Monthly Archives: February 2016

UNIVERSAL JUDAISM – A PRIMER

Hi out there.
The thought came to me to begin to write a primer on Universal Judaism.
So, if you don’t mind, I am going to use the cover page, preface and intro
as my blog this month.
Please take the time to read it, and give me any comments that you feel
would be helpful.
This is a very important viewpoint. Please give me your views to make it
even more pointed.
Blessings.
R’ Michael Shevack

                                                      Universal Judaism

                                      Re-igniting the Hebrew spirit of the World

                                                    by Michael Shevack

 

Preface

 

There are times when a leap must be made. This is such a time.

 

There is a spiritual truth that springs, powerfully, joyfully. from the Sacred Nature of Life. It should be celebrated. Yet, sadly, it has become lost.

 

Because this spiritual truth has become lost, we’ve become lost. We do not know how to co-operate with Life. We’ve forgotten how to live in accordance with “How Life Works”. We’ve lost the map to Life’s territory, and this has resulted in what is commonly called problems:

 

Religious extremism, broken marriages, ecological devastation, sickness, global warming, economic collapses, drug addiction: all these problems “personal”, “collective” and “planetary” (These are inseparable.) are the result of losing this same fundamental spiritual truth.

 

This spiritual truth is the Living, Holy, Essence of Judaism. Discovered by some ancient nomads, Hebrews, it was transmitted, over thousands of years, through various stages of cultural development:  Hebrew, Israelite, Israel, Judean, Jewish and now Israeli.

 

So enormous was this spiritual truth, it could not be contained by any one group. It inspired Christianity, turning the entire Roman Empire towards service of the One God of History. Galvanizing Islam, it brought forth millions upon millions more in devotion.

 

Today, this same basic spiritual truth now percolates throughout our secular global culture. Indeed, the secular, even when humanist or atheist, still reflects the teachings of ancient Israelite prophets. The secular still embodies the relentless positivism, we call progress, the hopeful horizon of human history. The secular world still embraces Israel’s ideal of nations, its hope for a warless society where peace and prosperity reign for all.

 

Scientific secularism, while rejecting unproven or fanciful assertions of religion, nonetheless still searches for One, All-Embracing Unity, some uber-understanding or Theory of Everything. In doing so, they assume-in-faith (because these can’t be proven) the existence of Truth and Causality that must be characteristic of any “Creator” God. Faith in the One God now has a new form, un-religious, even atheist, but with the same Unifying Spiritual Essence.

To a great extent, all religions, and all nations, and all individuals, are now islands floating in this powerful, prophetically-inspired secular sea. One might say that the world’s largest religion is now secular-ism.

 

Today, there is not one single civilized nation, religion or philosophical perspective in the world that has not been touched, in some fashion, by the spiritual truth of Universal Judaism, as I call it.

 

Sadly though, this spiritual truth has gotten twisted and lost. Its meanings have been mangled by time. Its power has been poisoned by religious bias and evil. Its vision has been fractured by political and economic selfishness. Its core ethics have been violated by excessive, pointless materialism, without spiritual purpose. Its teachings have been distorted by clergy of all varieties, who have aimed a smoking gun of guilt and psychological suffering at innocents “in the name of God”.

 

Today’s denominations of Judaism are not exempt. No one is exempt. All peoples of faith, and no-faith, religious and non-religious have lost the spiritual truth that inspires us all.

 

It is sad when spiritual truth is lost. But, oh . . . what joy . . . when it is re-discovered and lived again!  It is time to celebrate!

 

Universal Judaism is universal, because it’s the core universal spiritual truths– human spiritual truths– that must be restated, resurrected, and relived if we are to find ourselves. It’s not about customs, rituals, legalisms, or cultural propaganda of Judaism, nor of any other religion, including secular-ism.

 

Universal Judaism is spiritual truth. Clear. Unambiguous. So, like a seed, it can be planted in any environment, religious or not, any religion or no religion, and bring forth new light and new life. It re-ignites that spark of Hebrew spirit that

Ignited human history.

 

Universal Judaism  is also, just for me personally, my personal heeding  of the call to righteousness, that, in the words of the Prophet Isaiah (49.5), Israel be a Light Unto the Nations.

 

As Moses said (Numbers 11:26): Would that all the Lord’s people be prophets.

