Shulhan Aruch: Master of the Universe ‎

What is God? | Total Comments: 0 | Total Topics: 0

			Through the long centuries, what did a Jew call God? What was the name/term they used ‎when they wanted to directly address their Creator? Was it Elohim? Was it YHWH? Was it ‎Adonai, Hakadosh Baruch Hu, El Shaddai, Eh’yeh, or some other ancient name? The best ‎evidence we have out there points to a completely different name, one that we haven’t ‎explored yet. This name is Ribono Shel Olam – Master of the Universe. It comes up hundreds ‎of times in the early rabbinic texts – once in the Mishna and all over the place in the Talmud ‎and Midrash. In fact, it is second to ‘The Holy One, blessed be He’ in number of appearances. ‎But more important, Master of the Universe was the way these very God-conscious rabbis ‎actually spoke to God, not merely the way they referred to God. As far as we can tell, when a ‎Jew, rabbi or not, wanted to talk to God as directly as possible, this was the way to get God’s ‎ear. ‎
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If somebody asks, what about the more common name ‘Hashem’, which really represents the ‎actual name of God and is the standard address today? The answer is that there is no ‎indication until fairly recently that people actually used the term Hashem to speak to God. ‎The term was widely used as a substitute for the Tetragrammaton, but this may have been its ‎only use. Master of the Universe, or its translation in whatever language Jews spoke as a ‎vernacular, was God’s common name. It is really a substitute for the Biblical name Adonai ‎‎(Lord or My Lord) which, though relatively rare, was one of the primary ways of directly ‎addressing God in the Bible. ‎
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This name even comes up in the Shulhan Aruch of Yosef Karo, the definitive code of Jewish ‎law. The Shulhan Aruch, of course, covers the entire gamut of Jewish law and ritual as it was ‎practiced about 500 years ago when Rabbi Karo wrote it. It was meant to be the single text in ‎which a Jew who was somewhat familiar with rabbinic texts could find the accepted practice ‎with little more than a quick thumbing through the relevant section. Among the thousands of ‎laws and customs is one dealing with dreams. It comes from a statement in the Talmud that ‎one who has had a questionable dream should stand in front of the Kohanim when they recite ‎the priestly blessing and say the following formula: ‎
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‎‘Master of the universe, I am Yours and my dreams are Yours, I dreamed a dream and I don’t ‎know what it was. Whether I dreamed about myself or whether others dreamed about me or ‎whether I dreamed about others – if they are good dreams, strengthen them like the dreams ‎of Joseph (whose dreams were all for the good in the end); if they need healing, heal them ‎like the waters of Marah (a healing spring in the wilderness near Sinai) through Moshe…And ‎just as you switched the curse of Balaam to a blessing, switch all the dreams about me to ‎good’. And he should finish with the conclusion of the priestly blessing when the ‎congregation responds ‘Amen’. ‎
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The Shulhan Aruch does nothing more than copy this prayer word for word and establish it as ‎standard practice. But it changed what was probably an obscure formula that was known to a ‎few scholars into a widely known custom that is practiced in Orthodox communities around ‎the world. If one heads into an Orthodox synagogue and catches them reciting the priestly ‎blessing, it is a good bet that a sharp eye can frequently catch at least one person reciting this ‎formula. ‎
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Analysis ‎
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Dreams are one of the more fascinating and mysterious elements of life. Almost anybody ‎capable of serious reflective thinking has wondered about their dreams. They may think that ‎the dreams are nothing more than a somewhat random rehashing of the past, but that sure ‎doesn’t stop them from thinking there might be something to the dream. They can be just so ‎vivid and dramatic that it takes great willpower to totally ignore them. ‎
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Associating dreams with spiritual powers such as God is as old as the very concept of spiritual ‎powers. In almost all ancient religions and in many modern religions and spiritual paths, ‎dreams are assumed to contain ‘higher’ messages. It is only in the past century or so that ‎people have believed otherwise. But even with the modern theories on dreams, it is difficult ‎to avoid attributing some importance to dreams. It is almost like we want to believe that a ‎dream is not just a dream. ‎
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This prayer fit into the standard thinking of both Talmudic times, when it was composed, and ‎the 16th century, when Yosef Karo incorporated it into normative Jewish practice. In ‎all likelihood, even if people were not familiar with this formula, they devised their own way ‎of praying to God or to some angel for a favorable interpretation of their dreams, or just for ‎some insight into what the dream meant. They certainly made some attempt to figure out the ‎hidden message. A dream was just too powerful a form of communication to ignore. ‎
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Let’s examine this little prayer. First off, it makes the sweeping statement that ‘I am Yours ‎and my dreams are Yours’. While this statement is unsurprising in light of the times and the ‎common religious attitude, it is rather strange introduction. Why is it necessary at all? Second, ‎this ‘Master of the Universe’ title needs to be explained. What image does it really convey? ‎
