlier Hasidic masters and older kabbalists, the tzadik alone was identical with God, Lainer transfers the Hasidic apotheosis of the tzadik, rooted in ancient Hebrew mystical texts, to-in theory-every individual. In effect, Lainer can be viewed as one of the latest expressions of the old Hebrew tradition of apotheosis. In Lainer’s nomenclature, every individual, at least at some point in their spiritual path, participates in what we have termed the Judah archetype, whose primary characteristics are tekufot (personal audacity and determination), and hitpashtut (a sense of expansiveness, both in consciousness and in action).
Many other minor motifs in Lainer’s thought express his acosmic humanism. These include his affirmation of the legitimacy of תרעומת tiromet, his affirmation of the central importance of risk and uncertainty as core characteristics of his ideal religious archetype, the nature of תשובה teshuvah ‘repentance’, and the paradoxical nature of sin. All of these are corollaries of his central intuition: his highly paradoxical acosmic humanism.
Texts of Acosmic Humanism
In this Chapter, we study some of the representative passages capturing the theology of acosmic humanism in Lainer’s thought. First, we will examine his acosmism itself, adducing and analyzing some of the key sources in MHs that discuss unity consciousness. Second, we will adduce and analyze clusters of texts related to the humanistic corollaries of acosmism that we outlined in the previous Chapter.
One: Acosmism, Unity Consciousness, and Redemption
The essential metaphysical unity of reality is a recurring theme in MHs. The realization of unity consciousness is defined by Lainer as redemption; the failure to achieve unity consciousness is exile. Lainer is also aware of the erotic quality of unity consciousness. A veritable mantra in MHs for unity consciousness is the eros-laden text from the Song of Songs תוכו רצוף אהבה tokho ratzuf ahavah ‘its inside is lined with love’ (Cant. 3:10). Lainer uses this verse often to signal the ontic identity between God and Israel. In one passage, Lainer states: ‘Israel are attached in their souls to God, for “its inside is lined with love” ‘. The phrase ‘Israel are attached to God’ is a virtual synonym in MHs for the ontic unity between human and God which is the essence of unity consciousness. In another example, Lainer says that the verse means that ‘ “inside” the heart of Israel “it is lined with love” ‘ Therefore, explains Lainer, even if an action was not fully clarified, God testifies in reference to that action that it is as if it had been fully clarified.
For Lainer, redemption is a natural function of the essential ontic union between human and God, expressed in the old kabbalistic dictum, ‘Anyone who breathes, breathes from himself’-which in the kabbalistic tradition means that God’s act of creation imbued divinity into human beings. Interpreting the verse ‘You will be holy, for I am holy’ (Lev. 19:2) in this light, Lainer suggests that redemption is part of the natural order of things because of the ontic identity of God and Israel. ‘You will be holy’ is a promise rather than an instruction, rooted in the divine law of nature. Hence, according to Lainer, the efficacy of the divine redemptive promise is rooted in acosmism.
The Experience of Interconnectivity
A key feature of union is the experience of interconnectivity of the discrete individual with the all. MHs understands the Zohar’s comment that Noah did not ask for mercy for his generation after being informed by God of the impending flood as indicating that Noah was deficient in his desire for union. After the flood:
נתן הקב”ה בלב כל הברואים שירצו באחדות
God places in the heart of all creatures the desire for [the consciousness of] union.
The consciousness of union is expressed according to Lainer in the same passage, as follows:
אברהם שביקש על סדום, ומשה אף שאמר לו הקב”ה ואעשך לגוי גדול אמר מחני נא
Abraham who prays for Sodom, and Moses, who despite God’s promise of ‘I will make you a great nation’, says, ‘Erase me from your book’ (Ex. 32:32).
According to Lainer, the desire for union is built into the very fabric of the cosmos. Based on a passage in the Zohar, Lainer terms this תיאובתא דנוקבא tei’uvta denukva (the passionate yearning of the feminine for union). ‘Everything yearns towards its root’, explains Lainer. This has normative implications. One can apprehend the divine will by going back to one’s root, for one ‘reaches naturally for the divine will even when it is beyond his reason’.
Acosmism and Mikdash (The Jerusalem Temple)
In another passage, Lainer explains that as a result of interconnectivity, which is the defining characteristic of union, יהיה שוכן אצלם רצונו ית’ בהתגלות מפורש לעיני כל ‘the will of God dwells in them in explicit revelation for all’. This passage describes the Temple in Jerusalem, which is a primary symbol of unity consciousness throughout MHs. In particular, the incense is understood by Lainer, following the Zohar, as a symbol of unity consciousness:קטורת רומז שיש חיבור והתקשרות…וכל נפשות ישראל מתאחדים ועל ידי זה נתאחד כל הבריאה ‘The incense alludes to hibur (joining) and hitkashrut (connectedness)…All the souls of Israel are in union, and, through this, all of creation is in union…’
The incense expresses an important corollary of union to which we will return in our discussion below, namely, the reality of God הוא תוך כל המעשים שנעשו מבריאת העולם ועד סופו ‘who is within every action from the beginning of creation until its end’. Or, in another passage:
שבמקום המקדש…שהוא מורה לישראל שאין שום הויה בעולם רק השי”ת לבדו… וכדאיתא במדרש (רבה בראשית ג:י) ויהי ערב ויהי בקר יום אחד זה יום הכפורים
…the place of the Temple… teaches Israel that there is no havayah (existence) in the world except God alone…as it says in the Midrash: ‘”There was evening and there was morning yom ehad: one day”-this is Yom Kippur’.
According to Lainer’s reading of the midrash, the choice of the word ehad indicates union, in contrast to the word ראשון rishon ‘first’, which would have been more natural to the text. Ehad alludes to Yom Kippur, whose essence is union. Yom Kippur, the ultimate and paradigmatic Temple ritual, corrects the false imagining of a person that they ‘have any power of existence outside of God’. Rather, as Lainer states in many passages, the person is literally a ‘part of God’. The key word is helek, ‘a part of’. The essential nature of all of reality, including the person, is ‘partness’. In other words, the person, and all of reality, participates in God.
The prooftext for this, cited repeatedly by Lainer in reference to the individual’s participation in divinity, is כי חלק ה’ עמו ki helek Ha-shem amo. This is read by Lainer literally to mean, ‘His nation are a part of him’. This refers to participation mystique; the person exists not merely in relation to God. Rather, the person actually participates in God.
For Lainer, of course, the Temple means not only the Temple in Jerusalem but the ‘deep point of the heart’ which is the human realization of unity consciousness.
Much of ritual is explained by Lainer as a method of recovering consciousness of the participation mystique, which is an essential goal of religious service. Circumcision, for example, is explained by Lainer as שיהיה גם בהגוף רשימה שהוא לחלקו של השי”ת ‘a sign also in the body that the individual is actually a part of (i.e., participates in) God’. In a highly typical passage, Lainer states that the source of the concept of participation mystique is an old kabbalistic tradition. Lainer comments on the Talmudic text that suggests two different formulations upon seeing a sage: the first upon seeing a Jewish sage and the second upon seeing a gentile sage.
Before discussing Lainer’s argument, it is important to note that according to Lainer, Jewish birth is synonymous with the metaphysical reality of ontic participation in the divine. Thus, according to Lainer, to be Jewish is to be ‘part of’, literally, to participate in God. Therefore, he explains that when seeing a Jewish sage the blessing is אשר חלק asher halak, ‘who gave part (apportioned) of his wisdom to flesh and blood’. In contrast, upon seeing a gentile sage, the language is not halak but rather נתן natan, meaning who ‘gave’ his wisdom. The difference is crucial. The word halak comes from the same root as helek ‘part’, ח.ל.ק., h.l.k. This is the root used by Lainer to describe the acosmism which informs the realization of participation mystique as the essential religious service. ‘The non-Jewish sage receives wisdom from God but is separated from divinity’. In the gentile sage scenario, the wisdom, ‘is separated from God’s domain completely’ as opposed to the Jewish sage’s acosmic reality about which is written, ‘God, Torah, and Israel are one’. What this means, according to Lainer, is that the human being substantively participates both in Torah and in God, which are essentially identical. ‘The language of חלק h.l.k. means that in truth, he and his חכמה hokhmah are attached to God כי חלק ה’ עמו יעקב חבל נחלתו ‘for Jacob is the helek of God’ (Deut. 32:9). This is, of course, somewhat reminiscent of the intellectual unio mystica suggested by Abulafia.
Two: The Reality of Love in Lainer’s Theology
Lainer’s acosmism emerges out of his conception and experience of a reality suffused with divine love. The dominant motif in Lainer’s conception of the divine is neither Spinoza’s cold and impersonal dei natura, nor even Abulafia’s intellectual mysticism. Reality for Lainer is not impersonal; it is, rather, a vitally alive acosmic divinity coursing through all of being. God is תוך כל המעשים tokh kol ha-ma’asim, animating all of reality. According to Lainer, when a prophet eavesdrops on God’s internal conversation, it is found to be entirely about God’s love for Israel. In turn, the human being’s love of God is the portal through which an individual accesses the ultimate oneness of the acosmic reality of divinity. Lainer states regarding the biblical phraseכל קדושיו בידך ‘All of his holy ones are in your hands’ (Deut. 33:3):
הוא לשון נוכח היינו העושים מאהבה הם ביד הש”י ולנגדם מפורש הנוכח
This is the language of unmediated presence, that is to say, those who act from love are in the hand of God, and directly before them this presence is made explicit.
In particular, the unmediated divine will is accessed though love, i.e., a perception of the acosmic nature of reality:
‘והישר בעיניו תעשה’. ישר מורה שתעשה פקודתו באהבה וחיבה, ותבין לכוון עומק דעתו ית’ לעשות יותר ממה שנצטווית…לפנים משורת הדין
‘Do that which is yashar straight in His eyes’-yashar teaches that you should fulfill His assignment with great love, and understand how to intend His deepest consciousness…beyond the letter of the law.
To ‘intend God’s will’ according to Lainer, means specifically to intend the unmediated will of God as it is incarnated in the human will. It is for this reason that David, a central manifestation of the Judah archetype who accesses the unmediated will of God, is associated with love: דהע”ה שנולד במדת אהבה כידוע והיה מדוגל בה ‘King David…was born in love and was distinguished by [love], as is known’. Similarly, Solomon’s ability to intend the unmediated will of God is closely linked to his identification with the quality of love. Also similarly, the quality of tekufot-sacred audacity and determination characteristic in MHs of the empowering acosmism defining Lainer’s Judah archetype-is rooted in love. In all of this, Lainer, at least in part, follows his teacher’s teacher, the Seer of Lublin, who, as Elior has already pointed out, draws a direct line between the love of God and the antinomian impulses of the tzadik. Lainer, as we shall discuss below, extends this idea beyond the tzadik to include every person in potential. Lainer expresses this conception of love in many passages by citing, almost as a mantra, a verse expressing his acosmic view affirming the ontic identity between human and God waiting to be realized: the verse from the Song of Songs which describes the wedding bed (אפריון apiryon) of King Solomon as תוכו רצוף אהבה tokho ratzuf ahavah ‘its inside is lined with love’ (Cant. 3:9-10). Lainer interprets this verse to mean that the inside of all of reality, even where it might appear harsh, is divine love. Inside reality, sin does not exist; all participate in divinity. In choosing this verse as one of his basic prooftexts for acosmism, Lainer seeks to characterize the universe-in contrast to the cold necessity of Spinoza’s dei natura -as being animated by divine love.
For Lainer, as for earlier kabbalists, love is a virtual synonym for ontic unity. In the Zohar, which Lainer is drawing on, apiryon generally refers to the ספירה sefirah of מלכותmalkhut, that is, theשכינה shekhinah. Lainer is in effect saying that the inner nature of reality is shekhinah, whose animating characteristic is love. In fact, Lainer suggests that the wisdom of Solomon-which is virtually identical with intending the ‘depth of the will of God’-is rooted in the order of the world based on the Song of Songs, the great love song of the Hebrew canon. In this passage, the world ordered by love is identified with Solomon and contrasted with a world ordered by law, identified with Moses. Lainer’s preference for the Solomon model is clear. Love is the essential manifestation of the divine acosmic principle. Lainer even teaches that God’s name is love. This is highly significant because, as we shall show below, according to Lainer, the human and divine names at some point converge into one. Living in the presence of this love and being suffused by it is the essential goal of religious service. Redemption itself is simply love revealed.
To recapitulate, the driving force behind the human-divine conjunction of wills is love, both from the perspective of God and from the human perspective. The motivating force of love moves the creative process to unfold from the divine a human being who is part of the Godhead. The motivating force of love also allows human beings to perceive the depth of the divine will. The human love of God is, in effect, a shift in perception in which one steps beyond one’s normal ego and realizes one’s supreme identity with the Godhead.
Three: Shadows of Union and Activism
Lainer goes to great lengths to insist that the acosmic system does not run by blind necessity. The unity of his acosmism remains relational. The opposite model, in which all runs by necessity, is represented by the Tower of Babel and Amalek, which are primary symbols in MHs for the shadow side of union. Lainer terms this אחדות נגד רצונו ahdut neged retzono ‘union against His will’.
The Tower of Babel is perceived as the foil to the beit ha-mikdash, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and the archetype of union. The people of Babel desire (as a function of their consciousness of union) that יראה yirah (fear of God), which symbolizes the religio-ethical consciousness of law, mitzvah, and human struggle, should be natural to them so that they should no longer need עבודה ‘avodah worship, or, in the context of MHs, activism. The first shadow side of union is the undermining of human activism. This negation of the activist posture implicit in mitzvah, law, and human struggle is termed by Lainer אחדות נגד רצונו ahdut neged retzono ‘union that is a violation of the divine will’. The idea that acosmism yields a quietist or anti-activist position in which the human being is fundamentally passive is explicitly rejected by Lainer here and many other passages. This is one of the many affirmations of human activism in MHs which we discuss below. As we shall see, this idea is (in contradistinction to the readings of Weiss, Gellman, and other Izbica scholars) essential to the Lainer’s religious ideal. The second shadow side of union is the implication of a Spinoza-like determinism in which both the basic freedom of divinity and the living intimacy of relationship and prayer to God would be lost. In fact, this type of determinism is attributed to Lainer by much of Izbica scholarship.
In the following passage, Lainer explicitly rejects such a reading. This passage, like the passage adduced above on ‘union against his will’, assumes a foil-like relationship between the Temple and the Tower of Babel:
כי כוונת בית המקדש הוא כדי שיתאחדו שם כל ישראל ביחד כאיש אחד ובלב אחד וע”י זה יהיה שוכן אצלם רצונו ית’ בהתגלות מפורש לעיני כל. כך היה כוונת דור הפלגה נמי לעשות עיר ומגדל, כדי שיתאספו שם יחד ויתאחדו כלם כאחד בלב אחד, וע”י זה האחדות יהיה מוכרח רצונו ית’ לשכון אצלם… היינו שהיו רוציים שזה הרצון שיהיה שוכן בבית המקדש יהיה שוכן אצלם בהכרח. אמנם החילוק הוא שגבי ישראל בבית המקדש היה מקום המקדש גבוה מכל העולם, כדאיתא בגמ’… וזה מורה שישראל מסתכלין תמיד רק לרצונו הפשוט ית’ ואינם רוצים בשום הכרח ח”ו כלל, אבל העיר והמגדל היו בונים בבקעה במקום שהוא נמוך מכל העולם ובארץ שנער שהוא נמוך מכל הארצות וכדאי’ בגמ’…כי כל כוונתם היה בזה הבנין כדי שלא יגיע להם כליון כמו במתי מבול, כי כל חפצם היה ליקח את רצונו ית’ ביד חזקה שיהיה שוכן אצלם למען יהיה להם קיום הויה בהכרח בחוצפא כלפי שמיא, ולכן הראה להם השי”ת הגם שאמת ויציב הדבר שבמקום שהברואים מתאחדים ביחד בלב אחד שוכן ביניהם רצונו ית’, אבל זאת האחדות והחיבור ביחד תלו נמי ברצונו ית’ במקום שחפץ השי”ת לשכון שם הוא מאחד את הלבבות ושוכן ביניהם אבל אין זאת ביד אדם לאחד את הלבבות מהברואים, כי ברצונו ית’ אין שום הכרח ח”ו, לכן האחדות שהם היו עושים נגד רצונו ית’
For the purpose of the Temple was that all of Israel should unify there together…and through this the will of God would dwell in them explicitly and openly. This also was the intention of the generation of the dispersion in making a city and tower…[The difference, however, is that the generation of the Tower of Babel intended] that through their union, God would dwell among them as a matter of necessity… as opposed to Israel, who always look towards the simple will of God, without any desire, God forbid, to force at all…for the entire desire of [the builders of the Tower of Babel] was to take God’s will with a strong hand in order that it would dwell in them so that they would have existence by virtue of necessity, with impudence towards the heavens…for there is not any necessity in the will of God…so their union was against His will.
The builders of Babel were also lacking what Lainer terms in several other passages הכרת הנותן hakarat ha-noten (a recognition and relationship with the Giver, or, a recognition of the good of the giver). As we have mentioned, Lainer’s thought is not based on a blind and impersonal determinism of the Spinozan variety; rather, its basis is relational. Indeed, this relationship, like all of reality, is animated by divine love as indicated by the mantra-like verse he uses to describe his acosmic view: ‘Its inside is lined with love’.
Four: Review and Overview
Just as the core humanistic principles that find expression in Lainer are not unique to him, the idea of substantive identity between God and human is not unique to Lainer. In fact, Lainer (and Abraham Kook, who was highly influenced by him) may represent the latest stage in the great Jewish rabbinic and mystical tradition of apotheosis. This tradition, which affirms the possibility of human transformation and ontic identity with the divine, lies in the conceptual foreground of all of Lainer’s thought. It underlies many concepts, including the ontic identification between God, Torah, and Israel; the blurring and even identification between the name of God and the human name; the tradition of the tzadik, who is sometimes seen as a semi-divine or even divine figure; and the tradition of the erotic merging of the human being and the shekhinah. As we shall discuss in Error! Reference source not found., all of these traditions are echoed and expanded on in MHs.
Lainer’s uniqueness lies neither in his humanism nor in his acosmism. Rather, it lies in his unique combination of the two, which we have termed acosmic humanism. In this combination, the humanism acquires a depth and texture very different from its secular analogues, and the acosmism is stretched one important step beyond the classic traditions of apotheosis that form an essential part of Lainer’s mental furniture.
At this point, we will need to make use of the Zohar’s understanding of apiryon, upon which Lainer draws, and which generally refers to the sefirah of malkhut (that is, the shekhinah) to examine the key features of Lainer’s acosmic humanism.
Before turning to the texts, however a methodological caveat is in order. The strands of thought forming Lainer’s acosmic humanism are interwoven. Often one source contains five or six different strands woven together. For the sake of clarity, however, we will, to the extent possible, treat each strand independently. This will mean that occasionally we will return to an idea several times, not, we hope, in a repetitive way, but rather seeing it from the perspective of a new issue in MHs, which will deepen our grasp of its meaning and resonance in Lainer’s system.
