According to Hasidism, the Judaism of the Torah [Law; Instruction] divides creation, and the world, into the duality of ‘what is permissible’ [unbound= redeemable], and ‘what is forbidden’ [bound=irredeemable]. The permissible can be handled by humanity, its sparks of divinity released by our good deeds; the forbidden cannot be handled by humanity because no human can release its sparks of divinity. Such is the traditional duality.
However, a Hasidic master points out that, according to the Jewish sages, in the Way of ‘Teshuvah’, The Return, this duality disappears, because the person who Returns grows closer to God through wrestling with evil than through obediently doing good. Doing good= remaining under God’s Law to be restored and completed. Returning= doing evil, then turning away from it and turning toward God, in the very deeps where evil takes hold of the human heart, brings that person closest to God of any religious path.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe says that the Way of Returning is only for a few people.. This Way is spiritually dangerous, because you cannot hold evil at arm’s length, you must come ‘through’ it in the very midst of its power to overwhelm and strangle you, which means you could really go under to evil. None the less, he adds that the closeness to God attained on this ‘Round About Route’ which does not go straight to God but takes a profound detour into depths of evil and depths of love most people avoid, means that the ‘returned one’ finally stands in a place with God not attained by any zaddik [elder, geron, staretz, guru, master]. “In the place where the baalei teshuvah [returned ones] stand, utter [advanced] zaddikim cannot stand.”
This Way of The Returning exists in Hasidism only because Yeshua was the Mashiach. For Yeshua as Mashiach followed the route into terrible abysses poetically described in the Four Slave Songs of Isaiah, and in the most heart-rending and gut-wrenching Psalms of David, and by doing that, he made this Reversal Way that can lead to perdition or to intimacy with Yahweh’s heart the very path of everyone in the Post-Messianic Age. The Messiah went where no spiritual figure ever went, and did in that hellish place what no spiritual figure ever did, by the power of the Spirit of Fire.
The Way of Return is another description of the Cross.
The Way of Teshuvah is more than a Pre-Messianic foretaste of the Way of the Cross. It has roots far back in Judaism. But it is in reality a Post-Messianic manifestation, and version, of the Messianic Way of the Cross in the Judaism influenced, not outwardly but inwardly, not blatantly but secretly, by the Messianic Spirit.
It does not matter what people say= look at what they do. Without the Spirit of Fire, there is no Messiah. Yeshua is ‘in the Spirit’ by some special dispensation of God that enables him to become the Messiah. Yet, once his deed of being reversed by evil in order to reverse evil is finished – this is why he utters on the Cross, ‘it is accomplished’ — the Spirit will sow the Road of Return wherever, and among whoever, he chooses, irrespective of whether it fits their self-description or alters it fundamentally. It will arise among Hasidic Jews, among Tibetan Buddhists, among those of no religion. This is too profound to be a matter for arbitration by flags of identity. This Messianic Mystery is not owned by any tradition, because the Reversed Messiah made this Road of Reversal open to all of humanity. It is the only universal pathway, because it is for those who have failed human existence, religiously and secularly. It is for those with no hope. It only starts where hope, religious and secular, has been well and truly shredded.
The Zaddik of Lubavitch calls the person who will return ‘a man in the desert.’ In a different sense, this person is existentially ruined in the World and thrown into the Wilderness of the Spirit alone and bereft. He does not realise it, but the Spirit is his only ally in that desolation and dereliction.
THE MAN IN THE DESERT
These are the rules — about permitted/unbounded and forbidden/bounded — that govern our existence and our service of God. One who lives by these rules, establishing them as the supreme authority over his behaviour, attains the status of zaddik [‘perfectly righteous’]. Yet our sages tell us that there is an even higher level of closeness to God..
The zaddik is one who has made the Divine will the very substance of his existence. Everything that becomes part of his life — the food he eats, the clothes he wears, the ideas and experiences he garners from his surroundings — are elevated, their ‘sparks’ divested of their mundane nature and raised to their Divine function. And he confines himself to the permissible elements of creation, never digressing from the boundaries that Torah sets for our involvement with and development of God’s world.
The baal teshuvah, on the other hand, is one who has digressed; one who has ventured beyond the realm of the permissible and has absorbed the irredeemable elements of creation into his life. His digression was a wholly negative thing; but having occurred, it holds a unique potential: the potential for teshuvah, “return.”
Teshuvah is fuelled by the utter dejection — the plunge into hell — experienced by one who wakes to the realization that he has destroyed all that is beautiful and sacred in his life; by the pain of one who has cut himself off from his source of life and well-being; by the alienation felt by one who finds himself without cause or reason to live. Teshuvah is humanity’s amazing ability to translate these feeling of worthlessness, alienation and pain into the drive for rediscovery and renewal.
