Beyond All Separation: The Birth of the World

Image AfterStill taken with Rachel Naomi Remen‘s interview on Speaking of Faith, I want to share her description of the “Birthday of the World”:

In the beginning there was only the holy darkness, the Ein Sof, the source of life. And then, in the course of history, at a moment in time, this world, the world of a thousand thousand things, emerged from the heart of the holy darkness as a great ray of light. And then, perhaps because this is a Jewish story, there was an accident, and the vessels containing the light of the world, the wholeness of the world, broke. And the wholeness of the world, the light of the world was scattered into a thousand thousand fragments of light, and they fell into all events and all people, where they remain deeply hidden until this very day.

Now, according to my grandfather, the whole human race is a response to this accident. We are here because we are born with the capacity to find the hidden light in all events and all people, to lift it up and make it visible once again and thereby to restore the innate wholeness of the world. It’s a very important story for our times. And this task is called tikkun olam in Hebrew. It’s the restoration of the world.

And this is, of course, a collective task. It involves all people who have ever been born, all people presently alive, all people yet to be born. We are all healers of the world. And that story opens a sense of possibility. It’s not about healing the world by making a huge difference. It’s about healing the world that touches you, that’s around you.

In the last few posts I have spent some time examining my relationship to organized religion (well, to Christianity and Catholicism really since that is my only valid reference point). A story like this makes it all the more clear that the separations that are necessities of the labeling and packaging a belief in God are truly irrelevant.

This myth from the Jewish tradition is new to me, featuring terms I have never heard, but that does not make the tenets of its vision any less relevant or awe-inspiring. The story acts as the poles of the tent that support the beautiful blanket that is the belief that God dwells within all of us. I am building my life around such a belief, but never had the chance to describe this unifying light to myself with images I could understand.

Initially I was attracted to this part of the interview because Remen said, “We are all healers of the world.” It is through my desire to be a healing force in this life that I became attracted to matters of the soul in the first place. The sense that this practice of restoration is a global project and an imperative of the human race inspires me to live with a sense of purpose I have only just begun to explore. The theological questions of whether we are on a trajectory to return a perfect time before history began is best discussed at another time; for now, this tale can simply be a new way to experience the present.

Even if one wants to find fault with organized religion or at least remain an outside observer, one vital and enduring benefit of entities like a local parish is the sense of community that such places provide. We know that we need such a sense of connection to feel whole and recognized. This story gives us a way to understand all people as members of one spirit community populated with everyone who is responsible for making this a better existence. Certainly one can feel the loneliest in a crowded room, but perhaps drinking in this story fully can dispel some of that sense of alienation.

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6 thoughts on “Beyond All Separation: The Birth of the World

  1. Doc January 16, 2008 / 10:04 pm

    I too, was struck by that story. I am neither Catholic, nor Jewish, but it had a truth that really resonated with my core for the same reasons my own faith does. If you’re interested, I shared some thoughts inspired by this same podcast in this post. Healing the world, what a great metaphor. Their is so much broken and yet so much beautiful in mankind. I love your blog. Thank you for sharing your journey. Best of luck wherever the path may lead.

  2. Mish January 16, 2008 / 11:38 pm

    My family is extremely reformed and there was barely a Jewish community where we lived. The Rabbi, a base chaplain, who did my bat mitzvah flew two hours to do it and the study sessions. Only in the past few years am I learning what it’s like to have a Jewish community- my friends. It’s a nice feeling, one I’m still kind of adjusting to, to feel that connection.

    I recently learned more about Judaism and tikkun olam during a Unitarian service a friend was guest speaker/lay-leader for. The way she explained it, goodness restores the vessel’s cracks and badness (if I recall correctly) cracks it again. It really resonated and jived with my spiritually eclectic self and how I try to move through life.

    Coincidentally, to enter the sanctuary people had to pass a man with an anti-U.U sign. Post is here, if interested. Maybe he would have found some understanding and healing inside the walls. One by one, bit by bit, healing can happen.

  3. Ruaidhrí January 17, 2008 / 6:52 am

    Rachel Pollack gives a talk about tikkun olam in one of her books on tarot. Very interesting-and the breaking of the world theme is one that is also in qabalah and gnosticism, I think. Anyway I’d reccomend Rachel Pollack’s books if you haven’t read them-hmm…I think there was a sign in a shop when I was visiting you for a workshop by her so she could be a neighbour!

  4. girlwhocriedepiphany January 18, 2008 / 6:47 am

    Doc –
    Thanks so much for discovering my blog. Isn’t it amazing the way one woman’s story from one specific tradition can touch so many seemingly disparate lives? I look forward to catching up with you at your site.

  5. painterofblue January 18, 2008 / 12:16 pm

    I love this story too.Ein Sof is one of the many names of the Womb of God. Judaism has a really beautiful mystical tradition that most people are unaware of. Thanks for sharing it!

  6. gartenfische January 19, 2008 / 5:21 pm

    I remember reading this story in her book, and it really resonated with me. I’m so glad you shared it here—I had forgotten about it.

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