Searching For, And Cultivating Light

Publisher's Foreword

America is a country constantly seeking new frontiers.

Over the course of the first century and a half of our national existence, we expanded our geographic frontiers.

In the next half-century, we explored and developed the frontiers of international finance and power.

And for the last quarter century, much of our frontierism has been internally directed, seeking new thresholds of mental and spiritual experience.

This is one of the focuses of the essay which follows.

A second is the eternal spiritual vitality of the Torah.

And a third - in our conception, the product of the dynamic fusion of the first two - is the Era of the Redemption.

As searching Americans struggled to recover a thread of belief and spiritual meaning in the transitional throes of our changing society, the Torah provides a perpetually relevant message of G-dly truth which will enable us to channel the direction of our lives and of the social environment in which we live towards the ultimate fulfillment of the Era of the Redemption.

28 Teves, 5753

Searching For, And Cultivating Light

Sedona is a small town nestled amid the red-rock canyons and cactus bushes of Arizona's desert.

Fifteen years ago, with the exception of a few experts on American Indian history, next to no one had heard about the town.

Today, Sedona is one of the leading tourist attractions in the country, drawing approximately three million visitors a year.

Tens of millions of dollars in revenue is generated annually.

What made the difference?

An audio-tape by a self-styled and self-educated spiritualist which describes seven "vortexes of spiritual energy" located in the rock formations around the community.

The tape spawned a new legend, and people came, searching for a variety of paranormal psychic phenomena, and making Sedona the "capital of the New Age."

What is interesting is that the large percentage of these visitors are not sixties holdovers or East or West Coast intellectuals.

They are members of middle America: schoolteachers, retired businessmen, and veterinarians, the kinds of people who could be my neighbor or yours.

They are not all forty or less.

Quite the contrary, among them are grandmothers and grandfathers.

And away from the pressure of urban American society, they are seeking deeper spiritual values, and some meaning and inner peace for their lives.

Sedona is not an isolated phenomenon.

Over twenty-five million Americans, approximately one tenth of the nation's population, profess to be involved in New-Age spirituality that in a unique combination of myth, mystery, and metaphysics promises super natural healing, one-on-one communication with G-d, the development of extra-sensory perception, and a variety of other "spiritual" qualities.

And Americans are buying these ideas, spending many millions of dollars a year attending lectures and works hops to cultivate these attributes and skills.

What is at the core of this phenomenon?

People feel alone.

Overwhelmed by the torrent of information they are forced to process in our technical society, they are seeking to become more in touch with their human side.

Even purely business-oriented books urge an attempt to balance the material advances of our technology with the spiritual demands of human nature.

People want deeper meaning in their lives.

They are seeking a reawakened sense of community in their relations with others, and they desire the inner security that comes from living with spiritual purpose.

The spread of such aspirations throughout our society has kindled a greater sensitivity to spiritual awareness with ramifications on many levels.

To cite a conspicuous example: Even the most mainstream medical practitioners have come to appreciate the existence of an interconnection between soul and body.

But there is a fundamental difficulty.

In a uniquely American way, this search for spirituality has a free- lance, even entrapeneurish dimension to it.

It is belief without a structure, a super-market of spiritual ideas lumped together, as seeking - and not necessarily fulfilled - individuals attempt to define spirituality in their own way.

And one cannot ignore the business aspect of it.

Without even mentioning the millions made by gurus and evangelists, the fact is that personal growth and spiritual awareness programs are big business.

And a lot of that money is made by catering to people's weaknesses and insecurities when the "spiritual guides" know that they are not providing them with real answers.

What's more, although the desire for community is a genuinely positive thrust, in practice, this frequently means a place where I will be accepted easily, where I can be held in someone's arms - and where I can hold someone else, instead of having to compete in a cold society.

Moreover, however, this sense of community often has little to do with authentic compassion and care for others, or actual deeds and personal sacrifice to help feed the hungry and clothe the naked.

By the same token, the search for the spiritual repeatedly becomes a search for an individual high, a catharsis of inner yearning, instead of an ongoing, systematic process of development.

In the sixties, the adherents of the drug movement used to say that because Americans are such a materialistic oriented people, G-d put spirituality into physical form, into chemicals.

Twenty-five years later, real progress has been made.

On the whole, people are no longer depending on chemicals for spiritual highs, and are expecting growth to come from awareness. But most frequently, this awareness is thought of as coming from above, descending upon us and granting us unearned bliss.

There is a fundamental lesson in spiritual growth taught by a soda bottle: No deposit, no return.

We can't expect spiritual growth and awareness to come by itself.

There is no such thing as spirituality without sacrifice.

Self-discipline, the ability to face oneself, and good old-fashioned work and effort are keys to growth.

But they are not the only ones necessary.

One of the most frequently quoted stories in Jewish thought is Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi's tale of the King of the Khazars' dream [1].

The Khazars were a successful nation living in Mid-Asia. Their king had tried to develop the moral fiber of his people and to advance himself spiritually. But every night, he was haunted by a recurring dream. It was as if an angel was speaking to him and telling him, "G-d appreciates your intent, but your deeds are not appreciated."