The baal teshuvah is a person lost in the desert whose thirst, amplified a thousand-fold by the barrenness and aridity of his surroundings, drives him to seek water with an intensity that could never have been called forth by the most proficient well digger; a person whose very abandonment of God drives him to seek him with a passion the most saintly zaddik cannot know. A [heart] who, having stretched the cord that binds it to its source to excruciating tautness, rebounds with a force that exceeds anything experienced by those who never leave the Divine orbit.
In this way, the baal teshuvah accomplishes what the most perfect zaddik cannot: he liberates those sparks of Divinity imprisoned in the realm of the forbidden. In his [heart], the very negativity of these elements, their very contrariness to the Divine will, becomes a positive force, an intensifier of his bond with God and his drive to do what is true.
This is teshuvah, “return,” in its ultimate sense: the reclaiming of the ‘lost’ moments [or days, or years] and energies of a negative past; the restoration of sparks imprisoned in the lowliest realms of creation; the magnified force of a rebounding [heart].
GOOD AND EVIL
But what of the “bindings” that imprison these sparks? If the zaddik were to employ a forbidden thing toward a positive end, he would fail to elevate it; indeed, the deed would drag him down, distancing him, rather than bringing him closer, to the God he is presuming to serve. From where derives the baal teshuvah’s power to redeem what the Torah has decreed “bound” and irredeemable?
In its commentary on the opening verses of Genesis, the Midrash states:
At the onset of the world’s creation, God beheld the deeds of the righteous and the deeds of the wicked… “And the earth was void and chaotic…” — these are the deeds of the wicked. “And God said: Let there be light” — these are the deeds of the righteous. But I still do not know which of them He desires… Then, when it says, “And God saw the light, that it is good”, I know that he desires the deeds of the righteous, and does not desire the deeds of the wicked.
In other words, the only true definition of ‘good’ or ‘evil’ is that ‘good’ is what God desires and ‘evil’ is what is contrary to his will. The fact that we instinctively sense certain deeds to be good and others to be evil — the fact that certain deeds are good and certain deeds are evil — is the result of God having chosen to desire certain deeds from humanity and to not desire other deeds from humanity. We cannot, however, speak of good and evil ‘before’ God expressly chose the ‘deeds of the righteous.’
Therein lies the difference between the zaddik and the baal teshuvah.
The zaddik relates to God through his fulfillment of the Divine will expressed in the Torah. Thus, his achievements are defined and regulated by the Divine will. When he does what God has instructed to be done, he elevates those elements of creation touched by his deeds. But those elements with which the Divine will forbids his involvement are closed to him.
The baal teshuvah, however, relates to God himself, the formulator and professor of this will. Thus, he accesses a Divine potential that, by Torah’s standards, is inaccessible. Because his relationship with God is on a level that precedes and supersedes the Divine will — a level on which one “still does not know which of them He desires” — there are no ‘bound’ elements, nothing to inhibit the actualization of the Divine potential in any of God’s creations. So when the baal teshuvah uses his negative deeds and experiences to fuel his yearning and passion for God, he brings to light the sparks of Godliness they hold.
TO BE AND TO BE NOT
What enables the baal teshuvah to connect to God in such a way? The zaddik’s ability to relate to God through the fulfillment of his will was granted to each and every one of us when God gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai. But what empowers the baal teshuvah to reach the “place where utter zaddikim cannot stand” and tap the “pre-will” essence of God?
The thrust of the baal teshuvah’s life is the very opposite of the zaddik’s.
The zaddik is good, and the gist of everything he does is to amplify that goodness. The baal teshuvah had departed from the path of good, and the gist of everything he does is to deconstruct and transform what he was. In other words, the zaddik is occupied with the development of self, and the baal teshuvah, with the negation of self.
Thus the zaddik’s virtue is also what limits him. True, his development of self is a wholly positive and Godly endeavour– he is developing the self that God wants him to develop, and by developing this self he becomes one with the will of God. But a sense of self is also the greatest handicap to relating to the [heart] of God, which tolerates no camouflaging or equivocation of the truth that “there is none else besides him.”
The baal teshuvah, on the other hand, is one whose every thought and endeavour is driven by the recognition that he must depart from what he is in order to come close to God. This perpetual abnegation of self allows him to relate to God as God is, on a level that transcends God’s specific projection of himself formulated in His Torah.
THE FOURTH DIMENSION
This is God’s perspective on sin: sin as the facilitator of teshuvah. [The other ways in Judaism] are all part of a reality polarized by good and evil; they can perceive only the damage inflicted by sin, or, at most [as in the case of Torah], the manner by which it might be undone.
