Is Religion for the Happy-Minded? A Response to Harold Kushner

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Written and published by Marc Gafni in 1986 for Tradition: A Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought, Vol. 22, No. 3 (FALL 1986), pp. 54-65.

In a very profound way, Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People (Avon Books, 1981) and the themes it treats evoke in the reader feelings of warmth, compassion, and drawing one closer to all who suffer in this world. The tragic story of Aaron Kushner (the author’s son) and the very real depth with which his parents experienced suffering cannot but make one feel like reaching out in love and respect to the author. Yet, at the same time, I found the underlying premises of the book deeply troubling. Its message, meant to be comforting, is, in fact, nothing short of terrifying.

Kushner, claiming to speak for Judaism, asserts that God is, in his term, “powerless” (pp. 42-44). “God does not, and cannot, intervene in human affairs to avert tragedy and suffering. At most, He offers us His divine comfort, and expresses His divine anger that such horrible things happen to people. God, in the face of tragedy, is impotent. The most God can do,” Kushner eloquently proclaims, “is to stand on the side of the victim; not the executioner.”

That God gives free reign to an executioner is a common Jewish position, classical, medieval and modern. “Once permission is given for the destroyer to destroy, no distinction is made between the righteous and the wicked.” (Rashi Exodus 12:22).

While Judaism certainly maintains that God, in His divine empathy, stands on the side of the victim, no classical Jewish position has ever maintained that God is incapable of controlling the executioner.

Kushner uses the book of Job to lend the weight of religious authority to his position. Merely to point out the obvious-that Kushner’s interpretation of the book of Job, for instance, has little or nothing to do with the Biblical book by that name-fails to undermine the popular appeal that has propelled Kushner’s book to the bestseller lists. In fact, Kushner feels quite comfortable admitting to intellectual dishonesty. In an interview with Moment magazine (November 1981), he was asked: “You argue that it is simply wrong to blame God for the bad luck, for the nastiness, for the evil; and yet you are perfectly prepared to praise God for the good, to thank God. How do you reconcile that?” To which he carefully replied: “Walter Kaufman calls it ‘religious gerrymandering’.’ That is you draw the lines for your definition of God to include certain things and exclude others.”

While I certainly believe that profound suffering moved Kushner to take up his pen, that still cannot justify intellectual gerrymandering.

The heart of Kushner’s position is the claim that traditional beliefs about God’s relationship to the universe, and to man, are wrong, and that his own account is right.

Kushner’s basic method of argumentation is anecdotal. He cites particular cases of suffering and then a,· mpts to demonstrate the inadequacy of various theodicies as applied to those cases. But the best theodicy is still a human, all too human, theodicy. No theodicy can give pat answers for every circumstance of suffering. Theological reflection can deepen our appreciation of the problem and provide frames of reference with which to approach the experience of suffering. However, from no single set of theological premises can an all-embracing solution be expected. God, we believe, knows the results of all good and evil, past, present, and future, and measures the diverse values (spiritual; intellectual, ethical, aesthetic, hedonic, etc.) which the universe displays, and with which man is confronted. Man does not. Therefore, we must beware of “refuting” theological reflection by showing that it has difficulty fulfilling claims that it has never made.


It is instructive to examine Kushner’s position on his own terms. This section of the essay will comment on six of the life cases which Kushner cites to support his general conception of religion, his rejection of classic theodicy and his central claim: that God cannot control what happens in our world.

The Case of Bob (pp. 94-96)

Bob has just made the difficult decision to place his mother in a nursing home. Although his mother is “basically alert and healthy and does not require medical care” she can no longer live alone. After a brief attempt, Bob and his family decide that “they are not prepared to make the sacrifice of time and lifestyle which caring for a sick, old woman requires.” That weekend, Bob, who did not usually go to synagogue, went to services hoping they would give him “the tranquility and peace of mind he needed.” As luck would have it, the sermon that morning was on the fifth commandment. The clergyman spoke of the sacrifices parents make in raising children and the reluctance of children to make sacrifices for older parents in return. He asked: “Why is it one mother can care for six children, but six children can’t care for one mother?” It bothers Kushner that Bob was made to leave the service feeling “hurt and angry.” Bob feels that religion has told him that he is a “selfish and uncaring person.” He is haunted by the idea that if she dies soon he will never be able to live with himself “for having made her last years miserable because of his selfishness.” And Kushner, too, is upset with religion because “the purpose of religion should be to make us feel good about ourselves” after making difficult decisions. (more…)

Is Religion for the Happy-Minded? A Response to Harold Kushner2023-11-01T04:56:14-07:00

Dr. Marc Gafni: Calling in an Integral Religion

An Excerpt from Dr. Marc Gafni’s Book Tears

Society, as it is currently constructed, is designed to bypass your tears. Yet, crying is an art. Tears are the colors with which the tapestry of your awakening is painted. Sometimes we cry surface tears in response to stuff that happens – good stuff and bad stuff. But the truest tears are those that well up from the deepest place on the inside of the inside – they may be triggered by a specific event or image, but they are larger than any one event.

