What Mystical Theology Teaches Us About Politics and Relationships

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, March 1, 2019 / 24 Adar Rishon 5779

Summary: Rabbi Kosak speaks about the upcoming Israeli elections and asks congregants if they would be interested in a discussion about what it means; he then shares a teaching from Jewish Kabbalah which can be used to think about both our interpersonal lives and politics.

Israel will hold new elections on April 9th, and it promises to be one of the most interesting and potentially important referendums there in quite some time. Some new variables are the reason for this. The Israeli attorney general, after a year long investigation by the police, is moving forward with corruption charges against Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. While Netanyahu is a remarkable political operative, and one who has survived politically fraught situations before, this will be the first time he will face the voters’ choice while under such a far-reaching legal cloud.

Simultaneously, two parties on the scene potentially can shake up the coalition building that is such a basic part of Israel’s parliamentary democracy. One of those parties is Otzma Yehudit, or the Jewish Power party. This is a far right, ultra-nationalist party. While in previous years they failed to gain power, a party that gains even a few percentage points can have an outsized influence as the winner of an election has to gather a majority by incorporating minority voices. Netanyahu’s playbook has been to cull those votes from right of center constituencies, and these in turn demand powerful concessions from the winning party.

The other wild card of the election is the new Kachol v’Lavan, or Blue and White Party. Those of course, are the colors of Israel’s flag. The number one of that party is a military man, Benny Gantz, who has no political experience and is seen as popular. Blue and White is staking out a centrist position. If they were to succeed, they aim to build a center coalition, which Israel has not seen in some time. Just like in America, the center had been hollowed out. Yet Kachol v’Lavan is polling well and could be the disrupter that would allow Israel to chart a different course than has been seen in recent years.

Given how much is at stake, some members of the Israel360 committee have wondered for four months or so if congregants would be interested in a special session in which people could gather to discuss the election and what it might mean. As always, the special value proposition is that our I360 events welcome diverse perspectives on topics so long as discussions are held in a civil manner that encourages the free exchange of idea. That means this could be a unique forum for such a discussion.

To best gauge interest, please email Tori Nunnenkamp if you would likely attend such an event. In the subject field, please put “Israeli Elections” to simplify her job. If there is a critical mass, we will find a date on the calendar.

What Mystical Theology Teaches Us About Politics and Relationships

Last night, I had the privilege of teaching the session on Jewish Theology to students enrolled in the Oregon Board of Rabbis’ Introduction to Judaism class. In speaking to several students afterward, the section that really caught people’s attention was the kabbalistic, or mystical description of God. The Jewish medieval mystics were primarily concerned with how God flows into the world. The model they constructed imagined three main areas of human life into which God enters our world, and these areas also describe what it is to be a human (A chart is included at the top of this article).

There is an area of physicality—of basic needs for survival. There is also an emotional realm and a mental or cognitive realm as well. For each of these areas, the kabbalists divided these human qualities in half, sort of like a seesaw. In the emotional realm, for example, people can act with lovingkindness or with judgement. Remarkably, their understanding of these is different than how we normally imagine them.

Lovingkindness, for example, is the act of giving; it includes the giving of violence, not just compassion. Judgement, however, is more like detachment, where we step back and let things unfold, without special treatment but also by pushing the world away. What the kabbalists understood is that too much of any quality is actually very dangerous as it causes the world and our lives to become unbalanced.

If we return to the image of the seesaw, this will become clearer. For example, if I act with too much lovingkindness, one side of the see saw will sink all the way down. In the world, this is when someone lives with no boundaries. If I live with too much judgement, however, I become distant and removed.

In each of these cases, the kabbalists posited a middle way where important if opposing attributes existed in a harmonious balance. In this, another important kabbalistic insight was that when humans and our societies become imbalanced, it prevents God’s love and light from flowing evenly into the world.

When pundits speak of our polarized times, this kabbalistic map is a useful way to imagine the body politic. If we think about immigration, there is a way in which some people want to provide unlimited lovingkindness by opening the borders to all comers. And there are those who wish to block out any or most immigrants, in an act of judgement and detachment from those who would come to the United States. From a kabbalistic understanding, neither approach, in its unbalanced form, is going to be helpful to America or those seeking shelter and a new life. Each will prevent God’s light and love to flow into the world and benefit all. Each will actually produce tremendous evil and suffering.

This kabbalistic understanding of the world is so fascinating, because it is not only about God. It can be used to describe a person’s self-relationship as well as with their relationship with others. It can also describe how a nation deals with its own internal struggles, or how it acts on the global stage.

Most of us want balanced lives. Just as many of us struggle to integrate these different parts of ourselves in a healthy and harmonious whole. My prayer for Israel, for America, and for each of us, is to find that fulcrum point on the seesaw where everyone has an opportunity and where we can live with tremendous fullness and blessing.

Shabbat shalom

Rav D


Shabbat Table Talk

  1. Which parts of your life do you feel are working? Are they working well with the other parts of your life or is success in one area causing problems in another?
  2. Do you believe our national politics are unbalanced? If so, can we find a way back to the balance which the kabbalah presents? How might that happen?

If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.

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