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Master of the Universe – the One who controls all. God runs the entire show from the farthest ‎reaches of outer space to the dream of an individual person. God can intervene at any time or ‎place in any way imaginable. The universe is God’s private arena and God is the ‎Master. Seeing God in this way is not so much an image as an attitude. It is an attitude that is ‎saturated with a combination of reverence and desperation. It is the classic human response to ‎things beyond their control that need to be a certain way and are not. We beg the powers that ‎be to make it happen in any way possible. The Jewish version of this attitude is to address the ‎Master of the Universe. ‎
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In a sense, this is the classic image of God – the Interventionist who can make things right ‎with a flick of his divine finger. All other images are really just high level intellectual theories ‎or simply ways of getting a grasp on reality. This is not the case with this image. This is the ‎human being in need of divine assistance. Prayer is the method of communication and the ‎Master of the Universe is the address. There is nothing more natural and more human than for ‎person to cry out to his or her god in time of need. It is the eternal cry of a frail human being ‎in need of the divine. ‎
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The opening line of this prayer, ‘Master of the Universe, I am Yours and my dreams are ‎Yours, I dreamed a dream and I don’t know what it was’, speaks volumes. The supplicant is ‎openly stating that something as private and as personal as a dream is in the hands of God. ‎This alone should be no major surprise. It was standard thinking of the times. But the way the ‎person says it, ‘I am yours and my dreams are Yours’, is nothing short of revelatory. ‘I am ‎Yours’. To make that statement requires a highly spiritual attitude both about oneself and ‎about God. I am a person with a mind, a body, a soul, a will, with goals and desires in life, ‎with needs and expectations. Nevertheless, I am willing to put all that aside when faced with ‎the reality of a dream that I cannot fathom. I am Yours. ‎
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You are the Master. You control my fate and my very involuntary personal thoughts to a ‎degree that is both reassuring and disturbing. The thoughts and visions that enter my mind are ‎not all my own. There are some that come from You. You can send these thoughts and ‎visions into my mind at particularly relevant times. What message are You sending me? You ‎can take the fate that is bound up in my dream and either strengthen it or heal it or switch it. I ‎am begging You to cause my dream-fate to be for the good in whatever way that turns out to ‎be. I don’t even need to know what my dream means – I just ask that whatever fate lies in ‎store for me as a result of this dream, let it be for the good. You have the power to do this, ‎and in asking this of You, I am acknowledging Your power as Master. ‎
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Perceiving the Image ‎
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This image, for better or for worse, has become the common image that Jews have of God. It ‎contains elements of all the other images. It has a component of the intellectual images – it is ‎a reasonable way of grasping the power that controls everything. It also shares the idea of ‎God being ‘out there’ – the distant and all-powerful Guide. But it includes a very personal ‎component, the image of God that is ‘in there’, right in the midst of the mind and the soul. It ‎even touches a little of the physical/palpable type of image in that it almost seems like one ‎could reach out and touch the Master. This is really the image of God in prayer, whether ‎formal or informal. It is the everyday version of God, used for everyday problems in ‎everyday situations. But it is also the absolute acknowledgment of God’s control over our ‎lives. God is Master. ‎
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To perceive this image is no more difficult than to think of the last time you really needed ‎something and put your faith/desperation in a higher power. It is simply a matter of ‎recognizing one’s own perceived helplessness in a situation and the abrupt change in belief ‎that comes about as a result. The most atheist of atheists becomes devout when he or she ‎needs a break or a door opened. This image cuts through all religious boundaries. It really ‎makes no difference what one’s religious background or orientation is when faced with the ‎emotion of desperation. In the end, no matter how irrational, we all have to confront our own ‎inadequacies in the face of fate. We may not like it and we may think that it is ridiculous, but ‎we sometimes need to call on a higher power. ‎
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To call out to the Master of the Universe is to pray. It is speaking directly to God with no ‎intellectual or spiritual complications, just the emotional connection between a human being ‎and the Power that controls those things that are beyond personal control. It is a powerful ‎bond, one that strikes to the very core of what it means to be human. For we have built into ‎us, possibly from some combination of evolutionary development and our spiritual makeup, a ‎need to call out in time of need. We want to know that there is something at the other end of ‎the line that hears us and is ready to do something about it. It is as human a need as there is. ‎We may be created in the image of God, but God is Master and we, for better or worse, are ‎not. ‎
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Reflections ‎
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This classic image is so easy and so commonplace that we frequently do not even recognize it ‎as God. The question remains, however, is this really God, or is it just the emotion of ‎desperation rising to the occasion? ‎


		


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