"Mystical human psychology, or sacred personhood, is a central concern of many mystic quests. In pursuing an encounter with God, spiritual seekers discover something not only about the infinite Divine Being but also about the mortal human one. To take a few steps along that path, I offer this selection from Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook (d. 1935), the mystic, poet, halakhist (legalist), and communal leader who shaped religious Zionism and who teaches us in this passage about the redemptive divine presence within ourselves.
"People commonly repeat the Torah's phrase that we are 'created in the divine image' or draw from the kabbalistic lexicon to say that we all contain a 'spark' of divinity. While undoubtedly true, these have the ring of banal slogans, too metaphysically thin to point to real insight. Often we use these slogans only to mean that human beings are wonderful. But the logic of panentheism runs deeper, all the way to the ocean, and the ocean is never filled. Once we affirm that God is one and infinite and also that God's image is inscribed in all people (and all creation, for that matter), we find ourselves in deep waters. Within the world's vast diversity, primal unity inheres. Infinite depths dwell within every finite crumb of matter. Mystical consciousness seeks insight into this transcendent mystery within the world of brute facts, atoms, and molecules.
"Applying this panentheist awareness to human beings, we begin to intuit that we are not the little people we thought we were. The sacred depth of the human person is obscured through conventional consciousness, which affirms that each of us is a solitary, finite self, who knows itself through its own inner mental process. Once we introduce the idea that divinity sparkles within us, however, we can say none of these things simply. You cannot be solitary or finite, at least not ultimately; your limited aloneness dissolves as you participate in the universal life of God. And if the deepest part of yourself is the divine image, you cannot ever really get to the bottom of your own well. Your own heart will remain a mystery. But unless you intuit this unfathomable dimension within, you can never know who you are.
"For these reasons, Jewish mystical spirituality holds the power to break down our sense of identity at first, on the way to imparting a deeper sense of holy personhood. Initially, the mystic learns to say, God exists and perhaps I do not. For as an individual, I am but a candle in the noonday sun, negligibly small before overwhelming divine light (Babylonian Talmud, Hullin 60b). But those who carry this insight further, into a deeper sense of personhood, become aware that the infinite, eternal God is the heart of their being, paradoxically manifest through a person's mortal individuality. The overwhelming divine light is neither in heaven nor across the sea, but is very near to me, in my mouth and in my heart. A primary goal for Jewish mystics is to overcome the obstacles that alienate us from ourselves. To discover God is to reveal this sacred presence at the depth of the self, and to lay bare the self is to reveal God.
"Who am I? I am a 'portion of God on high' (Job 31:2), a mortal manifestation of immortality, infinity within the finite. To borrow from the medieval Hebrew poet Yehudah HaLevi: God is closer to me than my own body and spirit."