God’s reality, however, is wholly and exclusively good. ‘No evil resides with you’ sings the Psalmist. In the words of Jeremiah, ‘From the Supreme do not stem both evil and good.’
From God’s perspective, there is only the positive essence of transgression– the positive purpose for which he created man’s susceptibility to evil and his capacity for sin in the first place. As viewed by its Creator, transgression is the potential for a deeper bond between himself and humanity– a bond born out of the transformation of evil into good and failure into achievement.”
To go beyond ‘God’s will for the creation’ means something so extraordinary, it is almost too daunting to voice it. Thank God for the Jews! They voice matters of the heart about which everyone else in the world is stultified and silent.
We go beyond God’s will for the creation to reach intimacy with God’s heart, where there is a supreme Love not conditioned by the duality of morality.
The prodigal son who went against the father, and then struggled to return, has fathomed something about the father’s heart which the son who stayed at home, and always did as the father asked him, will never reach.
The stupendous meaning of the Way of Return is shocking.
The returnee has fathomed the depth of God’s heart, in the terrible struggle in the deeps of his own heart.
In a paradoxical and almost morally offensive way, risking evil is the only way to provoke and evoke the heart beyond ‘good and evil’= deeper than evil and greater than good.
No other religious path achieves intimacy with God’s heart.
God’s heart is the love prior to ‘good and evil.’ Good and Evil is a narrow straits we pass through, to raise us from amorphousness and undifferentiation, into a dynamic shape necessary to our human progress toward God, but the bond with God won out of ‘the transformation of evil into good and failure into achievement’, is the final leap. Thus we meet at the end of our perilous and arduous path the love in God prior to ‘good and evil’, but this love has been existentially tried out and tested, and has proved itself the only way through, and beyond, the dualism of good and evil.
We become the heart like God’s heart= deeper than evil, greater than good.
Such is our transition from innocence to experience to innocence-regained= the final holiness. The child’s innocence is an ikon of God’s love prior to good and evil, the adult’s experience is the tribulations and strivings within good and evil, and the innocence-regained of holiness comes ‘at the end’ as the ‘seasoning’ of the love prior to good and evil by the very way it passes through good and evil to the land of heart beyond it.
Moses= the Way of the Bounded, the Forbidden. Following God’s will= development of self.
David= the Way of the Unbounded, the Permitted. Breaking through to God’s Heart= negation of self.
The returnees expel evil in the heart, at a depth of heart, that reverses the very grounds of the heart they stand on in existence, but by this reversal, they come to understand evil as a way, and they understand the Holiness that counters it. They really comprehend evil’s whisper, evil’s appeal, evil’s deal, to the heart. They come to understand, in the heart, the heart’s susceptibility to evil. They understand, in the heart, the heart’s tendency to use evil as a foundation laid down against the abyss.
By coming ‘all the way down’ to the real foundations of the heart, by undoing ‘the abyss of sin’, the returnees understand the human heart, and let God come into it dynamically, heart to heart.
Thus mysteries of the divine heart are revealed to them which are ‘forbidden’ to everyone else.
It is not possible to speak of the heart, human or divine, from outside it, speculating on it, as a matter of curiosity. You must ‘suffer’ its way, in the Old English sense wherein to suffer is to accept. To undergo. To go through. To search in deeps and be searched in deeps. The human deeps are so close to divine deeps, a thin sheet of paper cannot be inserted between them. Nothing stands behind, or underneath, the human heart except God. It is this very nearness of human and divine, in the heart, that the devil’s evil seeds and sparks try to obscure. The devil sows a radical and fundamental Lie in the groundless ground of the heart, to prevent God from ‘getting in.’ The devil says to the human heart= if you take the leap of passion into the abyss, you will fall. God will abandon you in your heart’s extremity, like a mother who does not bond with her child, like a father who does not mentor his child. The abyss will not uphold the heart that risks its bottomlessness in its action in the world. Thus does the heart want to conquer the outer world to reassure and empower itself, thereby losing the real power of the Spirit acting in and through its interior and abysmal deeps.
Consequently, mysterious movements in the heart such as faith, trust, love, speak of a fundamental shift in humanity’s leaning upon the ground-without-ground in the heart.
Martin Buber= “..in every man is a force divine. And in man far more than in all other beings it can pervert itself, can be misused by himself. This happens if he, instead of directing it towards its origin, allows it to run directionless and seize at everything that offers itself to it; instead of hallowing passion, he makes it evil. But.. a way to redemption is open: he who with the entire force of his being ‘turns’ to God, lifts at his point [in existence] the divine immanence out of its debasement, which he has caused” [‘The Way of Man’, pp v-vi].
