13 HaMakom: Beyond Figure and Ground

One way to look at the relationship between El and YHVH is that of figure/ground. You know these images: a graphic that looks like a goblet one moment and then two people looking at one another the next (to use but one example). It all depends on how your brain is processing the information you get from the graphic. What you see—goblet or people—is figure, what you don’t see is ground. El is what you see; YHVH is what you don’t. El is figure; YHVH is ground. But what is the graphic when no one is looking at it?

What is the graphic when you turn it over so you are no longer creating figure or ground? This is what I call HaMakom, The Place.
HaMakom is another name for God our ancient rabbis invented, and it is a brilliant one. God is not “a place” in the universe, but The Place in which the universe happens. To me this is similar to St. Paul’s definition of God as that “in whom I live and move and have my being,” (Acts. 17:28). You can’t image this Place. It has no shape, no limits, nothing on which to build a theology or a religion.

Some people use HaMakom to mean the Omnipresent One, but that is too limiting. HaMakom is the Place in which one-ness and two-ness happen. HaMakom is nondual: not one, not two, but that which embraces both. Which means that HaMakom is not not one and not not two either. It is and isn’t at the same time. It is the ultimate paradox that, when grasped, frees you from everything for everything.
Of course HaMakom can’t be grasped in any logical way, but I think it can be intuited.

Baruch Spinoza, the 17th century Jewish philosopher (yes, I claim him as one of us, though he himself my have moved beyond such labels), taught that there are three ways of knowing the world. The first and least helpful (but no less necessary) is experience. We extrapolate what is so from the experiences we have. This kind of knowing is limited because our experience is limited and often random and misleading.

For example we experience the sun rising in the morning and setting at dusk when in fact the sun does neither. It is the turning of the earth that gives us the illusion of a rising and setting sun. Similarly with our notions of “up” and “down.” We say airplanes go up into the sky, but in fact there is no up or down. Airplanes go out and in: when taking off they go out from one source of gravity (the earth), and when landing they go in to that same source of gravity.

So knowing based on experience is limited and often misleading. We need to correct it with the second kind of knowing, reason. Reason is the capacity to know the essence of a thing, to know it adequately and perfectly. Reason shows us how all things are the result of the happening of all others things. Remember everything is happening, everything is a verb and there are no nouns in the universe. Our experience shows us what is happening or that something is happening, our reason shows us how and why what is happening is happening as it is. But even reason isn’t sufficient to grasp the whole of what is happening, or, better still, the whole that is happening. For this we need the third level of knowing, intuition.

Intuition reveals what the Buddhists call pratītyasamutpāda, the dependent–origination of all things. Everything happens with everything else. This isn’t the doctrine of cause and effect because that assumes there is a cause separate from and resulting in an effect whereas pratītyasamutpāda says cause and effect arise together: cause produces effect and effect produces causes at the very same instant.

Nothing is separate, nothing happens of itself or over time. With one exception: God. But not God as El or YHVH but God as HaMakom. The happening of happening is just so; happening just happens and has no cause. This happening happening is HaMakom and “knowing” that there is this happening happening is the work of intuition.

I’m not done with this idea, and when and if this blog becomes the book it is intended to be I will have lots more to say about HaMakom, but I am going to leave it for now. Otherwise I will get lost in the weeds of reason when it is my intuition I need to cultivate. So think about this and add your musings to the comments section of the blog. Help us move from reason to intuition if you can.

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