Empowering Acosmism and Tekufot (Personal Audacity and Determination)
It is not the empowering humanistic nature of Lainer’s teachings per se that make his theology unique; rather, it is the fact that this humanism is rooted specifically in Lainer’s acosmism. Hence it is fair to call this empowering quality the first defining characteristic in Lainer’s acosmic humanism.
We will begin our exploration with three representative passages that highlight the empowering nature of Lainer’s version of acosmism. Each one draws on different strands of Lainer’s acosmic weave that will be analyzed more fully below.
1) The overt issue in the first passage is Pharaoh’s question, cited in the Midrash: מי מתקיים על מי אני על אלהי או אלהי עלי ‘Am I on my God or is my God on me?’, to which Pharaoh is answered,אתה על אלהיך ‘You are on your God’. This means, according to Lainer, that Pharaoh’s thoughts and will are his own; however, once he thinks a thought, he receives divine aid towards its fulfillment. However, this is only true of Pharaoh, who is Lainer’s model for non-acosmic thought. Lainer continues:
אבל בישראל אינו כן כי ישראל הם מרכבה לשכינה וכפי רצונו ית’ כן יתנהגו…וכמו אברהם אבינו ע”ה אחר נסיון העשירי, ויצחק ויעקב כשנשלמו…וזה נרמז בגמ’ [שבת ס”ט] המהלך בדרך ואינו יודע מתי שבת רב הונא אמר מונה ששה ימים ומשמר יום אחד, חייא בר רב אומר משמר יום אחד ומונה ששה. כי ששת ימי המעשה הם השתדלות האדם ושבת היינו הסיעתא מהש”י, ורב הונא מדבר באדם שנשלם בכל, שלבו נמשך אחר רצון הש”י אז מותר לו לעשות השתדלות ואח”כ יבקש מהש”י שיגמור בדעתו, אבל בעוד שאין האדם בשלימות אז צריך לקבל עליו עול מלכות שמים קודם כל מעשה, ואם יסכים לו הש”י אז יעשה
But this is not the case for Israel, for Israel are the מרכבה merkavah ‘chariot’ for the shekhinah [a synonym for acosmism in Izbica], and in accordance with God’s will, they take action…This is like Abraham after the tenth test and Isaac and Jacob after they were completed…This is what is alluded to in the Talmud: ‘If one was walking in the desert and did not know when the Sabbath was, R. Huna says, count six days and then keep one day for Sabbath, and Hiya Bar Rav says, keep one day for Sabbath and then count six days’, for ‘the six days of work’ mean hishtadlut human effort [activism] and ‘Sabbath’ means the aid of God. Rav Huna is speaking of a person who is perfected in everything, whose heart is drawn after the will of God. Such a person is thus permitted to act through human effort and then afterwards petition God that God should finish his action. However, a person who is not perfected should accept [upon himself] the yoke of heaven before any action, and if God approves it, then he may act.
According to Lainer, once one has achieved שלימות sheleimut (a level of completeness), one is empowered to act with audacity, knowing that both one’s thought and action are a manifestation of divine will. Israel acts in this context: when they have a thought, they can assume that it is a direct expression of the will of God. Being the chariot to the shekhinah expresses some level of human-divine merger and identity. The human is empowered to act even before accepting the yoke of divine kingship because the acosmic matrix ensures the divinity and therefore value and dignity of human action.
It is worth noting as well that in the beginning of the passage, Lainer refers to the possibility of one being a chariot to the shekhinah as limited to theעתיד ‘atid, the eschaton, while in the second half of the passage it becomes a genuine option in the pre-eschaton reality for one who has lost their way in the desert and needs to determine when to observe the shabbat.
2) In our second passage, Lainer writes that divine will includes not only specific deeds that God wants from the human, but alsoשרצון הש”י הוא שיתפשט קדושתו ועבודתו בלבות ישראל, עד שיתפשט גם על קנינים השייכים להאדם שלא יוכלו לעשות דבר שלא כדת ‘that God’s will should suffuse His holiness and service in the hearts of Israel, until it suffuses even into property connected to each person, so that they could not do anything [with it] which is not proper’. However, Lainer states that this should not engender fear in the heart of a person that they cannot fulfill the divine will. Rather,ימסור האדם כל יסודותיו וכחותיו להש”י שהוא ישלוט בהם ברצונו ית’ וממילא יהיו כל קניניו טובים ולא יגיע מהם שום היזק ‘a person should give over all one’s power and faculties to God, so that God will rule him in accordance with His will, and ipso facto all his posessions will be good, and no harm will come to him on account of them’. Rather than causing fear, this should create in a person what Lainer calls ישוב הדעת yishuv ha-da’at (a deep sense of ease and equanimity), knowing that …נותן עצות לאדם שיבא לכל הד”ת בנקל ‘[God] shows him how to come to all of the divrei Torah in ease’. In this passage, we see that acosmic consciousness, the giving over of self to God, returns to the human being a sense of profound ease and balance in which the fulfillment of Torah flows easily and naturally. When one identifies with God’s ratzon as animating not only the person but even all of his property, it creates a flow in which a person acts beneikal, transcending טרדה tirdah (anxiety and fear).
3) The third passage highlights the centrality of freedom as a demarcating characteristic of Lainer’s acosmic humanism. The Jubilee year, says Lainer, represents
שאז שולט רצון הפשוט ואז יתעורר בלב כל נפש מישראל רצון הפשוט, לכן אין שום שעבוד על שום נפש מישראל
… a time when retzon ha-pashut ‘pure simple will’ rules, and then retzon ha-pashut is aroused in the heart of every soul in Israel, and therefore there can be no שעבוד shi’abud ‘servitude’, (nothing that can enslave or dominate) any soul in Israel.
The Yovel, which is classically identified by the kabbalists as the sefirah of binah, is understood by Lainer as the spiritual consciousness in which the identity of human and divine will is revealed. The simple will of God is aroused, not only in the spiritual elite, but in the heart of every soul in Israel. The acosmic identification of the human and the divine brings in its wake total freedom.
The notion that acosmism is not effacing of the human being but rather profoundly empowering is designated by a formal term that is virtually a terminus technicus Lainer uses to express this empowering notion throughout MHs. The term is תקופות tekufot, which literally connotes some form of strength or power. For Lainer, tekufot means the personal audacity and determination that courses through a person as a function of their participation in the divine, or in other words, acosmic humanism. The understanding of tekufot as an expression of acosmic humanism is explicit in many passages throughout MHs. For example, Lainer states,תפילין…מורה על דביקות, שישראל דבוקים בהשי”ת, כי תפילין מורה על תקופות אור הנמצא בכל פעולות ישראל ‘Phylacteries…express devekut (attaching to God), for Israel are attached to God,and phylacteries express tekufot, the [divine] light found in all the actions of Israel’.
Light is also a theme in the next passage, which connects tekufot with messianic consciousness. Lainer, basing himself in part on sources in both the Talmud and Zohar, interprets the קשת keshet ‘rainbow’ that appears to Noah after the flood in terms of tekufot:
וזה שנאמר בזוה”ק [בראשית ע”ב] לא תצפה לרגלי דמשיחא עד דתחזי קשתא בגוונין נהורין, היינו שיהיה התקופות מהש”י בולט ומפורש נגד עיניך אז תצפה לרגלי דמשיחא
This is the intention of the Zohar which says, ‘Do not expect to see the feet of the Messiah until you behold a brightly-colored rainbow’, that is to say, until tekufot from God emerges and spreads out before your eyes.
This messianic quality of tekufot, is, Lainer states, also found in the שמע shema prayer. Tekufot is a function of acosmism. Although Lainer does not explicitly explain the shema prayer in terms of acosmism, such an understanding of the shema prayer is commonplace in the mystical tradition and is especially prevalent in Luria and post-Lurianic sources.
A key concern in MHs is the ‘King of Israel’, which for Lainer is synonymous with the Judah archetype of sovereignty. The Judah archetype, as we shall see in Error! Reference source not found., is the personification for Lainer of acosmic humanism. ‘Great tekufot’ is almost the defining quality of the king. In the next passage, the tremendous power of the king is contrasted with the enlightened receptivity of the sage:
ונקודת התלמיד חכם הוא שמכיר שאין שום כח מעצמו רק מהש”ת, אפילו כח תפלה…כי גם כל מעשינו פעלת לנו, והיינו שהכל בידי שמים, ונקודת המלך ישראל הוא תקופות גדול עד שכל מה שבלבבו יעשה, כי מה שעולה בלבבו הוא בטח רצון הש”י, וזה הוא מדרגה גדולה שלא נצרך לשום עצה משום נביא…ושם היה ענין עמוק…כי מלך כל היוצא מפיו הם דברי אלהים
The essence of the sage is that he recognizes that there is no independent power [in the human being]. Rather, all is from God, even the power of prayer…’for even in all our actions you acted in us’ (Isa. 26:12). This is the meaning of, ‘All is in the hands of heaven [even the fear of heaven]’; and the essence of the king of Israel is great tekufot, so much so that he may do everything in his heart, for anything that arises in his heart is certainly the will of God. This is a great spiritual level, for he requires no guidance or prophet, and this is very deep…Regarding the king, whatever comes out of his mouth are the words of the living God.
The sage is someone who ‘recognizes’ the reality of acosmic humanism, while the king is someone who has fully realized acosmic humanism to the extent of embodying God’s will. In this quintessential statement of acosmic humanism, the king realizes his ontic identity with the divine to such an extent that any desire that arises in his heart is ipso facto affirmed to be God’s will, and anything that the king says is considered God’s word. Without understanding the notion of acosmic humanism in MHs, one might very well read the beginning of the passage as theocentric, undermining and effacing the dignity and efficacy of human action. Lainer’s position is, paradoxically, not theocentric but rather an anthropocentric acosmism that empowers the human being. This is but one more representative example of Lainer’s acosmic humanism.
The notion of tekufot in MHs is in no sense limited to the king. Acosmic humanism and therefore tekufot can, at least potentially, be realized by every person. This becomes clear in the following striking passage, in which Lainer identifies shabbat with berur. Berur, as we have seen and will explore more fully below, is the spiritual work of clarification in which one engages before achieving the enlightenment of unity consciousness. The ultimate clarification achieved by berur is the realization of unity consciousness:
אדם שהוא קדוש ושלם בכל הבירורים שנמשך אחר רצון השי”ת שלא יבא בלבו שום דבר רק ברצון השי”ת שמשפיע לו על זה נאמר וכל היתדות למשכן ולחצר סביב נחשת, נחשת מורה על תקופות שאדם הנשלם צריך להיות תקיף בדעתו שלא יעזוב שום רצון לריק, כי כשיבא לו רצון בטח הוא רצון השי”ת
[Regarding] a person who is [beyond the level of shabbat] holy and completed in all of his [processes of] berur, who is drawn after the will of God, there will not come into his heart any will which is not the will of God, whose will is flowing to him…This is symbolized in the Tabernacle by copper. Copper expresses tekufot, for the completed person needs to have great audacity. He must not treat any arousal of will as superfluous. [He must give expression] to every will that arises, for when a will arises in him it is certainly the will of God.
In fact, in another passage, Lainer makes every person’s felt experience of tekufot the litmus test of whether an act is or is not the will of God.
Uniqueness and Acosmism
A second defining feature of Lainer’s acosmic humanism is the marked emphasis on unique individuality as the path to enlightenment. What is unique in MHs is not merely that Lainer underscores the absolutely critical need for each person to identify and then embrace their unique individuality-what we termed in Chapter One their soul print-it is rather that he understands uniqueness as a function and expression of acosmism. In this second sense as well, Lainer’s acosmism may be termed acosmic humanism.
One of the key words used by Lainer to describe the idea of a unique soul print possessed by every individual is helek. Crucially, helek is also the key term that expresses Lainer’s theory of acosmism. ‘Israel who are a helek [part of God] are attached to God in their root’. This concept of helek is the source of uniqueness.
נאמר על פרטי נפשות בישראל שיהיה כל אחד מספר,היינו דבר שבמנין ויהיה חשוב בעיני הש”י…כי כל ישראל חלק הש”י, כמ”ש [דברים לב:ט] כי חלק ה’ עמו. וכל אחד אחוז במדה אחת ממדותיו של הקב”ה
Every unique, individual person in Israel has their own number, that is to say, [one is] valuable before God as in one’s unique individuality…for all of Israel is a חלק helek ‘part’ of God, as it is written, ‘for Israel is a part of God’ (Deut. 32:9). Every single one is rooted and personifies a unique dimension of God.
The human being, or in Lainer’s limited acosmism, the Jew, is a helek of God. Consequently, each person is possessed of unique individuality. Each person is a prism that refracts a unique face of the infinite divine. Lainer links individual uniqueness with his acosmic theology:
ואתם תהיו לי ממלכת כהנים, היינו שלשלת יחוס, ויחוסם יתחיל מהשי”ת בעצמו, כי השי”ת הוא אביהם, ומהשי”ת ישתלשל הקדושה דרך האבות עד לנו, וכן בפרט כל נפש מישראל מקבל מהשי”ת קדושה המיוחדת לנפשו בפרט
‘And for me you will be a kingdom of priests’-that is, a chain of lineage. The lineage begins with God Himself, for God is their father and from God holiness unfolds through the patriarchs unto us, and so in regard to every unique individual, [who] receives unique holiness for his individual soul [deriving directly from God].
Uniqueness, however, according to Lainer, is not only a function of acosmism. It is also the portal through which to realize unity consciousness: the acosmic nature of reality. One of the key code words in MHs for unity consciousness is ‘olam ha-ba, the world to come. The world to come, for Lainer as for many of the Hasidic masters, refers not merely to a future eschatological reality but to a stage of consciousness that inheres within the present. It is accessed, not as a reward after death, but through an internal shift in perception during life. What is different in Lainer’s thought is that one accesses ‘olam ha-ba, that is to say unity consciousness, through the prism of uniqueness. Prima facie, in a mystical system one needs to abandon personal uniqueness in order to access the One. Indeed, such an impersonal cast is the dominant tone of important Hasidic masters who preceded and in many ways influenced Lainer, including the Magid of Mezerich and Schneur Zalman of Liadi. For Lainer, the door to the unique One is through uniqueness. The level of ‘olam ha-ba is accessed not by abandoning but by identifying and deepening one’s unique individuality. Writes Lainer:
וזהו רק קודם שיתברר לאדם חלקו השייך לו בשורשו, כי לכל נפש שייך מצוה מיוחדת שעל ידה יגיע לעוה”ב כפי המצוה וכפי אשר יקיימה וזה עיקר לאל נפש
For every individual has a mitzvah that is connected to his unique root, and it is through this unique mitzvah that he achieves ‘olam ha-ba, the world to come.
In a similar vein, we saw in Error! Reference source not found. that one of the fundamental expressions of Lainer’s theory of the unique individual is that every person possesses a unique hisaron. We saw that, according to Lainer, the process of berur ‘clarification’ involves the identification of one’s unique hisaron, and that when one heals one’s unique hisaron, one achieves ‘olam ha-ba. Moreover, the very identification of one’s uniqueness is itself is essential in healing hisaron. Again we see that uniqueness is connected directly with the unity consciousness, which is the essential nature of ‘olam ha-ba. The emphasis on radical uniqueness is thus a key feature in Lainer’s acosmic humanism.
Acosmism and Will
A third major feature of Lainer’s acosmic humanism is the centrality of will. According to Lainer, the essence of acosmism means the ontic identity between the will of God and the human will. Lainer takes two distinct steps in this direction. First, he identifies the essence of divinity as will. Second, he posits the identity of human and divine will. Of course, he does not assume that the identity of wills is naturally expressed in the world. Like many of the great spiritual thinkers whom Leibniz called the perennial philosophers, he assumes that some sort of process is necessary to realize the supreme identity of the human being and the Godhead. Lainer terms his particular version of this process berur. Berur is, fundamentally, the clarification of will needed to bring the will of God and the human will not into mere alignment, but to conscious realization of their ontic identity. Indeed, for Lainer, the will of God in many if not most decisions is not dictated by the 613 mitzvot in the Torah. Lainer states this explicitly in the following passage:
…שאף אדם נזהר לקיים כל השלחן ערוך עדיין הוא בספק אם כוון לעומק רצון השי”ת, כי רצון השי”ת הוא עמוק עמוק מי ימצאנו
Even if one were to fulfill the entire Shulhan Arukh (Code of Jewish Law), one would not be sure if they had intended the depth of God’s will, for the will of God is so very deep ‘who can fathom it’.
One can access the will of God through הרגשה hargashah ‘feeling’ andתביעת הלב teviat ha-lev, the uniquely receptive nature of the individual’s heart, which, according to Lainer, are reliable guides. Human feelings and heart murmurings are accurate antennae because they themselves are part of God. This is the beginning point of Lainer’s acosmic humanism.
According to MHs, it is the radically unique, fleeting, and subjective human will that is identical to divinity, and not some intellectualized abstraction of will. It is the full-blooded and engaged human being with the person’s ephemeral nature, frailty, and subjectivity, whose will, when sufficiently clarified, is identical to the will of the eternal God. The human being is endowed with the ability to access the unmediated will of God, refracted through the prism of one’s own will. Ultimately, Lainer’s understanding is a clear affirmation of human dignity and adequacy, and a central expression of his acosmic humanism.
The human can access or intend the unmediated will of God because the human being participates in divinity. במקום שהברואים מתאחדים ביחד בלב אחד שוכן ביניהם רצונו ית’ ‘Wherever people unite themselves together, with one heart, then the will of God dwells among them’; אז יהיה לב ישראל מקושר בהש”י מבלי שום נטיה ‘The heart of Israel is bound up in God without any deviation’. ‘Israel are attached to God’ and therefore manifest retzon Ha-shem in all their actions.
This paradoxical notion of acosmic humanism expresses a ‘raising’ of the conception of a human being that is virtually ‘beyond the human ability to grasp’. The verse Lainer uses in this passage to explain the ontological status of the human being is כי כאשר ידבק האזור אל מתני איש כן הדבקתי אלי את כל בית ישראל ‘As the girdle attaches to the loins, so have I attached to me the whole house of Israel’. According to Lainer, this reality gives a fully realized person the ability to incarnate the divine will. Lainer is not speaking about mere obedience to the divine will. Once a person has achieved berur, their every human action is fully animated by the divine will. This happens not through an intense study of the Jewish law; Lainer states that one can fulfill the entire Code of Jewish Law and still not apprehend the divine will. Rather, a person must רק יביט להשי”ת בכל פרט מעשה ולפי העת מה שהשי”ת חפ ץ לעשות ולכוון רצון השי”ת בכל עת ‘look to God in every specific action, according to the specific time, [to know] what God desires…to intend the will of God in every moment’. The blurring of human and divine will is so complete for Lainer that he not only declares that the will of God is in fact the internal will animating the human being, he also-consistent with his internal logic-reverses the equation. Interpreting the verse ‘God is my helek’, he states,רצון ישראל הוא רצונו יתברך…וכן ישראל רואים שכל מעשם הוא רק לברר שרצונם הוא רצון השי”ת ‘the will of Israel is the will of God…and the entire spiritual work of Israel is to clarify that their will is indeed the will of God’.
