biblical commentary

Hasidism, a movement that is little known or has a conservative image, opens us up, against all odds, to a mysticism that resonates with Jewish and Christian liberals. By studying the text, Rabbi Kerber invites us to rediscover Hasidism as a form of full awareness of the Eternal, a search for the divine spark.

a mysticism rooted in the world Étienne Kerber

In the world of rock’n’roll, guitar amps have a volume that goes from 0 to 10. But when it comes to describing access to a form of transcendence (musical or otherwise), we say that you have to « turn the amp up to 11″… For a rabbi who is a rocker and totally passionate about mysticism, it is tempting to say that Hasidism has taken the interpretation of the Torah to volume 11.

But what is Hasidism? It was popularised in France by Rabbi Jacob, but its history is little known.
Hasidism is an 18th-century Jewish mystical movement. Born in Poland, it revolutionised Judaism by popularising a profoundly original interpretation of the Torah as well as by renewing inspiring spiritual practices. This was possible thanks to the creativity indwelling the Hasidic movement, but when we look at the Torah, it is moving to realise that the movement only amplified what was right in front of our eyes. Let’s take an example.

In the Torah, two verses describe the recommended relationship with the Lord. On the one hand, we have: « You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being and with all your strength… » (Dt 6:5). Let’s move on to the Hebrew. The root of the verb to love is Aleph-Heh-Vet. This same root is used in the verse: « You shall love your neighbour as yourself » (Lev 19:18). By making the logic of these verses echo one another, we can deduce that the Torah (re)commands us to love the Eternal, the Other and ourselves. This love has a romantic and devotional dimension as well as a profoundly ethical one.

However, in another verse, it is a transcendental form of devotion that we are recommended to maintain in relation to God: « It is the Lord your God whom you must revere, it is he whom you must serve; cleave to him alone » (Dt. 10:20).

While medieval rabbis interpreted the verse rationally (in terms of attachment to the law), mystics did not.

Over the centuries, from the ‘simple’ root Daleth-Vet-Kof, the mystics gave birth to an entire concept: devekut. Devekut is a form of union with the Eternal, which in modern terms can be called Full God-Consciousness. This verse gave rise to the idea that the mystic must attach himself to the Eternal in a constant flow. For the Baal Shem Tov, the sage around whom Hasidism was constructed, the mystic must be attached to every letter of every verse that he studies and every prayer that he chants. What is more, attachment to God can take place at every moment of everyday life, even in our most trivial conversations.

The aim of this full awareness of God is to be in a constant state of realisation that « the whole world is full of His glory » (Isa. 6:3) and to open our hearts with wonder so that we can redouble our sensitivity to the ethical dimension that must inhabit our existence.

However, as the sages have reminded us ever since the Talmud, all mystics must know how to keep their feet on the ground. This advice can even be found in the Torah, in the depths of the root D-V-K. Indeed, it appears like a trigger alert in such extreme situations as the episode of Sodom and Gomorrah or the rape of Dinah. Since biblical times, even before the practice existed in its modern version, the Hebrew language has always carried this warning.

So if we wish to try devekut and live in full awareness of the Eternal, may we do so bearing in mind that the important thing is to be there in the balance between ourselves, the Other and the Divine.

And if we venture a little further, as Rabbi Larry Tabick reminds us: « a genuine mystical experience increases our sense of belonging in the world, it does not reduce it ». A word of advice before turning the volume up to 11: make sure your amp is plugged in properly!


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a été pasteur à Amsterdam et en Région parisienne. Il s’est toujours intéressé à la présence de l’Évangile aux marges de l’Église. Il anime depuis 17 ans le site Internet Protestants dans la ville.

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