Rabbi James Jacobson Maisels would like us to cherish “our present existence as an encounter with divinity,” so we can “let go of excessive rumination on the past or future, worries, mistakes, and even opportunities, and be liberated in the present moment.”
In other words, a certain attitude toward experience becomes the divine, or God, if we are properly attuned. He calls this “radical acceptance” and cites the Maggid of Mezerich who believed that even in prayer, when one’s thoughts should be on God, there is room for negative feelings like “pride, desire, anger, or hatred.” We should be open to them fully, and integrate them into the divine.
Such a theology of radical acceptance leads to a liberation from suffering. We are told, as the Baal Shem Tov describes it, “our resistance to the difficulties of life merely multiplies our suffering.” Pain may be inevitable, but suffering is not.
Except for the citations of Jewish sources, most of this sounds like Buddhism in one form or another. Rabbi Jacobson Maisels then comes to one of the central problems with this view: if everything is God, then why do we need the particular manifestation of Judaism, and it’s even more localized element, the Torah and the mitzvot (the commandments).
Strictly speaking, he tells us, the Torah we have is for the world of yesh, this material world of distinctions. There is yet another Torah, or many Torahs, that are hinted at in midrashic and kabbalistic sources; it may be a missing book of the Torah, a re-punctuation of the Torah, a rearrangement of its letters, or a new Torah that will emerge in the eschaton, the end of days. This is the Torah of ayin, of nothingness; and even though it is hidden, we can still get glimpses of it in the Torah of yesh.
The Torah we encounter, Rabbi Jacobson Maisels explains, has its source in ayin but is always “transformed into a particular yesh through human beings trapped in their own time, culture and personalities.”
So far so good, but once again, the specter of antinomianism is here. Why follow any rule or law, if all is just yesh, time bound, human bound, culture bound? And why Judaism? Next, he examines the mitzvoth as a type of training for a life of ayin, trying to give relevance to the most elemental portion of Jewish life.