I like to think I have an open mind. I’ve always enjoyed listening to other people’s beliefs. I grew up in both Christian and Jewish circles; my parents encouraged me to explore my friends’ different affiliations and denominations and draw my own conclusions.
Recently, I’ve come to realize that when the truth that is found in Yeshua (Jesus) alone is deeply engraved on your heart and soul, other belief systems will not faze what you know to be real. The downside to this is the ache you feel, the knot that forms in your throat when you look into the eyes of friends and strangers who are terrifyingly far from grasping the truth.
Religious to "spiritual" to nothing!
Growing up in the church, I watched many friends walk away, jumping from religious to “spiritual” to nothing at all. It’s incredibly common for religion to become so overwhelming that people transition into a “spiritual” lifestyle and start to live by their own rules. In a 2017 Barna survey, for example, 40 percent of Jewish Millennials answered yes when asked, “Do you consider yourself to be a spiritual person?”1
Several weeks ago, I listened as a man began to share his beliefs with a room full of strangers. I had only been living in San Francisco two weeks, and my West Coast adventure was off to an interesting start, filled with introductions, first impressions and now . . . Kabbalah. “There is no coincidence,” the man said, his piercing blue eyes gazing across the room. “All is connected.”
Our class was then prompted to share one of our happiest moments. I listened as each individual detailed a time they had experienced great joy: taking in the blissful solitude of nature; listening to classical music; the changing of the seasons; the beauty of created things; the birth of a child; a meaningful gift; arriving in Israel for the first time. With each shared experience, I couldn’t help noticing how different all our examples of joy were. But there was a recurring, familiar theme: longing. A fathomless, all-consuming longing to be connected to something greater than ourselves.
I sat listening, trying to keep from exhibiting my true feelings. I wanted so badly to share with those around me that they had only come halfway. That believing in, or exploring, a mystical, far-off creator will not add value or enlightenment to their lives. That true joy and connection is only found through the Messiah, who is community himself, come to dwell among his people.
Chabad talks about stepping away and allowing the void that we regularly feel to remain empty for longer periods of time. By putting aside extra snacks, wine, work and sleep and accepting vulnerability, we are meant to see and hear more clearly. Chabad adherents refer to this process as bringing “more Divine light into the darkness” to “help to illuminate the void.”2
Looking around the room, I could feel the void. If only my classmates knew how Yeshua could fill us with “all the fullness of God,” that there is a God “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us . . .” (Ephesians 3:19–20).
Had I been bolder, I would have raised my hand. The instructor would have called on me, and I’d have said in a cool, collected voice, “Um, excuse me everyone, in God’s presence is ‘fullness of joy’ (Psalm 16:11). All these things you have experienced are gifts from God, not just the result of good vibes, karma or trust in a far-off presence you can never know personally. Yes, you experienced happiness, but there is an ‘inexpressible joy’ awaiting those who believe in the one true God (1 Peter 1:8)!”
Of course, all this only unfolded within my imagination, and I did my best to continue listening. The instructor went through several points: “The number one cause of everything is connection.” (Yes! And God wants to connect with us!) “There is a force called Creator.” (Yes, and He wants to know you! And for you to know Him!). I looked around the room at puzzled faces, some of them lit up, thinking they were learning something of substance. “There is one road for everybody, and that is to become Creator-like again and again,” the instructor intoned.
And with that, my first experience with Kabbalah was over. I left frustrated, aching for the other members of the small group I had sat with for only an hour. Yes, God’s desire is for us to become more like Him, but not to overrule the Creator or make ourselves equal or develop a messiah complex.
In an article for Chabad, DovBer Pinson writes, “It is important to realize that the Kabbalah is more about losing ourselves than about finding, becoming more other-centered and less ego-centered.”3 Yes, we should care about others. And there is a way to be found in the process of losing yourself, for I believe Yeshua came “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
From my perspective, the search could have stopped that very night for the people there. The longing for “more” could be quenched by knowledge of the Most.
Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis says that “Kabbalists believe that God moves in mysterious ways,” but that “true knowledge and understanding of that inner, mysterious process is obtainable.” He adds, “The investigative aspect of Kabbalah involves searching the hidden reality of the universe for secret knowledge about its origins.”4 To me, that sounds needlessly complex. When the crowd asked Jesus one day, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” he answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:28–29). And who is the one God has sent? Yeshua. Simply believing in him sounds a whole lot easier to me.
I am thankful to know a God who has written my name on the palms of his hands (Isaiah 49:16) regardless of how much knowledge I possess.
2. Hendrie, Shifra. “The Secret of the Void: The Kabbalah of Self-discovery.” Chabad.org, 13 Jan. 2006, www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/343143/jewish/The-Secret-of-the-Void.html.
3. Pinson, DovBer. “What Is Kabbalah? A Basic Introduction to the Kabbalah." Chabad.org, February 9, 2004, www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/170308/jewish/What-is-Kabbalah.html.