Rabbi Neil Schuman

Embracing a New Spiritual Paradigm

In a little while, we’re going to sing Pete Seeger’s famous anthem, “We Shall Overcome”:

We shall live in peace, some day
Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day

In certain ways, Seeger’s words have come true. We’ve made great strides in the past fifty years for women’s equality, opportunity for Black Americans and the acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.

On the other hand, we know way too well the massive divide within our country, and what seems like endless war in others.

But deep in our heart we do believe, we hope, to find peace, to walk hand in hand someday.
Is it fantasy, or is it something our heart yearns for because it’s actually attainable?

Our Rosh Hashana prayers also yearn for world peace, but with one added element: God. When the knowledge of God will unite all of humanity, then the world will live harmoniously and be full of blessing:
וּבְכֵן צַדִּיקִים יִרְאוּ וְיִשְׂמָֽחוּ וִישָׁרִים יַעֲלֹֽזוּ וַחֲסִידִים בְּרִנָּה יָגִֽילו
ּ וְעוֹלָֽתָה תִּקְפָּץ פִּֽיהָ. וְכָל הָרִשְׁעָה כֻּלָּהּ כְּעָשָׁן תִּכְלֶה כִּי תַעֲבִיר מֶמְשֶֽׁלֶת זָדוֹן מִן הָאָֽרֶץ
And then the righteous will see and rejoice, and the upright will be jubilant, and the pious will exult with joyous song; injustice will close its mouth, and all the wickedness will vanish like smoke when You remove the rule of evil from the earth.

In the Musaf prayer, we add:

With the coming of Your kingdom
The hills will shout with song,
And the islands laugh exultantly,
That they to God belong.

Actually, we express this wish every day, with the prayer that the Talmud says is the most important in any service, Kaddish.
Yitgadal, V’yikadash Shemah raba
May God’s name become great and sanctified
B’chayeychon U’vyomaychon
In your lifetime and in your days, and let us say, Amen

What does it mean, “May God’s name become great and sanctified”?
How will all people come to recognize God?
Our daily prayers supply one answer:
תְּקַע בְּשׁוֹפָר גָּדוֹל לְחֵרוּתֵֽנוּ וְשָׂא נֵס לְקַבֵּץ גָּלֻיּוֹתֵֽינוּ וְקַבְּ֒צֵֽנוּ יַֽחַד מֵאַרְבַּע כַּנְפוֹת הָאָֽרֶץ
Sound the great shofar for our liberty, and raise a banner to gather our exiles, and gather us together from the four corners of the earth

Our tradition envisions a Heavenly shofar blast that will be heard across the planet and it will propel all of us to Godly awareness and knowledge.

However, and I’m sorry to be such a party pooper, from the way the world has carried on for the past five thousand years of recorded history, I don’t see this kind of Divine revelation in the works. Furthermore, if the recognition of God was readily apparent, would we really have free will? Isn’t that what life’s about, how we use our free will?

Nonetheless, there still might be an organic process through which this global recognition of God and subsequent world peace could take place.

In the first chapter of the Torah, we learn that humans were made in the image of God:
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ וְיִרְדּוּ֩ בִדְגַ֨ת הַיָּ֜ם וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה֙ וּבְכׇל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבְכׇל־הָרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽרֹמֵ֥שׂ עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃ And God said, “Let us make humans in our image, after our likeness. They shall subdue the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that crawl on earth.”
If only it also said, “and the viruses of the air”, that would have been perfect!
So, וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם׃ And God created the human in His image, in the image of God He created the human; male and female He created them.
What does it mean to be created in the image of God?
Truth be told this matter has already been decided by a debate between a doctor, an engineer, and a politician…
The doctor said, “In the book of Genesis, God took a rib out of Adam’s side. So obviously God was a surgeon.”
The engineer said, “Yes, but long before that, He created the world out of chaos. So God was an engineer.”
And the politician said, “Yeah, but who created the chaos?”
So indeed, our politicians may be in the true image of God! But if there’s a more general understanding: We have the One Creative Force, God, that fills the universe, and this Force made one creature with advanced emotional and intellectual capabilities akin to Himself.
There’s God, all the other creations, and then there’s us in between, very sophisticated hominids. With our godly gifts, we create art and music, domesticate animals and crops; we do indeed fulfill our destiny to subdue and control the earth.
The traditional belief is that God watches us from above, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts.”[1]
However, spiritual ideas have continuously been evolving, revelations over the past 800 years have taken place that point to a vastly different spiritual construct: God is not apart from us viewing us from Heaven, but actually inside each one of us, a part of you and me.
The Tanya- A seminal work on Kabbalah and Chasidic thought written 200 years ago by the first Lubavitcher Rebbe – explains:
וְנֶפֶשׁ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, הִיא חֵלֶק אֱלוֹהַּ מִמַּעַל מַמָּשׁ
The soul in actuality is “a part of God above,”
The Rebbe uses another verse in the Genesis creation story to back up this point:
וַיִּ֩יצֶר֩ יְהֹוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַֽיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה
The LORD God formed the human from the dust of the earth. He blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living being.

