Thursday, September 30, 2010

Emptying upon emptying... Everything is emptying

In his reprise of The Wisdom of Solomon, Rabbi Rami Shapiro once again tackles his favorite book in the Tanakh, Ecclesiastes. Unlike The Wisdom, this book is a more literal translation of the original text. In The Wisdom, Shapiro wrote (his own interpretation) of the essence of the text, the total impermanence of everything; the passing away of things in the world. For Shapiro, Koheleth is an investigation into the very nature of reality itself, which is completely unstable. This instability, when viewed correctly, should not be a source of anxiety, but a release. By freeing people of the false need for stability, they can live closer to reality. They can understand that all things come and pass away.

In this version of the book, Shapiro wants us to equate HaElohim, literally: The God in Hebrew, with "reality." He makes this move based on the use of the article in front of the name of God, and the total lack of the other frequent name for God in the Bible, the tetragrammaton. For some readers, this move may be difficult to swallow. Shapiro explains this choice in the introduction about the translation saying " may be helpful to say that HaElohim is closer to the Chinese understanding of Tao than the classical Jewish... notion of God... The Tao is not a person who wills, but reality itself giving rise to all things and their opposites." From reading his other writings, we know that Shapiro believes that Reality is God. In this book, his notion of God is very pantheistic, coming close to that of the Stoics, which is reinforced by frequent comparisons of Koheleth to Marcus Aurelius' Meditations in his commentary.

Readers very interested in Shapiro's ideas in this book should try to get a copy of the Wisdom of Solomon.  With its looser translation, and free of the format imposed by Skylight Paths Publishing, he delves more into the specious nature of the ego, takes apart the notion of the past, in fact, destroys all notions that there is anything but the present moment.  This is largely absent from this version, or found to a lesser degree.  I think it detracts a bit from this version, but Shapiro gains ground by giving us a very wild and uncomfortable notion of God.

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