UPDATE

5755 - Number 2

 

INQUIRY

Is There A Distinctive Jewish Ethical Perspective?

 

 

DVAR TORAH

The Faith of the Akeida

 

THE HUMAN REACH

He Measured the Seas in the Hollow of His Hand

INQUIRY

WITH RABBI BENJAMIN HECHT

Is There A Distinctive Jewish Ethical Perspective?

A student in my Halachic Processes shiur told me of an incident that transpired when he was involved in programming a retreat for those interested in taking a more active role in the leadership of the Jewish community of his city. He suggested to his committee that a program on Jewish ethics would be appropriate. The initial response of the committee, though, was in the negative. The theme of the retreat was Jewishness; ethics and proper ethical behaviour was not deemed particular to being Jewish. Eventually, the committee did agree to offer a program on a general ethical issue, using and referring to Jewish sources in support of the concept, thereby demonstrating our heritage's language in the expression of ethics.

A similar story was also related to me when I spoke recently on the very subject of Jewish ethics. A member of the audience was part of a committee invested with the responsibility of defining the Jewishness of a particular social service agency. It seems that the agency was having somewhat of an identity crisis - for while its roots were in the Jewish community, it was having difficulty in defining why it was still a Jewish agency. It did not just service Jews but rather assisted people of all backgrounds: its counsellors were also not necessarily Jewish. Its ethical motivation for helping others was, in fact, also shared by the many other social service agencies in the general community. What made it Jewish? The committee resolved to answer the question by finding Jewish sources that supported the general ethical construct that formed the basis of the agency. Yet, as I asked this individual, does that render an ethic Jewish? Can an ethic, in fact, be Jewish? It is easy for us to declare a ritual (or, more correctly, what is commonly referred to as a ritual) specifically Jewish. By Jewish, we usually mean in this context, a behaviour or idea particular to the Jewish people. For example, Jews, according to Halacha, must eat kosher; non-Jews are not so obligated. Kashruth is easily definable as Jewish. Applying this definition of Jewishness in the realm of ethics (or, more correctly, what is commonly referred to as ethics), however, is not only much more difficult but challenging and confusing. If something is ethical, should it not be done by all mankind? Correct ethical constructs and behaviour, reflecting the proper conduct between people, should be the province of all mankind, not solely Jews. If so, can there be such an entity as Jewish ethics? To reject an aspect of ethics in Jewishness, though, would seem also to be inconceivable given the dedication to ethical investigation within our tradition. Can we simply answer that included in Jewishness is the promotion of general ethical behaviour? The resolution presented in the two stories above is that we have a specific language of ethics, a Jewish way, which should be promoted, of expressing the ethical. But ultimately this resolution is also declaring that there are no Jewish ethics.

The Torah, in fact, does make ethical distinctions between Jews and non-Jews. The command to honour parents, for example, is not part of the Seven Noachide Laws; it is incumbent only upon Jews. Such discrepancies are generally explained as a factor of halachic, legal obligation, not ethical correctness. Honouring parents is an ethical construct. Non-Jews are not so obligated yet it is obviously an ethical standard for which they should also strive. In fact, non-Jews who correctly honoured their parents are presented to us a models of behaviour in this regard - and are, as such, justly rewarded by G-d. See T.B. Kiddushin 31a and Devarim Rabba 1:15. Jews are, however, so obligated. The status of Jew creates stricter parameters on ethical expectations. "There is nothing permitted to a Jew yet forbidden to a non-Jew" (T.B. Sanhedrin 59a). The question would seem to be to what extent we demand compliance with an ethical standard and to what extent we allow for failure to meet the standard. See, further, Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein, The Seven Laws of Noah, Introduction. The ethical standard, though, is universal.

