Rabbi David Louis
Teacher, Writer, Lecturer
Rabbi David Louis is a teacher, writer, and traveling lecturer on the Kabala, metaphysics, and the Old Testament. During our interview, he shared how important love is to solving world problems. He also discussed his view of the Bible, how his music and his work as a Rabbi coincide, how the Kabala explains the relationship between giving and receiving, and much more.
Based on your experience and wisdom, what would you like people to know?
I would like people to know that the whole Middle East conflict can be resolved with the thought of Love -- with the knowledge that we're all people, all reflections of God. As I sit in my room in Israel, my prayer is for God to visit all the people in their homes and present Love to them. Love penetrates all barriers and can dissolve problems in an instant. There's no reason why, if we're speaking to a nation with whom we've had problems, we can't speak with love. Expressing love doesn't hurt negotiations. Love has the quality of penetrating and touching the heart and bringing out the best.
If we want to move forward, we have to look to God, not to history. We have a history of many wars. But when we look to God, the whole sense of time falls away -- we're able to "unsee" the history and see that we are all people who want to live quietly and raise their families. We all have the same God; we all come from Abraham.
Also, the Mideast culture is unified with food and language and feeling. But the healing process starts with thought. We fix our own thought and get it right with God, and we also fix the world in our own prayers and thinking.
How do you view and study the Bible?
I live in the Bible land with the Bible language. It's down-homeness. You just kind of settle into it. Everything's the Bible. There is a subject in the Kabala which teaches us that we are the Bible people. While we can view the Bible just as a historical document, there's also a way to approach the Bible in which we pretend we're biblical people with the biblical spirit. This is actually very deep. We can become like children who pretend.
Would you clarify what the Jewish Bible includes?
Judaism explains itself in the Old Testament plus the oral tradition, which was at some point written down as the Talmud. The Talmud is used for legal and philosophical opinions and views. Mainstream Judaism concentrates on the Talmud. While all of Jewish lore is learned from the entire Old Testament, and the entire Old Testament is reflected into the Talmud, the Old Testament is studied only through the lens of the Talmud. For Jews, the Old Testament has three parts. The Talmud is based primarily on the Torah, which defines Jewish law and is the first part. The Torah is comprised of the first five books of the Bible, or the books of Moses. The other two divisions are the Prophets (which include all the books of the prophets) and the Scriptures (which include Proverbs, Psalms, Chronicles, and others). In addition to the Talmud, the Kabala and the philosopher Maimonides are the primary sources for Judaism.
I've heard you're quite an exceptional musician. How do your music and your work as a rabbi go together?
Music comes close to my religious experience. What I love about music is that the seven notes, which are nothing but sound and have no meaning on their own, become these living, bouncing, gyrating sounds that have their own soul when you combine them. They belong to the angelic realm; they become celestial or metaphysical beings who have their own lives. The best moments of listening to music transport you to a heavenly and higher place, completely abstracted from the material world.
So during my college years when I wondered what I was doing in life and began looking into all the religions that were available, it was the study of metaphysics -- the prophetic experience of the celestial realm, the ascension into the heavenly -- that intrigued me. I was able to transfer my musical imagination, expression, and experience (which was happy to think about) to a religious expression and experience. I just put my fascination with metaphysics into new garments and saw it not just as an aesthetic experience, but as a religious experience -- God's thoughts, God's messages to me.
How did you decide to become a rabbi?
When I started to study Jacob's ladder, I began to understand my spirituality and became more interested in religion than music. I found I didn't need a symphony orchestra to enjoy the real transcendental experience that I have with music. It was also the spirit of the times. There was a spiritual awaking throughout the world. At the time, I was non-denominational. But I began to study eschatology, ontology, divine metaphysics, and prophecy. To me, the greatest Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, gave the highest and most scientific definition of prophecy as the mastery of divine science, which made sense to me. I also had a deep desire to study the Kabala.
What exactly is the Kabala?
The Kabala has two aspects -- Jacob's ladder and the secret of the letters. Our forefather Jacob had a dream of seeing angels go up and down the ladder (Gen 28:10-22). I think the seven rungs on the ladder represent moving from the mundane to the sacred, from the physical to the spiritual. The ladder is a quantifiable system, a scale we can talk about --relative to the human experience. But God is not quantifiable. The Truth doesn't have these relative distinctions, of course. The second, more advanced level, deals with the letters, the qualifiable -- the absolute. All the permeations of the Hebrew Bible, the words and the secrets of the letters, are examined so that deeper meanings can be understood. There's such a multi-dimensionality to the Bible.
What are some ideas from the Kabala that would resonate with all religions?
The whole concept of giving and receiving, which is discussed in the study of Jacob's ladder, would resonate. The ladder is a representation of moving closer to God, ascending into Mind, as one purifies his thought. Of course, in God's thinking, there are no levels; it's just a linguistic aid to help us discuss ideas, such as learning how to wake up to the image of God from being in the sleep of this world.
According to the Kabala, the top of the ladder is giving, where we're close to God, Love. The bottom end of the scale is receiving. In spirituality, what moves us up the ladder, what makes us close to God, is similarity in form: the more giving we are, the closer to God we are. What takes us farther away from God is difference in form or nature: the more "taking" we are, the farther away from God we are.