Because members of Israel have true existence, they participate substantively in the divine will, in what Lainer often refers to as חיים hayyim ‘life’, while the nations of the world, who do not participate substantively in the divine, have no true existence and thus are paradoxically able to act against the will of God. In another passage, Lainer presents the underlying ontology of his conception of will: רק רצון הש”י הוא הנמצא ואין נמצא אחר זולתו ‘The only true existent is the divine will and there is nothing (i.e., no will) besides’.
These sources ground Lainer’s humanism in his understanding of the person as the incarnation of the divine will. In another passage, he explains the midrashic tradition that sees Jacob expressed in the symbol of a בית bayit ‘house’, in the following manner:
כי אין האדם יכול להרים את ידו ורגלו בלתי רצונו ית’ כמו בית שהוא מוקף כן האדם מוקף שלא יוכל לעבור רצון הש”י
For a person cannot lift his hand without the divine will. Just as a house is encompassed by God, so is the person encompassed, so that they cannot transgress the divine will.
The Hebrew term used by Lainer that we have translated as ‘encompassed’ is מוקף mukaf, a reference to the classic kabbalistic idea of ‘light which surrounds’. In Lainer’s reading, this light surrounds the human being and creates a kind of ‘energy field’ in which the human will flows in unison with the divine will.
Qualities of Will
The First Quality of Will: Will and Uniqueness
For Lainer, will is not an abstract or general category. He is concerned, as we have noted above, with a very specific type of will, namely, that of the unique individual. It is that will, which, as a direct corollary of acosmism, incarnates the will of God. The word used throughout MHs to describe the expression of the divine will beyond the lesser category of mitzvah is almost always perat, which, as we saw in Error! Reference source not found., is a terminus technicus in Lainer’s writings for the uniqueness on all levels. It is through the portal of perat that one accesses the unmediated will of God. No less important in MHs is the term helek ‘part’, which is a key word expressing both individual uniqueness (i.e., every person has a unique helek) and acosmism (i.e., God’s people are a helek of God). Or, in another passage:
כי עוד בתחלת הבריאה הודיע השי”ת לכל פרט נפש את חלקו,…ודעת נקרא החיים שבא לאדם אחר עבודה שזה נקרא חיי עולם הבא שהוא שלימות הגמור
At the beginning of creation God made known to every perat nefesh (individual soul) his helek (unique part)…and ‘knowledge’is called life, which comes to a person after ‘avodah, for this is called the life of the world-to-come which is complete wholeness.
Hayyim and the world to come, achieved after berur, are for Lainer virtually identical with the will of God fully incarnate and manifest in the individual.
The Second Quality of Will: Eros and The Will of God
A second defining quality of the will of God, and an innovative feature of Lainer’s acosmic humanism in general, is its erotic and even seductive cast. Lainer explicitly explains ‘being drawn after the divine will’ in terms of seduction: ולהתפתות לטוב זה הוא מדה טובה שנשתבחו בה ישראל שנמשכין אחר השי”ת ‘To be seduced towards the good-this is the good quality with which Israel are praised, for they are drawn after God’. Broadly speaking, one’s heart is either drawn after superficial pleasure- נמשך לבו אחר הנאות עצמו nimshakh libo ahar hanaot atzmo or after higher pleasureנמשך לבו אחר רצון ה’ nimshakh libo ahar retzon Ha-shem, i.e., the pleasure of the will of God. Nimshakh libo ahar retzon Ha-shem, ‘[Having] one’s heart drawn after God’s will’, describes the stage after berur, when the will of God is קבוע בלב kavua balev, i.e., implanted in the human heart, is a state in which the will of God becomes an integral part of the interior psychology of the human being. At this level, one is able to access in a regular manner retzon Ha-shem.
Being drawn after the will of God is a grounding experience, characterized according to Lainer by both pleasure and joy. The phrase itself echoes Song of Songs, משכני אחריך ונרוצה mashkheni aharekha venarutzah ‘Draw me after you and we will run’ (Cant. 1:4). This connotes not merely an intellectual apprehension of the divine will, nor even a stage of illumination in which one realizes the ontic identity between the human and divine wills. Rather, the phrase is erotic, clearly evoking the image of one drawn after, entranced, and seduced by the divine will. Lainer’s basic idea is that everyone is seduced; wisdom, however, is in knowing whom to trust as the seducer. Joshua’s greatness is that he trusts Moses to seduce him.
The Third Quality of Will: Radical Freedom
A third characteristic of will in Lainer’s writings is the radical freedom attained by a person who realizes the identity between their personal will and the will of God (post-berur consciousness). In the passage about the Jubilee year discussed above, Lainer emphasizes ‘in Yovel (redeemed consciousness) there is no servitude at all on any soul in Israel’. Similarly, the seventh year of שמיטה shemitah ‘no authority can subjugate him’. Yovel and shemitah, which are respectively binah and malkhut (both symbols for God’s will), hold in them the energy of radical freedom. In another passage we will analyze further below, Lainer states: …מי שלבו נמשך אחר רצון הש”י בשלימות וכשיפול במחשבתו שום דבר היא רק מרצון הש”י שהשפיע לו ‘…[O]ne whose heart is completely drawn after the will of God-whatever occurs to him [he may do], for whenever anything falls into his mind it is the will of God’. Lainer also states that in that state: אז מותר להתפשט, כי אז הכל רצון ה’ ‘then it is permissible to expand, for all is the will of God’, and …אז יוכל האדם להתפשט ולילך בכל ענינים שירצה כי ה’ עמו ‘he can expand and go forward with anything he wants, for God is with him…’. In all of these sources, the common humanistic thread is radical freedom, attained when an individual realizes their ratzon as retzon Ha-shem.
Thus far we have seen five defining characteristics of Lainer’s acosmism: its existentially empowering nature, the radical emphasis of the individuality and uniqueness, the absolute centrality of will, its erotic cast, and its valuing of freedom as the religious ideal. At this point we need to analyze in greater depth this ideal of freedom, which emerges from the centrality of will, because it is the foundation of Lainer’s acosmic humanism.
Freedom and Law –
Kelalim (General Principles) and Peratim (Particulars)
The most powerful expression of Lainer’s humanistic interpretation of his acosmism is the very dramatic freedom accorded by his system to one who realizes the identity of wills between the personal and the divine. According to Lainer, not only can one incarnate the will of God in the arenas of living that are beyond the purview of the law; the human being through unmediated revelation of God can also incarnates God’s will in overriding the law.
This is because the law is but the codification of the will of God that once was. As long as it remains unchallenged by a superseding revelation, the law stands and is binding. Once, however, there is a personal revelation of God’s will, unmediated by law, then, if the person who receives the revelation has achieved post-berur consciousness, they can trust the reliability of the revelation and thus it may override the law. In this view, human will itself is the primary source of revelation. It is difficult to imagine a position that could be more affirming of human adequacy and dignity.
There are many perspectives one might bring to bear in analyzing the sources related to this idea in MHs. The prism of legal theory (Ben Dor), notions of human autonomy (Schatz-Uffenheimer and Elior), theories of revelation (Weiss), or philosophies of will (Weiss and Faierstein) are perspectives that each contributes to our understanding. However, our argument is that none of these perspetives represents a primary concern for Lainer. Rather, his concern is the fostering of a person who realizes their ontic identity with the divine, and through that realization becomes totally free. This is the perspective that we use to approach the sources below.
Lainer draws a fundamental distinction between two modes of divine will. The first mode of revelation is general and public; the second is personal and intimate. Each one is expressed through a different modality of revelation, as Lainer explains in interpretation of a verse in the Book of Samuel:
אמר אלקי ישראל לי דבר צור ישראל מושל באדם צדיק מושל יראת אלקים, וכמו שביארו ז”ל צדיק מושל ביראת אלקים אמר אלקי ישראל, היינו הכללים של ד”ת והם הרמ”ח מצות עשה ושס”ה מצות ל”ת אשר ניתנו בכל נפש מישראל שוה בשוה. לי דבר צור ישראל, לי היינו להבעל תשובה לזה מדבר הש”י בפרט ונותן לו תקופות
‘Said the God of Israel; To me spoke the rock of Israel’ (2 Sam. 23:3): ‘Said God…’-These are the general principles of Torah, the 248 positive commandments and 365 negative commandments that were given [revealed] equally to every person in Israel; ‘To me…’-to the ba’al teshuvah, to this one God speaks individually and gives him tekufot audacity.
Both the general principles and the specific will of God are forms of revelation. The second and higher form of revelation is constantly changing in accordance with ‘the place, the time, and the person’. The first should lead us to the second. Lainer clarifies that this is the explicit nature of the written Torah, explaning that laws about endogamy and the inheritance come at the end of Numbers because just as they were temporary, applying only to the generation of the desert, so too the revelation of the entire Torah is temporary:
לא על הלחם לבדו יחי’ האדם כי על כל מוצא פי ה’ יחיה האדם, לחם היינו ד”ת כללים הנצרכים לכל בכל עת לכל נפש מבלי שום שינוי ותמורה והם התרי”ג מצות והעיקר הוא להבין בד”ת בכל זמן את רצון ה’ מה רצונו בכל רגע לפי העת והזמן ומד”ת יצא אור ללבות ישראל שיבינו עומק רצון ה’ כפי הזמן, ועי”ז נכתב הפרשה הזאת אחר סיום כל התורה בכדי להבין לישראל כי מכל התורה יוצא פרטים לכל עת ולכל זמן וכל ד”ת הם עצות בכדי שיבין האדם באיזה דבר יחפוץ הש”י עתה ויעסוק בה
‘Not by bread alone does a person live, but by everything that comes out from the mouth of God does a person live’ (Deut. 8:3). ‘Bread’ means the general principles of Torah needed all the time, for every person, without any changes, and these are the 613 commandments. And the essence [is not the commandments but rather] is to understand through the words of Torah, at all times,… what God’s will is in every moment in accordance with the nature of the time. And from Torah, light goes out to the hearts of Israel, so that they understand the depth of the divine will according to the time. It for this reason that this section comes after the end of the Torah [i.e., at the end of Numbers, which is the last of the narrative books]: in order to teach the children of Israel that from the entire Torah emerge peratim particular [guidance], for each time and period; and [to teach] that all the words of Torah are eitzot guidelines, so that the person should understand what God desires now, and be engaged in it…
From this passage and others like it, it is clear that for Lainer, the national revelation of the Torah, the ‘bread’ of life, even according to its ‘objective’ meaning, is limited in authority. Its deeper meaning is subjective and specific to each individual.
Bread, like mitzvah, is a basic staple of living. However, it does not always represent ‘that which comes out from the mouth of God’. It is rather what God had to say at a particular time, speaking through the interiority of the human being. Notwithstanding the suggestion of one important scholar, Nahum Rakover to the contrary, Lainer makes clear in many passages that retzon Ha-shem, i.e., revelation ‘from the mouth of God’, is virtually synonymous with one ‘whose heart is drawn after the will of God’, or, using another parallel term, one who acts according to binat ha-lev.
In a classic form of kabbalistic hermeneutics, which is relatively unconcerned with literary context, Lainer interprets the verse ‘The children of Israel made the Passover sacrifice in its time’ as follows:במועדו מורה על מקום שהשי”ת מאיר מפורש לעיני האדם שם מותר לעשות אפילו נגד כללי דברי תורה ‘ “In its time” refers to a situation when God reveals himself explicitly to the eyes of the person. Then he is permitted to act against the general principles of Torah’. Lainer understands the twenty-eight instances in which the word עת ‘et ‘time’ is mentioned in the book of Ecclesiastes in a similar manner. According to Lainer, the general principles of law are insufficient to guide a person in knowing when it is ‘a time for birthing, a time for dying,…a time for breaking down, a time for building,…a time for war, a time for peace’:
כל הכ”ח עתים…רומזים שלא יסמוך האדם על כללי ד”ת לבד רק יביט להשי”ת בכל פרט מעשה ולפי העת מה שהשי”ת חפץ
All twenty-eight ‘itim ‘times’…hint that a person should not rely on the general principles of Torah alone. He should only look to God in every perat ma’aseh (specific action), [to know] what God desires according to the ‘et specific time…
Of course, the revelation to which Lainer refers here takes place not on the stage of history but in the recesses of the human spirit. He makes explicit in any number of passages in MHs that such a revelation may override the law. For example, he writes that:
ושורש החיים של יהודה הוא להביט תמיד להש”י בכל דבר מעשה אע”פ שרואה האיך הדין נוטה עכ”ז מביט להש”י שיראה לו עומק האמת בהדבר כי יוכל להיות אף שהדין אמת הוא לפי טענות בעלי דינים אך אינו לאמיתו כי פן יטעון אחד טענה שקרית כמו שמצינו בקני’ דרבא, וכמו כן נמצא בכל ענינים, וזאת הוא שורש החיים של יהודה להביט לה’ בכל דבר ולא להתנהג ע”פ מצות אנשים מלומדה אף שעשה אתמול מעשה כזו מ”מ היום אינו רוצה לסמוך על עצמו רק שהש”י יאיר לו מחדש רצונו ית’ וענין הזה יחייב לפעמים לעשות מעשה נגד ההלכה כי עת לעשות לה’ כו’.
The root of life of Judah is that…[a person] must look to God in every action or issue. Even though he knows the inclination of the law, nonetheless he must look to God to see the depth of truth in the matter…and not to be guided merely by commandments of men as taught. Even though he may have acted a particular way yesterday, nonetheless, today he does not want to rely on himself [i.e., on what he thought was God’s will yesterday]. Rather, he desires that God grant him a new revelation of His will. This means that he is sometimes compelled to act against the halakhah (law), for ‘[There is a] time to act for God [by nullifying your Torah]’ (Ps. 119:126).
It is clear in these passages that a person can have the ability to ascertain the divine will even when this contradicts the Torah.
Lainer understands very well that revelation requires interpretation. In another passage he points out the Hebrew letters common to the words halom ‘dream’ and lehem ‘bread’, explaining that bread is the raw data of revelation, which, like a dream, must be interpreted by the individual in accordance with place, time, and person.
כל עניני עו”הז הם כחלום הצריך פתרון…ומי שאוכל פשוט כבהמה, אינו משיג מהלחם רק חיי עו”הז והמבין כי מוצא פי ה’ הוא המחי’, זה ישיג חיי עולם
The matters of this world are like a halom ‘dream’ that requires interpretation…One who simply eats [bread] like an animal only achieves the life of this world from the לחם lehem bread [halom is composed of the same letters as lehem], but one who understands that ‘whatever comes out from the mouth of God’ is what gives life will achieve eternal life..
Bread, as we saw in the passage from Masei cited above, represents kelalei divrei Torah, the law. The world to come (which is also the sefirah of binah) represents the unmediated will of God.
The humanistic vein in these sources is evident on three distinct levels. First, the human being is addressed by God not only as part of the nation; rather, every individual is worthy of such address. This is the natural corollary of Lainer’s radical individualism, which we analyzed earlier. Without such revelation, a person may keep the entire law and not fulfill the will of God. Second, not only is the individual addressed, but the individual is capable and trustworthy to attain a sufficient level of clarity-through the process of berur-that they can rely on and act even in antinomian fashion. Third, and perhaps most dramatic, the divine voice communicating divine revelation to a person is equated with the depth of the individual person’s humanity, what Lainer calls צורת האדם שבו tzurat ha-adam shebo ‘the form of man within him’.
This is made clear by Lainer in many texts. One such teaching, which we examined above, interpreted תפארת לו מן האדם tiferet lo min ha-adam to mean beautiful (and true) according to the deep form of the human being within the person. Even whe an action is appropriate in the eyes of the community, it may violate this inner center. Lainer suggests that the question of whether to prefer the general principles of law or the inner voice of personal revelation, in a situation where one must choose between the two, is in fact a Talmudic argument between the schools of Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel. Lainer informs us that ‘great tzadikim’, spiritual masters, have adopted the Beit Hillel position that the human being can incarnate the will of God and from that place achieve total freedom (i.e., the realization of acosmic humanism), which is, according to Lainer, the posture of the Judah archetype.
In these passages, the full trust and affirmation of human ability and dignity derives directly from the ontic identity between the human being and God. In this sense, Lainer is highly optimistic, which is a classic feature of humanistic thought.
The parameters of Lainer’s confidence in the human ability to clearly receive and correctly interpret the internal voice of God are not entirely clear in MHs. According to legal scholar Nahum Rakover, two aspects of this concept in MHs dramatically limit its normative application.
Rakover argues that, according to Lainer, one may only violate the law if one has first purified oneself from any נגיעה negiah (personal agenda involving the issue). This is the first limitation. The second limitation suggested by Rakover in his presentation of the relevant MHs texts is that one can only act against the law בדיעבד bedi’avad ‘post facto’, in response to a reality thrust on the person. However, one cannot proactively initiate a situation where one will violate the law in order to fulfill retzon Ha-shem. Both of these limitations would limit the empowering humanism of Lainer, and a number of texts in MHs do support these readings. However, Rakover’s blanket conclusions do not take into account a number of other significant passages in MHs which indicate that a person can access the unmediated will of God and act on it even if they have a negiah, i.e., a personal agenda that has not been fully resolved. These sources recognize that even though berur is generally the requirement for accessing the will of God, full berur is not always possible and yet a person may still access retzon Ha-shem. MHs definitively allows violating the law in response to the call of the divine will speaking from a person’s heart in some passages even when there is a negi’ah (personal agenda) that has not been מבורר mevurar (clarified). For example:
שאפילו במקום שנדמה להאדם שיש לו נגיעה בזה הדבר…לא ישגיח על זה כיון שמפורש נגדו רצון השי”ת והיא תפארת לו מן האדם, שבצורת אדם שלו מכוון לרצון השי”ת המפורש נגדו…
Even in a place where it seems to a person that he has a negiah (personal agenda) …he should not heed it, since God’s will is clear before him. This is tiferet lo min ha-adam, that his tzurat adam [the inner form of his humanity] intends God’s will …
Rakover was therefore hasty in categorically limiting the applicability of Lainer’s radical doctrine of acosmic humanism. Lainer is prepared, at least according to some passages, to trust the person’s ability to correctly discern the will of God even in the face of an unresolved personal agenda, and to demand that the person proactively seek out the will of God as a spiritual path in which one realizes their ontic identity with divinity. In fact, the sense of the sources in most of the discussions in MHs convey no sense of post facto justification; rather, they indicate an active stance in which the human being proactively seeks to know the will of God even when it violates the law.