This explanation for any distinctions in ethical commands between Jews and non-Jews, however, does not always necessarily apply. There are cases where the Seven Noachide Laws demand a different resolution than what is demanded for the Jew. The most famous case is that of abortion. T.B. Sanhedrin 57b clearly states that, under the Noachide Code, abortion is murder. As such, Tosfot, Sanhedrin 59a presents the problem that, since one may not murder to save another, it would seem that an abortion cannot be permitted for a non-Jew even to save the mother's life. The law for Jews, though, is clear: an abortion is not only permitted but mandated to save the mother. See Mishna Oholot 7:7. Tosfot's difficulty is the Talmudic statement that nothing is forbidden to a non-Jew that is permitted to a Jew. In this case, though, it would seem that the non-Jew is prohibited to abort the fetus while the Jew is permitted, even commanded, to do so. Tosfot's resolution of this exact issue is not specifically germane to our discussion. Of significance to us is that Tosfot presents the possibility of differing ethical constructs. Even Tosfot's statement in his conclusion, that an abortion when a mother's life is threatened may, in fact, be permitted for non-Jews, presents a problem in this regard. What is the universal ethical standard that, in regard to Jews, demands an abortion when a mother's life is threatened but only permits such an abortion for non-Jews. A further investigation of the abortion issue will reveal some halachic viewpoints that reconcile the problem differently and demonstrate that there is but one ethical construct. There are other viewpoints, though, that approach the topic in a way that only strengthens the problem and clearly shows a dichotomy in ethical stance between the Noachide Code and the Halacha applicable to Jews. See further Rabbi J. David Bleich, Contemporary Halakhic Problems, Volume 1, Chapter 15. Accordingly, if we define Jewish ethics as ethics distinctly for Jews, we could say that the Torah does define Jewish ethics. Yet how can we understand this concept? Shouldn't ethics be universal?

The very fact that the Torah introduces any distinction between Jew and non-Jew in the realm of ethics reveals in itself, though, an even more profound insight. According to human logic, there should not be any distinction between Jew and non-Jew in this realm. The above question regarding the universality of ethics is poignant. The only reason there is a distinction between Jew and non-Jew is because of the Divine law of the Torah. We must conclude that Torah yields results, in the ethical realm, different than we would reach without its influence. If we define Jewish Ethics not as the ethics practised by the Jewish people but rather as the ethics of Jewish wisdom, i.e. the ethics of the Torah, we must declare there to be a distinctive Jewish ethical perspective. Ethics determined through Torah must be different than ethics set without Torah. Yet the question of the universal nature of ethics still must surface. Is ethics not part of the rational understanding of all humanity? Does not the Torah itself accept the ability of human beings to determine ethics?

T.B. Yoma 67b presents the well-known distinction between mishpatim, mitzvot that rational human beings would have discovered on their own, and chukim, mitzvot that defy human logic and arise solely from revelation. We generally associate the former with ethics and the latter with ritual. The distinction between mishpatim and chukim is, however, ultimately grey. We are to investigate chukim, as best we can, to find their rationale and their place within our human consciousness, even within our universal human ethical consciousness. We are indeed to bring chukim close to the realm of mishpatim. We are also, though, to recognize that even within the mishpatim there is the Divine Will that surpasses our understanding. We are also to bring mishpatim close to the realm of chukim - and in so doing to recognize that the full understanding of the ethical also demands revelation.

A classic question of Jewish philosophy throughout the ages concerned the need for Hashem's proclamation of the mishpatim if they could, in any event, be determined through logic. Torah was deemed necessary to reveal only that which we could not determine on our own. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Reflections of the Rav, Surrendering Our Minds to God states that ultimately there are fine and delicate ethical questions that the human being simply cannot answer. What is the precise moment when life begins? when life ends? Revelation is necessary in the ethical realm. Interestingly, in this vein, as we define Jewish ethics not as ethics particular to the Jewish people but as the ethics that arise from Torah, the focus of our difficulty changes. Notwithstanding the cases where the Torah itself declares a distinction between Jew and non-Jew, the difficulty of defining ethics as Jewish no longer lies in particularism versus universalism. Jewish ethics are indeed universal. The ethics derived from Torah, which include the Noachide Code, are to be a light to all humanity. The Jewish ethical perspective is, we could say, the Divinely revealed universal ethical system. The question now is: what are the real - and practical - differences of this system? If there is a distinctive Jewish ethical perspective arising from Torah, our challenge now is to identify it.