Every time you cry these true tears, you cry for all the times you never cried before. True tears come only on occasion, but when they do, they are harbingers of great wisdom and guidance. These are the tears of the holy of holies. They carry revelation. To receive that revelation, you must be willing to sit still and be truly alone, so that your deep core can come out naked. From that place you wail, flooded to the core by deep sadness or profound happiness. These are not superficial tears but what we might call source tears. To hear the voice of source tears emerge, we must access the ground of dynamic stillness which is the well from which this revelatory crying rises up.

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Dr. Marc Gafni: Calling in an Integral Religion2023-06-17T14:35:30-07:00

Love and Teaching, NonDual Humanism and the Democratization of Enlightenment (A Book Excerpt from Radical Kabbalah by Dr. Marc Gafni)

Introduction to the book Radical Kabbalah by Dr. Marc Gafni

Mordechai Lainer of Izbica is my chosen lineage master. My prayer is that I have honored him with a correct and proper understanding of his trans-mission and teaching. I believe that I have. Though this personal introduc-tion is not meant to fully outline his teachings, a few remarks may orient the general reader and guide the initiate.

An Esoteric Transmission

First of all, this book is both an academic study and a transmission of an esoteric doctrine. Part of the disguise of this work is its presentation as a piece of academic scholarship.

Of course, on one level it is precisely that, for which I have to thank Professor Moshe Idel. At some point in 2001 or so, Professor Idel told me off-handedly that I needed to do an academic doctorate at a good univer-sity in order to insure that my non-academic writing and teaching be taken seriously. He very kindly accepted my request that he act as my co-advisor at Oxford University. I am in his debt for his gracious, insightful and often penetratingly brilliant remarks, which guided the unfolding of this work in an academic context.

Having said that, the academic framework is just that, a framework—and something of a fig leaf—for the deeper teaching of Lainer, which I have humbly and perhaps audaciously tried to unfold in this volume.

When I was thirty-one, living in Israel near Tel Aviv, Prof. Moshe Halamish suggested that I study and write about this great master. I had barely heard of Mordechai Joseph Lainer, and was wholly unfamiliar with his writings collected in two volumes under the title Mei Hashiloah (MH). Halamish’s prompt was the beginning of my relationship with Lainer, which deepened and shifted again many times over the years. At the time, thanks to Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who was deeply connected to Lainer’s teaching, the Torah of Izbica was just beginning to gain currency in cer-tain neo-Hasidic circles in Israel and the United States. At some point,

I realized that I felt a soul root connection with his teaching, and began to teach his Torah to my own circles of students.

This period of teaching Mei Hashiloah lasted about ten years. Some five years into this teaching period, I spent one year of 16 hour days in the li-brary at Oxford in an intense, in-depth encounter with Mordechai Lainer.

In approaching the master and his text during that year, I followed the three-stage path of textual reading taught by the Baal Shem Tov. First, in a state of what the Baal Shem calls hahna‘ah, reverential submission to what one is learning, I read every passage again and again, praying that I might realize Lainer’s deeper intention and receive his transmission. Second, I moved from submission to what the Baal Shem calls havdalah, separation. In this stage of havdalah, I deployed a method of analysis which involved two basic steps. As I read, I made a list of key topics, words and texts in Lainer. I subsequently gathered every reference to that text, theme or image, searching for the underlying pattern. At the same time I learned, together with my friend Avraham Leader, many of the original Zoharic sources that would have influenced Mei Hashiloah, to get a sense of how he was reading the tradition, what he changed in his interpretation, and why.

Eventually, stage two yielded to stage three, which the Baal Shem Tov calls hamtakah, sweetening. Hamtakah involves an erotic ‘nondual’ merger with the text, which occurs when the reader and that which is read become one. It is at this stage that the deeper intention of the Lainer’s Torah became startlingly lucid, delightful, and beautiful, and the entire teaching opened up with radical clarity and joy.

As I continued my teaching in the world, I sought, as every authentic student does, to both teach and evolve this Torah. One expression of this process was the book Soul Prints (Simon and Schuster 2001) and the Soul Prints Workshop, (Sounds True 2004) which I published dur-ing the years 2001–2003. Another is the book you have before you. This academic work of mystical hermeneutics is complimented by the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice 6:1 (Suny Press 2011) and Your Unique Self: The Radical Path to Personal Enlightenment, (Integral Publishing 2012).

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Love and Teaching, NonDual Humanism and the Democratization of Enlightenment (A Book Excerpt from Radical Kabbalah by Dr. Marc Gafni)2023-06-17T14:36:46-07:00

The Evolution of Divinity – From What Is Enlightenment Magazine – by Dr. Marc Gafni

A New Spiritual Vision for Our Time

Reprinted from What Is Enlightenment Magazine


Marc Gafni met Andrew Cohen through a mutual friend and student of Andrew’s in 2005. Andrew Cohen invited Marc Gafni to visit and teach in Andrew’s community to his senior students in Lenox, Massachusetts. Marc Gafni visited and taught and dialogued with Andrew Cohen in Fox Hollow several times. As a result of their shared interest in evolutionary spirituality, Marc and Andrew planned a teaching week and retreat in Israel together, which was hosted by Marc Gafni. This teaching week and weekend took place in late December 2005. During this period of time, this article was published in What Is Enlightenment.