The Rebbe explains: The significance of the verb “to blow” relates to the infusion of the soul into the human body. The Zohar, the main work of Jewish mysticism notes: “He who blows, blows from within him,” (we mask wearers know this only too well); metaphorically it means, from God’s inwardness and innermost being. Thereby, God placed a spark of Himself into the soul of every person.

I picture it like this: if our soul is comparable to a Tootsie Pop, God is the chocolate in the center and our persona is the candy layer that encases it.

And it’s not just Jewish Kabbalah that has come to this conclusion; you can find this model in religions and spiritual communities across the globe.

Elizabeth Gilbert mentioned this in “Eat, Pray Love”. While studying in an Indian ashram, she learned the Yogic chant (and Yoga, itself, means “Unity”), “Om Namah Shivaya,” meaning, “I honor the Divinity that resides within me.”

Ekhart Tolle, one of the great spiritual teachers of our times, says as follows in his book, “The Power of Now ”, “Being (or what we commonly call Soul) is your God-essence. Being refers to your indwelling divinity regardless of whether you are conscious of it or not, whereas presence means your awakened divinity of God-essence.

Our God essence is always with us, there’s just a question of whether we’re awakened to it or not.

Now, why God chooses to dwell within each one of us is a major discussion, one that could spawn an unending dialogue; I will talk a little about it on Yom Kippur, but it’s a task for another time.
I ask you though to meditate upon this concept, to open your heart to this possibility; you may find that it rings true.

If we stick with our traditional belief system, that God is above us, apart from us, not only can we not expect to see different results for our planet, but in truth, it’s those ideologies that maintain the status quo.
How many of them picture the human as born in sin, or in the wrong caste, or promotes powerlessness because everything is determined by God anyway?
How many prayers praise God, but then ask the deity to destroy their enemies? This faith structure has a God that takes sides and favors some over others.

An individual needs to believe that their actions count, that their life means something. We all feel that way. We innately share a belief that life is precious.
If we’re born with a soul that has God as a part of us, that would inherently mean that our life has a purpose.
It would also imply that if we killed, robbed, or mistreated another human being, we mistreated God. The very same God that’s living in us.
Perhaps one of the most empowering aspects of this dynamic is that we never have to beg to find favor in God’s eyes, for God is alongside us for the ride – we always have God’s favor.

Radical, but it rings true.

For change to happen we need to embrace a new spiritual paradigm. Tolle writes in his sequel, “A New Earth”, about the urgency of transformation. “When faced with a radical crisis, when the old way of being in the world, of interacting with each other and with the realm of nature doesn’t work anymore, when survival is threatened by seemingly insurmountable problems, an individual life-form—or a species—will either die or become extinct or rise above the limitations of its condition through an evolutionary leap”.

Are we willing to take such a revolutionary leap?
Our liturgy predicts:

In truth the peoples shall go seeking
Who knew You not before,
And the ends of earth shall praise You
And Your greatness for evermore.

Who knew you not before: This change in the world, this unity and harmony throughout the planet, cannot be created by the same belief systems that got us here.

Let’s go back to our original question: Is peace on earth fantasy, or is it something our heart yearns for because it’s actually attainable?
I believe the latter. Since we are all truly connected, we can come together in harmony.

Today…in the course of the upcoming year, I ask you to entertain this fundamentally different spiritual construct. One that declares we’re all part of the One God, who is living within each of us. Through this, we can rightfully believe that, someday, we will overcome.

Shana Tova.

[1] As You Like It, William Shakespeare