Such a task, in fact, would have been easy two thousand years ago. The ethical conclusions of the human mind in antiquity were, in so many ways, contrary to the teachings of Torah, that the identification of a unique Jewish perspective would have been obvious. Our very success in transmitting our ethical perspective to the world has made the task of identifying our continuing uniqueness in the ethical realm more difficult. The fact that the world may not recognize that their ethical perspective originated with Torah and revelation, does not necessarily challenge the truth of this conviction that we have so greatly influenced the world's ethical outlook. Our understanding of Torah always called upon us to search for meaning in that which was revealed - and it was this meaning and understanding of ethics that we passed on. Yet, if Jewish ethics, the ethics of Torah, did indeed become the basis of the modern world's universal ethics, perhaps, we are no longer distinct? Perhaps, we have taught so well that, while the world may not recognize it, Jewish ethics have become the ethics of the world? What difference does it make if Jewish ethics are still distinctive? Perhaps the only addendum we should add to the stories related at the beginning of this article is that we should teach the Jewish sources for ethics, not only to show our heritage's language of ethics but also to show how our people influenced ethics - and that we shouldtake pride in this accomplishment. Yet the world of Jewish ethics is ultimately the world of Halacha and there remains discrepancy between the vision and language of the world and the vision and language of Halacha. Halacha's unique process and goals itself declares that there must be a unique Torah ethical perspective. Our challenge must be to identify this distinction although it now must be finer and more detailed than the large brushstrokes we would have been able to find two millennia ago.

Our task must not be to simply show with which side of an issue, Torah aligns itself. We furthermore cannot be satisfied with only presenting Torah as a unique mixture of known ethical details. The language of Halacha indicates a qualitatively different perspective, a continuing unique voice of Jewish ethics with conclusions to be identified and ideas to be explored. We must not be shy in this endeavour because conventional attitudes and norms may be contested. With focused research, new Torah insights, in a realm of study that is often overlooked, are before us. The recognition of the uniqueness of our thought system may also present grounds for Jewish identity at this time of challenge. To have identified the uniqueness of Jewish ethics would have been the ultimate response to the dilemmas presented in our opening stories.

We invite you to submit your thoughts and comments, on the issues presented in INQUIRY, for possible inclusion in future NISHMA UPDATES.Your suggestions for INQUIRY topics and questions are also most welcome. Your involvement is a necessary part of our combined learning objective.

DVAR TORAH

The Faith of the Akeida

David Willig, Miami Beach, Florida

This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the memory of my uncle, Harold Susswein; my uncle, Murray Susswein; and my aunt and uncle, Blanche and Manny Kalish.

Is G-d good?

For this question to have any meaning, there must be an independent definition of good. To lack this clear distinct meaning for good makes the statement "G-d is good", the equivalent of saying a rose is a rose; very poetic, but not conveying any information, an example of circular reasoning.

The late Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz maintained indeed that we have no way of knowing what is good outside of the commands of G-d. He cited the Akeida, the sacrifice of Isaac, to prove his point. Afterall, by what possible definition of good can we understand the order to sacrifice Abraham's beloved child? How can we possibly reconcile our own instinctive understanding of the word good with such a command? Prof. Leibowitz and others therefore defined good as the Will of G-d. G-d is good simply means that goodness is defined by His Will.

And yet, this same Abraham who, without questioning, obeyed G-d agreeing to sacrifice his son, previously had argued with G-d to spare the wicked city of Sodom on the grounds that the Judge of the entire earth must act justly? We see that Abraham himself held G-d accountable to meet certain standards, implying that G-d's actions are bound by this moral yardstick. He did not say that, by definition, good is what G-d wants. He felt that he, Abraham, knew what good was and that G-d's desired action at Sodom had to meet his standards. If this is so, though, why did he not raise an argument in regard to the sacrifice of his son?