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The Evolution of Divinity – From What Is Enlightenment Magazine – by Dr. Marc Gafni2023-06-18T07:54:28-07:00

The Evolutionary World Spirituality Unique Self Vision of Dharma, Lineage, Students, and Teachers (by Kerstin Tuschik)

From the abstract:

In this article, I want to elaborate on the concept of “Dharma, Lineage, Transmission, and the Student-Teacher Relationship” in the specific way these words are used in my World Spirituality community and specifically by the initiating teacher of the community, Dr. Marc Gafni. Marc has infused the word “Dharma” with a series of meanings which have become self-evident in our community. Because Marc has not yet written about his expansion upon the meaning of “Dharma” for the broader public, I have felt that it is necessary to do so.

The Unique Self teachings that Marc has brought into the conversation are now changing the way that enlightenment is experienced and taught around the world. In my perception, the power, love and clarity of his teaching and transmission of Unique Self enlightenment has been so profound that now, in many enlightenment circles around the world, Unique Self thinking under a host of names is virtually a given. And that although ten years ago, Unique Self Dharma was still unheard of in the enlightenment world. While this (often unconscious) adoption of the core teaching of Gafni’s Unique Self Dharma is an excellent achievement and a necessary and gorgeous step for a cogent meme to become mainstream, I find it—for the many reasons that I will discuss in this article—very important to give honor to Marc Gafni’s original inseminating work and transmission as well as to the lineage(s) that he is part of and whose wisdom he is embodying and evolving.

I, myself, have come a long way from studying cognitive concepts and maps, methods of self-transformation and healing, to studying and embodying a comprehensive dharma. The insights and discoveries I want to share with you in this article have also occurred along with the transition from being a devoted and passionate student of the Dharma to becoming more and more a teacher and lineage-holder of the Dharma myself. Specifically, I have been teaching, sharing and representing Unique Self Dharma in the German-speaking world, which in turn has deepened my own studies. So, let me share the frameworks that I have encountered and that have worked or not worked for me in relation to the teacher-student-relationship and in relation to the “Dharma.” These discernments are I believe critical for what my teacher Dr. Marc Gafni calls the “post-postmodern integral reconstruction project” which is so profoundly needed in our post-postmodern world.

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The Evolutionary World Spirituality Unique Self Vision of Dharma, Lineage, Students, and Teachers (by Kerstin Tuschik)2023-06-18T07:56:05-07:00

Spiritually Incorrect: Some Remarks on the Teacher-Student Relationship – by Dr. Marc Gafni

By Dr. Marc Gafni – Originally Published in Response to a paper by the Integrales Forum Germany in 2011

Thank you for your kind invitation to comment on the Integrales Forum position paper in regard to teacher-student relations. First let me congratulate you on this paper, which serves to initiate this important conversation. This topic is a worthy one in need of urgent address on many levels. Let me also commend your excellent deployment of the Integral framework in discussing these issues. It is the use of the Integral framework that allows for this discussion to hold the necessary complexity, multiples perspectives, and nuance that it deserves.

In broad terms, I agree with your conclusions in terms of the need for some essential standards in regard to spiritual teachers. Clearly we are all aware of the most horrific abuses that take place in the context of some pre-personal cults, as well as of some of the more subtle forms of psychological manipulation, financial dishonesty and sexual abuse that take place in these same contexts under the fig leaf of the teacher-student relationship for the sake of the dharma. To protect the potential victim and shield the powerless from the whims of the powerful is a core obligation of any community.

At the same time, as you indicate in your paper, much discernment in needed in this conversation to assure that the teacher-student function is upheld. For indeed, without this teacher-student function, both the transmission of wisdom as well as the personal and collective enlightenment of the interior face of the cosmos would be severely impaired. The teacher-student function is essential for these evolutionary goals.

Spiritually Incorrect: Some Remarks on the Teacher-Student Relationship – by Dr. Marc Gafni2023-06-19T08:33:44-07:00

Unique Self, World Spirituality, and Evolutionary We Space: Wake Up, Grow Up, Lighten Up, Show Up, Open Up – by Dr. Marc Gafni

By Dr. Marc Gafni

Your Unique Self is radically singular, gorgeous, and special in the world. But it is even more than that. Your Unique Self is a puzzle piece that is utterly necessary to complete a much larger puzzle. The Unique contours of your puzzle piece are what allow you to connect with and offer your gift to all-that-is. Giving your puzzle piece unto the world adds an irreducible dimension to the completedness of the kosmos. Paradoxically, uniqueness is the currency of connection. It is the portal to the larger evolutionary context that needs your service.

