11/29/2011 01:16 pm ET | Updated Jan 29, 2012

God Is One: A Kabbalistic Explanation

When we think about Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, we usually think of the Zohar, the Kabbalistic commentary on the Torah, or the teachings and stories of the Hasidic rabbis. While all this is true, the foundation of Kabbalah is the very credo of Judaism -- the Sh'ma (Deuteronomy 6:4) which is translated, "Listen Israel, YHVH is our God, YHVH is One."

To better understand what is being communicated the Sh'ma can be flushed out as follows, "Listen, I am not saying hear, but listen, with all your might and with all your soul, as I am about to tell you something very very important. This message is so important it is for everyone, not just me, Moses, or our other leaders or priests. As Rabbi Art Green points out, YHVH, the spelling of God's name in the composite form of the verb "to be" in its past, present and future forms means that God's name actually is Is-was-will-be. That is to say, God is timeless and infinite, which directly ties into the final part of the sentence, "YHVH is One." As God is beyond time so God is beyond a space and a simple mathematical formula. God is One is not about a number; rather, "God is One" means the world is a Uni-verse where there is nothing else but God, the eternal force that animates everything."

The problem is we mostly don't live our lives with an attentiveness and consciousness -- a mindfulness as the Buddhists would say -- and allow our everyday to be tuned into that understanding of the world. Kabbalah is our bid to recover our awareness of that primary unity of the world, the Life Force of the Universe that permeates all. In other words, Kabbalah attempts to break through the doors of perception where Huxley said, quoting Blake, "everything would appear to man what it is, infinite." One of God's names in Kabbalah is Eyn Sof, which means "without end."

Rabbi Azriel of Gerona, one of the great teachers of Kabbalah in 13th century Spain explains:

Know that everything visible and perceivable to human contemplation is limited, and that everything that is limited is finite, and that everything that is finite is insignificant. Conversely, that which is not limited is called Eyn Sof and is absolutely undifferentiated in a complete and changeless unity; and if God is truly without limit, than nothing exists outside God. And since God is both exalted and hidden, God is the essence of all that is concealed and revealed.

Gershon Scholem, the father of all modern historians of Kabbalah writes in his seminal work "Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism" (1941):

For instance Rabbi Joseph ben Shalom of Barcelona (1300) maintains that in every transformation of reality, in every change of form, or every time the status of a thing is altered, the abyss of nothingness is crossed and for a fleeting moment becomes visible. Nothing can change without coming into contact with this region of pure absolute Being, which the mystics call Nothing (Eyn Sof).

If life were like a movie and we were able to slow it down we would see the blank spaces between each frame, between each moment, between each change. Because of the speed the individual picture frames are flashed on the movie screen we normally do not see those blank spaces. Kabbalah is the system where we try to see those spaces.

While that may be the intention, it is not a situation where we would like to remain for a long period of time. Just as we would go crazy watching a movie where we see every blank space, so we would go crazy if we were to see the blank spaces intertwined throughout existence. According to Kabbalah, we are shielded from that Ultimate Reality as God is refracted in what the Kabbalists call 10 sefirot -- 10 basic units of Reality, or the dramatic emanations of God in the world that can be experienced on a spectrum of intensity. Kabbalists strive for devekut, to cleave to God. Or to put it in other words, Kabbalists work to expand the frontiers of consciousness to come into contact with, as Jung taught, the "universal unconsciousness." Kabbalah provides both an explanation of and a system to access that ultimate understanding and experience of the world we live in on a deeper spiritual plain.

We become more human when allow ourselves to tap into that dimension of ourselves called the spiritual. Kabbalah, as with all spiritual paths, allows us to access that very human quality -- the awareness that there is more to our lives than what we call the purely rational and material.

By reminding us that God is beyond time and space, Kabbalah can free us from the limited notion of God as the Old Man in the Sky. Such a God may be reached through prayer, but such an understanding can open up the possibility that God does not answer prayer in the more traditional explanation. As The Doors (taking their name from Huxley's book The Doors of Perception) sang, "You cannot petition the Lord with prayer." This does not diminish the importance of prayer; prayer is that very important human vehicle that allows us to experience God, a dimension of being human that when nurtured can make our lives fuller. In addition, on a deep level, Kabbalah's insight that all is God reminds us that when we are in conflict with the environment, with other religions, people and nations, we are also in conflict with an aspect of our self. Or as the Fab Four tried to tell us, "I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together," echoing the words of the great 16th century Kabbalist Moses Cordovero, who lived in the Kabbalist center of Safed, Israel: "Each of us emerges from Eyn Sof and is included in it. We live through its dissemination ... Delve into this. Flashes of intuition will come and go, and you will discover a secret here."