Eliyahu Dessler – Every Thing, Every Moment ‎

What is the Meaning and Purpose of Life? | Total Comments: 0 | Total Topics: 0

			Eliyahu Dessler was born in Lithuania in 1892 and died in Israel in 1953. In a sense, his life ‎was almost a microcosm of the transition that Orthodoxy went through during that 60 year ‎period. He was educated amidst the best that the Mussar world could offer, at the ‎famous Kelm Yeshiva. He left Lithuania for England in 1928 becoming a leading rabbinic ‎figure in London. He then left London early in World War II to the safer location ‎of Gateshead in northeastern England. Mussar teachings were always at the center of his ‎focus. From his considerable writings it is evident that he never saw Talmudic study as an end ‎in and of itself, but as a means of combining the Torah scholar with the Torah mensch. ‎
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His last few years were spent in the new city of Bnei Brak in central Israel. When he arrived ‎in the late 1940’s it was hardly on the map. The recently relocated (from ‎Lithuania) Ponevezh yeshiva asked him to be the spiritual director of the program. The ‎yeshiva and the town grew rapidly, ultimately becoming a mecca for what would eventually ‎be called Haredi Judaism. ‎
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Rav Dessler’s role in the yeshiva was to inspire the students, all of whom were quite ‎advanced in their Talmudic learning, in all matters relating to the ethical and spiritual aspects ‎of Torah. In this he was already an established master, but in Ponevezh his ideas reached their ‎apex. This was a leading Torah institution in a growing Orthodox city. Both the institution ‎and the city were destined to become trend-setters for the ultra-Orthodox world of the ‎future. Rav Dessler’s role was essentially to help lay the foundations for the Haredi society of ‎Israel. ‎
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His writings were preserved by some of his most dedicated students and collected in a book ‎called Michtav M’Eliyahu (The Letter from Eliyahu). This eventually became a 5-volume set ‎that is widely studied in yeshivot around the world. Parts of it have been translated into ‎English books (called Strive for Truth) which have had widespread influence in the Orthodox ‎resurgence that began in the 1970’s. He deals with a considerable variety of Jewish subjects, ‎frequently cutting to the very core of the issue in almost no time at all. He never shied from ‎dealing with the toughest of issues, including the nature of free will, the Jewish approach to ‎love and kindness, and, of course, the purpose of creation. At the end of volume 5 (p. 313) is ‎a lecture he gave at Gateshead around 1942 to the Kollel entitled ‘The Unity of Creation and ‎the Unity of the Heart’. He gets right down the big question within a few lines: ‎
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‎'For the entire creation is for the purpose of revelation of the glory of Hashem to His ‎creations…the vast variety of different people were only created so that each one could be a ‎different aspect for God’s revelation....and similarly all of the other creations, and each ‎moment of existence of each thing in creation is a unique aspect of revelation, since two ‎different moments cannot be for the same revelation. This is the meaning of (the verse in ‎prayer) ‘He renews every day continuously the work of creation’, since in each moment a new ‎world is created. The purpose of the past moment is not the same as the purpose of the ‎present moment. Consequently, if a person should waste a single moment in pointlessness that ‎revelation will be missing...' ‎
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‎'However, even more than this is the matter of the combination of these revelations, for each ‎revelation isn’t only according to its number (its individuality), but it is multiplied infinitely ‎through the unity of them all together…' ‎
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Analysis ‎
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When read in translation, this appears like something out of a New Age primer on spirituality. ‎It is hard to believe that this was written by a pioneer in Haredi Judaism during the 1940’s. ‎What does it all mean? ‎
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Rav Dessler introduces what should by now be a familiar theme in the purpose of creation ‎question – to reveal the glory of God. We’ve seen this several times already, in Talmudic, ‎philosophical, and mystical contexts. It should be no surprise appearing in the works of a ‎scholar whose expertise spanned all three domains. The only question might be what it is ‎doing in the work of an exponent of Mussar. ‎
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But there are more pressing questions with this tantalizing answer. Each person, each thing, ‎each moment of each thing, reveals another aspect of God’s glory. The final sentence ‎magnifies the possibilities again since even more intricate levels of revelation come about ‎through the infinite combination of different creations. Obviously, there is no end to this ‎process. Every single iota of time, space, matter, energy, and all the combinations of them, is ‎another revelation of godliness. It does start to sound a little familiar. Isn’t this ‎just panentheism all over again, as seen through the eyes of a pre-Haredi rabbi? Second, what ‎happened to milk and meat, the old God of the Bible, the Chosen People, the obliteration of ‎idolatry, the condemnation of evil? Where do all those very Jewish icons fit into ‎this harmonious blend of glory? ‎
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Two possible answers could be given to these questions. One is traditional and likely the ‎answer the Rav Dessler himself would have given. The other is non-traditional. It takes us ‎into uncharted territory that lies outside of any definition of Orthodox, Haredi or otherwise, ‎and thus, would be unacceptable to Rav Dessler. ‎