The sacrifice of Isaac can be distinguished from the argument concerning Sodom in that when G-d told Abraham he was planning to destroy Sodom, G-d was not commanding Abraham to do anything. Therefore, Abraham felt free to express his views and to argue with G-d. At the sacrifice of Isaac, he was, though, given a command and his duty was to obey the command of G-d, not to strive to understand G-d and His Goodness. The question for us, though, ultimately still remains. If Abraham at Sodom demonstrates that G-d is bound by the concept of "good", is He not similarly bound in the command of the Akeida? How do we understand the Good of the Akeida?

A further question that we might ask is: why is the sacrifice of Isaac such a pivotal act in Jewish history, a history that is filled, unfortunately, with thousands of years of martyrdom, of death without choice? We could perhaps distinguish the Akeida from the numerous other heroic acts of Jewish martyrdom in that the latter arose from outside, from persecution. Other nations, indeed, also have heroes and martyrs of this latter type. Americans can look back at Nathan Hale who said, "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country." Martyrdom has been the result throughout human history when an ideal is challenged and persecuted by an outside entity. The Akeida, this sacrifice of Isaac, is unique; the demand of martyrdom was made from within the ideal, by G-d. What, though, is the significance of such a distinction? On the surface, G-d's demand for such a sacrifice is even more problematic as such an internal command would seem to be barbaric and degrading to the dignity of the human being. Why did Abraham not raise his voice in protest?

The answer to the dilemma of the Akeida may lie in the realization that the sacrifice of Isaac was not Abraham's first encounter with G-d. The sacrifice of Isaac came towards the end of a life filled with G-d's presence. It was an entire lifetime of being close to G-d that led to Abraham's obedience.

What did Abraham feel about G-d after a lifetime relationship? Let me give three secular examples that we can relate to.

1. Military experts say the most difficult thing for an army to do is an orderly retreat. On retreats, morale tends to drop and men get separated from their units. The Duke of Wellington had occasion to order a retreat in the course of the Napoleonic Wars. When the retreat was over, the men found themselves in s secure position with supplies and ammunition waiting for them at their new position. What do you think this did for the army's morale and their feeling towards the Duke of Wellington?

2. In athletics, there is a saying, "the team would run through the wall for the coach". What would inspire that feeling of loyalty?

3. In the television program Star Trek, Captain Kirk has had occasion to give orders that at first glance might seem absurd. Nevertheless, the crew obeys them unquestioningly. They have full confidence in his ability to "pull a rabbit out of a hat" and save the Enterprise yet again.

Now we can understand Abraham. The sacrifice of Isaac was not an acknowledgement that we do not know what good is, that the only good is what a mysterious and unknowable G-d wants, but it was a statement of supreme confidence in a moral and loving G-d who Abraham knew would never harm him. It was the ultimate statement of faith in the goodness of G-d. This is why the sacrifice of Isaac has become the paradigm of Jewish faith. Abraham's action demonstrated a relationship with G-d that sets this apart from all other acts of martyrdom. It was not a sacrifice but an affirmation. Abraham acted because he knew that whatever G-d demanded would be ultimately good...and so it was.

Still, G-d did, at first, demand the sacrifice and did confront Abraham with this ordeal. Doesn't the initial command and the pain of Abraham during the experience still challenge our understanding of G-d as good? The simple answer is that Abraham misunderstood G-d's command (see Bereishit Rabbah 56:8). There was never a command to sacrifice Isaac. G-d never ordered the killing of Isaac, merely the dedication of Isaac to a life in the service of G-d. G-d used the word, ha-alehu - raise him, not shochtehu - slaughter him. Abraham was so absorbed in wishing to fulfil the Will of G-d that he failed to interpret it correctly. The perception that Isaac was to be sacrificed and Abraham's own personal painful ordeal arose not because of G-d's command but because Abraham, so anxious to obey G-d's command, mis-understood, acting in a manner that was ultimately incorrect. The goodness of G-d always remained intact.