But it is even more than that. Your Unique Self is evolution waking up as you. Your Unique Self is animated by its puzzle piece nature. As such it is naturally connected to a larger context that it uniquely completes. It is paradoxically through the unique contours of your Unique Self nature that the alienation of separation is overcome. Unique Self is the source code of all authentic relationships; and it is only through a fraternity and sisterhood of Unique Selves that we can begin to bring profound and loving transformation into the world.

As the great connector, Unique Self is the only technology that can create the evolutionary We space necessary to affect the evolution of consciousness. Ego cannot form evolutionary We space. At best, ego can cooperate in limited ways for the greater good. Conscious collaboration, while better then mindless competition, lacks the necessary Eros and imagination to change the world. Unique Self is drenched in Eros and imagination.

One might assume that in order to foster an authentic We space, we must simply emerge into our True Selves. This is the teaching of the classical enlightenment traditions. Yet we know that True Selves cannot create a We space. For the total number of True Selves is one. In the grand impersonal realm of True Self, there is only one and not two and therefore not relationship and certainly not evolutionary We space. It is only our Unique Selves that have trance-ended separateness and entered the larger field of We as unique emanations of the all-that-is. Only through the profound and dynamic expression of our enlightened Unique Selves can we create the evolutionary we space necessary to heal the planet. Enlightened We space in which individuals and individual systems realize enlightened consciousness beyond ego is the essential technology of transformation for tomorrow.

It is a technology we must master today for enlightened consciousness that is essential if we are to find a way to heal suffering and ameliorate needless brutality and pain. Normal consciousness produces suffering. And if you think this is but a spiritual aphorism then you have only to inquire from the hundred million people brutally tortured and murdered in the last century — all as a direct result of the mad delusions of the grasping ego. The ego of normal consciousness is insane. Enlightenment is simply sanity. In enlightened space you realize that you are part of the one. You realize that you are not alone so there is no reason to desperately grasp. You realize that you are not limited to the power, healing or fulfillment available only to your separate self. But rather you know that all of the healing, goodness, power and depth of all- that- is lives in you, as you and through you.

Not to know this is not to know whom you are. It is to be essentially confused about your identity. The confusion between ego and Unique Self is far more substantive then a person who simply thinks she is someone else. This is a minor confusion of identity and hence a minor insanity when compared with the sheer madness of mistaking your ego for Your Unique Self as your essential identity.

Why is Enlightenment Rejected by Mainstream Society?

Given the power of enlightened consciousness, which I just described, how could it possibly be that mainstream culture, both east and west has rejected the attainment of enlightenment as the essential human goal? Should not this transformation of consciousness — which can do more then any other force to heal our planet — not be the essential and even passionately yearned for goal, of both every individual and every collective. And it is not. Enlightenment is simply not part of the mainstream discourse. Enlightenment is often mocked and at best relegated to the sidelines and not treated as a genuine option for fully normal people. Why not?

The answer is simple. It is woven into the essential teaching of Unique Self enlightenment. And it is as follows. Classical enlightenment says: to attain realization you must overcome your sense of being special and realize your True Identity as part of the one. This instruction is resisted by virtually everyone, for no one wants to give up their specialness. When the price of enlightenment seems to be to give up one’s innate sense of being unique and special, enlightenment is rejected by the intelligent mainstream because at his or her core virtually everyone in the world feels special. The reigning assumption is that to be special you must be a separate self, which is the core intuition of the western enlightenment. So it emerges that the core intuition of western enlightenment — that you are separate and therefore special — contradicts the core intuition of the eastern enlightenment which says you are not separate and therefore not special. For the west the affirmation of the special separate self is seen as the key to healing suffering while for the east overcoming a false sense of separate self and specialness is the key to transcending suffering.

When a person takes their nagging sense of absolute specialness to their spiritual teacher the usual instruction is: you must leave beyond this feeling of being special for the desire and experience of specialness is a function of the unenlightened ego. This instruction — while it speaks a great truth, is at its core not fully true. It is true but partial. For it fails to make two essential discernments. Those are the distinctions between separateness and uniqueness and between Unique Self and ego. At the level of ego you are separate and you are not special. This is the core and correct intuition of eastern enlightenment. And for this reason you must get over your sense of being a special separate self. But at the level of Unique Self — beyond your separateness — as a unique expression of the one you are absolutely and ultimately special. This affirms the special dignity of the special individual, which is the core intuition of western enlightenment. But it realizes that you are special not at the level of separate self-ego but at a much higher level of consciousness, the level of Unique Self.When you realize your enlightenment you give up the small games of your ego seeking to reify its specialness. You move beyond the alienation of separate self to realize the joy of uniqueness. You give up the small self-sense of being special as you begin playing an infinitely larger game in the widest context, the game of your Unique Perspective, which is ultimately unique and special and has singular gifts to give the world, which can and must be given only by Your Unique Self.