 

Yes.

 

May we all be A Light unto the Nations!  This is the leap we must take, together.

 

 

Hear O World. The Lord is Our God. The Lord is One.(1)

 

 

Introduction                         Life is Holy:  Celebrate.

 

 

Welcome to an adventure in Life. It is not for the faint of heart. It is for the brave of heart.

 

This is an adventure for those human beings– perhaps you are one?– who dare to believe that Life is more than humdrum and glum. This is an adventure for those who refuse to accept that Life is merely ordinary but also know that Life– the Very Nature of Life– is Extra-ordinary. Something worth celebrating.

 

This is no starry-eyed optimism here. This is not about living in an illusionary stratosphere of hopeful, overly idealized “faith”, where your intelligence, and reasonable doubt, must be banished. This is beyond the propaganda of religions or their detractors.

 

This is a real world adventure–  or at least what the real world really is, when you begin to pass below the surface, penetrate its depths, and unveil its spiritual truth:

 

Life is Holy. Celebrate.

 

 

Now you know all there is to know about Universal Judaism. Everything else is a footnote. So, it bears repeating:  Life is Holy. Celebrate.

 

Holy? Now don’t be too scared. You don’t have to live in robed isolation. You will not have to cut yourself off out of fear of contamination. There are no sinners to shun, no damned to be damned. You do not have to wash yourself, over and over again, by thought or ritual, to make your humanity acceptable by the standards of some clergy-elite or some sadomasochistic god.

 

The Hebrew word for holy, kodesh,, while it’s been translated set apart, is not about this kind of obsession-compulsion. It’s not about “I’m right;  you’re wrong”, “I’m saved; you’re damned”.  “I’m Jewish; you’re a gentile”. This is not holy!

 

What is Holy?  Holy is what Life IS.

 

Holy is Life in Toto:  All Life. Life Known, Unknown and to Be Known.  Life Seen and Unseen. The Visible and Invisible. The Material and Spiritual.

 

Holy is All Living Reality, All Living Existence: Living Being. Being Itself, The Divine Nature, All Nature. Nature Itself. The Universe– The All-Together, as it literally means– That Universe of all universes and universes to come.(3)

 

Indeed, Life is “Something” so far Beyond our earthly ability to fathom completely that it is, obviously, Set Apart:  Unique. Incomparable. Ineffable. Beyond Measure. Singular. The Holy One, as some religionists call it. Awesome!(4)

 

Yet, perhaps even more awesome– because Life is truly Holy– our human lives can become more holy;  after all, we are part of Life and Life is incomplete without us.  We human beings can– more and more– reflect the Unique Nature of Life through our unique individual lives. We can grow spiritually. We can evolve. We can begin to realize the Holiness that is built into our human nature. And, joyfully, in utter celebration, if not abandon, we can also express it:

 

                                                Be thou holy because I am Holy.

(Leviticus 20:26)

 

It is now that the adventure of Universal Judaism truly begins. Now we enter into a Unique Relationship with Life. Now we begin to mirror the Holy in everything we think, say and do. Now our identities become rooted in the Extraordinary, Beyond the turmoil and tumult of the earth.  And yet, ironically, this allows us to more fully participate in our ordinary earthly lives. We discover we are both natural, born of the earth, and super-natural, born beyond it: human!  Rephrasing the above biblical quote in more everyday language:

 

Experience more of Life: Live bigger. Live wider.

Live “The More” that IS Life.

 

Get more out of Life!

 

This is the fundamental Life-realization of Universal Judaism that sets us free:  Free! Set apart!  Now, we are set apart, from all other living creatures on the earth, to experience our freedom– spiritual freedom. Freedom to experience, consciously, creatively, something wondrous, something truly miraculous . . .

 

Good.

 

 

Do you want good in your life? In Universal Judaism, this is how we celebrate the Holiness of Life:  We bring good into our lives. We live the good. We celebrate the good. We celebrate with good. We create more good from Good!

 

Our entry into the spiritual adventure of Universal Judaism, begins with the experience of increased good in our lives.  This signals our joyful “wake-up call” to the Holy. We, just through our simple, everyday mortal lives, begin to have a conscious experience of increased good as a result of embarking upon this adventure. This conscious experience of our good is actually the beginning stage of the conscious living experience of God; after all, the word “God” is just a contraction of the word “Good”.

