Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh on Chanukah and Israelis in India

Israelis are flocking to India by the tens of thousands, about fifty thousand a year. Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh addresses the issue in a surprisingly decent way. He assumes that those seeking are sincere seekers and if they had been more connected to the religious establishment then they would have not gone seeking, thereby losing their ability to attain higher gifts. For Ginsburgh, India is a place of spiritual gifts; he relies on the story of the gifts to Abraham’s concubines from Jubilees, Zohar, and Menasheh ben Israel. Ginsburgh acknowledges that travel is good, but beyond spatial travel -thinking is the best way to travel -such as to the heikhalot and pardes.

On meditation, hitbonenut- he switches topics by the vague use of the word meditation in English. Indian meditation is to tune out the senses (pratyahara), focus on a single point (dhyana), and then mentally become one with it (samadhi). To think about divine wisdom, the soul, or contemplating an idea is either the path of jnana yoga- the contemplative path or if chanting divine names it is more devotional bhakhti. If he is referring to using a mantra as a focus point (dhyana) that is not contemplation of theology.

Ginsburgh acknowledges the Advaitan philosophy that everything is one and divine but presents it in the name of the Besht. Yet he misunderstands Hinduism by thinking that Hindus worship the cow and nature because God is in all. It is like saying Jews worship the tefilin because of the lower unity. In actually, the Yogic-Advaitan Vedanta philosophy just like Chabad distinguishes between the discussion of unity in Shaar Hayihud and the light in mizvot in the Tanya.Jews put on tefillin to receive the light and blessing and Advaitan’s worship the Ganges as a source of blessing to the world.  This would be a good point for a serious encounter or discussion. And like Chabad, the Yogic-Advaitan approach rejects the semi-dualistic approach of Ramanujan or God entering to save the world.

In an interesting section, he connects the image of God (Zelem) to shadow (Zal), the need to acknowledge the dark hidden side in the Jungian sense. India is a good place to seek the shadow and thereby attain an image of God. (Somehow Abulafia’s Imrei Shefer is translated as The Form of the Jewish Heart.)

In his discussion of mantras, he says the Indian one lead to colorful and interesting place but are not real but that is exactly what it says in Yogic works about other approaches to meditation and it would certainly apply to Jewish prayer. For the yogis, if it does not and cannot reach Samadhi, the overcoming of duality, then it is is only colorful and interesting. Ginsburgh’s criteria is less about training and more that the other approaches are not for the Jewish soul.

Chanukah, India, and the Structure of the Soul (selections)

Chanuka, the quintessential festival of lights, has much to teach about travelling to the heart of consciousness—giving us genuine wisdom and insight, and connecting us to our true vision and voice. Imbalanced perceptions of the nature of the universe can yield mistakes in formulating an authentic philosophic worldview. The light of Chanuka comes to repair this imbalance. This talk, given on Chanuka by  Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh to Israelis on their return from India, discusses how to achieve a consciousness of our soul’s Divine image. (29 Kislev, 5763)

“We must live with the times”, a Chassidic aphorism, refers to the importance of seeing the connections between the events taking place in the Jewish calendar, and our inner and outer world… This is true of any place to which Divine Providence brings a person, but even truer of India, which has always been a spiritual vortex for souls. The Kuzari (by Rabbi Judah Halevy) comments that India is one of the most special nations on earth. The Brahmin elite descend from the sons of Abraham’s concubines, whom Abraham sent to the East. He gave them gifts: a spiritual path, and powers which are right for them, and which prepare them to grow, develop and be ready to absorb and receive the light of holiness. This light will soon become the world’s lot when we, the children of Isaac and Jacob, will merit to enlighten every corner. This will be achieved with the coming of Moshiach

Acknowledging Chasidic Meditation

Learning Kabbalah and Chasidut ought to always involve hitbonenut (the process of self-reflection using the power of bina, understanding). Jewish meditation does not involve repeating a mantra a million times. Rather, it involves looking into an idea, in order to enter it deeply, connect to it, and make a spiritual unification between the light of the idea (and the G-dly life force which creates it) and one’s soul. Everything we read and think ought to be done through hitbonenut, or Chasidic meditation.

What motivates a person to travel? The word tiyul [trip] comes from the Talmud. Tiyul b’pardes is not aphysical trip. It refers to a trip to upper words, to find the secrets of Torah, to find the Master of the World and the secret of how He creates the world and my soul; to see in detail Who He is, What he is, and to recognize my relationship to Him. The sages mention tayalim. Tayalim are those who make unifications…they don’t need to work. All they do is travel; they make unifications. It’s a very high level.

Hodu (the Hebrew word for India) means “Give thanks”, which is, indeed, a very Jewish concept. The entire difference between an Indian (Hodi) and a Jew (Yehudi) is just the letter, yud at the beginning. An Indian is close to a Jew. Sometimes a Jew has the yud [the essential point of connection] but is missing the hodi (acknowledgement), and he or she needs to go to India to find it.

מצולה ביוון טבעתי “I have drowned in yevain metzula, the depths, of logic and nature.”(Psalms, ch. 69) Yevain also spells Yavan, Greece. Whoever learns the dualistic philosophy of Greece, which deals only in natural forces, is liable to drown in the depths [of belief in nature/science alone]. But G-d gives us a way out of this. The hint is that in order to emerge unscathed, one must elevate and transform Greek wisdom.

When we say that there is a revelation of the yechida in the soul, that “G-d is All and All is G-d”, this is a revelation of the Essence of G-d Himself, so to speak. This two-part formulation was originated by the Baal Shem Tov. The concept exists in a hidden manner within the Kabbalah, but the Baal Shem Tov revealed it.