Unique Self, World Spirituality, and Evolutionary We Space: Wake Up, Grow Up, Lighten Up, Show Up, Open Up – by Dr. Marc Gafni2023-07-16T11:33:26-07:00

Dr. Marc Gafni: The God of the Encounter: The Glory of the Personal, Part 1

by Dr. Marc Gafni | (part 1 of 6)

The realization of the personal which has been derided as the separate self or ego is so important that I want to ask you to enter this even more deeply with me. You need to feel a sense of this realization in your own being. You need to feel the love and care implicit and explicit in the loving personal address of the Cosmos.

There is clear a moment in where you will need to move beyond separate self and realize the underlying unity of all that is as the seamless coat of the universe. You will need to trance-end the merely personal to realize the next station on the road to your  enlightenment. This will engender in you a profound love. It will open your heart in a radical and unconditional way. It will move you beyond alienation into full integration and power.

However, and this is a huge caveat, you will have to not merely transcend but to transcend and include the personal. That means that when you enter into the realm of the transpersonal space in which we are  all expression of the one, you will need to realize in joy that you are a distinctive unique expression of the one . You must transcend your separateness even as you must retain your Uniqueness. The ego, when purified of its grasping and freed of its fixations, is harbinger of  your Unique Self.  The personal  is essential to your full enlightenment as your Unique Self. Enlightenment always has a personal perspective. Enlightenment according to the Sufis and the Kabbalists is an expression of purified personal essence.  Anything less will make you insane. Remember, Insanity means a loss connection with reality. Sanity means a full joyful embrace of reality. Enlightenment is no more or less than sanity. Reality is not only impersonal. It is also profoundly personal.

In order to be able to realize the personal plus–not personal minus–nature of your enlightenment, you need a deeper feeling and understanding of the realization of the personal.  Remember that the personal is achieved both in the life of the individual and the life of humanity with the evolutionary achievement of the experience of separate self.

It is a transmission of  something of this realization that I wish to share with you in these pages…

For more of this essay, see Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

You can also join Dr. Marc Gafni’s contacts on LinkedIn.

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Download the PDF Version of the Whole Paper HERE
Dr. Marc Gafni: The God of the Encounter: The Glory of the Personal, Part 12023-06-20T13:54:40-07:00

Enlightenment of Fullness — Yetzir and Yetzirah, Part I

Looking for more on the wisdom tradition that aligns you with your deepest creativity? In a three-part excerpt from the long version of Soul Prints, Marc Gafni writes that we can transform and raise our passion and artistic creativity into a powerful drive for the sensual and the holy, realizing that, in a redeemed world, they are one and the same. As long as our spirituality remains vapid and empty, we indeed need to repress the more primal, creative passion, lest it overwhelm us. Primal passion unrealized is soul print or Unique Self destiny unrealized.

You can view Part II of this essay in full by clicking here>>

You can view Part III of this essay in full by clicking here>>

Yetzer and Yetzirah: Raising the Primal Sparks of Creativity and Passion

by Dr. Marc Gafni
from The Way of the Dragon in the long Soul Prints.

Part I.colorful

In biblical spirituality, information about God is relevant for one reason only. Information about God is information about us. We are commanded to be little Gods – to imitate God. Just as God stood at the abyss of darkness and said let there be light, so are we commanded to stand at the abyss of our darkness and say let there be light. A little bit of light dispels so much of the darkness. Further, just as God is a creator – creating, sculpting, painting, composing a gorgeous physical world – so, too, are we invited to create, to sculpt, to paint, and to make music.

Mozart, Bach, Schubert, Rembrandt, and Michelangelo created. And yet, creativity is still viewed as suspect by much of the religious community. Art per se and artists to be sure are suspected of being amoral at best and, more probably, immoral. Acting, painting, sculpture, song are held in both high esteem and moral disdain. Why? The answer, which we have already introduced in our earlier discussion, emerges from an understanding of the deep linguistic and conceptual relationship between the biblical myth terms Yetzer and Yetzirah. Yetzirah means creativity; Yetzer is best translated as primal instincts, including but not limited to libido (Freud), the drive for power (Adler, Nietzsche), and the need for meaning (Frankel). In the Hebrew language, which is the ultimate source of all biblical myth thought, Yetzer and Yetzirah are the same word, linked etymologically and conceptually. The point: I cannot create without connecting deeply to my most primal instincts.

In my earlier twenties, I attended for a short time a prestigious drama workshop in Greenwich Village in New York. When we would be preparing for a murder scene in a play, we would do exercises to help us access the murderous rage lurking untapped in the corners of our souls. I cannot create drama about murder without unlocking the murderer in myself. To create anything – and certainly for the ultimate creation, the creation of myself – I need to be able to access the most primal passions of my being. Herein lies the attraction and the danger. My primal instincts when not integrated into my fully developed self are often not channeled properly and can potentially destroy worlds. Witness Germany. My mother, who was there, told me almost every day as I was growing up that the same people who gassed Jews in the morning, listened, with great primal passion, to Mozart in the evening.

