Studying Texts with Rabbi Wittenberg and his Students

Studying Texts with Rabbi Wittenberg and his Students

Rabbi Wittenberg graciously invites us to join his students, a group of men who have been meeting in the same coffee shop, once a month, for over 10 years to study and discuss mystical rabbinical texts.

Rabbi Wittenberg passes out copies the text, and we begin to study.

The teaching describes the event when Moses encounters the burning bush, and is commanded to remove his shoes, and how Moses hides his face, and when Moses hides his face, God reveals himself to Moses and tells him to lead his people out of Egypt, how Moses objects and God reiterates his command, until Moses surrenders.

The text analyzes the stages that enable Moses to have this divine encounter, and describes Moses hiding his face, as a metaphor for minimizing the ego so that Moses can experience the “Face of God”.

Rabbi Wittenberg asks the group if they have any comments or questions.

The young father next to me expresses some doubt about the text’s advice to minimize the ego in order to experience God and he wonders why, since the ego itself is a creation of God, it is necessary to minimize it.

Ghassan begins speaking in Hebrew and translating himself into English for those who do not understand.

He compares Moses’s experience with the burning bush to Mohammed’s experience on Laylat al Qadr (the Night of Power), when Mohammed hides himself in a cave to escape the heat and bustle of the city, and how when he was hidden in that cave, a light reveals itself to him, and how that light begins speaking to him, and becomes the angel Jibril (Gabriel) who hands Mohammed a scroll and commands him to read, and how Mohammed objects, saying he can not read, and how Jibril over rides Mohammed’s resistance and commands him again to read, and this was how the Quran, was revealed to Mohammed. Ghassan goes on to analyse and compare the stages that Moses and Mohammed each go through during their divine experiences.

Jaws drop, and eyes widen as Ghassan continues to compare the teachings. Rabbi Wittenberg becomes animated and takes over translating, and light appears on everyone’s faces. Perhaps for the first time they are experiencing the connection between the symbolical teachings in Islam and Judaism. Questions and comparison’s about esoteric symbology, history, rabbinical texts and Sufi teachings begin pouring out as more and more realizations take place within our group.

Rabbi Wittenberg explains to everyone how Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, which is about to begin in a few days, commemorates the events Ghassan has been describing.

As the study session ends Rabbi Wittenberg turns to us and tells us how much he has enjoyed this experience, and he invites us to celebrate Shavout with him and his congregation at his synagogue, and in his home on Saturday night.

Shavout is the Jewish festival that commemorates when the Torah was revealed to Moses on Mount Sanai. And during the festival Jewish people stay up all night studying and discussing sacred texts together.

We eagerly accept and realize we are about to spend the weekend celebrating both Shavout and Ramadan.