From the Great Chain of Being to The Tree of Life: Tikkun Israel is Tikkun Olam

One of the great gifts that the Jewish people have bequeathed to the world is monotheism and, today, a significant swath of the world sees monotheism as an evolved moral system that liberated us from the idolatrous or pagan world that preceded it. Most see this as a progression from a state of primitivism and sinfulness to one of piety and virtue; from ignorance to knowledge and understanding. In essence, however, this Jewish gift is a double-triangular star with razor-sharp points on all sides.

Monotheism also precipitated a shift from a world in which the divine was considered immanent to one in which God is transcendent. Many are now experiencing this historic shift as an imbalance dangerously tilting us towards impending disaster. Perhaps the new role of the Jewish people is to swing the pendulum back to an embrace of immanence by incorporating into our here and now the Jewish worldview that the earth itself is spiritual, is nature -based and integrates indigenous traditions. A movement of this sort is already seeping through and slaking the parched land of Israel.

The shift from immanence to transcendence as introduced by monotheism was a monumental (holy) shift in the way we ordered the world. The earlier immanent worldview created societies that lived in a perhaps precarious harmony with nature. But with the idea of a transcendent God we introduced the kind of hierarchical thinking that allowed agriculture to take root, cities to flourish and humans to proliferate on the planet. It also produced the medieval Great Chain of Being, depicting a universe with everything in it divinely arranged by rank and order: God and angels on top and then man positioned next and animals and the rest of nature below. This domination mindset today plays itself out in businesses, families, communities and the organized religions that serve to maintain this tiered structure. This mindset gives humans permission to dominate nature and also allows white people the authority to subjugate indigenous cultures, thus creating the conditions necessary for colonialism to exist. The way we conceive of God is the way we structure society.

There have been those within the Jewish tradition, however, who have questioned the model of a transcendent God. Baruch Spinoza was one such Jewish philosopher whose thinking was deemed so radical that he was excommunicated for his views from the Jewish community of Holland in 1656. Spinoza believed that everything that exists is God and that God exists in dimensions beyond those of the visible world. He based his great works Ethics on the view that “God is the indwelling and not the transient cause of all things. All things which are, are in God. Besides God there can be no substance, that is, nothing in itself external to God.” [I.17]

When the Divine is conceived of as immanent, then the societal structure that becomes possible is that of an egalitarian society. An egalitarian society is one in which men and women are equal and interact on the same level playing field in which no one person can have more than another: if one person within the community is in need or is lacking the basic necessities of life, this becomes a failure of the entire community and brings shame on everyone. Many indigenous cultures have lived in this modality for aeons. In this paradigm the image of the Great Chain of Being is replaced by the Tree of Life.

In contrast, as stated above, the concept of God as an authority over, as a transcendent being and man as submitting to His authority generates a society in which one group can subjugate another, one has authority over another, and one group can oppress a people and occupy a land. This suggests that the hierarchical model given to the world by Judaism and monotheism has now been taken to its extreme in the modern State of Israel.

However, the hierarchical colonial model in present day Israel seems ready to topple, perhaps even to implode. Israeli society of today is a society profoundly out of balance. Evidence of the lack of balance is the vast schism isolating Israel from world public opinion, the division that Israel’s policies is causing among those that generally support Israel, and the deep-seated violence that is permeating Israeli society like a toxin making its way through an organism. Certainly, Israel is not the only country in the world which is colonizing, or oppressing another people. There are many others acting within this paradigm and promoting domination, but I want to preempt the argument that asserts that “you can’t blame Israel because others are worse,” by stating emphatically that one evil does not justify another. The evil perpetuated in other parts of the Middle East – and indeed the world – does not excuse Israel from its own moral failings. This violence in Israel is not just being perpetuated against Palestinians, but also against the asylum seekers (often called mistaninim or infiltrators in the Israeli media) as well as within Israeli society where the left and those perceived to be liberal are being persecuted.

The violence within Israeli society stemming from the aforementioned lack-of-balance expresses itself in more mundane ways as well. The road rage and the school yard fights are all symptoms of the malaise permeating Israeli society. When harassment, cursing and verbal violence are constantly heard in parks, on buses and in the public squares, these are signs that Israel is experiencing a collapse of the civilized and humane. Another sign of imbalance is that many Israelis are either oblivious or dissociated from the consequences of such events, although many others express concern and dismay.