In response to this psychological reality, Biblical myth spirituality taught: “Who is heroic, he who is (Kovesh) conquers his Yetzer.” And if the price is also to sacrifice certain forms of creativity, so be it. Better to be moral, holy, and not creative, than creative and immoral.

And yet having to choose between the primal passion of creativity and morality is far from satisfying!!

Visit for more wisdom teachings from Dr. Marc’s writings and the other teachers of the Center for World Spirituality.

You can follow Dr. Marc Gafni’s posts on Facebook.>>

Enlightenment of Fullness — Yetzir and Yetzirah, Part I2023-06-21T07:04:44-07:00

Marc Gafni on Post-Postmodern Art: A New Article in Parabola Magazine

By Marc Gafni

Artist Claudia Kleefeld is not the first person to see the symbol of the spiral as being a portal to a vision of a coherent cosmos. She is original in that she is a first-rate, old-master-style artist with thirty years of training, who paints the spiral as an expression of an Eros of certainty that asserts the utter meaningfulness, depth, and order of the cosmos. Kleefeld’s paintings emerge from her own opened eye of the spirit and speak directly to the higher spiritual intuition of her viewers. Finally, Kleefeld is unusual in that she is part of an emergent form of art, which seeks to reveal the enchantment of a cosmos ”” a cosmos that is good, true, and beautiful.

I am delighted to present an article which celebrates the work of Claudia Kleefeld, one of the brightest shining lights in the universe of art today. My new article, “Post-postmodern Art: A Return to Belonging,” is now published in the latest issue of Parabola Magazine.


Marc Gafni on Post-Postmodern Art: A New Article in Parabola Magazine2023-06-21T08:36:24-07:00

Marc Gafni’s “The Future of the Holy: From Sex to Eros” Appearing in Spanda Journal

Marc Gafni was recently featured in Spanda Journal, the peer-reviewed biannual publication of the Spanda Foundation.

The Spanda Foundation offers publications related to “sustainable advancement of peace, knowledge, and understanding.”

Marc’s article, entitled “The Future of the Holy: From Sex to Eros,” begins like this:

“Sex. Is there anything else that so grabs our rapt attention, inessantly pursues us, occupies our daydreams, fantasies, and yearnings? The kabbalists state the obvious: God is trying to get our attention. Now I am not talking about the God who sends good people to burn in hell because they slipped up on one of his impossible demands. nor even the Grandfather in heaven who hands out chocolate to do-gooders. Forget that God. The God you don’t believe in doesn’t exist. Rather, the God that exists for us is the personal erotic life force that courses through reality. The God we believe in is the vitality of eros. The God we believe in is the force for healing and transformation in the world. The God who knows our name. That is the God who so clearly calls out to us that sex is the answer.”

For the entire article, click: SPANDAJOURNAL_C&D2.0_Marc_Gafni.

See: Gafni, M. (2012). “The Future of the Holy: from Sex to Eros”, Spanda Journal, ed. S. Momo, III,1: 131-139.

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Marc Gafni’s “The Future of the Holy: From Sex to Eros” Appearing in Spanda Journal2023-06-21T08:44:36-07:00

Dr. Marc Gafni: Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God (Part 1 of 5)

Editor’s note: This is the first part of 5-part essay, published as a white paper of the Center for Integral Wisdom think tank. For Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5, follow the links.

“As the Kabbalists point out, the word Moses spelled backwards is Ha Shem, meaning ‘the name.’ Importantly, Ha-shem in biblical Hebrew also is the most common reference to God’s name. When you respond to your call and realize your soul print, fully becoming your name, you become one with God. When Moses did this, he found his voice, he became a prophet.”

By Marc Gafni

To live your story is to move from a state of slavery to freedom. Slavery is not limited to our old image of the oppressed Hebrew or black slave being whipped by the cruel master. We are all potentially free, just as we are all potentially slaves. Our intent in this brief essay is to at least begin to unpack a core intuition of the Zohar that a free person is a person who has found voice. As we shall see in the very last paragraphs of this discussion the implications of freedom are wondrous indeed!

The Hebrew name for the Passover Storytelling Ritual, which celebrates and reenacts the dynamic movement from slavery to freedom, is Pe-Sach. Renaissance mystic Isaac Luria reminded us that Pe-Sach is a combination of two words Peh, meaning “mouth,” and Sach, meaning “talk.” Pe- Sach, therefore, means the mouth that talks.

One school of Hasidic masters unpacks this idea by defining redemption as the emergence of speech. To move from a dumb and mute existence to a communal storytelling existence is to undergo redemptive transformation. “To be redeemed,” writes one mystic, “is to lead a history-making, storytelling, communing, free existence.” To be in exile is to lack history, tell no story, fail to commune, and exist as a slave, silent.