Each side of the paradox contradicts the other. To say G-d is All means there’s no world. This contradicts the previous statement that “All is G-d”, where each second I feel that all, including myself, is coming into being, out of absolute nothingness. Every moment, there’s G-d, the Creator, and we, who are being created. It’s not a duality, where G-d enters a ready-made world to rule, supervise and bestow good. To say that nothing can lift its hand on its own without the help of G-d is this first level [G-d is All], the צ of צלם.

Yet, to say only that “G-d is All” would imply the world itself doesn’t exist; it leads to viewing the world as an illusion. That sounds rather like an Indian belief, wherein only one side of the paradox is emphasized. This is an imbalanced perception that sees only a partial truth, and which certainly ends up degenerating into idolatrous practice and philosophy. All idolatrous religions, especially those of India, emerged out of split thinking. They err in an extreme way toward one or another partial conception. So, immediately, in response to the error, we say,“No! All is G-d!” Each of the phrases contradicts the other. One side of the sentence says that G-d creates the world every moment. The other side says, “there is no world.” A mistake in one part generates a mistake in the other part. In saying only “All is God” by itself, divorced from the other half (“G-d is All”) one can mistakenly come to identify the world itself with G-d—to the extent that one can, G-d forbid, bow to idols or cows.

In this generation, there are many Jews travelling to India. Most Jews today, by Divine providence, have not been raised to learn Torah, have not been educated with a consciousness of Judaism. They have not been raised as the tzadik of the צלם. Why is this?

But this is the crucial point. If everyone were to be born into an observant environment, who knows whether they would ever awaken to the higher levels, to reach for the shadows? Almost certainly, those born with the tsadik of the צלם would be content to remain at their current level (on the level of צ), and not grow toward the ל and ם of the צלם. The secret of צלם, the Divine image in which Adam has been created. Unconsciously, a traveler seeks his shadow, so he comes to a place where he can admit to its existence. One of the best places to find it is in Hodu, India.

Everything in the world has a צל. But a Jew has an additional shadow–an additional צל, or ם -צל indicated by the final Mem ם. The צלם is thus a shade on a shade [called bavua d’bavua]. Only in kedusha do we have this.

Accordingly, it says that the three letters of צלם are three levels of heart: heart within heart within heart. One of the first kabbalists, who lived a thousand years ago, was Rabbi Abraham Abulafia. He wrote (in his book The Form of the Jewish Heart ) about 2 lameds which face each other and join to form a Jewish heart.

In India one reveals one’s yechida–the closed mem of tselem. The tzadik is internal, while the Lamed and Mem are the two shadows. Chassidic meditation isn’t about superficial comparisons, correspondences and terminology. It must flow with  genuine content, without which it’s not hitbonenut. [This is why we are going into all of this detail.]

Mantra or Not?

When you set out to learn meditation, be aware that Jewish meditation is completely different than Eastern  meditation. Jews don’t recite a mantra a million times. A mantra may bring a person into a colorful and interesting world. Yet it isn’t the true path for a Jew. It brings one into an imaginary dimension, and sullies the neshama.

Notwithstanding our hesitance to use mantras, Jews do recite verses of Torah as an entryway into divine meaning and knowledge. For example, a central verse recited twice daily, the Shema prayer. ה-הוי ישראל שמע

אחד ה-הוי אלוקינו. When Jews repeat a Torah verse, it’s not just about the sound, it is about the inner content. Different tzaddikim had special verses which they would repeat. The famed Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, a student of the Baal Shem Tov, whose main life-lesson was that we should not “kid” ourselves, used to repeat a sentence over and over and over, as he walked: אמת בדרך נחני, “Lead me in the path of Truth; lead me in the path of Truth”. Another famous tzadik, Rabbi David of Lelov (a student of the Maggid), would repeat: תשמרני “Guard me.” (In Yiddish: “hit mir op”) This would keep a coal of conscious connection and enthusiasm (esh kodesh אש קודש) burning for G-d, through the holy speech of the heart.

So, “G-d created one thing opposite another”. On one hand we deny the approach which uses a mantra, and on the other hand, we affirm the power of holy speech. A word or a verse in Torah has infinite spiritual energy and potential for a person to connect to G-d.  Read the rest here.

3 responses to “Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh on Chanukah and Israelis in India

  1. This appears to have become the frum party line in recent years: “For the most part, the other nations are spiritually bankrupt, and when they do have something worthwhile – they got it from us!” Akiva Tatz pulled the same nonsense in “Letters to a Buddhist Jew”.

    You may feel he gives some sound advice on meditation, but everything else – his explanation of the differences between the methods, the soul, what’s appropriate for a Jew, etc. – is pure Chabad propaganda & triumphalism.

    Honestly, Alan, every time I read this sort of thing, it convinces me that if I had the capacity to meditate, I’d stay far away from guys like this, and if I had any talent at all for “spirituality” (and as you know, I finally had to come to terms with the fact that I haven’t) – again, I’d stay far away from guys like this.

  2. alon goshen-gottstein

    on question of worshiping Ganges – Alan, I have to agree with Ginbsburg. The underpinning of the “worshipability” of all things is the advaitic recognition that God is in all. Your attempt to draw a distinction between worshiping God who manifests as everything and who is all pervading, between that and “drawing light” or benediction or whatever, does not correspond to all that i have heard advaitins explain about their own practice. What one has to consider, then, is how “wrong” it is theologically to worship based on that premise. Ginbsurg simply says “God forbid”. that is not a theological argument.

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