Rakover was similarly inaccurate in his second limitation. Lainer suggests that accessing the will of God is the way of Judah and careful adherence to the law is the way of Joseph. While, in one set of passages, Judah does not initiate his antinomian action-rather, it is foisted upon him, as in the story of Judah and Tamar -in most Judah sources this is not the case. Usually the way of Judah is presented as the way of binah, the response to a particular form of revelation. This is presented as a proactive spiritual path and not a de facto response to imposed crisis. For example, Lainer distinguishes between the tzadik (righteous person) and the yashar lev (person with a heart of integrity):
…לצדיק היינו שדברי תורה מאירים להצדיק שמכלכל דרכיו על פי כללי התורה ולא יסור מהם. ולישרי לב שמחה ישרי לב נקרא מי שלבו נמשך אחר רצון השי”ת, אף שעל הגוון נתראה שלפעמים יסור מדרך התורה, גם זה הוא ברצון השי”ת…
The tzadik (Ps. 97:11) is the one who charts his way based on the general principles of the Torah and will not deviate from them, while the yashar lev ‘straight of heart’ (Ps. 97:11) …is one whose heart is drawn after the will of God. Even though externally it seems that he sometimes strays from path of Torah, this also is God’s will.
In fact, not only it is permitted in specific cases to violate the law post facto, there are times when one must transcend the law by violating it, in response to a higher revelation of the divine will. In Lainer’s words:
בשעה שמבורר לאדם על דבר שעתה הוא עת לעשות לה’ כמו אליהו בהר הכרמל אז מהצורך להפר כללי ד”ת ורק להתנהג עפ”י בינה שהש”י מבין לאדם
At a time when it becomes clear through a process of berur that ‘it is time to act for God’ (Ps. 119:126)…then it becomes necessary for the person to violate the general principles of Torah [i.e., the law] and be guided by binah, which God gives the person to understand.
Binah, as we have already noted, is synonymous with the unmediated will of God. Finally, it is clear that all of the sources cited above in this section suggesting that after berur is completed one is totally free to do ‘as he wants’ assume that being ‘drawn after the will of God’ is not a post facto concession but rather a realized spiritual ontology engendering radical freedom in the individual.
Whether responding to the will of God that transcends law is an intentional proactive path or a post facto allowance seems to be related to different models of revelation that might inform a person’s understanding of the unmediated will of God. However, what is critical for either model of revelation is that it is interpreted by the individual without any guidance or external authority directing his interpretation. In both models of revelation, there is real danger of misinterpretation. Lainer nonetheless explicitly affirms in these sources the human hermeneutic ability, rooted as it is in the ontic identity between man and God. We will now examine the two models of revelation.
Lainer describes two very different ways that the revelation of the divine will might take place. The first we term the ‘overwhelmed’ model and the second we term the ‘intimate whisper’ model. In the first model, a person is overcome by passion and is completely unable to control their desire. If a person’s best efforts at control fail, the person can then understand that the sin they have performed was in fact not a violation of the will of God but rather its fulfillment. A human’s being forced to give up control is one modality that reveals retzon Ha-shem. In this modality, we are clearly talking about a post facto scenario. Here, however, the need to trust human wisdom and spiritual intuition is enormous. The human is, after all, a genius when it comes to self-deception. In fact, according to Lainer, the conflict between Pinhas and Zimri revolved around this issue. Did Zimri do everything possible to assert control, so that-paradoxically-his inability to do so could be understood as a revelation of divine will? Zimri answered this question in the affirmative while Pinhas answered it in the negative. To further add to Lainer’s provocative reading, he concludes that Zimri correctly read his interiority and that Pinhas was wrong.
The second model of revelation disclosing the will of God to the individual comes in the form of subtle personal hints provided by the divine universe as the mechanism for revelation of the God’s will. This does not mean that, according to Lainer, God left signs along the road of the world. Rather, according to Lainer, interpreting the verse You shall listen to [God’s] voice’ (Deut. 30:2), the voice of revelation is the intimate personal voice of the divine, which Lainer terms קול פנימאה הנמצא בכל דבר (the inner voice in everything). Clearly, such an inner voice requires a human act of hermeneutics to decipher it. For Lainer, the act of interpretation itself is self-fulfilling. This makes sense when we consider that the human capacity to interpret the hints is really rooted in the divine nature of the human being. Thus understood, the interpretation of the dream that wells from the human center is in effect the voice of divine revelation. This can occur in the form of an overheard conversation, in the voice of a coach driver inviting a person to ride, etc.
In both models-revelation lacking control and revelation via what Lainer refers to as a בת קול bat kol, a divine echo or hidden voice-the human individual as the hermeneutic agent remains the central player, never ceding the stage to a transcendent divine entity who guides human beings, even benevolently, on their path. It is the individual who engages in the complex and confusing process of deciphering the voice of God as it echoes in their heart. Lainer’s confidence in the human to perform this great hermeneutic task is grounded in his belief in the ontic identity between the human and divine wills. This is another humanistic corollary of Lainer’s acosmism.
Acosmic Humanism and Idolatry
Lainer, in several passages, suggests that to follow the general principles of the law without ever reaching towards the unmediated will of God is idolatry. This provocative analogy makes perfect sense according to the ontology of acosmic humanism. If we understand that the person incarnating the will of God is the primary manifestation of the divine existence, then listening to binat ha-lev and to ‘the heart that is drawn after the will of God’ is the realization of the acosmic reality. Conversely, to remain trapped in the general principles of law is a denial of the acosmic reality, or, in other words, a denial of ‘the only true existent in which all else is included’. Therefore worship of a non-acosmic God who merely gives rules is equivalent to the worship of false gods who are less than the full reality of the divine.
The Democratization of Enlightenment
At this point we turn to a sixth defining feature of Lainer’s acosmic humanism, already alluded to in our in our discussion above: its democratic or egalitarian nature. The unmediated will of God is at least in potential accessible to anyone.
Contemporary readers of MHs, including Bezalel Edwards (author of the only English translation of MHs to date ), have tried to forcibly interpret Lainer’s understanding of the ability to access unmediated divine will as limited to the patriarchs and their like, a very restricted spiritual elite. Edwards writes as follows in regard to this genre of passages in MHs:
It could easily be misunderstood as being antinomian, that God forbid the Torah is not absolute and we may choose to act based on our own perception of what God wants…Of course it is not a way to make anything permitted, as only a fool would interpret it, and some fools in our generations have.
In his next sentence, Edwards tries to explain when it does apply: ‘It is relevant [only] when we find examples of our forefathers seemingly “breaking” the Torah, when in fact they are doing the will of God’.
Edwards is simply wrong, ignoring the MHs text itself. The nature of Lainer’s presentation generally makes it clear that his words are not limited to any special elite or any particular group. In some sources this is implicit; in others, as in the following text, he states it clearly:
היינו בכל רגע ורגע יודע כל נפש מישראל מקטון ועד גדול מה שהש”י חפץ עתה ויבינו ע”פי בינת לבבם שעתה רצון הש”י הוא כך, ולא על פי כללים…
In every single second, every person in Israel, mikaton ve’ad gadol from the young to the old, understands what God desires now. They are able to understand through the binah of their hearts, that now, such is the will of God, and not [guide themselves merely] based on the general rules of law…
The egalitarian nature of Lainer’s theology affirms the full dignity of every person, who, independently of any other channels, always has the potential to access the will of God.
At the same time, Lainer distinguishes between broad typologies and their applicability at different times in the life of the individual. In terms of the latter, Lainer states that ‘at a particular time’ one may correctly experience oneself as one who can access the unmediated will of God, while at other times one may feel enjoined to follow the general principles of law revealed to the community as whole. Hence, ושניהם אסורים שלא במקומם הראוי להם ‘Each one is forbidden in the place not appropriate to them’. It is clear from this passage and virtually all the passages dealing with the will of God that Lainer is addressing every person, who at times may realize acosmic consciousness and be animated by the unmediated will of God, while at other times they may live guided by and in obedience to the will of God as mediated through the law. In terms of typologies, Lainer fundamentally distinguishes throughout his writings between the Judah and Joseph typologies. The Judah type, however, is not limited to the tzadik or the scholar. The non-elitist character of Lainer’s theology will come into even sharper focus through the texts and analysis we will bring to bear below in regard to the Judah archetype. The possibility of living one’s life in the way of Judah is theoretically open to every person, even if a person might only live the way of Judah at particular stages, or even specific moments, in their life.
Hitpashtut (Expanded Consciousness)
At this point we note the seventh, eighth and ninth characteristics of Lainer’s acosmism: hitpashtut, no-boundary consciousness, and the suprarational. Each of these three characteristics supports the humanistic cast of Lainer’s acosmism. All three appear repeatedly in the passages in which Lainer describes the ability to incarnate the will of God after the process of berur has been completed. All three are expressions of the radical freedom engendered by a person’s realization of their identity with the divine will.
The seventh characteristic that emerges from the post-berur state of consciousness is what Lainer calls התפשטות hitpashtut (expansion), the expansion of human consciousness and normative actions beyond the boundaries that remain necessary in pre-berur consciousness:
כל זמן שלא נחקק ונקבע בלב האדם קדושת הש”י…צריך לצמצם עצמו בכל ענינו ושלא להתפשט רצונו…וכאשר יפנה האדם לד”ת עד שיחקקו בלבו ויקבעו בו, אז יוכל האדם להתפשט ולילך בכל ענינים שירצה כי ה’ עמו…
Until a person has engraved and established firmly in his heart the holiness of God…he must constrict himself in all his affairs not to expand His will …However, once a person has engraved and firmly established [the holiness of God] in his heart, he may expand and act in his affairs as he desires, because God is with him…
When this passage is read in conjunction with the rest of MHs, it is clear that Lainer does not mean to say that God is with the person in an external, dialogic sense. Rather, the person manifests God; therefore, they may expand beyond the normative boundaries even of the law, for their desire is naturally the will of God. Lainer makes the point explicitly in another passage. After describing all that was prohibited to Noah, Lainer concludes by stating:
וכל זה הי’ עצות לנח קודם שנשלם איך יסתיר עצמו, כי מיד כשיצא מן התיבה שאז הי’ השלמתו אז עשה היפך מאלו הדברים כמ”ש וישת וישכר וכעס על חם ולא עבר על מדותיו, כי כשאדם נשלם אז מותר להתפשט, כי אז הכל רצון ה’.
‘All’… That was before he [i.e., the process of berur] was completed …but once a person is completed, it is permissible to expand, for then all is the will of God.
According to Lainer, after berur, one attains expanded consciousness, i.e., identity with retzon Ha-shem. This then expresses itself normatively in one’s right to ‘expand’ according to whatever one desires, in accordance with binat ha-lev, the understanding of one’s heart. What is embedded in the term ‘hitpashtut’ is the suggestion that the acosmic consciousness engenders an existential expansion of personal identity, and not its nullification. This of course yields a very different existential mood and fosters a different religious typology then that engendered by the early Hasidic theology of ביטול bitul, self-nullification.
The eighth characteristic of Lainer’s acosmism is the state that Wilber and others refer to as ‘no-boundary consciousness’. Lainer terms thisלא גבול lo gevul or אין גבול ein gevul, both of which literally translate as ‘no-boundary’. No-boundary consciousness is a natural result of participation in the infinite and a feature of all acosmic nondual systems. A boundary is finite and limited; no-boundary must be infinite and divine. Referring to specific qualities found in the ‘nations of the world’, Lainer states:
כל כחות האו”ה אצלם הוא בגבול ולזאת יתפזרו ישראל לבין האומות כדי שיקבלו כל כחותם שנמצא אצל כל אחד מהשבעים אומות, ואצלם יהי’ בלי גבול כי הם דבוקים בהש”י ג”כ בשורשם ולא בשום גבול
All the qualities of the nations of the world are in boundary [limited]…but when [they become part of] Israel they are without any boundary, for Israel are attached to God in their root without any boundary…
In Hasidic exegesis, the biblical verse referring to the future expansion of physical boundaries of the land of Israel is a natural opportunity for an acosmic reader to discuss no-boundary consciousness in the realm of spirit. The verse reads: ‘When God will extend your boundaries and you will say let us eat meat, …in accordance with the desire of your heart you shall eat meat’ (Deut. 12:20). Lainer comments:
לא נאמר שיצאו חוץ לגבולם רק שגבולם יתרחב, כי באמת משם הוי’ היינו…אשר בחר בישראל אין שום גבולין רק מותר להתפשט בכל הטובות, אך משם א”ד”נ”י…מזה נצמח כל הגבולין…שיתן בך כח עבודה כ”כ עד שיסתלקו ויסירו הגבולין מאתך עד שתוכל גם לאכול בשר ולא תצא חוץ לגבולך.
It does not say that they will go out beyond their boundaries, only that their boundaries will expand. For in truth, from the perspective of name YHVH …there is no boundary…Rather, it is permitted to expand in all the good. However, from [the aspect of] the name ADNY…all the boundaries are generated…until the power of ‘avodah spiritual work that is given you is so great that the boundaries will flee and be removed from you …until you can eat meat and that will not go outside your boundary.
Lainer suggests that the name YHVH is the face of no-boundary consciousness in the divine, the nondual conception of God in which the goal of service is to expand one’s perception in order to realize that one actually participates in God. In contrast, the name ADNY is the more classical, binary, dual conception of dialogical relationship between human and God. We will return to this identification of the YHVH name of God with no-boundary consciousness below. We will see that the concept of name-both divine and human, in Lainer’s reading-will significantly deepen our understanding of Lainer’s theology of acosmic humanism.
According to Lainer, the concept of no-boundary awareness affects the core experience of all of religious life. In Lainer’s discussions of prayer, repentance, and the study of Torah, he suggests that each of these has two different modalities: that of ‘boundary’ and that of ‘no-boundary’. To illustrate the profound difference between the modalities, let us briefly examine the most complex of the three: repentance.
Repentance ‘within boundaries’ would, according to Lainer, suggest the classic form of repentance outlined by Maimonides, in which one first recognizes one’s sin, then regrets it, and, finally, commits to never repeat it. Repentance in no-boundary consciousness is entirely different. In Lainer’s conception, one who returns motivated by love-which, for Lainer, is repentance of no-boundary consciousness-has let go of regret and can embrace the sin itself as the will of God. The essence of the idea of תשובה teshuvah ‘beyond boundaries’ is thus an expansion of consciousness to a place where a person realizes that everything that happened needed to happen. It could not have been otherwise, nor would a person want it to be otherwise, for it was the will of God even if it was a sin relative to the general principles of the law.
This conception is, of course, a very powerful affirmation of human value and dignity even in the face of overwhelming evidence of sin. It obviously flies in the face of the classical concept of sin and repentance that dominates Jewish thought. However, in contradistinction to how MHs is presented by Gellman, Weiss, and Elior, Lainer does not fully abandon the classical notion of repentance and sin. It appears in one important strand of his writing, and perhaps in others. We will return to this claim in our discussion of paradox in MHs in Error! Reference source not found..
The Suprarational and the Unconscious
The ninth characteristic of acosmic humanism in this cluster is strikingly similar to one aspect of Romantic philosophy. Lainer states that human beings incarnate the divine will and therefore can trust and act on their desires–even lema’alah mida’ato. Lema’alah mida’ato, literally ‘above his דעת da’at awareness’, connotes for Lainer both the transrational and the unconscious. He calls this דבר עמוק davar ‘amok ‘a deep matter’. This terminology is related to the dialectic in Izbica between עומק ‘omek ‘depth’ and גווןgavan ‘surface’. ‘Omek refers to the nondual understanding of reality that is beyond intellect and law, while gavan is the normal, dual understanding of reality that expresses itself in law and intellect. In MHs, this type of language almost always indicates a teaching about the dialectics of acosmic humanism.
The ability to access the transrational realms-lema’alah mida’ato- is explicitly and consistently linked to binah, the quality through which one incarnates the unmediated will of God. In this vein, Lainer interprets the wine libations as symbolizing the idea that even lema’alah mida’ato Israel fulfills the will of God. This ability is more than an intuitive quality of the mind; post-berur, it inheres in the body itself. Interpreting the phrase ‘with the wisdom of his hands’ (Psalms 78:72) Lainer states:
זה רומז שנמצא בידים בינה למעלה מדעת האדם שיכול לכוון כרצון השי”ת בלי דעתו כלל לא יחטיא המטרה
This hints that in the hands there is found binah an understanding that is beyond a person’s intellect, which can intend the divine will without his mind at all [so that] he will not miss the mark.
Or, in another passage:
שהאדם מטה לבו לאיזה ד”ת, ימשך גם כל גופו ואבריו אחר הלב לפעול מעצמם אף בלי דעת כפי אשר יוטבע בלב
When a person inclines his heart [a synonym for retzon Ha-shem] to words of Torah, his entire body and his limbs will be drawn after the heart to act on their own accord, even bli da’at without awareness (unconsciously)’.
Here and in other passages, Lainer discusses what is beyond da’at not only in terms of the transrational, but also the unconscious. Similarly, in a third passage, Lainer states that after berur one can intend the will of God אף בלי יגיעה ואף בעת שינה ‘without any effort and even during sleep’.
In the post-berur state, unconscious action is wholly affirmed: היינו מקום שהאדם עושה בלי דעת כלאחר ידו גם לזה יסכים הקב”ה לטוב ‘This is the place where a person acts beli da’at unconsciously, kele’ahar yado automatically; also to these actions God will agree’; or in a variation on this theme, שנקבע דברי תורה בקביעות שאף שלא מדעת ‘Once Torah has been established permanently [in the heart] then even shelo mida’at unconsciously’; or, in yet another formulation: אף מתוך שכחה ‘even out of forgetfulness’.
Once the human identity with God is realized, then all human action, in both the transrational or supra-conscious realms, and the unconscious realms, can be understood as expressions of retzon Ha-shem. Of course, like no-boundary consciousness, the affirmation of the human ability to fulfill retzon Ha-shem even lema’alah mida’ato is predicated on acosmism; in the recurrent language of Lainer, both states flow from the ontological reality that Israel הם דבוקים בה’ ‘are devukim attached to God’.
Name, Activism and Acosmic Humanism
All is in the Hands of Heaven: A Humanist Agenda
We now turn to the tenth characteristic of Lainer’s acosmic humanism: its profoundly activist nature. Weiss suggests that the presence of divine will overwhelms the human being. The result of this, according to Weiss, is what he calls the undermining of human activism: מיעוט דמותה של כל עשייה אנושית…וביטולה הגמור ‘the diminished significance of human action…[or] its complete nullification’. As we have already seen, quite the opposite is true. Lainer sets up human freedom as the central defining characteristic of his religious anthropology.
It is easy to understand how Weiss arrived at his reading of Lainer. Lainer often conceals his true position in MHs. Moreover, he will often state a more conventional orthodox theocentric position at the beginning of an explanation, and only by implication let his more radical acosmic-humanist position be known at the end. Another method Lainer uses is to express a theocentric position through a dramatic re-reading of a rabbinic adage, which upon closer examination is revealed to be but a cover for his genuine acosmic-humanist position.