The most oft cited source for this idea is a stunning passage in the Zohar which describes the Egyptian slavery as the “exile of speech.” In Kabbalah, every biblical nation represents a different organ of the body; Egypt represents the throat. The mystics read the Hebrew word “Egypt” literally as meaning narrowness. The throat is, of course, the narrow, constricted passage between the wide spaces of the heart and mind. The narrow throat, Egypt, is thus the ideal symbol for the exile of speech. Speech remains caught in the throat, in the dark passage, and can’t make it to freedom’s gateway, the mouth. Redemption comes in the birth of the word. In the actual process of your retelling, you reclaim your story. But to be capable of retelling your story you need voice. Redemption then is the process of finding voice.

The Greatest Persecution

In the Nazi concentration camps, certain people were referred to as mules. They were so broken that, although not physically impaired, they could no longer speak. Among animals, mules are the hybrid of a horse and donkey, unable to reproduce themselves. These human, muted mules were so traumatized, their souls so mangled, that they too were unable to “reproduce themselves”–to express themselves in speech.

The great master Kalonymous Kalman of Piacezna wrote from the flames of the Warsaw ghetto that the torture of the exile is not only in the physical suffering but in the inability to cry out – the loss of voice. “The people have become mute,” he cried out in a teaching given in 1940, just weeks after his son and daughter in law and many of his disciples were brutally killed. The teaching was on the story of Joseph and his brothers in the book of Genesis. In a dream, Joseph sees “the binding of sheaves in the midst of the field. And behold my [Joseph’s] sheave, rose up.” In the simple reading of the text, this is a dream of Joseph’s future power. The bound sheaves represent the servility of his brothers while the rising of his sheave is an expression of his potency. Joseph is predicting he will be lord over his brothers. Kalonimus Kalman uses the classical interpretive method of the mystic–reading the text independent of its context (here, Joseph and his brothers) and focusing on subtle wordplays and dual meanings–to extract a deeper spiritual meaning. For Kalman, the sheaves represent his disciples. The word for sheave in Hebrew also means “mute”: “My disciples are mute in the field of the spirit.” They have lost voice. Their suffering is so intense that it defies and destroys all expression. “However,” continues the master, “my sheave–that is, my muteness–must rise.” By this he means, “I must find voice.”

Kalman sees the role of the mystic leader, himself, as retaining voice, holding on at all costs to the ability to talk. He does not mean speech in the technical sense, of which even the slave is usually capable. He refers rather to the ability to have the voice that allows you to remain the storyteller of your own tale””even in the face of Nazi horror.

Kalonymous Kalman took on this role by continuing to teach even when he couldn’t be certain anyone survived to hear him. He risked all to record his teachings and hide them in the hope they would be found by some future generation. He was continuing to tell the story. In an act of heroic protest, he refused to allow the Nazis to claim “his-story.”

Kalman’s book, along with his voice, was lost in the war. He died in the Treblinka concentration camp and his book disappeared. Although he left word that he had buried his writings before being deported, they were not to be found. That is, until almost fifteen years after the Nazi defeat when a Polish worker miraculously discovered them in a pile of rubble and somehow understood their importance. The work has since been published. Treblinka may have succeeded in killing the Master of Piacezna, but it could not kill his voice. He died but his words did not. His voice triumphed.

Voices can indeed triumph even when the storyteller dies. For a version of Kalman’s story that is completely different yet exactly the same, we turn to Alice Walker’s classic work, The Color Purple. The novel focuses on two sisters, abandoned by their father to the custody of a man referred to as Mistah. One sister gets away. The other remains behind. What keeps the captive sister from losing her soul? The letters she sends to her sister. By telling her story she avoids be sucked into the slavery’s dark and deadly vortex.

In Blaise Pascal’s words, silence is “the greatest persecution.” Silence can forge the bonds of slavery even if you have not been sold by Dad to a man named Mistah or suffered the brutality of Nazism. Whenever you give up the belief that you are special and deserve to have a voice, you become a slave. Whenever you work in a place that instills fear, whenever you are afraid to speak up and ask for what is your due, you are a slave.

This post is the first in a five-part series of posts, “Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God.” For Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5, follow the links.

Dr. Marc Gafni: Foundations for World Spirituality: Learning the Language of God (Part 1 of 5)2023-06-21T08:53:13-07:00

Tears and Transformation: Toward the Redemption of a Crying God

Excerpted from Chapters 1, 10, and 11 of Reclaiming Rosh Hashanah: The Dance of Tears (forthcoming, Integral Publishers)

Photo: Pink Sherbet Photography

Summary: In this essay, excerpted from Marc Gafni’s forthcoming publication Reclaiming Rosh Hashanah: The Dance of Tears, we encounter biblical myth character Rachel and her three levels of tears of transformation: human empathy for the suffering of other human beings, human empathy for the pain of God, and empathy of God for man. These three strands of Rachel’s tears form “a sacred circle of nondual love,” according to Marc in this passage. Furthermore, these tears of redemption express a core idea in Hebrew wisdom: “The human being, by engaging the Rachel archetype and entering into the pain of the Shechina in exile, can “through his tears” realize his ontic identity with the Shechina herself, and in this very realization, be aroused to great compassion and achieve redemption.” This excerpt introduces the mystical techniques of the crying of transformation and the transformation of crying. It is by accessing these tears that we offer redemption for a crying God.

