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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Time Consciousness and the Mesorah

"Thus a situation has developed which is quite paradoxical in human terms: The barriers of the past have been pushed back as never before; our knowledge of the history of man and the universe has been enlarged on a scale and to a degree not dreamed of by previous generations. At the same time, the sense of identity and continuity with the past, whether our own or history's, has gradually and steadily declined. Previous generations knew much less about the past than we do, but perhaps felt a much greater sense of identity and continuity with it."
Hans Meyerhoff, Time in Literature. Quoted in Zachor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory, p 79 by Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi
"When I sit down to learn, the giants of the masorah are with me. Our relationship is personal. The Rambam sits to my right, Rabbenu Tam to my left. Rashi sits at the head and explains, Rabbenu Tam asks, the Rambam decides the halakhah, and the Rabad objects. All of them are with me in my small room, sitting around the table…. Learning Torah is the intense experience of uniting many generations together, the joining of spirit to spirit, the connecting of soul to soul. Those who transmit the Torah and those who receive the Torah are invited to meet one another at the same historic juncture."
Rav Soloveitchik, U-vikashtem Mi-Sham, p. 232

Monday, October 27, 2014

Lech Lecha: Go into yourself!

"God did not guide Abraham. He bewildered him; He completely mystified and confounded him. He told him to move on, to go forth "to the land which I will show you." Is the land to be found in the east or the west? No hint was disclosed to Abraham. God willed Abraham to guess, to find out intuitively, to somehow smell the fragrance of the land, to feel the pull that the land exerts, to be attracted to the land spontaneously, so that the heart was Abraham's compass and lodestar. If Abraham had been mistaken in his adventurous selection of the land, everything would have been lost; Abraham would not have been the charismatic chosen leader and patriarch."
R. Soloveitchik, Abraham's Journey, p. 74

"So it is too that in the eyes of the world it is dangerous to venture...and to venture in the highest sense is precisely to become conscious of oneself."
Søren Kierkegaard, Sickness unto Death, p. 52 (Lowrie edition)

 "You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you - no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must", then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse."
 Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, p. 16 (Norton edition)



Monday, October 13, 2014

A Bm'ei ha'daga Production: haunting portraits of the homeless

Music by 8th Day - "Beggar Woman"

Today, she was sitting on the street
Sorrow in her eyes, a tin can at her feet
Holes in her stockings and holes in her shoes
She’s an old beggar woman no stranger to bad news

So I reached in my pocket to give a bill or two
In my heart I was trying to see what I could do
She thanked me for the money, I turned to walk away
But I waited for a moment as she began to say

G-d loves the widow and the orphan and the blind 
The old and the needy who haven’t got a dime 
G-d loves the sickly in his eyes we’re all the same 
And G-d he loves you too in the sunshine and the rain. (You just call upon His name)

I don’t know where she came from, don’t know her at all
But the wrinkles on her face, they kinda tell it all 
So reach in your pocket and give a bill or two 
And you can thank G-d in Heaven that the beggar isn’t you.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Great Divorce - Teshuva as Returning to Self

כששוכחים את מהות הנשמה העצמית, כשמסיחים דעה מלהסתכל בתוכיות החיים הפנימיים של עצמו, הכל נעשה מעורבב ומסופק. והתשובה הראשית, שהיא מאירה את המחשכים מיד, היא שישוב האדם אל עצמו, אל שורש נשמתו, ומיד ישוב אל , האלהים, אל נשמת כל הנשמות, וילך ויצעד הלאה מעלה מעלה בקדושה ובטהרה. ודבר זה נוהג בין באיש יחידי, בין בעם שלם, בין בכל האנושיות, בין בתקון כל ההויה כולה, שקלקולה בא תמיד ממה שהיא שוכחת את עצמה. ואם תאמר שהיא חפצה לשוב אל ד' ואת עצמה היא אינה מכוננת לקבץ את נדחיה, הרי היא תשובה של רמיה, שתשא ע"י זה את שם ד' לשוא. על כן רק באמת הגדולה של התשובה אל עצמו ישוב האדם והעם, העולם וכל העולמים, ההויה כולה, אל קונה, לאור באור החיים. וזהו הרז של אורו של משיח, הופעת נשמת העולם, שבהאירו ישוב העולם לשורש ההויה, ואור ד' עליו יגלה. וממקור התשובה הגדולה הזאת ישאב האדם את חיי הקודש של התשובה באמת
אורות התשובה טו י

The Great Divorce
Chapter Nine:

‘What troubles ye, son? asked my Teacher.
‘I am troubled, Sir,’ said I, ‘because that unhappy creature doesn’t seem to me to be the sort of soul that ought to be even in danger of damnation. She isn’t wicked: she’s only a silly, garrulous old woman who has got into a habit of grumbling, and feels that a little kindness, and rest, and change would due her all right.’
‘That is what she once was. That is maybe what she still is. If so, she certainly will be cured. But the whole question is whether she is now a grumbler.’
‘I should have thought there was no doubt about that!’
‘Aye, but ye misunderstand me. The question is whether she is a grumbler, or only a grumble. If there is a real woman- even the least trace of one – still inside the grumbling, it can be brought to life again. If there’s one wee spark under all those ashes, we’ll blow it till the whole pile is red and clear. But if there’s nothing but ashes we’ll not go on blowing them in our own eyes forever. They must be swept up.’
‘But how can there be a grumble without a grumbler?’
‘…But ye’ll have had experiences…it begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent of it and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no YOU left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine…

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Great Divorce - Retrospective Power of Teshuva

אמר ריש לקיש גדולה תשובה שזדונות נעשות לו כשגגות שנאמר (הושע יד, ב) שובה ישראל עד ה' אלהיך כי כשלת בעונך הא עון מזיד הוא וקא קרי ליה מכשול איני והאמר ריש לקיש גדולה תשובה שזדונות נעשות לו כזכיות שנאמר (יחזקאל לג, יט) ובשוב רשע מרשעתו ועשה משפט וצדקה עליהם (חיה) יחיה לא קשיא כאן מאהבה כאן מיראה
יומא פו ב

ר"ש בן יוחי אומר אפילו צדיק גמור כל ימיו ומרד באחרונה איבד את הראשונות שנאמר(יחזקאל לג, יב) צדקת הצדיק לא תצילנו ביום פשעו ואפילו רשע גמור כל ימיו ועשה תשובה באחרונה אין מזכירים לו שוב רשעו שנאמר (יחזקאל לג, יב) ורשעת הרשע לא יכשל בה ביום שובו מרשעו וניהוי כמחצה עונות ומחצה זכיות אמר ריש לקיש בתוהא על הראשונות

קידושין מ ב

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis:

BLAKE WROTE the Marriage of Heaven and Hell. If I have written of their Divorce, this is not because I think myself a fit antagonist for so great a genius, nor even because I feel at all sure that I know what he meant. But in some sense or other the attempt to make that marriage is perennial. The attempt is based on the belief that reality never presents us with an absolutely unavoidable "either-or"; that, granted skill and patience and (above all) time enough, some way of embracing both alternatives can always be found; that mere development or adjustment or refinement will somehow turn evil into good without our being called on for a final and total rejection of anything we should like to retain. This belief I take to be a disastrous error. You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys; on one journey even your right hand and your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind. We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision. Even on the biological level life is not like a pool but like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good.

I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A wrong sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot "develop" into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound, bit by bit, "with backward mutters of dissevering power"-or else not. It is still "either-or." If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell. I believe, to be sure, that any man who reaches Heaven will find that what he abandoned (even in plucking out his right eye) was precisely nothing: that the kernel of what he was really seeking even in his most depraved wishes will be there, beyond expectation, waiting for him in "the High Countries." 
In that sense it will be true for those who have completed the journey (and for no others) to say that good is everything and Heaven everywhere. But we, at this end of the road, must not try to anticipate that retrospective vision. If we do, we are likely to embrace the false and disastrous converse and fancy that everything is good and everywhere is Heaven.


"But I don't understand. Is judgment not final? Is there really a way out of Hell into Heaven?"

"It depends on the way you're using the words. If they leave that grey town behind it will not have been Hell. To any that leaves it, it is Purgatory. And perhaps ye had better not call this country Heaven. Not Deep Heaven, ye understand." (Here he smiled at me). "Ye can call it the Valley of the Shadow of Life. And yet to those who stay here it will have been Heaven from the first. And ye can call those sad streets in the town yonder the Valley of the Shadow of Death: but to those who remain there they will have been Hell even from the beginning."
I suppose he saw that I looked puzzled, for presently he spoke again.
"Son," he said, "ye cannot in your present state understand eternity: when Anodos looked through the door of the Timeless, he brought no message back. But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. Not only this valley but all this earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on earth too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell. That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, 'No future bliss can make up for it,' not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say 'Let me but have this and I'll take the consequences': little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man's past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man's past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say, 'We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,' and the Lost, 'We were always in Hell.' 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Conscience as the Voice of God


לְךָ אָמַר לִבִּי בַּקְּשׁוּ פָנָי אֶת פָּנֶיךָ ה אֲבַקֵּשׁ
On your behalf my heart says: 'Seek My presence'; Your face, Lord, I will seek. (Tehillim 27:8; see Rashi) 

Painting by Rivka Cyprys

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Great Divorce (C.S. Lewis) - From Snake to Stallion

