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Spiritual Ecstasy: Israeli Spirituality in the Days of Jesus the Messiah, by Kevin Williams

A Satmar friend of mine (Satmar are the strictest of the Hassidics) is amazed by this phenomenon. As he has said, “Kabbalah, Kabbalah, Kabbalah—everyone wants to know Kabbalah. Men are driven insane by Kabbalah!” This would likely be a good place to pause for some clarification. This article is no endorsement of Kabbalah nor those who appear in the press as celebrity practitioners of Jewish mysticism such as Madonna, Roseanne Barr, or Barbara Streisand. Neither is it an attempt to establish a new doctrine for any Christian. However, coming to realize that mystical Judaism has had an impact on Christianity should come as no greater surprise than the fact that Catholicism, Martin Luther, or John Calvin have also made a lasting impression, though many denominations today claim to be neither Catholic, Lutheran, nor Calvinistic.

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. … If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.” — Jesus

As mentioned earlier, Paul states that spiritually, “a partial hardening has happened to Israel” (Romans 11:25) and a “partial hardening” does not, therefore, imply a complete hardening. There is good spiritual wheat amidst the chafe, as is true in many aspects of this fallen world. And so, true spiritual discernment must be applied when examining Jewish mysticism.

Consider for instance the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter, biblical name of God (Yud Hay Vav Hay), known today as Jehovah, Yahweh, or written as “Lord.” It is a well-known fact that in the biblical era, only the High Priest knew the pronunciation of this ineffable Name, because it was a widely held spiritual principle that this Name afforded the user immense creative powers.

In an attempt to explain how Jesus could work miracles, even to the raising of the dead, the Talmud claims that Jesus crept into the Holy Place, overheard the High Priest using the Tetragrammaton, and among some rather gory details of the fictional events, employed it among the people to heal the lepers, cure the blind, and raise the dead. So on the one hand, the authors of the Talmud do not deny that Jesus did real miracles, but they attribute them to the misuse of God’s Holy Name.

Yet today’s Kabbalist might be very comfortable with Jesus words, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. … If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:5-7). This teaching is an apt description of one of their doctrines known as devekut, a Hebrew word that means, “cleaving.” The Kabbalists understood devekut as an ecstatic state. The human soul is hewn out of the divine, and it finds it true home in God. Devekut therefore represents the highest spiritual state through which the mystic attains to eternal life while still alive by keeping God continually in his consciousness. In the more ecstatic experiences of devekut, the body is in a trance-like state while the soul, by cleaving to God in thought, is able to bring the divine power down into this world and, afterwards, to work miracles. Some of these alleged spiritual manifestations include “tongues of flame,” ecstatic dancing, and prophetic utterances.

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Category: Church History, Fall 2005, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Kevin M. Williams, Litt.D., H.L.D. has served in Messianic ministries since 1987 and has written numerous articles and been a featured speaker at regional and international conferences on Messianic Judaism.

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