In order to fully appreciate the nature of Rosh Hashanah theatre and the dance of tears, it is necessary to point out the implicit distinction between this biblical form of holy day theatre and the concept of theatre inherited by western civilization from ancient Greece. In classical Greek theatre, the operative principle was Aristotle’s understanding of catharsis. Catharsis for Aristotle meant the purging of the emotions.


Tears and Transformation: Toward the Redemption of a Crying God2023-06-16T14:37:49-07:00

Dr. Marc Gafni: Protest as Prayer (Part 1): A Response to Tragedy the World Over

God = The Infinity of Intimacy: From the Infinity of Power to the Infinity of Intimacy

Part 1:

By Marc Gafni

The mandate of biblical consciousness demands that the human being enter into partnership with God in the task of perfecting the world. The classical expression of this in the lineage of Kabbalah is the obligation of Tikkun. Tikkun means not merely to hear or to fix but to be co-creative evolutionary partners with the divine.

This evolutionary mandate to co-create and to heal the world with and as divinity emerges, paradoxically, not out of answers but out of questions. The fact that the human being can challenge and that God accepts the human challenge implies a covenantal partnership between the human being and God. Both the human being and God share an understanding of the good, and thus God can turn to the human being and say: “I invite you, nay, I demand that you be my partner, my co-creator in the perfection of the world. I began the process of creation; I established the moral fabric of the world. It is up to you to take that cloth and to weave it fully. It is up to you to complete the tapestry, it is up to you to risk to grow and to create a world in which good, love, justice and human dignity flourish and are affirmed.’ A human being who cannot be trusted enough to challenge evil can also not be a partner in fostering the good.

It is true that God very often seems silent in response to our challenge. Yet Jewish consciousness, expressed through biblical text and tradition, affirms that God accepts the validity of the question. In doing so God affirms our role as God’s partner in history. If I am able to recognize evil for what it is, then I am ipso facto obligated in tikkun olam – the obligation to act for and with God in the healing of the world. Man is the language of God. We are God’s adjectives, God’s adverbs, God’s nouns and sometimes even God’s dangling modifiers. We are God’s vocabulary in the world. When I love, when I am able to be truly vulnerable and intimate with another human being, when I am able to share the pain of another and to rejoice in their deep joy, I am acting for God. I become God’s chariot in the world.

More than this: if I can wrestle with God, if I can express my uncertainty with God in the intimacy of challenging relationship, then paradoxically, I convert my doubt into the core certainty of divine relationship.

Note: This post is part of a 15-part paper.

Download the PDF Version of the Whole Paper HERE

Read More Parts Here:

Part 1
Part 4
Part 7
Part 10
Part 13
Part 2
Part 5
Part 8
Part 11
Part 14
Part 3
Part 6
Part 9
Part 12
Part 15
Dr. Marc Gafni: Protest as Prayer (Part 1): A Response to Tragedy the World Over2023-06-21T10:22:40-07:00

Lilith: Re-Reading Feminine Shadow by Dr. Marc Gafni (Hebrew Version Co-Authored by Ohad Ezrahi – Modan, 2004)

Download an Unplugged, Raw Version of English Translation of the Book

In Lilith, Marc Gafni provides insights into the deep context in sources of Hebrew wisdom for this core idea that that the exile of the Shekinah is in one expression, the exile of the erotic into the sexual. This idea is possibly best expressed in the Raya Mehimna and Tiqunei Zohar literature. Based on the biblical verse “and a maidservant that inherits her mistress” (Proverbs 30:23), the Shekina in exile is said to be the state in which the maidservant has inherited her place.

This book represents an integration of ideas from Marc Gafni and Ohad Ezrahi. At his request the first writer during the physical writing was Ohad. It was co-authored by them and published with intention as a shared book reflecting their partnership at the time and the shared intellectual content in the core of the book. This is reflected in the joint publishing of the book, the shared content, and the signed contracts with the publishers and dozens of extant letters between the authors during the process. For more info, click here.

Download an Unplugged, Raw Version of English Translation of the Book
Lilith: Re-Reading Feminine Shadow by Dr. Marc Gafni (Hebrew Version Co-Authored by Ohad Ezrahi – Modan, 2004)2023-06-21T11:20:18-07:00

Tikkun Magazine Articles by Dr. Marc Gafni

Between 2000 and 2003, Tikkun Magazine published a series of articles by Dr. Marc Gafni. You can download and read them here:

Tikkun Mission Statement

Tikkun Magazine Articles by Dr. Marc Gafni2023-06-21T11:22:18-07:00

Parabola Article by Dr. Marc Gafni: The Path of Yearning

In 2006, Parabola Magazine published an Article by Dr. Marc Gafni called “The Path of Yearning.”

Download a PDF Version of the White Paper HERE
Download the PDF Version of the Paper
Parabola Article by Dr. Marc Gafni: The Path of Yearning2023-06-21T11:22:08-07:00
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