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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The religious experience

A common part of our religious life can only be described as the "religious/mystical experience. It is hard to define what a mystical experience is but we can agree that all mystical experiences have something in common: The experiencing of the divine in one way or another.

These experiences might occur often or rarely but most people at one point in their lives experience something that is sublime to a point of being indescribable through language. These experiences often serve to strengthen our faith and give us direction and peace of mind. The question is whether the active pursuit of such experiences should be a goal in our service of Hashem.

There is another, more passive and subconscious, part of our religious life that I believe is connected to the active mystical experience. A religious person often feels the need to express the inner nature of their soul. They have a vague feeling that they have much to say to the world but lack the tools and words to express the fullness of their soul's message. It is the desire to share the divine as understood only by the individual with the rest of the world. Our inability to express our spiritual selves can often lead to great frustration to religious man. Often this frustration increases in proportion to the size and depth of the divine idea as it is revealed in each individual soul.

I believe that this second, passive, and less defined mystical experience is what Rav Kook is describing in the following passage from Arpalei Tohar (p. 40):

We feel this "spiritual muteness," alas, how much we have to say, how great is the light of justice and wisdom illuminating us in the depth of our souls, but how shall we discover it, how shall we clarify it, how will we utter and bring forth even the tiniest edge of that sublime brightness, for that, the gates are shut before us. In prayer we approach them, with supplication we knock, in joy and praise we raise our voices, offering allegory and thoughts, keeping watch by the doors, perhaps they will open a crack, only a needle's breadth before us, and words will stream from our mouths, and our tongues will be as flowing streams, rivers of honey and butter.

I believe that Rav Kook in the above passage advocates the pursuit of increasing our desire to communicate the divine ideas in our soul. We recognize that Hashem put us in this world to reveal part of His light in a manner that is unique to our soul. We are aware in the background of our spiritual life of the nature of this message but can not articulate our message. What we must do then, more than pursue active mystical experience, is to pray and request from Hashem to give us the tools to help us articulate the message of our souls. This prayer and request is itself a type of mystical experience that we can and should experience at all moments of our life.

May it be so.