Monday, September 30, 2013

Looking at God in the Eyes--PART 1 (B) *

I sink 'neath the river cool and clear
Drifting down I disappear
I see you on the other side
I search for the peace in your eyes
But they're as empty as paradise
They're as empty as paradise
       --Bruce Springsteen

After Jacob served his father, Isaac said to him, "Please come closer and kiss me, my son.”
Jacob came closer, whereupon Isaac exclaimed, "Behold, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field, which the Lord has blessed.”
From this we learn, that the fragrance of the Garden of Eden, of Paradise, entered with Jacob…. 
        --Genesis 27:27 and Rashi

Based on the above explanation of God's likening our manner of gazing at Him to that of the dove's, we can unlock the mystery of the universal symbol of peace.

The dove with the branch in its beak.

After the flood, Noah sent the dove three times to check the situation outside the ark. 

8 And he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.
              --Genesis 8

In contrast with popularized opinion, Jewish mysticism does not view the flood as a wanton, meaningless act. Such destruction would contradict God's benevolent character. Similar to the depth of its waters, the flood symbolizes meaning far deeper than what initially meets the eye. 

All too often in life, we seem to face daunting floodwaters of of chaos, confusion, and angst. Nonetheless, our belief in God's inherent goodness strengthens our trust that somehow a higher order, keener clarity, and fulfilling solace will emerge from the flood's wake. Similarly, the Kabbalah teaches us that the flood waters of Noah's times represented a purifying, rectifying force for the entire world: God essentially purified the earth with a flood of spiritual Divine Light. However, the force of the revelation was too potent for the physical world to handle, so symbolically, the earth was "drowned." The mundane world could not sustain the magnitude of the divine revelation. It was thus overpowered and destroyed. 

The first time the dove is sent from the ark with the mission to scout the situation of the world, it finds the earth wholly devoured by the intensity of the Divine Light. There is no dry, mundane land upon which it may perch. It therefore returns dejected, with no possibility of peace or serenity. 

Interestingly, the dove does not bother to return from its third and final mission. At that point, the waters of the flood were completely dried and evaporated, and all that remained was the dry, physical earth- an earth devoid of the Godly waters that once inundated it. As such, the dove has no uplifting message to convey to Noah, for there is no inspiration to be derived from grounds that are divinely dehydrated and parched with spiritual thirst. 

Only during the intermediate state could the dove bring to Noah the sign of peace. For it was on its second mission that the dove beheld a world both visible and physical, yet simultaneously abounding in G-d's revelation. It was only during the second week that the waters of G-d's Light filled our world yet also enabled the physicality of the earth to tower above their gentle ripples. From the epicenter of the waters' glory shone the beauty of the humble but firm olive branches. And it was therefore only then that the dove found peace and brought the branch back to the ark.

Peace is not uniformity, when everything and everyone are the same. A dull lack of variety necessitates not the blessing of peace. 

Peace is not conformity, when one overriding authoritarian force inhibits multiplicity and individuality and stops people from being themselves. There is no harsher war than that.

Peace is not amorphousness, a dearth of creativity and of details. Failure to achieve meaningful content and form shows cowardice and smallness, not peace.  

Peace is, rather, the wondrous unity of differences- the harmony of many dazzling colors, sounds, sights, minds, souls, and all versatility. Peace encourages the myriad details of our world to retain their independence and diversity, yet flow in rhythmic consonance with each other. Peace is reveling in the joy of being different, while concurrently feeling incomplete without the other and his differences. 

Peace and harmony are in fact synonymous. A harmony is not just one sound or a lack of sound. It is the triumphant weaving together of many various sounds.

That was the state of the world during the dove's middle mission. The harmony of the mundane earth with the spiritual waters of the flood.

Many loathe the concepts of God and religion because they view them as stifling forces that crush all beauty and individualism into monotony, void of life and splendor. All too often, people incorrectly think that God prefers His world and its inhabitants to be uniform. They feel that connecting to God would necessitate losing one's selfhood and the ability to individuate.

They think that 'seeking the Divine' entails drowning in the waters of ascetic devotion to the ethereal. They fear that 'being spiritual' requires eschewing themselves and all they see as meaningful in the world, to "sink 'neath the river cool and clear/ Drifting down I disappear." 

Such a path of negation is not peace. It is indeed an empty paradise. "I search for the peace in your eyes/But they're as empty as paradise/They're as empty as paradise."

These people do not realize that God wants no such thing. God wants a beautiful, versatile world. He created it diverse, coupled with the endless potential to develop its variegated splendor even further. 

What He does long for, however, is to be seen: in the multiplicity, in the splendor, in the mundane. As a person that longs for his beloved to see him for who he truly is, his self, within the positive traits that he has, and not just be appreciated for his personality- likewise does God want to be appreciated. He does not want to be recognized as simply the Creator of heaven and earth, but rather as the One Who is manifesting His Light as heaven and earth. As all of us yearn to be seen and encountered fully. So does He. 

He wants us to see the richness of the details in all reality and look at Him in His eyes as we perceive it. He wants us to sense the ineffable Divine in all the aspects of our humanity. 

He wants us to achieve peace: the peace of dry, physical land that has the flood waters of Divinity seeping through it; that intermediate stage when the trees were projecting gloriously through the waters still flowing upon the land.

At that moment, it was the dove that perched itself peacefully on a wet, fresh olive tree, and brought this message of peace back to Noah. For such peace can only be achieved by a dove. As mentioned previously, doves stare at their mates. Their greatest bliss is steadfastly gazing at their beloved straight in the eye.

We are God's beloved mate, His dove. When we view the world as the way in which His Light lovingly manifests, we are passionately gazing into His pupils. 

It is we, therefore, who bring about peace- peace between the waters and the land, the spiritual and the mundane, the mystical and the human. For we, as His doves, perceive both as equally Him.

This is the pleasing fragrance of the real Paradise that entered with Jacob: a Paradise on dry land saturated with flood-waters. The fragrance of heaven that is indeed a place on earth. 

It is by smelling this fragrance and viewing the world with this dove-like perception that one can indeed find peace.

And hence, in the eyes of a dove, a lover of God, one can find peace.** 

* This post is dedicated to my friend Jorian Yonah Schutz. I thought of this idea as he was speaking at a very special gathering at his house.
** See also here that this is the culmination of the Messianic Era, brought about by the Prince of Peace.

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