Yet, with this recognition we perhaps can see an additional lesson from the Akeida that marks its further significance. G-d expects us to use our intelligence in interpreting his commands. Not all the time is the simple interpretation the correct one. Abraham approached the command of the Akeida in a straightforward manner. He was, though, being called upon to analyze, to learn the command as we learn Torah. There are those who point to the midrash that, after Abraham returned from the mountain, G-d never spoke to him again to argue that Abraham was even punished for this lack of analysis. Perhaps, though, the Akeida was also the place that Abraham learned this further lesson about the role of human thought. Abraham at Sodom knew that it was important for humans to understand G-d's actions in the world and took that opportunity to question and understand. The Akeida taught that even to understand the exact command of G-d, although it may appear to be straightforward, we must use our intelligence. We are not computers to be programmed - we are involved in the struggle of communication and analysis constantly.

We are left with three lessons from the Akeida, specifically in the understanding of Faith. Our primary duty is to obey G-d's commands and our faith in Him must call us to action. We must also strive for perfect faith not just in G-d but in His Goodness and that our lack of understanding of the good in His act is a result of our weakness not His. We are to further recognize that questioning and analysis are not attacks upon faith but its very affirmation as G-d speaks to us in a way that specifically calls upon us to challenge His words to seek their true meaning and to motivate our human intelligence to join with Him, the Perfect Intelligence.

The Midrash relates that Abraham, upon conclusion of the Akeida ordeal, asked G-d about the conflicting statements that He made - ordering Isaac's death although He promised that through Isaac would be Abraham's posterity. No mitzvah stands alone to the exclusion of the other mitzvot. The mitzvot stand together as a system, a system of life given to us by a good and caring G-d. Sometimes two or more mitzvot may be performed simultaneously (i.e. one can learn Torah in a succah). Sometimes one must stop performing one mitzvah in order to perform another (i.e. one cannot learn Torah while davening.) Many a rabbi has been very firm about ordering sick people to eat on Yom Kippur. It is not that they don't take Yom Kippur seriously, it is that they are very strict about the halacha of piku'ach nefesh, refraining from endangering one's life. We are continuously called upon to make decisions among conflicting values and, indeed, this is G-d's intention.

The true Halachic authority is one who is able to weigh conflicting values and reach a truebalance. The proper balance for one person, though, will not be identical to that of his friends and neighbours. The answers to be given to one person will not be the same as those to be presented to another. Sometimes, in fact, the decision itself must also be left to the individual. My Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Chaim Pinchus Sheinberg of Yeshiva Torah Or in Jerusalem, sometimes told me "to act according to your own understanding".

The Torah was given to the entire people of Israel by a good and loving G-d. It is the challenge of each individual, though, to find, within the Halachic System, the proper personal balance between the conflicting demands of the system. G-d's ultimate answer to Abraham's question of conflicting statements was that we also have the task, through thought, to find the resolution.

There is a story told that the Chafetz Chaim found a wealthy businessman attending midnight prayers (tikkun chatzot). The Chafetz Chaim admonished him saying that just like an infantryman cannot leave his regiment to join the calvary or artillery, this person's role as a businessman is to give charity and not attend midnight prayers. It's only when each of us has found his/her proper role that we together form the proper regiments that together make up the army of the L-rd.

