Many of us, having grown up in a largely secular culture and with only a smattering of Jewish education (if any at all), found our first spiritual satisfaction in teachings from India. Although we wouldn’t have known it at the time, our attraction was towards that branch of Indian philosophy known as “Advaita” — “non-dualism.” This philosophy is based largely on the teachings of Shankara, as derived from the Upanishads and the Brahma Sutras. Of course, I’ve known people who were drawn towards the “Vaishnava” branch of Indian philosophy, which is based on Ramanuja’s “qualified non-dualism;” one of the most well-known modern examples of which is ISKCON — The International Society of Krishna Consciousness,” known popularly as “The Hare Krishnas.” Some at that time and later also found spiritual satisfaction in the teachings of various schools of Buddhism (or their understanding of it, often based on non-Buddhist teachers like Alan Watts).

Non-dualism satisfied the discomfort many of us felt with the “personal God” of the Bible. The biblical language — understood as poorly as it was by us — seemed to suggest an unbridgeable separation between God and ourselves, where the non-dual, impersonal language offered us a model of a reality of which we could never be separate. 

Later, some found a way to harmonize themselves with Judaism by adhering to some group teaching “kabbalah” — especially in its more popular, accessible form as “Hasidut.” 

The teachings of “Hasidut” can vary somewhat from group to group; HaBad Hasidut, for example, is broadly different from Breslav Hasidut. But in many cases, there are teachers within the group who received their teachings and their spirituality from older teachers within the same lineage., back to their founder I’ve found that to be less so in “Kabbalah.” Many of the “kabbalah classes” are based on the interpretations of an individual teacher without an authorized lineage to confirm their validity. 

Yet, surprisingly, non-dualism is found within non-kabbalistic Jewish tradition as well, especially within the teachings of Maimonides (known as “The Rambam,” an acronym based on his name). 

It is the Rambam who wrote in his “Mishneh Torah”:

“1) The foundation of all foundations and the pillar of all wisdom is: Know [leida] that there is a Primary [or “first” or “fundamental”] Being Who brings all that exists into existence. All that exists only exists through His true [or: “real”] Existence.

2) If the Creator did not exist then nothing else would, for nothing can exist rambam 13.4 + illustratorindependently of [separately from] the Creator.

3) If everything ceased to exist, the Creator alone would exist and would not have ceased to exist like everything else had. All things in creation are dependent upon the Creator for their continued existence, but He does not need any of them [for His continued existence]. Therefore, the reality of His existence is not like the reality of the existence of any creation.

4) This is implied by the prophet’s statement (Yirmiyahu/Jeremiah 10:10): “And God, your Lord, is true” — i.e., He alone is true and no other entity possesses truth that compares to His truth. This is what [is meant by] the Torah’s statement (Dvarim/Deut. 4:35): “There is nothing else aside from Him” — i.e. aside from Him, there is no true existence like His.” [1]

Elsewhere, the Rambam is even more explicit:

דע שהמציאות הזו בכללותה היא דבר אחד לא יותר
“Know [Da] that this entire Creation
is all one
thing;
nothing more.” [2]

Although I have not come across many commentaries on these teachings of the Rambam, I have found them reiterated in the teachings of many subsequent rabbinic writers.

The “One-ness” of which the Rambam writes is part of the general theme of God’s “Unity.’

Rabbi Morris Lichtenstein, z”l, made reference to the same theme of God’s Unity, although not necessarily to the Rambam’s own statements of it:

“There is no presence without His Presence; there is no life with out His Life; there is no substance without His Substance; there is no particle, no atom, without Him at its very core.” [3]

Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, z”l, the great proponent of “Modern Orthodoxy,” known as “The Rov,” in his interpretation of the Rambam’s use of the word “know,” was emphatic that we understand the Rambam’s teaching as a personal experience:

“…(lei’da) means that our conviction of the existence of G-d should become a constant and continuous awareness of the reality of G-d, a level of consciousness never marred by inattention…” [4]

“…in the term (lei’da) the reference is to a state of continuous awareness…G-d should become a living reality that one cannot forget even for a minute. This keen awareness of the existence of G-d should constitute the foundation of our thoughts, ideas and emotions in every kind of situation and under all conditions.” [5]

“Man is under the obligation of fulfilling the positive commandment of “knowing” that there exists a Primary Being responsible not only for Nature but for all of history as well.” [6]

“It is a positive commandment to see G-d’s Presence in everything. Thus, in one’s own existence, too [and for all the details of one’s own life].” [7]

“If one wishes to know what the significance of lei’da…, then study the words of the folk song – “A Dudele” – which is attributed to Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev. “R’boyne shel Oyl’m/L-rd of the Universe” sang Rabbi Levi Yitzhak, “Let me sing a song of ‘du’.” “Du – are east.” “Du – are west.” “Du – are north.” “Du – are south.” The sun rises – and one sees the Almighty in the illumination of sunrise. The sun sets in an afterglow of haze – and there too one discerns His Presence…It is a feeling – and it must be [personally, directly] experienced.” [8]

(It was for this reason that I prepared what was at one time — and might still be — the only complete translation of the Berditchever’s “A Dudele” available online.)

The reality of God is confirmed in personal experience in (valid) prayer or meditation, to be sure.

Yet, we can know and appreciate the Jewish expressions of this — especially if we are teaching about it within Jewish contexts.

_________________________________________________________________

[1Rambam; Mishneh Torah; Book of Knowledge 1:1-4 (and elsewhere)
[2Rambam; Guide for the Perplexed, ch. 72 par. 1
[3] Lichtenstein, Rabbi Morris; Jewish Science and Health (“The Divine Mind”); p. 14
[4] Peli, Pinchas; Soloveitchik: On Repentance; p. 130
[5] ibid, p. 131
[6] ibid, p. 132
[7] ibid, p. 132
[8] ibid, p. 134