Hasidei Ashkenaz: The Inner and Outer Glory

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			Among the more famous controversies of intellectual Jewish history is the 300-year long ‎‎(about 1100 – 1400) debate between the philosophers and the mystics. The philosophers ‎pushed a rational approach to Judaism, based on an uneasy combination of Aristotelian ‎thought, Scriptural revelation, and rabbinic tradition. The mystics pushed a non-rational ‎approach based on an equally uneasy combination of neo-Platonic ideas about God, Scriptural ‎revelation, and a rather hazy but nevertheless powerful mystical tradition. ‎
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It is interesting that this debate does not appear to have affected the Ashkenazi Jews of ‎Germany, who give no evidence of this controversy in their writings. This was not because ‎they lacked interest in philosophy or mysticism. They were well versed in both Throne ‎mysticism and the philosophy of Saadia Gaon. It seems that they managed to find a way to ‎get these two opposing theologies to fit together. Their philosophy was tinged with mysticism ‎and their mysticism was highly philosophical. But it was a mysticism that was meant to be ‎lived in daily life and not relegated to the mental gyrations of the Sefirot. For this reason, the ‎mystics of Germany are called by the name Hasidei Ashkenaz – the pietists of Germany. That ‎is what they were – Jews, perhaps scholars, perhaps mystics, whose primary goal was to attain ‎moral and spiritual purity. ‎
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The best known of the Hasidei Ashkenaz was Rav Yehuda (Judah), known as the Pious. He ‎died in 1217 and was highly influential in creating and compiling the theological doctrines of ‎the Hasidei Ashkenaz. His most famous and influential work was called Sefer Hasidim (Book ‎of the Pious) - a long list of rituals and beliefs that formed the core of life for the Hasidei ‎Ashkenaz. His major theological work, ‘The Book of Glory’, laid the foundations for the ‎philosophical mysticism of the Hasidei Ashkenaz. Unfortunately, this book was never ‎published in any widespread form and all we have today is scattered references from books ‎that quote it and a manuscript in Oxford that is very likely a good deal of the original text. ‎
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One of the main concerns of the Hasidei Ashkenaz was how God interacts with creation. This ‎was precisely the subject we covered in the section dealing with Saadia Gaon, and precisely ‎the issue that the dividing line was drawn between the philosophers and the mystics.  The ‎Book of Glory deals with this question through an imaginary three-sided debate between ‎Jewish philosophers concerning the nature of God, in response to the questions of a Spanish ‎king who wished to convert to Judaism. The first philosopher expressed the classic rationalist ‎position – God was totally invisible and unknowable and whatever any prophets claimed to ‎have ‘seen’ or ‘envisioned’ was a grand illusion. The second philosopher’s explanation, which ‎is taken from the writings of the 12th century Spanish Bible commentator, Abraham Ibn Ezra, ‎is the one that concerns us in this essay. ‎
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‎‘The highest aspect (literally ‘goodness’) of the Glory is attached to the Creator, and it is not ‎a creation. But the aspect of the Glory that faces the creations – the angels and the prophets – ‎they can see it when they direct the human mind to it…And Moshe requested from the ‎Creator to show him the highest aspect of the Glory that faces towards the Creator, which is ‎the absolute highest essence of the Creator – to see (it) And God said: For one who is alive it ‎is not appropriate to see...’ ‎
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The third philosopher agrees with the second on everything except one crucial point. This ‎third opinion is that of Saadia Gaon- that the Glory is a created entity and not an uncreated ‎intermediary between God and the creation. This is possibly, even likely, the crucial point of ‎disagreement between the philosophers and the mystics. ‎
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Analysis ‎
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This idea of the non-created Glory is expanded in the rest of the explanation of the second ‎philosopher. It seems to be taking a middle path in between the two opposing schools of ‎rationalist (Saadia Gaon) and literalist (the Biblical and rabbinic view in which God takes an ‎almost physical form). In this middle path, the Glory is the form God takes, but the Glory is ‎neither identical to God nor is it a creation. So what is it? ‎
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To appreciate the revolutionary nature of what is being introduced here, we have to take a ‎step back. Up to now, the approaches we have studied have all had a firm dividing line ‎between God and the creation. God creates the creation. God may be able to interact with ‎creation, and even to take what appears to be a form that resembles a creation, but God must ‎forever remain distinct from creation. This approach agrees with that dividing line, but insists ‎that there is a divine bridge that crosses it. This is not exactly the neo-Platonic idea of God’s ‎essence emanating outward and becoming more and more ‘real’ until it takes the form of the ‎created world. This approach has a Creator and a creation. That bridge in between them, the ‎Glory that isn’t God but isn’t a creation, is the missing piece in the puzzle. ‎
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How could something not be God but also not be a creation? First off, we already have seen ‎the beginnings of such an idea in the writings of Philo. Philo’s Logos was a non-created ‎‎‘thing’ that made God’s will take form in the created world. The Glory seems to be the same ‎idea but with two sides. ‘The highest aspect of the Glory is attached to the Creator, and it is ‎not a creation. But the aspect of the Glory that faces the created world – the angels and the ‎prophets – they can see it when they direct the human mind to it’. The dual nature of the ‎Glory is the key to understanding how it could be distinct from God but also not a creation. ‎
