By Rabbi Dr. Moshe Dror
We have seen that there is a vast literature and reservoir of ideas about the theme of “virtual space” in the Christian tradition, as was detailed by Margaret Wertheim in her masterful study ( see Cyber Or 28 and 29)on the Pearly Gates of Cyberspace.
This is also the case in Jewish circles as well –during much the same period.
The ideas of “This world” and the “World to come” are all dealing with the basic ideas of what is “real”.
This is a constant theme in human speculation that has been going on for thousands of years. Just look at the Allegory of the Cave of.And on the other side of the world there was Zhuangzi, the 4th Century BCE Chinese sage who had the dream– where he didn’t know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi.
In the Jewish Mystical circles of the early centuries they created an entire world that is called the world of “Hechalot”- Virtual Heavenly Palaces where mystical adepts can deal with their dreams and streams of consciousness in these speculative spaces.
Professor Gershom Scholem, in his masterful Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, (Schocken Books, New York, 1941) writes about the ideas of Merkavah (Heavenly Chariot) Mysticism and Jewish Gnosticism that has literary influence for over at least one thousand years- from the first century BCE to about the tenth century CE. These developed in Palestine around the group of disciples of Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai.
These “Hekhaloth” were heavenly palaces through which the visionary passes and in the seventh and final palace he rises to the Throne of Divine Glory. It would seem that these are descriptions of actual personal experiences that were brought about through the technologies of fasting, prayer, chanting, and meditation. The Hekhaloth books describe at great length the ecstatic ascent of the soul to heaven. This tradition also popularized the name and designation for God as “Makom” the place-THE Space. An interesting analogy to our uses of the term – space.
They were called “Yorde Merkavah” –those who descend and rise through the Chariot. The word Merkavah is derived from the Hebrew word R-K-V “to ride”. These personal experiences of ascending to heaven and entering the virtual “Paradise” is much the same idea that Wertheim describes about soul space and many of the cybernauts use to describe their experiences in cyberspace.
If you think that this is so far out.
Just consider this. The very name of Paradise is associated with Eden and is derived from the Persian term for “walled in Garden”. It became the model for many of the royal Gardens and public parks all through the world –especially in India, Europe and the entire Middle East.
So anytime that you are walking in any garden or park … you might want to remember that you are walking in the same footsteps as these mystics and “riders of the chariot”.
Here the chariot is driven by four “Chayot”-living creatures, each with four faces of a human, lion, bull, eagle (later, the symbols for the four Evangelists). This is the reference to the Chariot as described by the Prophet Ezekiel, Chapter one; and Isaiah, chapter 6.
For a more detailed exposition on this look at “Merkabah” in Wikipedia
They used the technology that works for them.
We use the technology that works for us.
Scholem writes that “in an age of spiritual awakening and deep religious turmoil there arose in Judaism a number of sects with heterodox (not orthodox) ideas resulting from a mixture of inner compulsion and outside influence”.
Here Scholem is describing first to third and fourth century Judaism. He might be describing contemporary Judaism as well … along with many other of the spiritual communities as well.
You might also be interested to know that as part of the description of the chariot by Ezekiel 1:4, he uses the term “Hashmal” which is translated into Greek as “electrum” which then was extended into the term we now use as electron, electronics. Although both electric and electricity are derived from the Latin ?lectrum, which came from the Greek word lektron for amber.
In modern Hebrew the word commonly used for electricity is –hashmal.