One text that is critical to the question of human activism and is cited by Weiss is a model of this structure. Lainer takes the well-known rabbinic dictum, ‘All is in the hands of heaven except for the fear of heaven’, and stands it on its head, so that it means, ‘All is in the hands of heaven, even the fear of heaven’. This appears, prima facie, to support the most extremely theocentric reading of Lainer, first outlined by Weiss.
However a more careful reading of the concept of ‘the hands of heaven’ in MHs leads to very different conclusions. First, in our reading of MHs, ‘all is in the hands of heaven even the fear of heaven’ refers to the specific level of consciousness that we have referred to in the introduction as shabbat consciousness. In shabbat consciousness, one moves beyond the illusion of self-sufficiency to the realization that all is done by God, i.e., ‘all is in the hands of heaven’. However, this phrase itself is understood by Lainer to already imply the third level consciousness that we have termed mikdash consciousness. In mikdash consciousness, as we shall see below, one realizes the ontic identity of human and divine wills. This is the empowering realization of acosmic humanism.
Indeed, when Lainer suggests ‘All is the in the hands of heaven, even the fear of heaven’, he is really obfuscating his true position. A careful analysis of some less cited MHs passages which address the relationship between human hands and divine will suggests that within Lainer’s radical reading of the rabbinic dictum, his true position is that ‘the hands of heaven’ are ontologically identical with ‘the hands of the human’. This is precisely the point made by our entire thesis.
In an important passage which we examined above , Lainer teaches that the phrase ‘with the wisdom of his hands’ (Psalms 78:72) indicates the level of lema’alah mida’ato: נמצא בידים בינה למעלה מדעת האדם שיכול לכוון כרצון השי”ת בלי דעתו כלל לא יחטיא המטרה ‘in the hands one finds binah an understanding that is beyond the intellect of a person, which can direct [itself] according to the divine will without one’s awareness-it will not miss the mark [or: sin] at all’.
The level of binah is of course the third level, at which human and divine will merge. There is an intentional blurring here in which human hands paradoxically express the divine will, i.e. the hands of heaven.
It is worth getting ahead of chronological order for a moment to cite Lainer’s student Tzadok Hakohen, who, in a teaching received in part from Lainer, makes this explicit. In describing the highest level of soul (the level of yehidah), he writes:
[Those on the highest level] are, in their essence, the will of God and merged with [God’s will]…[And regarding this level] the sages said, ‘The idol-worshipers recognized, and said’, ‘It is through the strength and power of my own hands’ (Deut. 8:17)…[i.e.,] that all is in the hands of man and not the hands of God…but Israel look to divine help…However, in the end it becomes their Torah, as it says ‘And the earth was given to mankind’ (Psalms115:16)…[T]his is the level of Solomon…who was called by the name of God.
Earlier in this passage, Tzadok states that this level is the place where the human has the ‘power to save himself’. In effect, an individual, animated by the divine, becomes their own redeemer. This language closely parallels MHs:
ועלו מושיעים בהר ציון, שהם נקראו מושיעים שיושיעו את עצמן כיון שיכירו שכל פעולתם הוא מהשי”ת
‘The saviors will go up to Mount Zion’ (Obadiah 1:21)-they are called saviors, that is, they will save themselves, because they recognize that all of their actions derive from God…
The key, as Lainer says in the beginning of the passage, is not to think שפעולותיו יעשו לו את הכל כי שם נסתר אור השי”ת ‘that his [independent] actions will do everything for him, just because there [in the material world] the light of God is hidden’.
Here again, it is not that human agency is irrelevant. In fact, one may legitimately call human beings moshi’im or redeemers. Rather, one must realize that one’s redemptive act is animated by the divine energy-in the metaphor of Lainer, illuminated by the divine light. In describing redeemed consciousness, Lainer speaks in terms of self-redemption. A person becomes their own savior. The key to this audacious claim is that the nations of the world, who believe that all strength and power are in their hands, are essentially correct. The drive to make this claim is rooted in the highest level of spiritual consciousness. Their mistake is that they do not realize that their hands have power only because of the ontic identity between their hands and the hands of God.
This concept of the evolving enlightenment of God through the vehicle of the human being is an underlying theme throughout MHs. In effect, the human, who shares in divine ontology, is the visible expression of the evolving Godhead.
This conclusion is supported by a careful analysis of the all of the passages related to hands in MHs. When Lainer stands the rabbinic dictum ‘All is in the hands of heaven except the fear of heaven’ on its head by re-reading it as ‘even the fear of heaven’, this initially appears as a move away from human autonomy to a radically theocentric position where the human being has no autonomy, even over his own interiority. As we have begun to show however, what Lainer really is intending is a profoundly humanistic perspective in which the ‘hands of man’ realize their ontic identity with the ‘hands of heaven’. In effect Lainer refers to three levels of consciousness.
Level one is the illusion of some degree of human independence where the ‘fear of heaven’ is controlled by human choice and autonomy and is therefore beyond the reach of the ‘hands of heaven’. This is the classic understanding of the dictum, ‘All is in the hands of heaven except the fear of heaven’. The second level of consciousness, the one upon which Weiss focuses virtually all of his attention, is the theocentric level. At this level man realizes that ‘all is the in hands of heaven’ and that human choice and autonomy is but an illusion. This is the level to which Lainer alludes when he re-reads this rabbinic dictum as ‘All is in the hands of heaven even the fear of heaven’.
Level two theocentricism however, is the not the apex of religious consciousness. At the third and highest level of religious consciousness, acosmic humanism, one realizes the ontic identify between the ‘hands of heaven’ and the ‘hands of man’. By tracing the ‘two hands’ theme, we can see how the idea that ‘hakol biyedei shamayim’ is another strand in the fabric of Lainer’s underlying theory of acosmic humanism. This is the esoteric teaching of MHs.
These themes crystallize in a set of interlocking passages unnoted in previous scholarship. These passages, which revolve around King David, clarify that the statement ‘All is in the hands of heaven, even the fear of heaven’ actually points to the state of post-berur consciousness in which ‘the hands of heaven’ are the ‘hands of man’.
These passages revolve around the Talmudic distinction, based on biblical verses, between God’s creation, which is the result of ‘one hand’ of God, and human activism, which is the result of ‘the two hands’ of God. The following example begins as an explanation of the verse ‘Your hands made me and established me; make me understand and I will learn Your commandments’ (Psalms 119:73):
ידיך עשוני ויכוננוני הבינני ואלמדה מצותיך. כתיב (ישעיה מ’,כ”ו) שאו מרום עיניכם וראו מי ברא אלה וגו’ והיינו כשיביט האדם לכוחות השמים וצבאיהם יוכל להבין כי ה’ ברא אלה ומזה מתחייב מאוד יראה, אכן בצדיקים איתא בגמ’ (כתובות ה’.) גדולים מעשי צדיקים יותר ממעשה שמים וארץ, דאלו בשמים וארץ כתיב (ישעיה מ”ח,י”ג) אף ידי יסדה ארץ וימיני טפחה שמים, ואלו במעשה צדיקים כתיב (שמות ט”ו,י”ז) מקדש ה’ כוננו ידיך בשתי ידים
It is written: ‘Lift your eyes up and see who created these…’ (Isaiah 40:36), meaning that when a person looks towards the powers of the heavens and their hosts, he can understand that YHVH ‘created these’. And from this he will bring upon himself intense fear. So therefore concerning the righteous, [it says] in the Talmud (bKet. 5a): ‘The deeds of the righteous are greater than the creation of heaven and earth. For regarding heaven and earth it is written: yadi yasdah aretz “Even My hand founded the earth, and the heavens were spanned by My right hand” (Isaiah 48:13), while regarding the deeds of the righteous it is written: mikdash Hashem konenu yadekha “Your hands established the sanctuary of Hashem (Exodus 15:17)” ‘-with two hands.
Lainer here distinguishes between the heavens, which induce יראה yirah (fear), and מעשי צדיקים ma’asei tzadikim (deeds of the righteous), which are greater than the heavens. Yirah, of course, is a code word in Izbica for ‘avodah, kelalei divrei Torah, ‘olam ha-zeh, the unredeemed world, and for pre-berur consciousness.
David transcends yirah, the quality of the heavens. The level beyond yirah is אהבה ahavah (love), retzon Ha-shem and post-berur consciousness, and it is represented here as the deeds of the righteous, denoted by the verse ‘Your hands established the sanctuary of Hashem’. The plural ‘hands’, i.e., both hands, indicates a higher level of spiritual consciousness.
The aggadah itself foreshadows the essence of Lainer’s thought: ‘Your hands’, that is, God’s hands, are the deeds of the righteous-in other words, human deeds are God’s actions. However It comes as no surprise that the paradigmatic expression of ma’asei tzadikim is the building of the Temple by Solomon. The Temple, as we have seen, is the place where acosmic humanism finds clearest expression in this world.
All of this is linked by Lainer back to the shekhinah sources. The love that expresses itself in David’s feeling of being fashioned by the two hands of God is David’s participation in the shekhinah, symbolized by the moon, as explained in the continuation of our passage,
וזה שאמר דוד המלך ע”ה ידיך עשוני היינו שמתאחד בשורשו למעשה צדיקים וכמו שנקרא על שם הירח שלית ליה מגרמיה כלום, ולכן התפלל הבינני ואלמדה מצותיך, יען שמחצבו הוא ממקום גבוה יותר ממעשה שמים וארץ לכן לא יבוא לו יראה בהביטו לשמים לכן ביקש הבינני בדברי תורה ומדברי תורה יתבונן לירא את ה’ וזה ואלמדה מצותיך
And this is what King David said: ‘Your hands made me’-he meant that at his very root, he is united with the deeds of the righteous. Similarly, he is called hayare’ah ‘the moon’, for leit leih megarmeih klum he has nothing at all [i.e., no light] for himself. He therefore prayed, ‘Make me understand and I will learn Your commandments’, since he is hewn from a very lofty place, more so than the creation of heaven and earth. Consequently, no fear comes to him when he looks to the heavens [i.e., he has no ‘fear of heaven’], therefore he sought [that God would] ‘make me understand’ through Torah to fear Hashem, and this is [the meaning of] ‘and I will learn your commands’.
The shekhinah symbolism and the two hands motif are thoroughly intertwined here. David, born in love, participates in shekhinah consciousness. He is of God’s hands. He is not motivated or connected to yirah, because his soul comes from a higher place. Unlike the earth and the sky, David’s soul allows him to transcend his sense of separateness from the divine.
This theme plays itself out in a long but essential passage which is one of the closing texts of the first volume of MHs. Here, David’s lack of fear is explicitly related to his ontic unity with God’s will:
[When King David] was empowered by the will of God within his heart, signified by the second heh [of the divine name], he immediately relied on his heart; he was no longer afraid; his heart was steadfast, certain that his desire and his will could not stray from God’s desire, for it is God’s desire.
David’s embrace within and unification with God’s hands, which places him beyond the normal ‘fear of heaven’, is equated with the sure knowledge that his desire is God’s desire. The continuation of this teaching leads us back to the ‘two hands’ theme:
ולעתיד ישלוט השם ע”פ צירף…של דוד המלך ע”ה…בתחל’ י”ק”ו”ק א”נ”ק”ת”ם היינו בעוד שלא זכה האדם לבוא לשורשו וחלקו בד”ת הוא נואק בצעקה תמיד להש”י לעזרו מן רצונות ומחשבות זרות המציקים לו ומנגדים ומבלבלים אותו להרידו ממקומו, אח”כ כשזוכה לישועת הש”י ומתחיל לבוא למקום חפצו זהו פ”ס”ת”ם פס מורה על הרחבה כמו יהי פסת בד כו’ שנרחב לו מהמציקים ואויביו נופלים תחתיו, אח”כ פ”ס”פ”ס”י”ם היינו שמשתדל להרחבת גבול לא מן המציקים לו, רק בשפע רב שמשפיע לו הש”י בשתי ידים , אח”כ ד”י”נ”ס”י”ם היינו שזוכה להתנשאות בנשיאות ראש
In the future God will rule according to [the names that derive from] the combination [of letters coming from] King David…[The first name refers to a time] when a person has not merited to arrive at his root and portion in the Torah; he cries out with a constant call to God to save him from the desires and strange thoughts that disturb him, and oppose him and confound him, lowering him from his place…After that, when he merits God’s salvation and begins to approach his desire, this is [the second name which indicates] harhavah extension…for [his place] is widened for him beyond disturbances and his enemies fall before him. After that, [is the level of the third name, when] he strives to expand boundaries, not because of [needing to overcome] those disturbances, but rather through the shefa’ rav great effluence that God showers upon him with two hands. After that [the fourth name is when] he merits hitnasut being raised up…
Relating to the names of God that are based on the permutations of the letters of the biblical verses comprising the priestly blessing, Lainer suggests that one name refers to the period in a person’s life before they have identified their unique helek (vocation), i.e., what we have termed ‘soul print’. The second name refers to the period in a person’s life after they have identified their soul print. The first name is an existential cry of distress from lack of participating in and living one’s own story. The second name affirms the humanistic nature of Lainer’s acosmism.
The third and fourth names refer to the time when one’s story is comprehended as coinciding completely with the divine will, culminating in התנשאות hitnasut, exaltation of the unique individual. Divine redemption occurs when a person expands into the parameters of their story; God flows into the person with a great effluence. This flow is from God’s two hands, ‘the hands of heaven’. The phrase used to describe this stage is הרחבה harhavah (widening or extension), which is a term that has clear associations in MHs. We saw that Lainer interprets the verse כי ירחיב ה’ אלקיך את גבולך ‘When God will extend your boundaries’ as referring to the no-boundary consciousness that one can attain when one realizes the acosmic nature of the universe.
In the process described above, expansion to no-boundary consciousness paradoxically coincides with affirmation of the unique individual’s ontic identity with God. ‘Two hands’signifies redemptive consciousness and נשיאות ראש nesiut rosh, the experience of being raised up, or exalted by God, a term that in MHs is covalent with radical individualism and uniqueness. In other words, realizing that we are all part of the great quilt of the divine does not nullify the reality that we are each unique patches in the quilt. This is what it means, according to Lainer, to receive God’s ‘two-handed’ divine effluence.
In Lainer’s theology, unique individuality and absorption in divinity merge. The continuation of the passage spells this out:
והענין מדות התנשאות הוא באמת למעלה מן השכל…וכ”א זוכה שחלקו מתנשא על כל ראש ואין שני לו…כמו משה ואהרן שהי’ כ”א מהם חד בדרא…זהו בדרך נס
The matter of the nature of being raised up (exalted), is truly beyond reason…and each one merits that his portion is lifted up above all, and there is no one is comparable to him…as with Moses and Aaron: each of them was unique in their generation…and this is in the manner of a miracle.
The concept of hitnasut, which is indeed paradoxical, defines Lainer’s system. Lainer is aware of the apparent contradiction between his acosmism and the individuality that defines his humanism, and therefore says that this is beyond reason. Two people can each be ‘the most unique’. As we will see, it is the Judah archetype who can access this consciousness that exists beyond reason.
The next passage begins with the same Talmudic teaching that the plural ‘hands’ indicates the precedence of the deeds of the righteous over the creation of heavens and earth. Here Lainer appropriates the aggadah in the following manner:
הענין בזה כי בריאת שמים וארץ היה כדי שיכיר האדם שהשי”ת נמצא בעולם, ואם היה מפורש זאת בהתגלות, אין שום מקום לפעולות אדם לכן הסתיר השי”ת זאת והלביש זאת בלבושים ולכן נדמה שעולם כמנהגו נוהג ואינו נראה הכרת השי”ת מפורש, רק ע”י מעשה המצות אז נתראה התגלות אור השי”ת בעולם, וכל זה הוא שהשי”ת חפץ להצדיק בריותיו, לכן נתן מקום שע”י פעולות ישראל נתגלה זאת
The issue in this is that the creation of heaven and earth happened in order that a person would know that God is in the world, and were this clearly revealed, there would be no place for the works of man. God therefore concealed this, clothing it in garments. It therefore seems as if the world behaves in its customary fashion (i.e., according to the natural order), and the recognition of God is not shown explicitly. It is only through performance of the commandments that God’s light is then shown in the world. All this is so because God desires lehatzdik to vindicate His creations. He therefore made room for this to be revealed through Israel’s actions.
It seems that creating with ‘one hand’ is synonymous with God’s concealment, while the ‘hands of heaven’ indicate the revelation of divine immanence, which happens through human activism. This is made clear in the continuation of the passage:
וכמו שמצינו בעת שנגמר בנין בית המקדש היה כל האומות מכירים התגלות השי”ת בעולם וזה נקרא בשתי ידים היינו בשלימות הגמור
As we found at the time when the building of the Temple was completed, all the nations then recognized the revelation of God in the world. This is what is called ‘with two hands’, meaning, in complete sheleimut perfection.
The symbol of acosmic humanism that is integrated into human consciousness is none other then the mikdash, the Temple in Jerusalem. Once again the Temple is an essential part of the cluster of concepts and terms that form Solomon’s wisdom of acosmic humanism.
The passage concludes:
כיון שכל עיקר הרצון בפעולת אדם גם כן הוא מחסדי השי”ת שחפץ שמעשה צדיקים יאירו הכרת השי”ת בכל העולמות, לכן בטח יסכים השי”ת על כל פעולתם
Since the whole essence of the desire for the work of man is also from God’s kindness, that He desires that the deeds of the righteous will shine the awareness of God in all the worlds, God will therefore certainly agree to all their actions.
Another two-hands passage revolves around uniqueness and radical individualism, a theme which we have already seen in these texts. The difference between this and the previous passages is that here the effluence goes from human to God. The context is the shelamim (whole offering) sacrifice, which apparently hints to the human perfection that comes from fully accepting one’s unique story:
והוא כי ירצה לראות את מקומו ממי שהוא גדול וחפץ בהתנשאות, בזה נאמר יביא את קרבנו ידיו תביאנה, היינו למסור כל בקשתו ותפלתו להש”י…ע”ז מורה מה שנאמר ידיו תביאנה היינו בשני ידים כי באם האדם ירצה לטעום מטובו בעוה”ז ומבקש מהש”י שיראהו מקומו צריך להיות נקי מצדו… וזהו ידיו תביאנה כי הוא בשתי ידים
He wants to see his place and whom he is greater than, and he wants to be lifted up. Concerning this it says, ‘He shall bring his offering, his hands will bring it’. This means that he should submit all his supplication and prayer to God. Thus the instruction, ‘his hands will bring it’, that is, with two hands. For if a person wants to taste His goodness in this world and asks God to show him his place, he must be clean from his side…which is what is meant by ‘His hands will bring it’, since it is with both hands.
If a person wants to know their place, their purpose cannot be to satisfy their narrow ego agenda. Rather, their purpose must be to embrace in a clean and pure way their unique place and their unique expression of divinity, whatever these might be. According to Lainer, this is the meaning of offering prayer and sacrifice with two hands.