See, God gives. God doesn't receive because there is no "other" to receive from. The wisdom of the Kabala (which means to receive/the reception) is all about how to receive the divine Love, which God created us to receive and which God is continually bestowing upon us. It's also about how to become a Godlike giver. The receiver is, in reality, the image and likeness of God, Love.
If we're the image and likeness of God, how can we be far away from God?
In the absolute, there's only oneness. There is no separation. So we can't be far from God. But as we live in a relative world, there are people who experience a feeling of distance from God. Adam felt he was hiding from God in the Garden of Eden after he had eaten the fruit. The Kabala explains that we think we have an ego separate from God. But as our essential nature embraces and activates a loving life, we become imbued with Godliness and no longer feel separated from God. As God is Love, when we are loving, we are with God -- similar to the form of God.
When a person hides his lovingness -- when he is angry or feels he hates everyone -- such an egocentric person may feel far away from God, may feel that God has nothing to do with him. Because he's exhibiting qualities unlike God and because he thinks of himself as separate from God, he's experiencing himself as being far away from God. But as soon as he expresses qualities like God, he feels God's Love and becomes a vessel of God's light, and so he feels close to God.
We are all reflectors of God's thought. Receiver and reflector are the same thing. The receiving of God's love is proportionate to how much you want it. The more you open your heart, the more you will feel God's love. This does not mean that if you don't want God's love you aren't going to get God's love. You are getting it; you just don't feel it.
In your own study, what have you learned about giving and receiving?
Receiver-hood must be totally converted into giver-hood. In other words, I can enjoy receiving things as long as I'm giving back. Receiving must have within it the roots of giving. Only a giver can enjoy receiving. A receiver must have giving-ness inside him in order to exist. The person who is only a receiver, only a taker, will exclude himself from a giving society and make himself into a different form than God.
Receiving without giving is the source of evil. At the root of taking is ego. Ego means "taker" -- a person interested only in self. But pure receiver-hood cannot exist. There simply can't be such a thing as pure taking, for pure taking is absolutely opposite from God. And there is no opposite to God. There's nowhere else to get life from besides God. So any opposite would cease to exist. Evil excludes itself from the truth and therefore ceases to exist. Why? How? Because, as I truly believe, God is All Good and by definition excludes the existence of evil.
What would you say Christians can gain from understanding the Kabala and/or Judaism?
Christians will become more enriched and blessed by understanding the Old Testament and Judaism, which is the root of Christianity. It's important for a person who sees the effects to know the cause. The Old Testament is not always studied as much as the New Testament. So when you add in the Hebrew aspect-- the source and meaning -- your study of the Bible becomes a very rich experience. And with the Kabala, you have a major portion of the map in front of you: it shows and explains the movement from the material to the spiritual.
Any last thoughts to share with us about God, religion, or what's needed today?
As wide as the consensus about monotheism is, some of its most basic principles may seem strange to us. In a society which stresses originality, creativity, and uniqueness, the fact that there is only one "I AM" -- "I am God your Lord who took you out of the house of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Ex.20:2) -- may appear to us as a loss of individuality.
Therefore, we must come to understand the primacy of humility in monotheism. Our sense of self must come from our recognition of the Only-ness of God. This is the heritage we receive from Abraham who said, "I … am dust and ashes" (Gen 18:27); from Moses and Aaron who said that they were nothing (Ex 16:7); and from King David who said, "I am a worm and no man" (Ps 22:6). This kind of humility is not only the renunciation of the search for personal gain, but results in a complete union with the universal oneness of all mankind. It is a great relief for us to know that our individual goodness, when selfless, is also irrepressible. This is the common ground upon which we can all meet and understand each other and work together. Blessings from Jerusalem.
About Rabbi David Louis
Rabbi David Louis is ordained as a Rabbi in the Kabala and Torah Scribe and General Jewish Law. He currently lectures and teaches in both group and individual settings about Judaism, the Kabala, Jewish philosophy. He has given public classes on Maimonides. He is also taught music.
He studied Sitar with Ali Akbar Khan in San Rafael, California; conducting at the University of Wisconsin, Madison; musical composition at the University of Illinois; and trumpet and symphonic composition at Northwestern University. He's worked for over two decades as a professional musician, composer, and arranger. In addition, he had art showings in Brussels, New York, New Jersey, and Quebec.
Prior to all of this (in the 90s), he toured the world -- Serbia, Croatia Eastern Europe, South Africa, and the United States -- doing one-man performances of music and storytelling for the Jewish Agency. He even directed the music program at an Experimental High School for Dropouts.
In the 1960s and 70s, he was a member of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra. He played Hikirichi in a Gagaku ensemble conducted by a member of the Japanese Imperial Court Orchestra. He conducted the Westwood Chamber Orchestra and the Chamber Music Concerts at the Pasadena Art Museum in California. He soloed with the Peoria Symphony, played the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, and toured Europe. He was a member the of Peoria Symphony Orchestra in Peoria, Illinois. He was also on the television show of "East Meets West."
His memberships include the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, A.S.C.A.P., and the A.C.U.M - The Israel Society of Composers.