Martin Buber [chapter 5, pp 25-26] translates the Hebrew Teshuvah as ‘The Turning.’
“..turning stands in the centre of the Jewish conception of the way of man. Turning is capable of renewing a man from within and changing his position in God’s world, so that he who turns is seen standing above the perfect zaddik who does not know the abyss of sin. But turning means here something much greater than repentance and acts of penance; it means that by a reversal of his whole being, a man who had been lost in the maze of selfishness where he had always set himself as his goal, finds a way to God, that is, a way to the fulfilment of the particular task for which he, this particular man, has been destined by God. Repentance can only be an incentive to such active reversal; he who goes on fretting himself with repentance, he who tortures himself with the idea that his acts of penance are not sufficient, withholds his best energies from the work of reversal..”
The Turning is a deep turning away from evil, and turning back to God, in the very interior stronghold where evil has its groundedness in the heart. By embracing evil, then repudiating it, in the heart, the heart comes to understand not what suppresses evil from above, by superior force, but what undercuts evil from below, by deeper truth. When it is realised this truth will uphold the action of love in the world, the heart loses all constriction on boldness for love, all temptation for power rather than love, and it leaps into the abyss unimpeded.
Peter had reached this by the end, after all his misunderstandings and betrayals of Christ, when crucifixion came to him, and he asked to be crucified upside down.
How is the Turn Around even possible? As we go deeper into evil, so its grip upon us intensifies. How does anyone come back from that?
There is something in the abysses of the heart still free, not taken over, though heavily influenced and hedged in, by evil.
This mysterious core of the heart ‘turns’, and when it does, evil is by no means immediately shuffled off like an ill-fitting suit of clothes. Rather, the deepest intent of the heart, its true passion, aims at God, as the true target of its dynamic impulsion, and therefore rejects evil as that goal.
But, much in the heart, much in the body, much in the mind, much in the soul, is still carrying the results of evil-doing and evil-intent. An example from dieting. You eat and eat, weakly, sloppily, self-indulgently, giving way to food. You get fat. One day, after desiring to be thinner availed nothing, after knowing you are too fat and it is slowly but surely killing you availed nothing, something in your heart decides ‘enough.’
This is not the Western ‘free will.’ It is the heart’s passionate intentionality, the ‘doing of the heart.’ It includes the will, but is in reality the most mysterious and abysmal ‘grounding’ of passion. It is our ‘spirit.’ It is personal [hypostatic], free, but impassioned. Intentioned, dynamic and actively driving. It is the hidden man of the heart= he who draws the arrow back in the bow and, re-aiming it, shoots the missile toward the different target.
There is no name for this.. This deed of the turning cannot be stopped in any human heart. It is what worldly and religious authority fears so much= that the passion of humanity, once engaged, once committed, once given all or none to God for the world, cannot be stopped, intimidated, pushed off course. Such intent is ‘pure’ in the exact sense that nothing dilutes it, or deflects it. It is ‘straight’ to the point. This is the ‘singular’ heart in action. Desiring has an opposite= this deed of the heart has no opposite.
This is the real ‘wildness’ in human beings which God respects.. Mostly it is quiescent in most human beings. The devil fears its rising, and piles many obstacles upon the heart to make it believe it cannot ‘move’ under the obstruction. Yet, in the strange liberation of the moment of the Turn Around, the heart moves, despite everything pressing down on it. When Yeshua shouted at Lazarus in the tomb to get up, and come out, he addressed this most God-like part of Lazarus still nascent in the tomb, like a flame burned down but not out, still glowering in the ashes.
As with dieting, your decision to stop over eating, or eating self destructively for a quick fix, a brief consolation [the nourishing food the parents never provided], is all or none, but you do not just get immediately thin.. You cannot simply shake off the results of years of over eating. You live with that damage, and only slowly does it start to leave you, and then your real shape – William Blake’s ‘fine wirey line of creation’ – starts to emerge.
But, as St Paul testified about this, when the heart turns around, when the heart is reversed, in a way so radical it exceeds even repentance, humility, truthful acknowledgement of doing evil, it cannot immediately take everything else in heart, in body, in mind, in soul, with it. The heart that has changed in foundation still must carry the load of years of damage done to itself and to the immediate world surrounding it; so too must it shoulder as a burden the not yet turned parts of the composite personhood. The odd thing, the peculiar thing, is that one part of us, really the most significant part, can be close to God, yet the rest of us is not yet there, has not caught up, is lagging behind. This is the rationale for the much misunderstood mantra that we must ‘forgive ourselves.’ We must have patience with ourselves, as sometimes we stumble under the load, and revert back. Then we must dust ourselves off and get back to it.