Lastly, we bring a passage that indicates the intimacy of ‘God’s hands’ and shows that we are talking about a kind of unity with God’s will that is very far from the theocentric and deterministic perspective advocated by Weiss:
כל קדושיו בידיך הוא לשון נוכח היינו העושים מאהבה הם ביד הש”י ולנגדם מפורש הנוכח
‘All of his holy ones are in Your hands’. This is a language of unmediated presence; that is to say, those who act from love are in the hand of God, and God is present to them in an explicit and unmediated fashion.
‘Acting in love’ and ‘unmediated presence’ are virtual synonyms for the Judah archetype, in which human action, emerging from clarified human will, is affirmed as expressing the will of God. The hands of heaven, once again, are the hands receiving those who act from love, while those who act are united with God’s unmediated presence, which is synonymous with merging with the shekhinah.
The goal of religious endeavor is to achieve the level of enlightenment in which consciousness expands to the unmediated realization that human action is animated by God. In fact, all human action-in its purified post-berur form-is divine action as well. This reading of Lainer transforms the meaning of ‘All is in the hands of heaven’ from radical theocentrism to an equally radical humanism. Finally, the entire idea of berur, clarification of the nature of both reality and one’s inner motivation, assumes as its point of departure a radically activist posture. These points support the idea of human activism even within post-berur consciousness, as well as the idea that berur itself as an affirmation of human activism.
Called by the Name of God
When we examine MHs texts bearing directly on the issue of human activism, we will see that the major motif in these processes is to dramatically empower human activism rather than undermine it. However, before turning to these texts, we first need to present a major motif that limns Lainer’s entire discussion of human activism. This is the topic of ‘name’. Examining this topic will allow us to more fully understand Lainer’s theology, with particular emphasis on its activist expression.
As we have noted, previous scholarship, following Weiss, reads Lainer as wholly rejecting the ontological efficacy of human activism. Let us look at a key passage Weiss uses to support his core thesis that Lainer’s theology of divine will leads to a radical devaluing of human action. Weiss cites a central mantra-like refrain appearing throughout MHs: human action is ‘called by the name of God’. Virtually all students of MHs understand this to mean that the actions of the human being belong to God and have no connection to the human being; however, as a divine gift to the human, God allows actions to nonetheless be ‘called by the name of man’. This gift is the human illusion that human activism is valuable and that therefore one’s actions should be called by one’s name; when indeed the ontological truth is that human activism is irrelevant. A closer reading of this passage, however, suggests a very different interpretation. Especially in the context of many other passages dealing with names, a very different picture emerges that dramatically supports acosmic humanism, rooting it in one of the most central kabbalistic doctrines: the secret of the name of God.
Lainer, emerging from a long kabbalistic tradition and going one step further in his conclusions, actually teaches the paradoxical identity between the name of God and the human name. Human actions are correctly ascribed to human beings: ‘called by the name of man’. And they are also ascribed to the name of God. This is the great paradox of acosmic humanism. Religious difficulty only arises when human actions are ascribed solely to the name of the human, that is to say, when the human being claims the ability to act independently of the divine name and will. Thus in the part of this text not cited by Weiss, Lainer teaches that ‘both names should be affixed in the human heart’: both the name of ADNY that ascribes actions to independent human agency and the name YHVH that ascribes actions to God. In the future world, the illusion of difference between these two names will collapse and God’s name will be one; that is, there will be a realization of the ontic identity between God and human. It is not, as Weiss’s reading of the passage implies, that the name ADNY, which suggests human will and autonomy, will disappear. Rather, it will be absorbed and integrated into YHVH.
We will examine below the three distinct levels of consciousness that are operative in MHs. At the first level, there exists a necessary illusion that human effort independent of God is what creates change in the world. This corresponds to what Lainer refers to here as actions ‘called by the name of man’. This illusion fails when one ascends to the second stage of consciousness, in which one realizes that all is called by the ‘name of God’. However, a third level of consciousness exists at which, once again, one realizes that human action is indeed ‘called by the name of man’. At this level of consciousness one realizes, however, that the name of the human and the name of God are ontically identical.
The essence of redeemed consciousness, as we have already seen, derives from what Lainer refers to as binah. It is in ‘binah consciousness’ that a person can incarnate and intend the will of God. In other words, the person understands binah consciousness in terms of ‘name’. Lainer states in a typical passage:
עד דלא ידע היינו בלי לדעת והכרה רק מהבינה שבלב ידע ארור המן וברוך מרדכי
‘Ad delo yada’- ‘until he does not know’-this means [knowing] beli da’at vehakarah ‘without any conscious knowledge’-only from ha-binah shebalev the understanding of the heart-will he know that Haman is cursed and Mordechai blessed.
Here, the redeemed consciousness of binah accessed on Purim is defined by a person visibly personifying the name of God. Lainer means here that the name of the human participates in the identity of the name of God and is not effaced into nothingness by the divine name. This reading is made clear in a critical series of passages, each of which makes the point in a different way.
In the first passage, Lainer interprets the rabbinic saying: למה צדיקים דומין בפני השכינה כנר בפני אבוקה ‘What is the relation between the tzadik and the shekhinah? That of a candle before a torch’:
…שלא אמרו כנר בפני השמש, משום דשרגא בטיהרא מאי מהניא, שמתבטל ומתכלל במקור האור שהוא השמש. אבל נר בפני אבוקה אינו מתבטל, שהוא חלק ממנו וניכר בו אור בפני עצמו. וע”כ נמשלו צדיקים בפני השכינה כנר בפני אבוקה, לומר שגם בעת שיתגלה הבהירות מאורו של השי”ת ויתראה כי אין מציאות לבחירה ועבודה, בכל זאת יהיה השארה למעשה הצדיקים שייגעו וסבלו בעולם הזה בעת ההסתר להיות נקרא עבודתם על שמם.
They did not say like a candle before the sun…for in that image, the light would be nullified and absorbed in the source of the light, which is the sun. But a candle before a torch is not mitbatel ‘nullified’…it remains a light unto itself. It is in this sense that the relationship of the righteous to shekhinah was held to be analogous to a candle’s relation to a torch. That is, even at that time when the clarity of divine light will be revealed and it will be seen that choice and human activism have no independent metziut (ontology), nonetheless, the work of the righteous, who toiled and endured in this world in the time of occlusion [of the shekhinah], will have a hash’arah (something that remains theirs), through being called their ‘avodah work, by their name.
It is very clear in this passage that human activism (expressed by human actions being called by the ‘name of man’) has ontological value. The revelation of divine light in the future world, as Lainer explains above, removes the illusion of independent human action but does not undermine the ontological value of human activism. Rather, as we have seen, it is empowering, lending tekufot (power, audacity, and determination) to the human being, who becomes conscious that he participates in divinity. Ontology means, as in the previous passage, that the name of man and the name of God are identical. A key phrase is hash’arah indicating that human action has effect in the world not only in a relative sense, but also in an absolute ontological sense, as an expression of the true divine nature of reality. A second key phrase in this passage is מעשה צדיקים ma’aseh tzadikim, the deeds of the righteous. Lainer regularly uses this phrase to refer not to the Hasidic tzadik but to any person who realizes their ontic identity with the divine and thus intends the will of God. The category of tzadik was extended by Lainer to the entire Judah archetype, which, as we shall see below, is the archetype of one who has realized the identity between human and divine will and therefore can mekaven retzon Ha-shem ‘intend the will of God’. We have already seen, in our discussion of divine will, that the category of one who can intend the will of God is not limited to any particular elite but includes in theory all of Israel מקטון ועד גדול mikaton ve’ad gadol (this means both ‘young to old’ and ‘small to great’). Deeds referred to by the name of man, נקרא על שמו nikra al shemo, means therefore not that the actions are merely human actions. Rather, this means that human action, symbolized by the human name, participates in the name of God.
The idea of נקרא על שמו nikra al shemo, namely, that actions are ascribed to the human, is not an illusion. Only human action independent of God is an illusion. The idea that nikra al shemo is possessed of real ontological status, i.e., the name of God, is expressed in many other MHs texts. In one example, Jacob, according to Lainer, wants God to inform himואיזה ברכה וקדושת השם ישאר אחריו השארה קיימת להיות נקרא על שמו ‘what blessing and sanctity of the name will remain after him [as a] lasting legacy to be called by his name?’ The phraseהשארה קיימת hash’arah kayemet is of course a terminus technicus in MHs for ontology. Jacob wants to know that his life-his unique individuality-has lasting ontological value; in Lainer’s refrain throughout MHs, Jacob wants to know what will be nikra al shemo.
In another critical passage, Lainer deals directly with the efficacy of human actions in the context of name and makes very clear what he means when he says human actions are ‘called by the name of man’:
הכ”ח עתים…רומזים שלא יסמוך האדם על כללי ד”ת לבד רק יביט להשי”ת בכל פרט מעשה ולפי העת מה שהשי”ת חפץ, וזאת אין ביכולת האדם לכוון בלתי עזר השי”ת, וכיון שכן הוא אם כן מה יתרון לעושה, כיון שכל העבודות שהאדם עובד להשי”ת הכל הוא מרצון השי”ת שהשפיע לו, ולא נקראו על שמו אם כן מה יתרון לעושה, ע”ז אמר באשר הוא עמל שזה יתרונו מה שמייגע עצמו שרוצה מצדו לקיים רצון השי”ת זה נשאר לו לעולמי עד, ועל ידי זה יסכים השי”ת על כל מעשיו שיקראו על שם האדם העושה…אם כן אין לפרש הכל רק צריך להזהר ולהבין לעשות ולכוון רצון השי”ת בכל עת וה’ יגמור בעדו
…a person should not rely on the general principles of Torah alone. He should only look to God in every specific action, according to the specific time, [to know] what God desires, and this is beyond what person is able to intend without the help of God. And since this is true, ‘What is the profit for the one who acts’ (Eccles. 3:9), since all the acts of service a person does for God derive from the divine will which flows to him, and they will not be called by his name?…Regarding this, it says [in the continuation of the verse] ‘in whatever he has toiled over’, for this is his profit: whatever [degree] he exerts himself by wanting from his side to fulfill the will of God, this [exertion] remains for him l’olmei ‘ad forever [it is ontologically real], and as a result, God yaskim agrees concerning all his actions that they will be called them by the name of the person who acts…[If so, a person] must take care and understand how to do and intend the divine will at every moment, and God yigmor ba’ado will complete [his actions] for his sake.
The human being in this passage is charged with an activist spiritual posture. Instead of relying on the precedent of the law, he must seek anew in every situation to discern the specific will of God. It is clear in this passage that human activism has lasting significance. The phrases at the end of this passage, ‘God agrees’, i.e., affirms human action, and ‘God completes’ human action, are often used by Lainer to express acosmism in a way that affirms rather than effaces the human being.
A parallel phrase expressing acosmic humanism in MHs is that ‘God seals his name’ upon human action. In one example, a text that comes from the Wisdom of Solomon genre, Lainer states:ועל דוד המלך ע”ה יחתום הש”י תיכף את שמו על כל מעשיו קודם שיצא להתפשתות… ‘God seals his name instantly on all the actions of King David’. David represents one who has realized his identity with the divine will and therefore can intend the divine will. Human action, in its most perfect expression, is both symbolized or called by the name of the human, and merged or sealed with God’s name. There is no sense here of David being effaced or overpowered by divinity. Quite the opposite, David personifies divine will and name rather than being overwhelmed by it.
That this is at all possible is because of the ontic identity between human and divine will. Contrary to Weiss’s understanding, name is not shown to be mere illusion, even in the full light of the eschaton.
Called by the Name, Ontology, Uniqueness, and Unique Will
Lainer uses name to express uniqueness throughout MHs. A particularly important example of the identification between name and uniqueness appears in Lainer’s discussion of the rabbinic adage that every person has three names. This passage is important because it affirms the ontological status of the unique name acquired by the human being as result of human action.
ושם שקונה לעצמו היינו מה שמתקן ומרפא החסרון שלו…גדול מה שקונה הוא לעצמו, כי מלת שם בכל מקום מורה על שורש החיים, שכל הנפש הוא מדוגל בו
The name that he acquires for himself comes through fixing and healing his [unique] hisaron …Great is what the person acquires for himself, for the word ‘name’ always indicates the root of life, which every person participates in…
‘Root of life’ refers to the divine. Lainer states here that the name acquired by human action is not effaced at all; to the contrary, it participates in the divine. The prism for that participation, as this passage makes clear, is the healing embrace of one’s unique individuality, expressed in one’s unique hisaron. This is a recurrent theme in MHs.
Lainer makes it clear that the human’s name is never independent, rather, it is, in and of itself, the name of God. This is the realization of redeemed consciousness. This idea emerges in the following passage, where Lainer explains a midrash about Eleazar, Aaron’s son, fleeing the tribes, who have ‘risen up against him’. Lainer applies the verse ‘The name of God is a tower of strength; the righteous man will run into it and be lifted to safety’ (Prov. 18:10) to Eleazar:
מי שחוסה ובא בשם ה’ יש לו מגדל עז, אפילו שעושה מעשה שאינו מיופה על הגוון שנדמה שעושה במרוצה, מכל מקום יש לו תקופות ומגדל עז כיון שהוא שם ה’, אף שבו ירוץ, מכל מקום מכוון לעומק רצון השי”ת, כיון שאינו עושה רק מה שהוא רצון השי”ת, וזה ונשגב שהמעשה הזה הוא למעלה מהשגת תפיסת האדם בעוה”ז
One who flees and comes in God’s name has migdal oz ‘a tower of strength’, even when he does something that is not right on the surface… Nonetheless he has tekufot [sacred audacity] and migdal oz, since he is shem Ha-shem the name of God [!] even running into [the name] (i.e. merging with it). Nonetheless, he intends the depth of God’s will…and this is the meaning of nisgav ‘lifted to safety’: this action is beyond the reach of the human perspective in this world.
We will analyze the portion of this passage referring to the Judah archetype below in our discussion of the same in Error! Reference source not found.; for now it is sufficient to notice that the person who reaches the level of post-berur consciousness merges with the name of God. The person’s audacity is the audacity of God, because the ontic identity between the individual’s name and the name of God has been realized. The tekufot of the individual and the עוז oz of the name of God are one and the same. This is a classic expression of acosmic humanism: ‘For he is the name of God’.
Since we have already seen that Lainer identifies human and divine will, and speaks specifically in terms of the identity of the unique human will with the divine will, it is not at all surprising to learn that Lainer, in a series of passages, identifies name not only with uniqueness but also with ratzon:
כי שמו מורה על רצון, כמו שנמצא בבני אדם שנקראים ע”ש מעשיהם ואומנתם לפי שכל רצונם הוא בדבר שהם עוסקים בה, וגם שמו בגימ’ רצון
For name expresses will. Just as we see that people are called the name of their deeds and crafts, because all of their will is manifest in that which they are engaged by their actions, and name in gematria (numerology) is [equivalent to] ratzon…
This supports our reading fully. Just as we have seen in numerous passages that the person is ontologically identified with the will of God, so too, the name, which is but another face of will, reflects that same identity. The name of God and the name of the human participate in the same ontological identity.
The Dialectical Dance of Acosmic Humanism
This blurring between the human name and the name of God expresses itself in a dialectical and paradoxical dance in which the human is called by the name of God, as we have seen in some of the aforementioned passages, and God desires to be called by the human name. In a passage underscoring the ontology of human action and linking it with God’s desire to be called by the name of man, Lainer states:
היינו שנתן השי”ת מקום לעבודת ישראל עד שרצון השי”ת לקבוע מקום לעבודתם למעלה מכל תפיסת אדם וכמו שכתיב (ישעיה מ”ט,ג’) ישראל אשר בך אתפאר שהש”י רוצה שיקרא ע”ש ישראל
God gave place to the work of Israel, so much so that it is God’s will to establish a place for their service [i.e., human action] higher than the grasp of man…as it says, ‘Israel in whom I am made beautiful’ (Isaiah 49:3), meaning that God desires to be called by the name of Israel.
In the human divine dance, a person gives up any sense of ownership deriving from their action and in direct response God affirms the ontological dignity of human action. According to Lainer, this paradox is precisely that the meaning of human action being called by the name of man. Using the building of the tabernacle as his model, Lainer devotes a very long passage to explaining that a human being can claim no real participation in manifesting the effects which seem to result from their action. However, as is the case many times in MHs, Lainer’s true position is revealed only in the last several lines of the passage.
ואף שהאדם יראה לעינים שאין שום התנשאות, אכן סוד ה’ ליריאיו אחר שהכיר שמצד עצמו אין לו התפארות בשורש, הראה השי”ת שיש לו התנשאות מזה שהוא יגע במלאכה, והשי”ת מצדו בירר זאת שכתיב וימלא אותו רוח אלהים, ולכן כתיב אחר כן ויעש בצלאל את הארון שנקראת המלאכה על שמו.
Even though the person sees that he has no hitnasut (distinction) [as a result of his efforts], nonetheless…after he recognizes that he has no independent adornment in his root, God shows him that he does have hitnasut as a result of his effort at his work. And God himself clarified this, as it says [in regard to Bezalel], ‘[God] filled him with the spirit of God]’ (Ex. 35:31) and after that it says, ‘Bezalel made the ark’ (Ex. 37:1), that is, the work was called by his name.
According to Lainer, Bezalel’s participation in the work of the tabernacle is ultimately not an illusion to be dispelled but that which accords him hitnasut, individual distinction, a clear indication of ontological status in Lainer’s lexicon.
A similar notion appears in regard to Lainer’s understanding of the relationship between human thought and action. One might have thought, states Lainer, that action was in human hands and thought in God’s hands. However:
אכן אם האדם מכיר שבאמת גם המעשה היא ביד השי”ת ואומר לה’ הארץ ומלאה, ומבלעדו לא ירים איש את ידו ואת רגלו, אז משלם לו השי”ת שכרו מדה במדה ותולה גם המחשבה בהאדם…וזהו מאמר המדרש מה בעטרה שעטרה לו אמו כו’ לא זז מחבבה עד שקראה אמי, היינו אחר שאמר דהמ”עה כי מידך נתנו לך היינו שתלה כל המעשה בהש”י ולזאת לא זז מחבבה עד שקראה אמי, אמי היינו המחשבה, והוא כי אף המחשבה נקראת על שמך
When a person realizes that action is also in God’s hands …and that without Him, no one raises a hand or a foot, then God gives him his reward quid pro quo, and ascribes even thought to man, that is to say, …even thought is called by your name [i.e., by the name of man].
Calling action by the name of the human is not a meaningless divine reward (though one might hear that tenor in the above passage). Rather, in light of the passages we have adduced thus far, one is paradoxically freed and empowered to the extent that one’s actions and thoughts are called by one’s name. Lainer’s intention here becomes clearer. By recognizing that there is no thought or action independent of God, the human in effect realizes the ontic identity between the human and God, so that one’s name participates in the name of God. The final source we will quote both captures the paradoxical nature of acosmic humanism, and makes clear that nikra al shemo specifically means the ontological efficacy of human action which has effect l’olmei ‘ad, i.e., even within the framework of post-berur consciousness.