The dream spurred the king to even greater efforts. He studied, and he labored to improve his spiritual service. Nevertheless, he still received the same message, "G-d appreciates your intent, but your deeds are not appreciated."

The story teaches a profound lesson: A person can be willing, and can even make substantial sacrifices, but unless he has direction from a time-tested spiritual path, his progress will be limited.

To borrow an expression from our Sages [2], "A man in fetters cannot set himself free from prison."

The realization of the existence of spiritual truth beyond the limits of our ordinary human experience is an important first step, but it should motivate a second: To seek out - as did the King of the Khazars - a spiritual path that had proven its effectiveness over the course of time.

Seeking such direction is necessary, for by definition, there is a gap separating the material from the spiritual.

As mortals, we know that the spiritual exists, and can even appreciate that we have a spark of it within us [3], but when it comes to our conscious experience, it is distant from us.

On his own initiative, a finite man has no means to establish commonalty with an infinite G-d.

The nature of this schism and how to bridge it is the subject of a unique teaching of the Midrash: [4]

David said [5], "The Holy One, blessed be He, decreed, 'The heavens are the heavens of G-d, and the earth He gave to men."

To what can this be compared? To a king who decreed that the inhabitants of Rome may not descend to Syria, and the inhabitants of Syria may not ascend to Rome....

Nevertheless, when [G-d] desired to give the Torah, He nullified that original decree and said, "The lower realms will ascend to the higher realms and the higher realms will descend to the lower realms. And I will take the initiative."

As it is written "[6], "And G-d descended on Mount Sinai,: and "To Moses, He said `Ascend to G-d.'"

G-d gave us the Torah so that we could establish a bond with Him. For the Torah involves itself with matters of our world - significantly, the large majority of the Torah's teachings focus, not on prayer or worship, but on agricultural laws, marriage , family, and business relations.

And yet, "the Torah and the Holy One, blessed be He, are One." [7] As it deals with the mundane realities of our material environment, it is one with G-d.

Thus by establishing a bond with the Torah, a person in effect establishes a bond with G-d.

To borrow an analogy of our Rabbis [8], it is like embracing a king as he is clothed in his garments. Although one feels the king's garments and not his actual flesh, what is important is the live, vibrant connection with the king [9].

Also significant is the Midrash's statement that it is G-d who says, "I will begin." The Torah is G-d's incursion into man's world, and only that could make possible man's incursion into G-ds.

The Torah is intended not merely to give man the opportunity of establishing a bond with G-d, but also to make the world G-dly, as our Sages stated [10], "The Torah was given solely to refine the created beings." Thus we find a parallelism between the Ten Commandments and the Ten Utterances of Creation.

For the Torah is intended to permeate the creation, and connect it to G-dliness [11].

In that context, we can understand our Sages' division of the six millennia of recorded history into [12]: "Two thousand years of chaos, two thousand years of [involvement with] the Torah, and two thousand years of [concern with] the Era of Moshiach."

The Torah is a medium to reveal order and meaning within the confusion and discord (chaos) of material existence and thus lead to the ultimate fulfillment that will characterize our world in the Era of the Redemption.

But the Torah is not merely a tool to enable the world to blossom into its designed purpose. It itself is the desired purpose.

Maimonides conceives of the Era of the Redemption as a time when our observance of the Torah and its mitzvos will reach perfection [13].

For this reason, after negating the notion that Moshiach must work miracles or perform wondrous phenomena, Maimonides writes, [14] "The essence of the matter is: This Torah, its statutes and its laws, are everlasting."

For the Torah is communication between G-d and man.

At present, our perception is limited and therefore, we have only a limited awareness of the G-dly truth conveyed by the Torah.

In the Era of the Redemption, by contrast, the spiritual dimensions of the Torah will be openly revealed. And then [15], the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G-d

The Jews will therefore be great sages and will know the hidden matters, attaining an understanding of their Creator to the [full] extent of mortal potential; as it is written [16], "The earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover up the ocean bed.


  1. HaKuzari, Discourse 1.
  2. Berachos 5b.
  3. See Tanya, ch. 2.
  4. Shmos Rabbah 12:3.
  5. Psalms 115:16.
  6. Exodus 19:20.
  7. Zohar, Vol. I, 24a.
  8. Tanya, ch. 4.
  9. This concept is reinforced by the Hebrew word used to refer to the observance of G-d's commandments, mitzvos. Mitzvos shares the same root as the Hebrew word tzavta meaning connection. For the purpose of the mitzvos is to establish a bond with G-d (Likkutei Torah, Bechukosai 45c).
  10. Bereishis Rabbah 44:1.
  11. See Timeless Patterns of Time, Shavuos, essay 1, which explains that by performing a mitzvah, one establishes an eternal bond between G-d and the material objects with which the mitzvah is performed.
  12. Sanhedrin 97a.
  13. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim, ch. 11. See the essay entitled The Function of Moshiach in I Await His Coming (Kehot, 1991) where this concept is explained.
  14. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim, 11:3.
  15. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim, 12:5.
  16. Yeshayahu 11:9.