Racism and xenophobia have become the norm in Israel. Even those who are tolerant and consider themselves unprejudiced casually drop racial slurs against Arabs. Racism has become so endemic that very few can even conceive of a society in Israel in which Arabs and Jews are desegregated (there are exceptions, of course, and the Hand in Hand schools come to mind as a wonderful model of tolerance and acceptance). Another sign that the implosion is imminent is due to the fact that the Price Tag vandalism targeting Arab communities is met with indifference or shrugged off as “not my problem;” when even a so-called left-wing Zionist group embraces a slogan that trumpets the value of separation from Arabs and espouses segregation as peacemaking (nifradim meha’aravim b’shalom). The slogan suggests that Israelis separate from the Palestinians – proclaiming that only through such segregation can there possibly be peace; never mind that 20% of the Israeli population who live within Israel are Palestinians.

A society which ignores the reality of oppression and occupation that has effectively annexed the territories leaving millions disenfranchised, subject to settler violence and indifference from the rest of Israeli society is one that cannot remain intact. The cracks are beginning to show and those who read history know that repressive regimes are doomed to fall. To translate these events into historical or metaphysical terms it would seem that the monotheistic, transcendent model is reaching a crescendo and nearing the precipice of collapse. Thus, I want to suggest here that in this unfolding Tragedy, Israel has taken on the mythological role of Hero in the hero’s journey of global society. Should the imminent implosion be transmuted and should dominance and subjugation be transformed into equality and acceptance, perhaps then Israel’s shift could herald a new global messianic age of immanence and egalitarianism. Can we reinvent monotheism as a single deity within, not above, embedded and instantiated in the souls of humanity in our embrace of one another. What will get us closer to the messianic age in which the lion and the lamb – whichever role we think we embody – lie down side by side in peace? Is it possible that Israel will shift to a true pursuit of justice (zedek zedek tirdof)?

Perhaps the answer is “yes.” At the same time that the news is full of stories of violence, a new story is taking root below the rich soil and putting forth green shoots. This is not a story you will find in the news, nor will it be revealed in a google search. It is a grassroots story passed on by word of mouth and in the privacy of living rooms and one that flies under the radar for most of the café goers of mainstream society. This is a story of a powerful subculture in Israel emerging from the depths, from within the psyche, and the dreaming of the earth. It is a spiritual story but one rooted in many traditions. It is a merging and melding of various earth-based ways of life now called upon for the purpose of profoundly tilting the cultural axis towards balance.

Israel has become a magnet for spiritual transformation from a rainbow of different cultures, including Peruvian and Chilean indigenous traditions, Native American, Sufi, shamanic practices of all stripes and of course its own native Kabbalistic mystical traditions. These rituals and practices include drumming circles, and talking circles, sacred music ceremonies and sacred medicine ceremonies, Mother-earth festivals and rainbow-nature gatherings. From sweat lodges and medicine wheels from the Native American traditions to dancing and movement from the Sufi to shamanic journeying and vision quests from the world over. Other practices include solstice and equinox celebrations in which participants align their social and psychological selves with the rhythms of outer nature. There is a plethora of these spiritual practices springing up in many centers around the country – both expected and unexpected – but you have to know what you are looking for if you wish to find it. So much is still below the surface, where it takes root, finding rich soil in fertile imaginations in which it grows and expands and is brought to consciousness. And many feel called to find it. This new subculture is still in the shadows, but, like a shadow, it looms larger when the light grows brighter.

There are those who would dismiss such events as New Age or fringe-hippie wannabes. But these naysayers are missing the point and also oblivious to the power. To those few observing the movement, it seems as though the spiritual traditions of the world are being drawn to the Holy Land, carried there, surreptitiously, yet softly and gently; cautiously and quietly, yet resolutely,  imported by Israeli spiritual seekers and by concerned members of other cultures who are drawn to heal the imbalance, the rift, the imminent implosion. Israel must heal itself and we need their help. And, ultimately, it is the traditions of immanence, the earth and nature-based traditions – that don’t differentiate between ethnicities and skin color and rival histories and religious backgrounds – that will bring our long-awaited messianic days.  These nature traditions are the path to  overcoming the separation of tribalism where the kadosh (the separate) becomes profane and what might once have been profane is now our long sought after salvation. Repair the world, we are enjoined by the Talmud and now we are joined by the great healers and healing spirits of the world. Welcome. Aho. Amen.



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