In this passage, Lainer interprets the verse (Eccles. 3:9) מה יתרון העושה באשר הוא עמל ‘What is the profit for the one who acts in what he has toiled over?’ The context is Lainer’s assertion that the twenty-eight times the word עת ‘et ‘time’ is mentioned at the beginning of Ecclesiastes imply that each moment has its own commandment which cannot be captured by the general principles of law; rather, a person must ‘only look to God in every specific action according to the specific time, to see what God desires’.
If so, asks Lainer, what is the point of human activism ‘since all the acts [a person performs] derive from the divine will…and they will not be called by his name…’ To which Lainer responds:
מה שמייגע עצמו שרוצה מצדו לקיים רצון השי”ת זה נשאר לו לעולמי עד, ועל ידי זה יסכים השי”ת על כל מעשיו שיקראו על שם האדם העושה
…[His exertion in] wanting from his side to fulfill the will of God…remains for him forever, and as a result, God agrees concerning all his actions that they will be called by the name of the person who acts.
In the first stage, when Lainer thought human action might be an illusion, he referred to human action as not called by the man’s name. However, in the second part of the passage, where he affirms his notion of acosmic humanism, God agrees to all human action, when the ontology and dignity of human activism has been affirmed. At that point, Lainer writes that human action is called by man’s name!
Some Concluding Remarks on the Identity of Names
At the conclusion of our discussion of name, two more points are in order. First, three characteristics from our list of unique features of Lainer’s acosmic humanism, hitpashtut, the unity of human and divine lema’alah mida’ato, and no-boundary consciousness, are all identified by Lainer as manifestations of the name of God in human consciousness. Second, for Lainer, acosmic humanism, expressed in the idea that human actions are called by the human name-which means, as we have seen, that there is an ontic identity between the name of God and the human’s name-is the very intent and purpose of divine creation, that is to say, this unique paradox of acosmic humanism is precisely the mystery of צמצום tzimtzum. We see this position expressed in Lainer’s comment on the biblical verse הן האדם היה כאחד ממנו ‘The human has become as one of us’, (Gen. 3:22) which he reads as a biblical allusion to acosmic humanism, directly citing Lurianic sources:
שקודם החטא היה אחיזתו קטנה בזה העולם, ואחר החטא הוקבע בקביעות בזה העולם כרצון השי”ת כדי שהטובה יהיה נקרא על שם יגיע כפיו, ואם היה עוד אחר החטא בגן עדן היה יכול לעשות תשובה בשלימות ולברר עצמו לגמרי, ורצון השי”ת היה שהחטא לא יתברר עד לעתיד, כדי שכל הדורות אחריו יסגלו מעשים טובים שיהיו נקראים על שמם, לכן נתגרש מגן עדן, וכענין שנתבאר בחלק ראשון על עוזיה מלך יהודה (משלי ל’ ד”ה שממית).
…after the sin, man’s stake in this world was firmly established in order that the good be called by his name…God’s will was that the sin should not be clarified until the future, in order for all the generations to acquire good deeds that would be called by their name, therefore they were exiled from the Garden of Eden.
The very existence of sin is, for Lainer, synonymous with the possibility of human activism and therefore dignity. Sin is an expression of the divine intent for creation to be called by the name of man.
The Paradox of Human Activism: Levels of Consciousness
A broader perusal of the relevant MHs texts reveals paradox as a central theme in Lainer’s theology. In outlining what we mean by this, we note the obvious: acosmic humanism is a highly paradoxical notion. If this understanding of MHs is correct, the need to embrace paradox should be at the center of Lainer’s understanding.
Lainer speaks in terms of the essential ontological paradox of acosmic humanism, in which the seemingly mutually exclusive concepts of activism and the nullification of independent human action are maintained as one.
In the non-acosmic-humanist reading espoused by Weiss and those who follow him, each position addresses a different reality. Specifically, one addresses the pre-berur reality and one addresses the post-berur reality. Pre-berur human activism is important, while post-berur, human activism is not. The psychological paradox, however, remains central even without adopting an ‘acosmic-humanist’ understanding of MHs, for it is apparent that Lainer believes that both positions need to be maintained together because of the essential fluidity of human experience.
This means that when both pre-berur and post-berur perspectives appear in one passage, it would inappropriate/insufficient to draw conclusions based just on one half of the teaching. MHs passages are that when read out of context, would seem to be nullifying human action, are changed completely when read in a more comprehensive manner. For example, in the Korah passage adduced by Weiss, it is evident, when one reads the entire passage, that Lainer maintains that God hafetz ‘desires’ the actions of man.
Human activism is an expression of divine will according to Lainer, and not just divine indulgence. Moreover, this is true even if we assume Weiss’s non-humanist reading, which does not acknowledge the post-berur consciousness of acosmic humanism.
However, even in the reading suggested by the non-humanist model, the complete rejection of human action in post-berur reality, may not hold. To understand why, and to understand the relation between these seemingly incongruous assertions, we need to distinguish the two core models of berur in MHs. The first we will term the ‘linear model’, and the second we will term the ‘dynamic model’.
In the linear model, once berur has been achieved, it is a relatively stable state of consciousness. In this stage, the individual transcends the law and responds to the voice of unmediated divine revelation.
וזהו עתידה של תורה שתשתכח מישראל, היינו שיהיה רצון הש”י נעלם…בלי שום דעת ועצה מד”ת שהם תרי”ג עיטין…שיכוונו ישראל לרצון הש”י…ויתברר שהם דבקים בהש”י
The statement ‘Torah will be forgotten from Israel’ means that God’s will will be hidden…without any knowledge or advice from Torah, which are the ‘613 suggestions’…For Israel will intend God’s will, and it will be clarified that they are totally attached to God…
It is perfectly clear here that after complete berur there is no longer any need for the law. This linear model, though not dominant in MHs, appears in several other passages as well. Lainer makes clear that the linear model outlines not only the berur that will take place in the eschaton, but also the berur that can be accomplished by any person in Israel in the context of the pre-eschaton reality. For example:
והבירורים הללו המה בדעת כל אדם בכל ענינים…ובאם הוא גם ברצון הש”י אז יוכל לעשות מה שלבו חפץ
These forms of berur are in the consciousness of every person and should be applied in all matters…[After the berur has been accomplished, however,] when the person intends the will of God, then he can do what his heart desires.
Note that this passage precludes any attempt to limit the linear model to passages concerning the eschaton. This is made clear in the following passage as well:
ובזה המעשה שעושה יחקור ויתבונן אם המעשה והרצון הזה הוא מבורר שיהיה קיים כן לעולמי עד אפילו לעוה”ב…ובאמת כפי מה שחאדם מקרב עצמו לה’ כן זוכה להתגלות אור ה’ מבלי לבושים שהם גדרים וסייגים, כי באור הברור, שם לא נמצא שום סייג ואיסור
In this action that he does he should search [in order to] understand whether this act and will are clarified mevorer [in the present] such that it will exist forever le’olmei ‘ad, even in ‘olam ha-ba …for however much a person brings himself close to God, so does he merit the revelation of divine will without ‘clothing’, i.e., the fences and limitations; for in the or ha-barur clarified light there is neither limitation nor prohibition.
These passages highlight the distinction between Lainer’s concept of ontic identity with the divine as a stable state achieved post-berur, and the far more fragile and fleeting achievement of ontic identity with the divine in the unio mystica strain of sources both in Hasidism and in earlier Kabbalah.
There is, however, a second model in Lainer as well, which we term the dynamic model. It is this model that seems to be dominant in most of Weiss’s prooftexts. In these passages, Lainer at once affirms and devalues human action. The underlying assertion in these texts is that once berur has been achieved, a person does not simply acquire a stable consciousness in which human action is irrelevant. Rather, one enters a dynamic state of consciousness in which both human and divine agency, as well as human and divine activism, are simultaneous realities existing in a relationship of paradoxical complementarity. In this model, Lainer is not rejecting human action, he is asserting that a person can be constantly moving between pre- and post-berur consciousness. Hence, both human action and its devaluation might be simultaneously true on both a metaphysical and psychological level.
Theoretically, in the non-humanist reading espoused by Weiss, if we deploy the linear model, then human activism would in fact become irrelevant post-berur; if we deploy the dynamic model, however, it would still remain relevant.
However, quite independent of all this is the essential acosmic-humanist nature of Lainer’s theology, which affirms that once a person has achieved full berur, human action does not become irrelevant. Rather, the notion of human action independent of God becomes absurd. The result, however, is not an effacing of human dignity and activism, but radical human empowerment. In this reading, post-berur human activism is radically affirmed in the realization of one’s ontic identity with the divine. The individual’s action and divine action are identical.
Up to now, in our acosmic-humanist reading of Lainer, we have affirmed the ontological dignity of human action in a reality of post-berur consciousness, that is, in a state of redeemed consciousness beyond the illusion of independence. Lainer, however, also makes clear in a number of passages that even in the not-yet-redeemed pre-berur consciousness, a sense of independent human action, although an illusion, is an expression of the divine will, because this is what initiates the human process of ‘avodah. It is God’s will that initially ‘it should appear to the person’ that there is independent ‘avodah. Therefore, היינו שהשי”ת ממדת טובו הציב שידמה לאדם שביגיע כפיו זכה ‘God, in the attribute of his goodness, established that it should appear to the person that he merited through the toil of his hands’.
Once ‘avodah has been initiated, a person moves beyond it, to a place of ‘choicelessness’. The goal of what Lainer terms ‘avodah-a sense of human effort, responsibility and dignity-is not its transcendence as Weiss would have it, but simply the deep realization that there is no ‘avodah independent of God. Using the same language that he uses to affirm God’s desire for independent human action, Lainer states:
וכל עוד שידמה האדם שיש לו איזה דמיון לומר כוחי ועוצם ידי, שיש לו הויה בפני עצמו, אפילו בעניני תפילות ועבודות, אז הוא עדיין בשעבוד הגלות ואינו בן חורין
One to whom it appears that it is due to the strength and power of his hand that he has any existence on his own independent of God…then he [has not left Egypt and] is still in oppression and exile; he is not free.
At a more developed level of consciousness, it is important to internalize the acosmic truth that all is God. This is not the unio mystica experience found in other strands of early Hasidism. Lainer insists on the human being retaining individual integrity and the ontological dignity of human activism even within the divine embrace, as we examined thoroughly above. The human being is like a candle before a torch and not like a candle before the sun.
We have demonstrated up to this point in the thesis that Lainer affirms human activism. To better understand what this means in the context of Lainer’s acosmic humanism, it is helpful to map it in terms of three distinct levels of relationship to human activism in Lainer’s thought:
At the first level, one experiences oneself as independent from God. This is a state desired by God because it initiates a person into effort and activism, which Lainer terms ‘avodah.
At the second level, which Lainer sometimes refers to as the level of shabbat, there is a realization that indeed there are no human actions whatsoever independent of God.
At the third level, totally free human activism is re-embraced, fully driven by clarified human desire. Here, the person realizes the ontic identity between God and human; this is the stage of acosmic humanism.
The sources Weiss cites describe the second level. By not realizing that these are second-level sources, he interprets them in a manner that leaves little room for hearing the nuance of paradox, particularly since Mordechai Lainer (and his compilers) had reason to conceal the radical goal of his sytem. In reality, the second level is the process of berur, the weaning away from the illusion of independent human action, which was initially necessary to initiate the process of ‘avodah. The first level might fairly be called the pseudo-independent stage, the second, the nullification level, and the third, the ‘transparency’ level.
The pseudo-independent level affirms human activism as a necessary illusion. The nullification level is the giving up of any notion of separateness or independence. At the third level, a person becomes transparent to the divine and the God force begins to flow within one and not around one. Viewed superficially, the first and third levels might seem similar. Both embrace human activism. However, the first-level illusion of independent action, is exposed by second-level consciousness. It is from this second level, where all human action is understood to be meaningless, that Weiss viewed Lainer as radically theocentric. However, the third level is not a regression; rather, level three transcends and includes level two. At level three, the hands of the human and the hands of God become identical. The essence of the third level is transcending and unifying the dichotomy between levels one and two.
This notion of the three levels of consciousness is crystallized in one of the most central passages in MHs, which, as far as we have found, is not mentioned anywhere in Izbica scholarship. In this passage Lainer identifies the second and third levels, respectively, as שבת shabbat andמקדש mikdash consciousness.
The ostensible issue at stake in the passage is the distinction between the mikdash (the Temple), where the שופר shofar is blown on shabbat, and beyond the precincts (גבול boundary) of the mikdash where the shofar is not blown on shabbat. Shofar represents the highest level of human activism. Shabbat represents the time:
שהאדם מבטל כל פעולותיו שרואה מפורש שהכל הוא מהשי”ת לכן פעולותיו אז בטילין ולכן בגבולין אסור תקיעת שופר בשבת, כי שבת הוא כולל כל המצות, וכמו שכל הפעולות אפילו של מצוה אסורים בשבת מפני ששבת גדול יותר מכל המצות…ואף תקיעת שופר שמחבר מצוה דלעילא כיון שהוא ע”י פעולת אדם בהמצוה
…[W]hen the person nullifies all of his actions, for he sees clearly that all is from God and therefore his actions are beteilin nullified. Therefore shofar is prohibited in the precincts outside the mikdash (Temple), for all human actions, including divine mitzvot, are forbidden on shabbat. For shabbat is beyond…even shofar, which is the ideal of human activism…Because it occurs through human action, [it is forbidden on shabbat].
Until this point in the passage, it appears to be a dramatically theocentric passage. However, from this point it suggests a completely opposite conclusion.
Lainer moves to address why blowing the shofar is permitted in mikdash on shabbat. The essence of his answer is that since mikdash is the archetype of acosmic humanism, where the human being participates in divinity, just as divine action is permitted on shabbat, so is human action. In the mikdash on shabbat, moreover, it becomes clear that human action and activism are not nullified. Once the human being enters mikdash consciousness, i.e., acosmic humanism, where one realizes that all human actions are animated by God-or, to express it even more sharply, are identical with divine action-human activism becomes fully desirable and in no way contradicts shabbat consciousness. These points are made quite precisely in the second half of the passage:
אבל במקדש שם קרבנות דוחים שבת מפני ששם האדם רואה שכל מה שהוא פועל השי”ת הוא הפועל, וכדאיתא במדרש (רבה בראשית י”א, ו’) ששאל טורניסרופוס את רבי עקיבא למה הקב”ה מוריד גשמים ועושה מלאכה בשבת והשיב לו כיון שהקב”ה אין רשות אחרת עמו, והיינו שאצל השי”ת כל העולם ברשותו ולכן אין שום דבר אצלו מלאכה שהרי הכל בידו ואין שום חילוק אצלו אף שישתנה מרשות לרשות ומצורה לצורה שהרי הכל ברשותו ובידו, וכן בבית המקדש מתחבר מצוה דלתתא עם מצוה דלעילא, כי שם רואה שכל פעולותיו, השי”ת פועל אותם, לכן קרבנות דוחים שבת, וכן תקיעת שופר בשבת במקדש היו תוקעין כיון שזה עצמו מורה ענין שופר שנתעורר הפנימיות האדם ונתחבר עם אור השי”ת.
However, in the mikdash (Temple), we know that sacrifices override the shabbat…For in the mikdash, a person sees that everything he does is really done by God, as it says in the Midrash that Turnus Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva…Why is it that God causes rain to fall and does work on shabbat? [R. Akiva] responded that since there is no other being independent of God, and everything is included in God, therefore nothing that God does is considered transformative work, for everything is part of God. Thus it is impossible that something might move from one realm to another, for everything is in the realm of God…So too in the mikdash…where one sees that all of his actions are through the agency of God…thus sacrifices override [the prohibition] of shabbat. And similarly, blowing the shofar is permitted in the mikdash…for the essence of shofar is that it arouses the inner point of a person and connects him with the light of God.
Lainer’s dramatic point becomes clear in a careful reading. In the mikdash, where one’s divine nature is realized, the human’s identity with God is revealed. Thus, the human is governed by the same rules as God. Just as God can do work on shabbat because there is nothing independent of God, the human, who is ontically identified with God, can offer sacrifices and blow the shofar on shabbat. Essentially, Lainer maps out in this passage two of our levels of consciousness. The level of shabbat, what we have termed level two, is where a person moves beyond their narrow, human egocentricity and realizes that all that they do is done by God. This is the nulliication of any sense of independent human agency. At this stage of realization, human action, even that of mitzvah, is forbidden on the Sabbath. However, shabbat is not the summa bonum of spiritual consciousness. Beyond shabbat exists mikdash consciousness.
At this level, a human realizes that their action, far from being insignificant, is of ultimate value. Indeed, human actions participate in the divine, and, thus, like divine action, transcend shabbat. The empowering nature of acosmic humanism, the ultimate dignity and efficacy of human action, and mikdash as a symbol of acosmic humanism are all pointed to here. The preponderance of Izbica scholarship is fixated on the ‘shabbat consciousness’ level of MHs, where human actions are prohibited because one realizes that all is from God. However, mikdash consciousness, the third level, allows us to recast in a profound way Lainer’s theology. In mikdash consciousness, the ontic identity between human and divine is realized; thus, just as God acts on shabbat, so may the human who is at that level.
As we have just demonstrated, levels of consciousness is a crucial hermeneutic key in unlocking Lainer’s thought. At this point we will outline another important dimension of his theology which is best understood through the prism of levels of consciousness.
A key notion in Lainer’s metaphysics is the higher unity of הכרח hekhre’ah, divine necessity, on the one hand, and ratzon, voluntaristic and free divine will, on the other. A basic feature of Lainer’s thought is his assertion that on a higher level of consciousness, these seemingly disparate perspectives are actually part of a greater unity of experience and reality. Just as Lainer’s views on human freedom appear to undermine the meaning of human action, a similarly strong element of metaphysical necessity on the divine level exists in MHs that prima facie might be seen as undermining the more classic expression of voluntaristic theism characterizing almost all of biblical and rabbinic literature. Such a tension is indeed present in MHs; this tension however is fully resolved once we realize that Lainer is referring to different levels of consciousness.
Commenting on the apparent redundancy of the phrase from the Passover Haggadah describing God as מלך במלוכה ‘melekh bimelukhah’ (king of kingship), Lainer interprets the phrase to mean that God rules-that is to say, is absolutely free-with regard to kingship, which for Lainer is synonymous with the concept of divine necessity. This is the classicial Biblical and rabbinic view of divine voluntarism. Similarly, in other passages, Lainer variously sets up Amalek, the snake, and the Tower of Babel as symbols of the false argument that the world is ordered by divine necessity, as a result of which there is no need for ‘avodah (human activism). These texts as well seem to militate for the kind of voluntaristic theism typical of classic Jewish texts.
However, this position of Lainer’s is contradicted by another set of passages. For example, in one text, he sets up a hierarchy consisting of three animals. Lowest is the בהמה behemah, an animal that turns in entreaty to people. Next is the חיה hayah, an animal that refuses to turn to people but looks only to God. Highest is the נחש nahash ‘snake’, whose sin is refusing to turn in entreaty to God, instead wanting to receive השפעה בהכרח hashpa’ah behekhre’ah (divine effluence) by virtue of the natural divine necessity that is the ‘way of the universe’.
