I’ve come across these two approaches to the Divine, direct and mediated, in works that I’ve been reading this week; the context in both cases is the idea of devekut, cleaving to God.

The first work is a work that I’m cataloguing, Yosher Divrei Emet  by Meshullam Feibush Heller of Zbarazh, a seminal figure in the early Hasidic movement.  Devekut as direct mystical union with God was central to the Hasidic spirituality.  “Because of their devekut , they think of themselves as nothing, and so are very great indeed.  They are like the branch of a tree that realizes it is part of one organic unity with its root. . . . It’s like a single drop of water fallen into the sea.  It has returned to its source.  It is one with the ocean.  Now it’s no longer possible to identify it as an independent thing in any way whatsoever.”

Maimonides has a very different take on devekut.  As some of you know, I’m deeply involved in a writing project based on his Book of the Commandments.  In dealing with the mitzvah of cleaving to God, Maimonides quotes the Rabbis of the Talmud, who ask “Is it possible for a man to cleave to the divine presence, seeing that it is written, ‘for the Lord by God is the devouring fire?'” Rather, Maimonides explains that this mitzvah enjoins us “to mix and associate with wise men, to be always in their company, and to join with them in every possible manner of fellowship: in eating, drinking, and business affairs, to the end that we may succeed in becoming like them in respect of their actions and in acquiring true opinions from their words.”

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