 

In this budding adventure, we begin to notice that when we act in alignment to Life, this produces something good, a “reward” so-to-speak. We begin to experience what’s been called Providence, Grace, or Hasgacha in Hebrew:  a synchronicity of good fortune happening in surprising, delicious ways.  We experience “God’s Blessing”, as religionists often call it. “Good luck”, a secularist might say.

 

We also begin to experience that when we act in mis-alignment or un-alignment to Life, this produces something bad, a “punishment” so-to- speak.   “God’s Curse”, religionists like to call it. “Bad luck” or “Mis-fortune”  a secularist might say.

 

As a result, we begin to discern God’s Ways:  the ways by which Life works for good. We discover what we must do–  Life’s requirements– in order to experience that good:  acts of loving kindness,  acts of charity, the pursuit of justice, the pursuit of knowledge, and many others.

 

We also discover how Life works for bad– what we should not do:  Do not murder. Do not commit adultery, etc. This is the spiritual basis to law, religious or secular;  they’re both based on “How Life works for Good.”

 

Our increasing experience of good is so delicious, it’s as though we have a personal, one-on-one relationship with All Life’s Goodness. We do! Despite the vastness of Life, we begin to experience what some have called a Personal God. This awakening is so intimate, so personally transformational, one might actually experience feeling Chosen– special, set apart or distinguished from others who have not had this realization as yet.

 

A Chosen Person is born!  Not unlike an ancient Israelite prophet.

 

But, such a powerful spiritual realization of good proves to be more than just personal. This Personal God proves to be objectively sharable:   With family. With community. With nation upon nation.   We notice that what we think, do and say, directly affects not only ourselves personally, but also others, and indeed, all life on earth, and vice-versa. Our experience reveals that there is a living foundation to our shared-good, what religion codifies as morality:

 

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

 

That which is hateful to you do not do unto another.(5)

 

 

Aha, our experience awakens us! This is not just our Personal God. This is also the God of our people, the God of others too, and by logical-extrapolation, all others. This is The Universal God. The God of all humankind. The God of human history. This is what the prophet Jeremiah (10:10) called [in translation(6)] The True God. The Living God.

 

A Chosen People is born! Not unlike the ancient Israelite nation.

 

This then is the task of Universal Judaism:  To re-ignite the living spiritual experience of Chosen which sparked the biblically-recorded Hebrew inspiration. And therefore, put Judaism, Christianity, Islam, today’s global secular culture and our entire world back on solid spiritual and historical Ground, God’s Goodness:

 

Only by re-igniting the spiritual can our bankrupt

religions be replenished.

 

Only by re-igniting the spiritual can empty

secular materialism be filled.

 

Only by re-igniting the spiritual can true prosperity be

attained.

 

Only by re-igniting the spiritual, can we understand

what our scriptures actually record, so we can

interpret these correctly.

 

Only by re-igniting the spiritual, can we have all

the good that is human nature to experience.

 

Only by re-igniting the spiritual, can we begin to

fathom, objectively, any meaning to the troublesome word “God”.

 

 

“God”? Are you as afraid of this word as I am, because of all the destruction it has caused?  Then, allow me to put your mind at ease:

 

I do not know God. I do not know who God is, or even if God exists. While I am clergy, I am no authority. “God”, for me, is one possible theory to explain my spiritual experience. But, it is not the only theory. I’m open to others. For me, anyone who claims to know, absolutely, that God exists, let alone Who God is, is overstating their case. Universal Judaism is not a cult. Beware cults!

 

However, what I do know– after over 40 years in the wilderness of spiritual practice– is that there is, truly, such a thing as the experience of God; the more one progresses the more profound the experience of Good.

 

I also know­– that this experience is rational:  It has an objective structure to it. It can be understood. It can be communicated to others . It can be taught.(7) The experience produces knowledge that can be talked about, written down, transmitted, learned and studied. It is a spiritual science!  Indeed, the knowledge is so real, it  can be used as a tool for good. It is practical. It helps people. It changes lives. It changes behavior. It evolves and expands human culture and its achievements. This experience of God has POWER! It can be experience personally, inter-personally and trans-personally.