Study Thought - The call to think and "act according to your own understanding" brings forth the question of how one knows if he or she is right. To many, the assumption of decision making by an individual is perceived to be an act that reflects less religious devotion. The truly religious are viewed, in this vein, as those who forego their will to accept the decision of another (presumably of greater Torah wisdom). The one, though, who believes strongly that Hashem wishes each of us to assume decision making responsibility (to the extent possible) does so, not to throw off the yoke of Heaven, but because he or she precisely believes that this responsibility is part of our obligation to G-d. Yet, it is an obligation which, when taken seriously, is a most onerous one. How do we know the extent of our decision making responsibility? Are we asking an authority because we truly believe the question to be beyond our abilities and knowledge or because we wish to abrogate our responsibilities? How do we know the correctness of our decision or whether we are influenced by personal interests? Is the businessman a businessman because he decided, with knowledge of self, to become a supporter of Torah institutions or because he relinquished his responsibility to a deeper, inner self that cried for him to become a Torah scholar? The hardest part of decision making may be the knowledge of self

The NISHMA UPDATE DVAR TORAH section offers a platform for the presentation of original Torah lessons or ideas. Study Thoughts follow each DVAR TORAH, raising issues and questions for further investigation. We invite you to participate.

THE HUMAN REACH

"He Measured the Seas in the

Hollow of His Hand"

(Rabbi Meshullam b. Kalonymus)

Naomi Hecht, Toronto, Ontario

There is a sacred, indefeasible, and a vast promise inside the breath the heartbeat of a single word a space a moment a whisper'd motion.

I am a witness. And I am a victim of its absence. We all are.

Classic. What is classic endures infinity in the very moment of its emittance.

It is the sanguine distinction between the holy and the secular.

The story is that Adam slept while a rib like a moan was removed from his salubrious skeleton and shaped into Eve.

Why did he sleep?

RASHI explains that Adam's perception of Eve would have been slanted, disrespectful, if he had observed the operation. Either way -- he was aware of the act, he knew from where Eve originated. So, why did it matter what he saw?

Because it is not necessarily true that the sense of vision can best apprehend the picture or that the sense of smell will master the scent or that a touch will inform you most powerfully of the physical form or that you can hear the hollow insides of eternity with perfect hearing or taste the satiation of hunger with your tongue.

Sometimes the perception is numbed, limited, verily removed by force, when matter is sensed and essence lost.

If Adam had watched the creation of Eve, he might have allowed his memory to define the act; separated from the mystery, the sparring partner, the imagination of that other sense which breeds hope and panic, salivates near truth: the very voice of the soul -- Adam might never have stepped beyond memory, he would have missed holy he would have missed classic he would have missed us.

That is what classic is. It doesn't miss anyone.

We are, all our lives, vermiculose. And we are, all our lives, kissed by heaven.

Out of this chaos, what?

I must see beyond before and around what I see.

And yet I know not

how conceit may rob the treasury of Life

when Life itself

yields to the theft.

(SHAKESPEARE, King Lear)

If life, if our reality, if all that is true and regal wills itself to face with fire the horror -- if each of us discovers our selves in the miasmic arms of death, the fight seems futile and the partnership with hopelessness cries as the wisest man: then, still, even as life yields to the theft of its inestimable treasury, it is a mettlesome guard

because if we are aware of the surrender, and with all of our inviolate unbroken unprofaned pure prehensive tentacles we touch that truth and even yield to the theft with such awareness -- we can not be robbed. Not of what we know. More than what is, without our consent, taken from us as breathing things umbilically alloyed to death -- can not be snatched.

It is the eye to the eye of truth -- however hypnotic or paralysing or incarcerating -- that contracts us to holiness.

"It follows that if a person has deliberately and regularly chosen physical delights, has despised the truth and loved falsehood, he will be cut off from that high level of being and remain disconnected matter."

(MAIMONIDES, Commentary to Chelek: Sanhedrin, chapter 10)

"Disconnected matter" -- it is a condemnation, an indictment, that we force upon ourselves.

It is human weakness to want to frame every picture every fact and sensation, to cage them. It does not render reality more accessible. In fact, it is the endlessness of each speck that reaches us, allows us hope and possibility, creates us as eternal beings, makes us creative. If truth is small and we can tame it, what are we to do with bursting celebration? If the sky can be measured, where do we scream the surfeit anguish?