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An earlier version of this idea can be found in the 11th century Hebrew dictionary known as ‎the Aruch, by the Italian Rabbi, Natan ben Yechiel. In the entry for the Greek word spekluria, ‎which means either lens or mirror, he digresses into a discussion on the nature of the Glory. A ‎key line in that discussion is ‘There is Glory above Glory, and the Glory which is the great ‎splendor, close to the Shechina, no man has seen it…This is what Moshe requested to see…’ ‎The Glory has two sides, only the lower of which is perceivable by the created world. ‎
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All the sources for this idea trace it back to that dialogue between Hashem and Moshe right ‎after the Golden Calf (Exodus 33:19-23). Moshe requested to see God’s glory. God’s ‎response came in three parts: 1) I will pass all of my goodness in front of you; 2) You cannot ‎see Me and live; 3) When my Glory passes I will shield you so that you see My back but not ‎My face. The word ‘goodness’ refers to the higher aspect of the glory, that which is attached ‎to the Creator. This is the ‘face’ that Moshe requested to see but was told he was unable to ‎see, the ‘Glory above Glory’. The ‘back’ refers to the lower side of the glory that ‘faces the ‎creations’. This was what Moshe actually saw when God removed the shield. These five ‎verses serve as a window into the mysterious nature of the bridge between the Creator and ‎the creation. They describe that bridge as having front and a back, the former of which is ‎unknowable to the creations, the latter of which is knowable under certain unique conditions. ‎
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What is that bridge? It is a continuous entity that is completely different on its two ends. On ‎one end it is attached to the Creator, almost like an extension of God, or perhaps an ‎emanation in the neo-Platonic sense. The other side, the ‘outer Glory’, is attached to the ‎creation. But it is not part of the creation, since it is not a creation at all. It is God’s glory ‎extended further until it becomes knowable, perceivable, and measurable. ‎
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How could something be infinite and unknowable on one end and finite and knowable on the ‎other, and yet be continuous? There is no easy or obvious answer to this question. It is not ‎clear if there is an answer at all. This mystery - how God’s glory could be unfathomably ‎infinite from one side but finite and knowable from the other - is the central mystery of how ‎we perceive God. ‎
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These twin glories – the glory that fills the earth, and the glory that is above the earth – are ‎the two sides that face opposite directions on the God-reality bridge. We cannot know the ‎inner glory, for it cannot be seen, known, or measured by the living. But we can know, in our ‎own limited way, the outer glory, which fills the entire bit of the universe at every moment of ‎time. God is absolutely unknowable from one side, but from the other side, nothing can be ‎more real than God. ‎
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Perceiving the Image ‎
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To attempt an explanation of this question is to venture into the dimension of ‎mystery.  Perhaps, with great emphasis on that word ‘perhaps’, we can suggest a direction. ‎We are created in the image of God. Elsewhere in the Book of Glory, man is called an Olam ‎Katan – a ‘miniature universe’.  In our own way we reflect the image of God. We also possess ‎this infinite-finite bridge within our mind/soul. On the one hand, it seems infinite in scope – ‎able to grasp the vastness of the universe, to delve into the profound mystery of existence, to ‎experience the boundless beauty of creativity, and to pierce the almost impenetrable veil that ‎obscures why we are here. At unique times, we sense the infinite potential of free will and the ‎unlimited domain of the imagination. ‎
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But more often, we are stuck in the limited horizons of our needs and desires, and the all too ‎finite capacity of our capabilities. We need concrete things to grasp – numbers, sizes, ‎descriptions, facts, and figures. We frequently cannot venture beyond the borders of our own ‎egos, and have trouble regarding anything outside of it as worthy of our attention. We also ‎have that same bridge inside of ourselves. We are both infinite and finite, limited and ‎boundless. And yet it is all us. There is no discontinuity in the mind. On the side that faces ‎the body and the physical world we sense very clearly that the mind has limits and is quite ‎human. On the side that faces the spiritual, the side that is directed towards God, we ‎occasionally glimpse our unlimited reach. This bridge is our ‘glory’; it is our internal ‎emanation from infinite to finite. ‎
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God’s glory, perhaps, is the divine parallel to the human mind. It emanates from God’s ‎essence outward, first manifesting as the ‘inner glory’ – the unknowable infinite beginning of ‎God’s mind. But it continues outward until it becomes the ‘outer glory’ – the knowable and ‎finite ‘end’ of God’s mind that is only one step away from the physical creation. One side is ‎attached to God’s essence and the other to the creation, but they are both part of the ‎continuous uncreated interface called ‘Glory’. The Glory, when looked at in this sense, is ‎really God’s mind. On its innermost level it is infinite and unknowable. On its outermost level ‎it is finite and knowable. It is on this level that we can partially penetrate the reality of God – ‎to understand that it is available to be grasped, and to revere the unfathomable mystery that is ‎there. ‎
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Reflections ‎
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This dichotomy of God’s being both knowable and unknowable, is both fascinating and ‎difficult to grasp.  But what good does it do to tantalize us with an aspect of Glory that we ‎cannot perceive? ‎
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