I have recently seen a lot of confusion amongst both Shofar-goers, and non-Shofar goers regarding some of the basic principles of the program. One of the goals of my weekends was to gain a very solid understanding of ideology behind the work, not just the experiential aspect. I spent many hours taking notes, reviewing my notes, and validating my understanding with many prominent Rabbis, some of whom attended, and some of whom did not attend the Shofar. I’d like to share my insights and knowledge of the philosophy, so as to shed light on the issues.
The primary ideological theme, the backbone of the Shofar philosophy, is the concept of Klal, Pratt, and Klal. The idea is that the Jewish “cycle-of-life” is comprised of a process of being “one” with the Klal (“undifferentiated oneness”), then separating from the oneness (“individuating”), and then returning back to the oneness (Klal) from a stronger place, in an appropriate relationship. This dynamic is the symphony of our lives, and the framework for our development.
Is this in Torah?
Simcha Frischling, the founder of the Call of the Shofar, maintains that this concept stems from Kabbalah (or Zohar, or one of those secret books that I don’t know how to learn). Not being related to the Baba-Sali in any way, I prefer to find a source in Chassidus.
In his amazing article Oneness & the Infinite (Chabad.org), Rabbi Moshe Miller discusses the concept of Hashem’s infinity, and describes it as follows:
“There is one infinite creator, the cause of causes and the maker of all. He is not one in a numerical sense — since He is not subject to change, definition or multiplicity. He is one in that the number one signifies an independent unit and is the basis of all numbers; the number one is also contained in all numbers. “
What I love about this description of “undifferentiated oneness” is the last line – “the number one is also contained in all numbers”. Totally undifferentiated, complete oneness – thank you Rabbi Miller.
His series continues to describe, using Kabbalah and Chassidus, the process of differentiation through Atzilut, Beriya, Yetzira, and Asiya. In his final article in the series, Action and the Physical, Rabbi Miller describes the centrality of change in this lowest level of creation, and states that:
Change can only take place where the unity and infinity of G-d are hidden, namely, where the continuity of being is not evident.
For here [the world of Asiya (action)], more than anywhere else, G-dliness is hidden.
Hashem (Klal) is hidden, and creation (Prat) comes into being, differentiated from its source (Prat) in that Hashem’s presence is hidden – again, thank you Rabbi Miller for a great understanding of the creation process and “individuation”.
Although Rabbi Miller goes on to discuss the re-unification of Prat with Klal, I wanted to find some other sources. In an article on the Rebbe’s Basi LeGani discourses, (I Have Come to My Garden – Chabad.org), Rabbi Naftali Silberberg discusses the re-unification of G-d and man, of Creator and creation:
He envisioned a world characterized by frightful spiritual blackness, wherein creations—possessors of free choice, capable of embracing the darkness or rejecting it—would repress the darkness, and ultimately transform it into light. There must be a world which (on the surface) is inhospitable to its Creator. And through the difficult work of banishing and transforming the darkness, it becomes a beautiful “garden.” A place that G‑d is delighted to inhabit.
The Prat (all of creation) re-unifying with Hashem (Klal), in appropriate relationship, expressing itself in a beautiful “garden”, becoming a habitat for Hashem – Thank you Rabbi Silberberg for explaining the Prat returning to Klal in appropriate relationship.
But do we really need to stretch that far? As usual with Chassidus, once the idea is brought to light, we begin see the same pattern in so many aspects of life. In the creation of humanity: Adom HaRishon was essentially undifferentiated from Hashem in Gan-Eden. He had complete knowledge of G-d, but no real personal existence (undifferentiated oneness, Klal). The expulsion, flood, Babel saw the individuation of humanity (Prat), and Avraham Aveniu began the long trek back to unification on a higher level, culminating in the Messianic era, when the world as an individuated physical entity (Prat), now on a higher level, will be full of the knowledge of Hashem – unified back into the Klal in appropriate relationship.
