July 19, 2007
Judaism vs. ‘The Secret’
It's a best-selling book and DVD -- but it's not Jewish
(Page 2 - Previous Page)For example, "Reconstructionists believe in God, not necessarily as a distinct, separate being but that God is in everything, God is in all of life and in everything around us -- a tendency away from a separate mystical being," said Rabbi Judith HaLevy (photo) of the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue.
HaLevy had watched the movie before I brought it to her, and she thought some concepts in the film are in agreement with concepts in Judaism, such as that all our actions are for this world, not a world to come, echoing a concept in "The Secret," which says, "There is no blackboard in the sky."
Like does attract like, she said, agreeing with the law of attraction. "A mitzvah's reward is another mitzvah.... If you put out positive energy, you will attract positive things."
"But for what? The Jewish question is for what purpose? It's for the sake of the world," she said of the Jewish prescribed motive for doing mitzvot. "It's not so you will own more goods, but so you will expand God's works in the world and to do the work you're supposed to do to fulfill God's vision for the world."
HaLevy described herself as a "New-Age" rabbi.
"I emphasize rabbi because I'm more willing than others to experiment, to try and make things relevant, and I'm certainly interested in the mystical," she said.
But our mystical thought is grounded in thousands of years of tradition.
"'The Secret' takes these things and makes them superficial. It's like Madonna wearing a red string around her wrist. It's not wrong; you can make a case for red strings and whatever they sell in the Kabbalah Centre. It's not wrong. Underneath there are people who know what they're doing, but it's without a base to it," she said. "One day it's Kabbalah, another day it's Egyptology."
The days of Egyptology haven't hit us yet, so I called the Kabbalah Centre. Its publicist said they preferred not to comment on "The Secret" or "The Law of Attraction."
"You know Michael Berg's book is not about 'The Secret,'" the publicist said. Berg came out with a small book called, "The Secret," in 2002. But the Kabbalah Centre rabbi's book has a different secret: "The only way to achieve true joy and fulfillment is by being a being of sharing," it explains.
But still, the center's message is not so different from ideas found in books like "The Secret."
"'The Secret' is Kabbalah 101," said a longtime member who preferred not to give his name. Indeed, during Friday night services at the center, a woman talked about the power of dreams, thoughts and what we attract into our lives.
Without a rabbinic comment from the center, I turned to a self-described "modern-mystic" unaffiliated with the center, Orthodox Reb Mimi Feigelson (photo), mashpiah ruchanit (spiritual mentor) of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University (formerly University of Judaism), who is versed in Kabbalah and mystical thought. Kabbalah and Jewish mystical studies have long offered many of the ideas found in "The Secret," she said.
"God created the world with words. The oral word is an external garment of the world of thought," she said. Moreover, even the idea in "The Secret" about the power of thought to heal oneself of disease can be found in Judaism. "In the mystical tradition, there is a correlation between our physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual bodies, and as we evolve, those connections are more and more apparent," she said, noting that according to tradition, King Solomon had a book that correlated each illness to every mitzvah, and he could look at it and understand where the illness came from.
"It was buried, because healing became like a mathematical equation, not spiritual work," she said.
And as to our thoughts influencing our actions, she quoted the founder of Chassidut, the Ba'al Shem Tov, who said, "A person is where their thoughts are." The Talmud says a person doesn't even lift his or her finger in this world if it's not called upon in the higher world.
Similarly, the promise of "The Secret" to transform someone into a new person is also not unique.
"The whole notion of teshuva is that a person can be different from who they are," Feigelson said, using the Hebrew word for repentance, which is "the transformative element of every human being."
"So the fact that they're offering up this possibility of becoming a new person that you don't recognize, I don't think that's unique to their message -- there is nothing unique in what they're offering that's not been said," she said.
Nevertheless, from a Kabbalistic perspective, she faults as simplistic and solipsistic the notion in "The Secret" that you get what you put out in your thoughts and words.
"We're living in a somewhat fragmented and broken world. Instead of sanctifying the brokenness and trying to elevate the fractious part of our lives, they're trying to create a perfection, which isn't part of the human condition," she said. "I don't know what a perfect life is, and I don't know what ultimate happiness is -- I don't know where that is outside the service of God."
Clearly, I was wrong in assuming the mystically based rabbis would embrace "The Secret." But to my surprise, it was an open-minded Conservative rabbi who often challenges commonly held beliefs in Judaism that reacted most vehemently to "The Secret." Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple made headlines with his Passover sermon in 2001, when he suggested that the Exodus story is fictional. This year on Passover, he gave a speech about "The Secret."
In it, he said that his first reaction to hearing about the teachings of "The Secret" was that it was wrong.