Seventh Millennium Judaism
Rabbi David A. Cooper is the author of God is a Verb (Riverhead) and Handbook of Jewish Meditation (Jewish Lights). He and his wife Shoshana lead Jewish Meditation retreats.
As the conventional world celebrates the arrival of the third millennium in the Gregorian Calendar, the Hebrew calendar marks the coming of the seventh millennium--in about 240 years. While the dating of the "Common Era" is based on the birth of Christianity, the dating of the Hebrew calendar is built upon a different concept. On the literal level, it is said that 5,761 years ago was the birth of Adam and Eve. On an esoteric level, the kabbalist would say that adamic consciousness came into its fullness 5,761 years ago--that the world witnessed a new realization of the relationship between each individual and the Source of Being. That is, human consciousness (as opposed to animal consciousness) was born as we became aware of our own awareness. This is what distinguishes human consciousness from other forms of consciousness. While animal life has extraordinary awareness, humans have the ability to be aware of and to contemplate our own awareness.
This ability to be aware of our own awareness has opened up vast possibilities. For, while most life is fully dependent upon divine providence, we humans, because of our consciousness, have the potential to participate in the unfolding of each moment. This potential, from a kabbalistic point of view, puts humanity in the position of being a continuing copartner in creation with the Source of Being. Or, said another way, we have the potential of fully realizing the role we play as the Divine expresses Itself through us.
As our intrinsic awareness of this process becomes more developed, we become more wise, more compassionate, more enlightened. We gain more understanding of the way things work, and an ever greater appreciation of the continuing dance of Creator and Creation, which are not two separate things but a single process we call Life. The Jewish perspective is that the full ripening of this understanding is a key purpose of human existence.
The kabbalists tell a story to express the progress of our understanding. They remind us that Adam/Eve was born during the "last hour" of the sixth day, just before Shabbat. Adamic consciousness could not come to fruition until almost all of the six days of creation had passed; similarily, the ripening of adamic consciousness--our enlightenment--will take time too. How much time? One thousand years for each day, or a total of six thousand years. Thus, the Jewish mystic believes that within the next 240 years human potential will reach a new plateau and we will enter a thousand year era of Shabbat, a time when a new consciousness will transcend the way we view reality today. This, some would call "messianic consciousness."
What will things look like when the world is imbued with messianic consciousness? And more important, what is our individual and collective role in helping to bring about this new level of understanding of life? Some assume that we need only survive until the messiah arrives and fixes everything. Judaism suggests, however, that each and every one of us, and each and every act that is done, is a significant element in the birthing of messianic consciousness. In mystical terms, while a new consciousness for humanity will ultimately take the form of a profound paradigm shift, the real focus of our attention must be on the moment-to-moment awareness that leads up to that shift. The way each and every one of us works with our own awareness right now, again and again, is the crucial element in the unfolding of messianic consciousness.
As we reflect upon our lives, we face many important questions: who are we, how are we living our lives, how do we handle relationships, how do we earn a living, how do we serve the community, what are our goals and our ideals, and so forth. One fundamental arena that has enormous potential for deeply informing people in many of these vital areas I would like to generally call "spiritual development. …