 

That’s why, for me, it’s not hard to imagine, some thousands of years ago, that there might have been one or two Hebrew nomads who had this experience; they were, after all, human beings. It’s not hard for me to imagine that this spiritual truth gave them and their nation a power to survive the most brutal empires in the history of the world, and live to contribute– disproportionately to their insignificant numbers– more to human civilization than any other people that has ever existed.

 

Would you like to share in this experience too?

 

This experience is open to you, no matter what is your formal faith or lack-of-faith. It is open to you whether you believe in a deity or not. It is not dependent upon belief (though correct belief can facilitate the experience.)

 

This experience is simply “How Life Works for good”, the spiritual laws built-into Life so that good can be planted, flourish and harvested, generation after generation. This is the fundamental spiritual experience that was described by the ancient Hebrew word brit or covenant:  a living relationship with the Living God. In this book, I will just describe it differently, for today’s more secular, scientific and individualistic world.

 

Welcome to an adventure of the Holy.

 

This is an adventure so profound that it was once described as “Lord”, “Master”, Adonai, in the original Hebrew.

 

This is the experience of Adonai Echad (8). The One Lord: Creator and Redeemer of Israel and our entire world.

 

This is the experience I offer you here: It’s the adventure of a lifetime:  My lifetime. Perhaps yours too.

 

Welcome to Universal Judaism.

 

Life is Holy! Come celebrate with us!

 

 

Footnotes

 

Preface

 

  1. The original biblical verse, Deuteronomy 6:4, declares “Hear O Israel”. This was not provincial tribal exclusivism. Back when this was written,

Israel was the only historical nation of its kind, a nation dedicated to

the unification and healing of the entire world. Thus, it was inherently

universal, and factually correct.

 

  1. In this age of gender sensitivity, I shall mostly refer to God throughout

this book as “It”, which, coincidentally, is one of the translations of the

Hebrew word “hu”, which can also mean “Him”. It takes your ear some getting used to, because the word “it” usually refers to a mere “thing”. Sometimes, I may also refer to God as “That”. Either one will help me avoid a lot of problems down the road, so thank your for stretching your

ear to embrace it.

 

Introduction

 

  1. In this era, especially with String Theory, we must clearly distinguish

between “Universe”— The All-Together, All Existence/Life in Toto, which is Holy/Set Apart–– and “our particular” universe, in which resides “our”

galaxies and solar systems. There may be many more universes than just ours, with-in The Universe.

 

This requires a shift in classic theology, which I will speak about more later on. However, I believe this shift is actually more true to the original understandings as recorded in scripture.

 

 

The word Awe in the Hebrew, yirah, is also the same word for Fear

The Holy One is so awesome, that by comparison, we are small, and feel

such vulnerability, at least initially, as fear. Translations are dangerous!

 

 

  1. Christians express the Golden Rule in the positive. But, Universal Judaism

            expresses it in the negative, That which is hateful to you, do not do unto

            another. This formulations tends to be a bit more precise:  If I enjoy acts of sadism, do I really want that done unto me? But if I hate sadism, I would not do it to another.

 

  1. The original Hebrew, elohim-chayyim, Living God, sadly does not have the sense of “Good” woven into it. Nonetheless, since this God is the Creator of that Creation which is declared Good in the Book of Genesis,

(6 times, in fact, and the 7th time, it is declared “very good”) it has become commonsense to assume God to also be Good. This is a human God,

to draw us to a Good human life.

 

Nonetheless, God/Life in Toto, must be distinguished froma human view of God, thus the distinction between Holiness and Good here.  It is interesting that the Book of Genesis never declares God to be Good, only

Creation.

 

  1. With thanks to my rabbi, Jack Bemporad, who gave me this “definition” of “rational” as “teachable”. May this book do you– as well as my other Rabbis Bob Widom, Barry Friedman (May he rest in peace)– honor.

Also, with eternal debt to Professor Ellis Rivkin (May he rest in peace),

Alfred S. Ochs Professor Emeritus of History, at Hebrew Union College in

Cincinnati.  Thanks also to my new friend and colleague Rabbi Sim Prystowsky.

 

  1. And we continue from the Preface here: with Deuteronomy 6:4Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.  Hear O Israel, the Lord Our God, The Lord is One. A Singular Experience open to All.

(copyright 2016 Michael Shevack all rights reserved)