As this is not a conservative path of staying within the boundary of the rules, so too it is not a liberal path of indulging whatever fancies seize the heart as it is changing, and still stumbles, still reverts, still gets fed up with what it must still put up with. It still is tempted, and it still has falls, yet slowly, and surely, it is standing firmer, and winning through. Truthfulness in the inner parts is needed to not get above oneself, or ahead of oneself. The liberal path which is weak, sloppy, self-indulgent, telling the heart it can return to pleasing itself, will both squander the accumulating strength of the heart, and peddle to the heart a phoney bill of goods about what the heart is doing. “It will all be fine”..
Evil, if we turn away from it even in the coils of its encompassing power, and turn to God, brings out the real heart.. Evil tests and clarifies the heart, as good cannot. This is the Way of The Return.
But it is easy to get too familiar in handling forbidden, unbounded, things. Then we fall from the narrow ridge, and may be dragged back a long way.. We can still return, if we then make a stand there.
The Way of the Turning is very free, but if it becomes ‘anything goes’, we lose the ‘inner line’ that leads through Hell to the other side. There is a comprehensive brokenness in the place in the heart of the Turning, yet just there is the tension that builds and drives the advancing inner line ‘through.’
There is a truth of heart in every human situation which becomes our high wire over a gorge that we must walk, not falling to right [fleeing to rules] or falling to left [going back to the undiscerned heart that laxly can do everything it wants].
St Paul warned the first wave of Christians not to abuse the freedom from the Law granted to them by the Cross of Christ as licence. As we pass through good and evil, as we pass beyond good and evil, through love, we cannot lapse into ‘everything is permitted because there is no good and evil.’
That is just another route back to Hell.
Remain in Hell, but do not throw in the towel, and let the Spirit guide you through. This takes more honesty, more truthfulness, toward the ‘inner parts.’
Yeshua was, is, and will forever be, the Mashiach who brought this Reversal Way of the Messianic Mystery into the world. The Reversal which is key to Redemption means nothing is irredeemable, everything is redeemable. Only the Cross accomplishes that.
Only the Round-About-Road goes direct to God’s heart.
This Way is what is beyond righteousness, when righteousness retains its footing in the Law. This is the Jewish attempt to articulate passion in its Messianic radicalness.
This Way converts evil into something extraordinary, something far better than good.. Such is the real meaning of the Messiah’s ‘acceptance’ of evil= the change of evil into love, the passionate yet wounded love that becomes greater than good and deeper than evil.
The person of the Way of Return is in reality the person whose tragedy in the abyss of the heart precludes him or her from following the Law, and obediently doing good. At the deepest level, all humanity is in exactly this predicament, and thus all of humanity is precluded from any other way than this way of the baal teshuvah.
The only way through the human tragedy, the only way through Hell= this is the Redemption of the Cross, Descent into Hell, and Resurrection.
Christ took on humanity’s final separation from God on the Cross= “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, although he is without sin and has not fallen. He suffers this as something laid upon him to show us the way through it. Up to this moment, Christ had never experienced any sundering in his ‘direct wire’ into God. At this moment, the plug is pulled. He plunges into the sundering from God basic to the human heart, and enters our heartbreak.
Yet, just in this nadir, he activates the Love prior to good and evil at its most Fiery in how it bears and endures, carries and pays for, the ordeal of the human heart in the trial of good and evil. He passes on to us, in his own coming through that ordeal, the secret of how the heart can be reactivated in the fearful depth where it is defunct.
Such is the power and wisdom of the Cross, awaiting us in hellish abysses, through the Messiah’s deed in that God-forsaken, desperate extremity.
Christ on the Cross= the way of the baal teshuvah, the Way of Return to God’s heart through the hells in the human heart.
It is for the most stupendous End.
Martin Buber [chapter 6, pp 32-33]=
“Rabbi Pinhas, witnessing the terrible impoverishment of human existence, cried, ‘Let us draw God into the world.’
“God’s grace consists precisely in this, that he wants to let himself be won by man, that he places himself, so to speak, into man’s hands. God wants to come to his world, but he wants to come to it through man. This is the mystery of our existence, the superhuman chance of mankind.
‘Where is the dwelling of God?’ This is the question with which the Rabbi of Kotz surprised a number of learned men who happened to be visiting him.
They laughed at him: ‘What a thing to ask! Is not the whole world [including the universe and nature], full of his glory?’
Then he answered his own question.
‘God dwells wherever man lets him in’.”