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Beginning with the traditional approach, these divine revelations all come in their own ‎package. No package is the same as any other package. The Jewish package is not the same as ‎the non-Jewish package. The package associated with milk is not the package associated with ‎meat, and neither is the same as the package associated with milk and meat cooked together. ‎Some packages are extremely conducive to revealing the godliness that they were created to ‎reveal. Others do more to conceal than to reveal and should be avoided, at least by those ‎whose preoccupation is to find the godliness wherever, whenever, and however they can. ‎Hence the need to shun evil and cultivate good; to forbid idolatry which hides the true glory ‎of God and promotes cheap imitations. All things Jewish and Torah-related can be explained ‎in this way, even though more often than not it will seem a bit of a stretch. ‎
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As far as the old God of the Bible and the panentheism question are concerned, we must ‎venture a little into non-traditional waters here. If we haven’t seen it already, we certainly see ‎it now – the image of God has changed through the centuries. Old notions of God that may ‎have worked in Biblical times no longer satisfy the modern mind. Whether these new images ‎were always ‘around’ in the good old days is anybody’s guess. God, by now, is everywhere ‎and in everything. Every moment reveals a new manifestation of God’s glory, like the sun ‎shining through an arrangement of brilliant and intricate crystals blowing in the breeze. Every ‎instant the crystals reflect a new combination of lights and shades and hues, what is seen in ‎one moment may be almost the same as another moment but it may be vastly different. Each ‎little light contributes in its own way to the whole picture, forming a web of great complexity ‎woven with indescribable unity. ‎
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Is this panentheism? Maybe, but it’s panentheism with a God who is passionately involved in ‎the world. The God that lies behind this ever-changing, ever-revealing light show is not an ‎indifferent ‘force of nature’ that really couldn’t care less if those random creations are ‎amazed by those revelations or play on their iPhones. The God who allows those revelations ‎to be and who is within those revelations, does all this to fulfill the very to purpose of ‎creation. Each creation plays a different part of the plan. Each one chooses its own way to ‎reveal, thus unveiling previously hidden aspects of the unfolding of the revelation. Each ‎combination of creations, each fleeting chance encounter, each long-term relationship, reveals ‎some other element that would not have been present otherwise. Conversely, each thing ‎destroyed or hampered, each relationship undeveloped, every moment squandered, is a ‎revelation that can never be, even though it may have been intended. How can we go through ‎life uninspired and indifferent to this vast display of wonder and glory that we and ‎everything around us are intricate parts of? We make that glory as glorious and wondrous or ‎as inglorious and mechanical as we choose. Instead of ‘Let Us make man’, it is ‘let us make ‎God’. ‎
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Where do the Jews fit in this version of God? Who knows? But what the Jews or anybody ‎else who choose to play an active part in this revelation do with their time and their lives sure ‎makes a difference as to how God will be revealed to them and to everybody else. This is our ‎shot at revelation, our opportunity to see the world as it truly is and maybe to help it along in ‎our own small way. A moment wasted is a moment lost, and the godliness that could have ‎been must come about some other way. The purpose of creation is to reveal godliness, and we ‎creations are not the spectators but the actors. ‎
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Practical ‎
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That glory is waiting to be revealed. Every moment is another reflection that somehow differs ‎from the others and adds in its own way to the infinite picture. If even one moment is lost, ‎the picture is a little incomplete. We all sense this when we squander away a large chunk of ‎time. We may sense it in a subtler way when we don’t put in quite as much as we could have ‎into any given situation. Those moments are our unique opportunities to contribute to the ‎great revelation and if we waste them we feel a touch of a let-down. Every bit of you is your ‎chance to add something of your own. Every decision, every word, every action, every ‎thought, every relationship, is another door opening and closing. Why not use as much as you ‎can to make your part as glorious as it can be. Shape it in the way that you feel adds what is ‎missing and can only be filled in by you. ‎
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One more element of all this is recognizing the greater glory. It is not just you who ‎contributes. It is everyone else, everything else. They all play their indispensable role. Any ‎combination of them is another revelation and deserves to be recognized as such. Perceiving ‎the little piece of glory that is revealed in a tiny corner of nature, in the chirp of a bird or the ‎bark of a dog, in the changing of the seasons or the pass of another day, is being a part of the ‎unity. A symphony sounds perfect when each instrument plays its part in unison with the ‎others. If one is too loud it drowns out the others.  Appreciating what the others are doing is ‎the reward for fitting in. Amazingly enough, even those huge stretches of time before we ‎were here, and those equally unknown spans that will go on after we have played our part, ‎also fit in with whatever role we have at the present. Seeing it all as a revelation of God’s ‎glory is to be alive for that moment and forever. ‎
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Food for Thought ‎
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This idea opens up vast avenues for infusing life with spirituality. Once experienced, it is ‎almost impossible to not seek it again. How can Judaism, with its laws and traditions, its ‎complexities and restrictions, be reworked to stimulate this experience? ‎


		


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