As human beings created in the image of Hashem, we see it again. Tanya teaches us that the true origins of a child begin in the parent’s mind — a state of “undifferentiated oneness” – Klal. Pregnancy, birth, childhood and adolescence, are progressions of differentiating (Prat), where our primary goal is to individuate from our parental source (does anybody out there have teenagers?). Ultimately, at some point during our adult lives, we re-connect with our source (parents) on a higher level, in appropriate relationship (re-unification of Prat to Klal).
The Rebbe brings this same paradigm to the explanations of three Temples. Building off the question of why the Rambam bothers to describe in-detail information about the Temple, the Rebbe explains that the first Temple was primarily built by Hashem – open miracles, lit-up the world, nemne nimnous, Dovid couldn’t build it but Shlomo could, etc. But it was Hashem-heavy, too holy for this world, too “undifferentiated” from Hashem and couldn’t last (Klal). In contrast, the second Temple, built by man, had none of these miracles. But it was too human-heavy, and too individuated – it too couldn’t last (Prat). The third Temple, says the Rebbe, represents the ultimate synthesis between Creator and creation – a reunification of oneness and individuation – and will last for eternity (re-unification).
And in our own personal lives, it is no different. I have learned that each man & woman (zivug) begin as a single neshama (undifferentiated one). We are then born to different families and individuate in independent lives, becoming different people. Ultimately, we come back together in marriage, reuniting as individuals back into the Klal.
Although there are some eastern-religions that also believe in the concept of Klal (they are children of Abraham, no?), their “cycle of life” is totally different. The main difference is that, according to these philosophies, the entire purpose of life is to reunite with the Klal as a dissolution of self. An article on Buddhism, for instance, explains that:
At the most fundamental level of life itself, there is no separation between ourselves and the environment.
This is in complete contradiction to Chassidus and the Shofar, where the separation from the Klal is an integral component of the “cycle-of-life”, and part of the divine purpose of creation. According to Buddhism, the “environment” is Hashem. According to us, the environment is a separation from Hashem that we need to experience and elevate in order to reconnect with Hashem on a higher level. We need to individuate, so that we can re-unite, not as a dissolution of self back into the environment, but as a new, higher level of self, in a new, appropriate relationship not possible before the process of separation.
As stated many times (on this blog and elsewhere), the Shofar is a self-help program which uses Judaism as a framework for change and growth. The ultimate goal is that as Jews, Hashem expects us to differentiate in a healthy way, and then re-connect with Him on a higher level in appropriate relationship. This Torah-true slice of Jewish philosophy acts as a framework for us to change and grow.
Where are you stuck in the cycle? If you have never differentiated from your parents, and are still walking around living with your childhood self-image, how are you “showing up” in your marriage? Are you just “mommy’s boy” dressed in a Kapputa? How are you parenting your children? Are you too afraid of disciplining them because you are just a child yourself? Or maybe you are suffocating them because you yourself never cut-the-cord. How are you behaving professionally? Are you the confident businessman, sure of himself and capable of making decisions? Or maybe the kid with good ideas, but always too afraid to make them happen. And, ultimately, how are you showing up for Moshiach? Are you capable of “turning over the world”? Or maybe you are comfortable with your spiritual accomplishments, and you will leave the heavy-lifting for somebody else.
On the other side, maybe you are stuck in the individuation process, cannot come back to the Klal, and therefore cannot experience true, appropriate, relationship. Are you distant from your wife and children because you are afraid of intimacy? Of being vulnerable? Of depending on somebody else and letting them into your life? How about at work and in community? Are you the individual who always needs to be in control, micromanaging all your relationships to death because you don’t know how to trust anybody else? And standing in front of Hashem – are you capable of having true bittul and being grateful (like you have learned so many times in Tanya) when your own yeshus is so prominent in your life?
The Shofar is about first understanding the Jewish “cycle-of-life”, and then through some self-help exercises, experiencing and overcoming your “stuck-ness” so you can move on to the next level. It’s about generating your life from a new place of freedom, where you can ultimately be in true, appropriate relationship, with your family, your community, your Rebbe, and your G-d.