We are disconnected then from our energy-source, from the voice of our own souls; within the visible world we fill space, we are matter, but there is mayhem from our efforts. What are "physical delights?" -- they are the frames encircling pleasure so that it cannot expand beyond time and space. What does it mean "to despise the truth and to love falsehood?" Why must these phrases be mentioned in-tandem? Because it is possible to crave and discover truth and then to abhor it; but if one has chosen to ignore the truth, it is the most violent treatment of truth because no-one will admit the embrace of falsehood -- this is a falsehood so immense that it has destroyed the truth and assumed its identity.

"--'That soul shall be utterly cut off' (Bamidbar l5:31) -- Utterly evil punishment consists in the cutting off of the soul so that it perishes and does not live eternally."

(MAIMONIDES, Commentary to Chelek: Sanhedrin, chapter l0)

Why does Maimonides describe the steps of the punishment with such deliberate detail? If this is an act performed by Gd upon man, any one of the descriptions of the cessation of the soul would have sufficed.

Perhaps it is a punishment that is self-imposed. Would Maimonides have chosen the word "evil" to describe a punishment inflicted by Gd?

A man amputates the voice of his own soul, ignores the pleading of the soul for attention so that eventually the soul is silenced and dies within him and is buried with the body when the body dies. The soul has become part of the carnage, the spoils, of the battle that is existence spent.

It is not reward and punishment that comes like a biscuit to a dog performing tricks -- but the reward and punishment inherent, breathing, within our own choices.

I suffer what I know, but how can I be punished for what I know? That I am being punished for my sins? That is too small a frame for a single grain of my dust. For the sins I know, I grieve I ache to go back and erase agrestial collisions with time and space I take the neck of my past in my hands and squeeze I pray with my heart pressing like a poor desperate bird trapped in my throat ashes in my eyes and in my mouth so I can't swallow pleading that oblivion steals sins

If I know my sins, how can I be punished? Could there be a punishment more fierce than repentance?

I think I can only be punished if I ignore my sins.

There is nothing classic about evasion, it is not holy. To evade either the celebration or the tragedy, to separate them, is a conspiracy against truth.

Goodness is not necessarily holy. Goodness can be a significant evasion. There is a goodness that leans back and forward with eyes closed and hands out -- if you put a mass of such goodness in a room with even a single evil spirit, it will be sucked like dust into the power of the malevolent sway. Easily. Without a fight. Such goodness is weak. It is disconnected matter. It is not determined toward the truth. It does not issue from the voice of the soul.

"We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there -- there you could look at a thing monstrous and free...It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention...

You know I hate, detest, and can't bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us but simply because it appals me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies..."

(JOSEPH CONRAD, Heart of Darkness)

We make it small, neat. It is a paper theatre where the words can not be vessels -- they can hold nothing; and nothing can grow or die or reach the soul of the world because there is no weight, there are no shoulders on which to climb or boots to lay our heads under with shame. There is no singing where the notes make a circle weave in and out of bones there are no bones nothing to break nothing to make. What have we done?

In the paper theatre we panic because it does not explain our struggle. If it is not classic, we must reject it because ultimately it rejects us.

It is the burden of shame, it is the absence of pride. It is the silence of our souls.

"And for the sin we committed against You by a confused heart."

(Yom Kippur Al Chait)

Study Thought - We are, as human beings, constantly called upon to investigate the microcosm and the macrocosm. Our perception of the details, though, may hinder our ability to see the essence of the whole. In turn, our viewing of the whole may prevent our inspection of the details. Our goal must be to see both but, at times, we must choose. G-d declared at the creation of Eve that the detail should be sacrificed for the entirety, yet is this always the case? Is there not also the possibility of times when we must sacrifice a vision of the whole for the sake of the particular? How do we clearly know when to sacrifice a vision and what vision to sacrifice?


Return to top

2002 NISHMA