The nahash, whom Lainer compares later in the passage to Amalek, claims that there is no need for ‘avodah, and that locating oneself in the natural order of divine necessity represents a higher spiritual level then one who turns to God in entreaty. It is critical to note, however, that while in one sentence Lainer rejects these claims, later in the very same passage he clearly validates and identifies with these claims. In fact, Lainer writes in another passage that this theological position, which he identifies with nahash in the previous text, is the highest spiritual level. The theological position of the nahash will be revealed in the eschaton as the true nature of reality, when, according to one Talmudic passage, mitzvot-which for Lainer represents human spiritual activism, experienced as independent of God-will be nullified.
Lainer interprets in this light the midrash associating the sin of the Golden Calf with the commandment of shabbat. The Golden Calf, holding the theological position of the nahash, is identified with the future consciousness in which there will be no ‘need for service’. According to Lainer, Israel experienced that future moment and wanted to live it in the immediacy of their present; the result was the sin of the Golden Calf. The people were correct in principle, their intent being to demonstrate with the Golden Calf that human spiritual activism, experienced as separate from God, was no longer necessary. However, they erred in timing; the time was not yet ripe. They were, according to Lainer, like ‘eaters of not yet ripe fruit’.
Lainer expands this line of argument, saying that the desire of the people in the episode of the Golden Calf was to ‘move beyond the need for daily prayer…Rather, they wanted to be integrated into the divine order of the universe’. Again, Lainer argues that the people were essentially correct, their sin being only in that they were ahead of their time. He makes the identical argument to show that locating oneself in the natural divine order of necessity is spiritually superior to and ontologically higher than the entreaty of prayer.
Lainer argues that this higher level of enlightenment was the spiritual consciousness achieved in the Temple in Jerusalem. In the Temple, the people’s prayers were answered as part of the natural divine order of things. The location of the people in this divine order of necessity is understood by Lainer as an expression of divine love, because in this state of consciousness the people realize that they are devukim beHa-shem, ontologically attached to God, in their natural state. This was the intention as of the builders of the Tower of Babel as well. According to Lainer, their desire was to approximate the spiritual consciousness that was eventually realized in the Temple.
We can now move towards resolution of these seemingly disparate elements in Lainer’s thought. While one might be initially tempted to simply suggest that these are two exclusive strands of thought that exist side by side in MHs and need not be reconciled, this does not make sense in view of the fact that both positions are often expressed dialectically in the same passage. It is more logical to suggest that they are part of an integrated view.
In these texts, Lainer refers to a level of religious consciousness that, in its pure form, is the redeemed consciousness of the eschaton and mikdash. As we have seen, according to Lainer, this is the highest level of spiritual consciousness. It is fully accessible also in pre-eschaton reality. Yet a slight misreading or misapplication of this same consciousness yields Amalek, the Tower of Babel, and the snake. Lainer here refers to different levels of consciousness in these texts in regard to human activism or voluntarism, as well as with regard to divine voluntarism versus divine necessity. He rejects Amalek, Tower of Babel, and the snake, because these positions dismiss the need for human activism. This need is endorsed by Lainer on two entirely different levels, which we have referred to above as level one and level three. We described this process of evolution between the three levels above. At level three, we which have called mikdash consciousness, one realizes the ontic identity between the individual and the divine. Thus one realizes ‘that everything one does is really done by God’.
The danger in Amalek, as Lainer points out, is its ability to ‘lead Israel astray’. As is obvious upon close reading of these passages, the reason Amalek’s religious consciousness might lead Israel astray is the great similarity between Amalek’s theological understanding and that of mikdash consciousness. According to Lainer, Amalek, the Tower of Babel, and the snake are false variations of level three. Level three is where one realizes that one is part of the order of divine necessity. According to Amalek’s reading of this reality, (a) human activism is not necessary, and (b) the human being is part of an impersonal order compelled by divine necessity. Lainer’s understanding of authentic mikdash consciousness rejects both of these conclusions. According to Lainer, human activism is a necessary and natural expression of divine necessity, which which is driven by a divine will that is warm and pulsing with divine love. In fact, in one passage, Lainer interprets a classic Talmudic passage as expressing the metaphysical understanding of the builders of the Tower of Babel, the only difference being that he introduces the motif of love, which does not play a role in Lainer’s description of the Tower of Babel.
Mikdash consciousness naturally transcends this dualism. Lainer’s distinction between the Temple and the Tower of Babel in this passage illustrates all of the points we have made. After writing that the intent of the builders of the tower was ‘to force God’s will…so that God would dwell among them by virtue of necessity’, Lainer contrasts this position with mikdash consciousness:
Even though it is true that in the place where people come together as one, God’s will dwells in their midst [by virtue of necessity], this too, however, is dependent on divine will…In the place where God desires to dwell, there he unites hearts and dwells among them, but this is not in the hands of man [independent of God], for in God’s will there is no necessity at all. Thus the union that they [the builders of Tower of Babel] did was against His will….[T]his form of union is complete separation…But in the Temple,…even the inanimate objects [the rocks] aided the building, for there was pure will.
In this complex passage, we see that Lainer rejects what he regards as a superficial dichotomy between divine necessity and free divine will. Both exist together in a higher unity. The human activism that is unnecessary in the redeemed consciousness of mikdash or in the eschaton is the kind in which the human will and activism are seen as somehow separate from divine necessity. However, once the ontic identity of will which demarcates mikdash consciousness is realzed, the false dualism between voluntarism and necessity, both divine and human, falls away.
At this juncture, it remains for us to further buttress three points that we have already made implicitly and for which we cited some supporting texts. We will accomplish this in the following three sections.
Activism Passages Not Linked with Name
The first point that we wish to ground in further texts is Lainer’s belief that human action has ontological efficacy and is not merely an illusion to be dispelled when consciousness evolves or in the eschaton. The texts we have seen until this point are passages in which human action that is nikra al shemo (called by his [man’s] name) has ontological efficacy.
At this point, we turn to activism passages that affirm the ontology of human action, which are not linked with the concept of name. In one long passage, Lainer at first indicates that there is no value in human activism:
אך מי שהקב”ה מאיר לו ומפקח עיניו יראה שכל מעשה בני האדם לא יפעלו לשנות מעומק רצון הש”י אף כחוט השערה
However, whosoever is enlightened and whose eyes are opened by the Holy One, blessed be He, will see that no action of man can be efficacious in changing the deep [intention of] God’s will even one iota.
After stating this, Lainer wants to make sure that his teaching is not understood as undermining the ontological efficacy of human action, which is Weiss and Gellman’s reading. The context is the idea that all property that is outsideכפי מעלתו השייך לו בשורשו ‘the boundary related to him according to his root’ returns to the rightful owner in the Jubilee year.
זה יהי’ נוסף על גבולו מאחר שבתחילה הרחיב גבולו לתוך של חבירו והשתדל בעו”הז ישאר לו הגנה מועטת גם מחלק חבירו אף שיחזירה, וזהו כל עסק השתדלות בעו”הז שהאדם משתדל, וישאר לו זאת ההכרה לעולמי עד.
But the boundary itself [which he acquired from his friend through his actions]…this shall remain for him…And so it is with allהשתדלות hishtadelut (action) of the human being: a recognition of it will remain for him forever.
Or, in another passage: כי כל מעשי האדם ישאר מהם השארה ‘All actions of man leave something that remains [an immortal effect] after them’. A third passage states: ואחר כן מה שמשתדל וקונה ע”י פעולותיו זה נשאר לו לעוה”ב גם כן ‘All that a person acquires through human effort, that which he acquires through his actions, this remains for him in the world to come’. In a fourth passage, Lainer actually defines the nature of berur as a clarification about אם המעשה והרצון הזה הוא מבורר שיהי’ קיים כן לעולמי עד אפילו לעוה”ב ‘whether the action will have existence forever even in the world to come’. The Hebrew term Lainer uses in most of these passages for ‘forever’ is לעולמי עד le’olmei ‘ad, a term in MHs for ontological efficacy.
Divine Animation of Human Action
The second point we need to ground further is the idea that divine will animates human action as an expression of the ontic identity between the human and God. What this entails is that virtually all of the passages stating that פעולת אדם pe’ulat adam ‘human action’ has no effect mean only that there is no such thing as a human action that is against or even independent of God. God animates all human action:
וכל עוד שידמה האדם שיש לו איזה דמיון לומר כוחי ועוצם ידי, שיש לו הויה בפני עצמו, אפילו בעניני תפילות ועבודות, אז הוא עדיין בשעבוד הגלות ואינו בן חורין
As long as a person still imagines…that he has havayah bifnei ‘atzmo (an existence independent of God)…he is still under the oppression of exile and is not a free man.
Lainer’s acosmism leads to an empowered and free religious persona. In the following passage, Lainer lays out his position clearly. His aim is to resolve an apparent contradiction in the biblical text. One text, אֶת יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ תירָא וְאתו תעבד ובִשמו תשבעַ ‘You shall fear God and worship Him, and swear by His name’, uses the term of ‘avodah for worship. ‘Avodah is one of the words Lainer employs to describe human effort, so this verse can be read as an affirmation of human action. The second verse, וְאמרת בלבבך כחי ועצם ידי עשה לי את החיל הזה ‘Lest you say in your heart, my power and the strength of my hand has made me this might’, is a rejection of human activism. Lainer explains that the first verse is necessary lest a person think that there is no need for service. This, of course, refers to the level before berur, the necessary illusion of independence, which we have termed the first level of consciousness. However, even after berur, Lainer states in regard to the second verse:
כי לולא רצון הש”י אין מעשה האדם כלום הוא הנותן לך כח היינו שכח העבודה והתפלה אינו רק מהש”י
…For without the will of God, the action of man is nothing…Remember that God gives you strength, for the strength of work and prayer comes only from God.
Or, in another passage:
אבל מדת הקב”ה אינו כן רק ישפיע טובה לכל העולם בטובת עין שיוכל לדמות לאדם שלוקח לו מעצמו ולא יחפוץ בהכרת טובה אך ישראל הם המכירים את בוראם ומכירים לו טובה על כל ובעוה”ז צריך להכיר ולברך להש”י על כל טובה לפי שיש או”ה האומרים על הכל כחי ועוצם ידי, אבל לעתיד שיראוהו כל המעשים…כי יכירו כל העולם שהכל של הש”י
The attribute of God is that in this world, He allows man to imagine that he takes from this world on his own…but [the people of] Israel recognize the good of the Creator…and give him credit for everything…not like the nations of the world, who say it is by ‘my strength and the power of my hand’…for in the future when all actions will be seen…the entire world will recognize that all is from God.
Ultimately, Lainer does not reject the claim that human action is kokhi veotzem yadi ‘by the strength and power of my hand’. Rather, he rejects this claim at the first level of consciousness while embracing it at the third. Lainer’s acosmic humanism also supplies a metaphysical basis to the ethical imperative against hubris. However, Lainer does not reject human agency. Rather, what Lainer drives home time and again is that there is no ontological basis for human action or agency independent of God, for God is בתוך כל מעשה betokh kol ma’aseh (God animates every human action). Crucially, in this same passage, which Weiss cites as evidence for his general view that Lainer undermines human action, Lainer states:
אך רואה את הנולד הוא בזה המעשה עצמה שהוא עושה חקור ויתבונן אם המעשה והרצון הזה הוא מבורר שיהי’ קיים כן לעולמי עד אפילו לעוה”ב
…that [human] action will have existence forever, even in the world to come.
This is a clear affirmation that God’s inherent presence animating human action in no way contradicts the ontological efficacy of human action.
One particularly important passage offers powerful support to this reading when read in context of the other passages. Commenting on the rabbinic epigram ‘He who wants his property to remain in his possession should plant on it an Adar tree’, Lainer explains:
אדר היינו לשון תקופות וחיזוק ועיקר החיזוק הוא לאדם כשיבין כי הש”י הוא הנותן כח לעשות חיל ולא שיאמר כחי ועוצם ידי… אחר כל הטרדות והיגיעות ידע האדם כי לה’ הארץ ומלואה והוא הנותן כח לסגל לרכוש ובזה יתקיימו קניני אדם באם יכיר את זאת …
The Adar tree indicates tekufot and strength. And the essential strength [and tekufot] for a person is when he understands that God gave him the strength to act with power and that it is not by the strength or power of his hand…For after all of the effort…he should know that ‘The earth and its fullness are God’s’ (Ps. 24:1), and it is God who gives the person strength to acquire his property….If he recognizes this, his property will remain in his possession.
The key word in the passage is tekufot, which Lainer identifies with a person’s post-berur experience of the divine, when the person has realized the ontic identity between human and God. This experience is empowering, resting on the realization that all of one’s actions inhere with the divine; it is precisely this realization that gives one strength. This is the intent of the verseלה’ הארץ ומלואה ‘The earth and its fullness are God’s’ (Ps. 24:1). This text is used by Lainer throughout MHs to indicate that the human has no independent authorship of events. However, it is clear from the passage that, unlike what Weiss and Gellman suggest, Lainer does not interpret the verse as asserting that the human has no agency; rather, Lainer connects the verse to tekufot, thereby interpreting it to mean that the human has no independent agency.
One of the most powerful expressions in MHs of God animating but not overwhelming the integrity of human action is contained in the passage we adduced above to illustrate Lainer’s third level of consciousness. The passage refers to the Temple in Jerusalem. Lainer writes that in the Temple, whenכי שם רואה שכל פעולותיו, השי”ת פועל אותם…ונתחבר עם אור השי”ת ‘one sees that everything he does is done by God…and he is connected with the light of God’, one is allowed to blow the shofar because there is no longer any contradiction between human activism and the fullness of the divine presence. The natural corollary of this understanding, in Lainer’s theology, is an acosmism that is empowering, as opposed an acosmism that fosters a quietist religious personae of the kind found in early Hasidism as described amply by the religious anthropology of Weiss and Schatz-Uffenheimer.
Models of Activism: Pre- and Post-Berur Consciousness, Linear and Dynamic Models
The third point we need to explicate is the distinction we draw between two forms of human activism. The first form of human activism is in place before berur has been completed. We have also shown in our acosmic-humanist reading that that human action has efficacy even post-berur, in a world of clarified consciousness, when one realized the ontic identity between human and divine will. Pre-berur activism is the process of berur itself, which includes mitzvah, yirah, and ‘avodah; ‘avodah is often referred to by Lainer as yegi’a kapayim (human effort). The second form of human activism takes place after berur, in the redeemed consciousness of ‘olam ha-ba when a person has tekufot and is fully in their hayyim. This second form of human activism is the defining characteristic of the Judah archetype, which we will discuss below.
As we have noted, there are two models of relationship in MHs that distinguish between pre-berur and post-berur consciousness. One model, which we termed the linear model, teaches that through berur one realizes one’s identity with the divine. Lainer, by drawing on the classic Hasidic split betweenמצדו ‘his [God’s] side’ andמצדנו ‘our side’, suggests that the human task is to move from ‘our side’, from fear, choice, boundaries, and contraction, to ‘God’s side’, to love, choicelessness, no-boundary consciousness, and expansion. Lainer states in a typical passage:
ור”ה מדבר באדם שנשלם בכל שלבו נמשך אחר רצון הש”י אז מותר לו לעשות השתדלות ואח”כ יבקש מהש”י שיגמור בעדו…אבל בעוד שאין האדם בשלימות אז צריך לקבל עליו עול מלכות שמים קודם כל מעשה
Rav Huna is speaking [in the Gemara] about a person who is perfected in everything [i.e., is post-berur], whose heart is drawn after the will of God, therefore he is permitted to make an effort and afterwards ask God to complete his action for him. However when a person is not bisheleimut perfected, he must first take upon himself the yoke of heaven, before every act.
In another passage, Lainer states:
כי מלך כל היוצא מפיו הם דברי אלקים…ואף שנראין לדברי חולין הם מהש”י
Regarding a king, all the words that come out of his mouth are words of the living God…and even if they seem like idle words, they are from God.
From the context of this passage, it is clear that Lainer refers not to a special principle about the laws of kings, but rather discusses the ‘king’ as a paradigm of the Judah archetype, namely, ‘one whose heart is drawn after the will of God’. These sources and many others seem to suggest that once one has reached post-berur consciousness, one is free to act in accordance with the will of God one naturally incarnates, having no more need for yirah, ‘avodah, berur, or at times even mitzvah. This is post-berur activism.
In the second model, which we termed the dynamic model, a person simultaneously maintains, in paradoxical tension, the very different experiences of consciousness, pre-berur and post-berur. In other words, both ‘His side’ and ‘our side’ exist. Seeking to make this very point, Lainer notes an anomaly in the biblical description of the Israelite journey in the desert. Numbers 33:2 first states ‘their departures to their journeys according to God’. At the end of the verse, however, the order is inverted, and the verse states ‘their journeys to their departures’. Lainer understands ‘departures’ (מוצאיהם motsa’eihem) to refer to a metaphysical source or point of origin. He thus reads the first phrase, ‘according to God’, as referring to the classical mystical category of מצדו mitzido (from His side) in which all human beings are utterly equal and human activism of the pre-berur type is unnecessary. All berur of human actions, implies Lainer, takes place from God’s side. The second phrase, however, where the order is inverted, is taken to refer to מצדנו mitzidenu, from our [humanity’s] side. From this perspective, human action-that is to say, berur-is vital in acquiring perfection. A careful reading of the last several lines of the passage reveals that God’s side and the human’s side, מצד ה’ mitzad Ha-shem and מצד האדם mitzad ha-adam, exist in dynamic paradoxical tension in the human experience. Lainer, in an exegetical flourish, views this tension as built into the literary structure of the biblical text. In this model, while there may be moments when we break through to God’s side, for the most part, the two perspectives live in a dialectical relationship in which both are simultaneously true.
It must be emphasized that both models support reading Lainer as affirming human activism within the context of his acosmic humanism. In the linear model, the activism of the pre-berur and post-berur types take place consecutively, while in the dynamic model, the activism of the pre- and post-berur types may take place almost simultaneously. This is exactly how Lainer interprets the Korah story. Both sides, that of God and that of Korah, exist simultaneously in a paradoxical relationship. Weiss, in analyzing this text, views the attribution of importance to human action there as an illusion, albeit according to Lainer a necessary illusion. Actually, however, this may be more accurately seen as part of the dynamic paradox that exists throughout MHs.
In many passages, as we have seen, Lainer presents the paradox without any attempt to soften it. In other passages, in which the paradoxical model is implicitly acknowledged, he uses the element of time to distinguish between the approach from yirah and ‘avodah and the approach from love and choicelessness. Before the act has taken place, Lainer suggests that the act must be from yirah. However, after the act has taken place, one moves to a stance of tekufot, audacity, determination, and love, understanding that in fact whatever happened is what needed to happen and events could have been no other way then the way they were.
by Marc Gafni