Thoughts on “Everything is God: The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism” by Jay Michaelson.
Early in the book, the author poses a startling question: If everything is God, why be Jewish?
A good question, once you’ve accepted the premise of nonduality, which is:
What we call God is simply a name for Existence. If you strip away the layers, at the core of everything you will find Him, It, You, God. Name it what you will, it is simply Being. It is Oneness. It cannot be defined, or delineated, and it definitely cannot be attributed desires, expectations, and moods.
The God we’ve come to know as kind, wise, forgiving, jealous, interested in what we eat and how we treat our neighbors, He is a dual God. He exists in a world only if we exist too, where there is good and evil, up and down, today and tomorrow.
In nondualism, where all of existence is just the pulse of Being, then the entire creation, the entire reality we know, the God that we know — it’s all meaningless. It’s a mirage, it’s a matrix. The only logical and possible choice is to lose the outlines of the self, and melt into the oneness.
And yet, instead of chasing oblivion, our sages have spent centuries arguing over the price of a stolen cow, and then insisted that this cow is the wisdom of God.
The answer is in the Zohar:
The Zohar can be read as an answer to a deceptively simple question: if everything is God, why does it appear as it does? Thus it begins from the premise of unity and then spends thousands of pages inquiring into multiplicity. How does the relative relate to the absolute? What is the meaning of evil, of distinction, of binaries and pairs? How does the undifferentiated light of the Ein Sof become refracted, as it were, through the prisms of the sefirot and into the many hues we know from our experience? By answering these questions the Zohar rebuilds the world. In this way, the Zohar is able to become the most outrageously anthropomorphic text in the Jewish tradition.
Among Hassidim there is a common quote that for the angels, “God is obvious. Creation is a curiosity.” For humans, “Creation is obvious. God is a curiosity.”
If we flip, and God becomes obvious, then the world loses its reality, and we need to reconstruct it. How is there coffee? Who am I? What am I doing here?
Yet despite this paragraph regarding the Zohar, the author never turns to Judaism as the mechanism of reconstruction. He claims that Judaism as a practice is inherently meaningless, except for cultural and nostalgic resonance. He maintains that there is no practice that could possibly allow for a relationship with the infinite. Any spiritual feeling, or idea, or experience can’t possibly be It, because if you can feel it, or conceive it, it’s not It.
What Hassidism claims is that truly, there is no way to relate to the infinite God, so God designed an elaborate mechanism where that impossibility happens. And that is why no matter how senseless Judaism seems to be, it’s the only sense there is. If God claims that making a blessing over a cup of wine when the clock strikes 6:36 is a better way to relate to him than by meditating on a mountain top, who are we to argue? It’s His matrix.
As an introduction to nonduality and nondual Judaism, this book is a treasure. But having brought us to the point of acknowledging that everything is nothing, the author leaves us with nothing. Finding God is only half the journey. Discovering what we’re doing here, where coffee smells like morning and trees sway in the breeze and babies die and children laugh, is just as crucial, and a lot more interesting.