Monday, March 31, 2008

More On Comparing Judaism And Buddhism

(Picture courtesy of R. Thrum)

Rabbi Eliezer Shore commenting on HaNei’or BaLaylah:

Once, when the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, was a little boy, he was sitting in the lap of his grandfather -- R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad.

"Where is Zeide?" his grandfather asked him.

The little boy pulled at his grandfather's beard.

"No, that's Zeide's beard. But where is Zeide?" R. Shneur Zalman replied.

The little boy pointed to his grandfather's body.

"No, that's Zeide's body. But where is Zeide?"

The little boy pointed to his grandfather's head.

"No, that's Zeide's head," was the reply.

Now, a Buddhist might say that there really is no Zeide. That Zeide is only a combination of all these different aggregates, lacking any self- existing center. But that's not what the little boy thought. He got off his grandfather's lap and went out of the room. Suddenly, from the other room, he cried out, "Zeide! Zeide!"

"Yes, I'm coming!" replied R. Shneur Zalman.

The little boy came back and declared: "There is Zeide!"

It seems to me that we can say the same thing about G-d. True, in the depths of the Infinite there is no-thing, there is only Divinity, transcendent of all contingent existence, above all "existence" altogether. However, when we call to G-d, He answers us. And that is what Jewish life is all about.


At March 31, 2008 at 7:55:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No. That's not what Jewish life is all about and not what G-d is all about -- that's not what G-d is about at all. At least from the point of view of Chabad Chassidus (and I am mentioning this only because you brought the story of T"T). From the point of view of Jewish philosophy -- maybe. From the point of view of other forms of Chassidus -- maybe. But not from the point of view of Chabad Chassidus.

To understand what I mean, one needs to learn the sugya of dira betachtoinim and (opposite) sugya of Oir Ein Soif -- what it means and why it's necessary. Briefly, the Essence of G-d goes infinitely deeper and beyond definition of Him answering us, and even beyond Him being the source of the worlds. Our relationship with G-d (and "what Jewish life is all about") goes also beyond this -- infinitely beyond it.

A brief introduction into this sugya can be found in Hemshech Ranat ("Yom Tov Shel Rosh HaShanah"), whose first three ma'amorim are available in translation from Kehot ("Yom Tov Shel Rosh Hashanah", "Forces in Creation", "Power of Return").

At March 31, 2008 at 7:58:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also: lehavdil, man. Ln"m comparing kedusha with a"z (even more refined, philosophical aspects of it)?

At March 31, 2008 at 11:13:00 AM EDT, Blogger Freddie said...


The way I see it, compared to Buddhism, this does seem to be if not what Judaism is all about, then at least the essence of it. I realize that there is a lot more to it, yes of course there is. But you see, my knowledge in this area is like that of a child. I am not a Jewish philosopher nor am I a practicing Buddhist. Still, I can tell you that the Buddhist view of G-d (as I have interpreted it) is illustrated spot on in this story. It is this bothersome question (Where is G-d?) which has me here reading Jewish blogs instead of at the Buddhist temple meditating my way to nirvana. I am here because you all seem to know where G-d is, what he is and that he cares and yes answers us too. A simple story like this has its purpose I think.

At March 31, 2008 at 12:35:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never said that the point coming from comparing the story to our relationship with Hashem is wrong. Obviously, G-d cares, and hashkacha protis is one of the most important ideas -- we just had a whole holiday devoted to this idea (indeed, it is connected to revelation of the level of G-d which I was talking about), and this holiday is supposed to prepare us for Pesach, leading us into geulah.

I only protested against treating G-d as somebody who watches over us -- there is infinitely more beyond that.

At March 31, 2008 at 1:59:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, R' Eliezer, for this wonderful and illuminating story.

AF: You seem to be attacking a straw man.

Nobody is saying that G-d is an old man with a white beard watching us from a cloud bank. As Reb Nachman is fond of saying (based on the sefer Bechinas Olam), "Tachlis ha-yedia asher lo neida . . . The ultimate knowledge is 'not-knowing."

The same Rashab of Sefer HaMaamorim RaNaT also gave us Kuntres HaTefillah and Kuntres HaAvodah.

And the "ha-maaseh hu ha-ikkar" of the ARI zal's Eitz Chaim is especially the Pri Eitz Chaim and Shaar HaKavannos -- because davenning is "where the rubber meets the road."

Chabad surely does not disagree with this -- at least not the Chabad of Reb Moshe Weber and Reb Nisan Neminov and Reb Berke Chein, whose shining example of tefillah b'avodah we should never forget!

At March 31, 2008 at 8:06:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Rabbi had just talked about this very issue. He is a student of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz and as Rabbi Steinsaltz once said when asked whether he was suprised at some of the similarities between Judaism and Buddhism, he said, "I'd be suprised if they weren't similar!" You can read more of my Rabbi's teachings at where I've just begun to log my journey as Ba'al Teshuva. Love this blog!

At April 3, 2008 at 9:11:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: Dovid Sears...

I am not sure you understood what I meant to say. I never said that davening is not important. Nor did I have a problem with emphasis on bitachon and hashkachah protis, both very prised in Chabad, Chassidus bichlal and Yidishkeit bichlal. I had a specific problem with this statement: "However, when we call to G-d, He answers us. And that is what Jewish life is all about."

Also, I think the point of the story is deeper. Many people believe that because Hashem's Essence does not have form or personality, Hashem is just some abstract "nothingness" to which we cannot relate and which cannot relate to us. Not true -- just like (lehavdil) the fact that a person's body and body parts are not the person's essence does not detract from the fact that we can relate to the person through relating to his expression of himself through his body parts, voice, etc., the fact that any "manifestations" of Hashem are not Hashem, and one can never really know Him does not detract from the fact that we can have a relationship with Him, His Essence.

See ch. 4 of Tanya.

This is indeed the advantage of Kabbalah and Chassidus over Chakirah: in the latter, one cannot forge a relationship with Hashem (seeing everything in sense of "I" -- what does Hashem do to me, when I learn, when I pray, etc.), while in the former, one can have a deep relationship with the Essence of Hashem, because He invested Himself in His Light and in His Torah.

At April 4, 2008 at 1:03:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for the clarification.

However, I think all Reb Eliezer meant when he said "And that is what Jewish life is all about" is that our relationship with G-d is so central to Judaism. In Buddhism, which was the starting point of the discussion, this factor of relationship with the Essence of All is not conceived in the same way.

Indeed, that's the point you make in your contrast of Kabbalah / Chassidus vs. Chakirah (although I don't know the world of Chakirah well enough to say that the inyan of relationship doesn't loom large there, too -- but if your use of the term equals "the G-d of the philosophers" in general, I thing you're right).

To be sure, al pi Chassidus, the "whole" pervades the "part," and Essence pervades Substance (Likkutim Yekarim 161; Kesser Shem Tov 65; Sefer Baal Shem Tov, Vayeilech, note 6; Ohr Gannuz L'Tzaddikim, Vayeira; Emes Va'Tzeddek [Breslov], "Bittul Ohr Ein Sof, 2; and elsewhere).


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