Thursday, November 30, 2017

A Sufi Torah

I have spent the past week reading about the Sufi mystics.

I have always held a special place in my heart for fellow seekers. I have always searched throughout the world’s religious traditions for those, and their teachings, who wish to grow closer to God. That pursuit continues to occupy my thoughts and studies. I reject those who claim that such teachings are only found in their own tradition, and who shut their ears to truths emanating from voices outside their own, or who persecute and murder those whose claims are different than their own.

My heart is broken that, once again, people have been murdered while bent in prayer. This time it was some three hundred worshippers murdered, and over 100 hundred injured, in a Sufi mosque in the Sinai. ISIS claimed responsibility. My heart breaks that these worshippers were murdered in the name of faith, albeit a distorted faith.

The Sinai too holds a special place in my heart. There, I wandered throughout its wilderness, accompanied only by a few friends and Bedouin guides. There I could imagine how our faith was born. It is a stark wilderness. Our guides favored paths traversing the dry riverbeds, wadis, which offered the occasional shade and the lone tree under which we could rest. My frequent thirst and hunger made me more sympathetic to my ancestors’ gripes detailed in our Torah.

In my week’s reading I discovered that the celebrated Jewish thinker Moses Maimonides’ grandson, Obadiah, found his way to Sufi Islam. Obadiah’s father Abraham was the leader of Egypt’s Jews and greatly admired these mystics, believing that one could trace a direct line between Israel’s ancient prophets and his contemporary Sufis. But it was Obadiah who immersed himself most deeply, writing a treatise that sought to incorporate Sufi spiritual practices into Jewish observance. Kabbalah and Hasidism were no doubt influenced by these sacred borrowings.

A forgotten piece of history that too often gets lost in favor of a more linear view of the Jewish story. “Moses received the Torah from God at Sinai. He transmitted it to Joshua, Joshua to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, the Prophets to the members of the Great Assembly…” (Avot 1)  History instead moves in a meandering path.

I rediscovered the Sufi poet, Hafiz. A number of his books line my shelves. Living in fourteenth century Iran, Hafiz became the most well-known, and well read, of Sufi masters. He remains the most popular poet in modern day Iran. He writes:
You should have been invited to meet
The Friend.
No one can resist a Divine Invitation.
That narrows down all our choices
To just two:
We can come to God
Dressed for Dancing,
Or
Be carried on a stretcher
To God’s Ward.
I return to the Torah. I am reminded that we become Israel when we struggle with God. That is the essence of our name. “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have wrestled with God, and with people, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32) Thus the name Israel means to wrestle with God.

I continue the wrestling match.

My continued act of defiance in the face of ongoing terror attacks is to renew my commitment to learn from others and to strengthen my faith not only by immersing myself in the words of my own tradition but in the teachings of others as well.
Again the words of my teacher, Hafiz:
A poet is someone
Who can pour Light into a spoon,
Then raise it
To nourish
Your beautiful parched, holy mouth.
The Torah was born in a stark, and beautiful, and most certainly parched, wilderness. It is my poem. It is not, however, the only poem.

There is no such thing as a purity of faith.

There is only all of us. And if not, there is none of us.

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