רבי שמעון בן אלעזר אמר: כגמל היה, טובה גדולה חסר העולם, שאלמלא כן היה אדם משלח פרגמטיא בידו, והיה הולך ובא
מדרש רבה בראשית פרשה יט

  רבי שמעון בן מנסיא אומר, חבל על שמש גדול שאבד מן העולם. שאלמלא נתקלל הנחש, היה לו לכל אחד ואחד מישראל שני נחשים בתוך ביתו. אחד משגרו למערב ואחד משגרו למזרח, ומביאים להם סנדלכים טובים אבנים טובות ומרגליות וכל כלי חמד טוב שבעולם, ואין כל ברייה יכולה להחזיק אותן. ולא עוד, אלא שהיו מכניסין אותן תחת גמל תחת חמור תחת פרד, ומוציאין זבלים לגנות ולפרדסות
ז:א  אבות דרבי נתן

I saw coming towards us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder. Like all the Ghosts, he was unsubstantial, but they differed from one another as smokes differ. Some had been whitish; this one was dark and oily. What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience. "Shut up, I tell you!" he said. It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him. He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile. Then he turned and started to limp westward, away from the mountains.

"Off so soon?" said a voice.

The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him. His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too (for there was heat coming from him as well as light) like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.

"Yes. I'm off," said the Ghost. "Thanks for all your hospitality. But it's no good, you see.
I told this little chap," (here he indicated the lizard), "that he'd have to be quiet if he came -which he insisted on doing. Of course his stuff won't do here: I realize that. But he won't stop. I shall just have to go home."

"Would you like me to make him quiet?" said the flaming Spirit-an angel, as I now understood.

"Of course I would," said the Ghost.

"Then I will kill him," said the Angel, taking a step forward.

"Oh-ah-look out! You're burning me. Keep away," said the Ghost, retreating.

"Don't you want him killed?"

"You didn't say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that."
"It's the only way," said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the lizard. "Shall I kill it?"
"Well, that's a further question. I'm quite open to consider it, but it's a new point, isn't it? I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here-well, it's so damned embarrassing."

"May I kill it?"
"Well, there's time to discuss that later."

"There is no time. May I kill it?"

"Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please-really-don't bother. Look! It's gone to sleep of its own accord. I'm sure it'll be all right now. Thanks ever so much."

"May I kill it?"

"Honestly, I don't think there's the slightest necessity for that. I'm sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it."

"The gradual process is of no use at all."

"Don't you think so? Well, I'll think over what you've said very carefully. I honestly will. In fact I'd let you kill it now, but as a matter of fact I'm not feeling frightfully well to-day. It would be silly to do it now. I'd need to be in good health for the operation. Some other day, perhaps."

"There is no other day. All days are present now."

"Get back! You're burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You'd kill me if you did."

"It is not so."

"Why, you're hurting me now."

"I never said it wouldn't hurt you. I said it wouldn't kill you."

"Oh, I know. You think I'm a coward. But it isn't that. Really it isn't. I say! Let me run back by tonight's bus and get an opinion from my own doctor. I'll come again the first moment I can."

"This moment contains all moments."

"Why are you torturing me? You are jeering at me. How can I let you tear me to pieces? If you wanted to help me, why didn't you kill the damned thing without asking me-before I knew? It would be all over by now if you had."

"I cannot kill it against your will. It is impossible. Have I your permission?"

The Angel's hands were almost closed on the Lizard, but not quite. Then the Lizard began chattering to the Ghost so loud that even I could hear what it was saying.

"Be careful," it said. "He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you'll be without me for ever and ever. It's not natural. How could you live? You'd be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn't understand. He's only a cold, bloodless abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it isn't for us. Yes, yes. I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams. But aren't they better than nothing? And I'll be so good. I admit I've sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won't do it again. I'll give you nothing but really nice dreams-all sweet and fresh and almost innocent. You might say, quite innocent____"

"Have I your permission?" said the Angel to the Ghost.

"I know it will kill me."

"It won't. But supposing it did?"

"You're right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature."

"Then I may?"

"Damn and blast you! Go on can't you? Get it over. Do what you like," bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, "God help me. God help me."

Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken backed, on the turf.
"Ow! That's done for me," gasped the Ghost, reeling backwards.

For a moment I could make out nothing distinctly. Then I saw, between me and the nearest bush, unmistakably solid but growing every moment solider, the upper arm and the shoulder of a man. Then, brighter still and stronger, the legs and hands. The neck and golden head materialized while I watched, and if my attention had not wavered I should have seen the actual completing of a man-an immense man, naked, not much smaller than the Angel. What distracted me was the fact that at the same moment something seemed to be happening to the Lizard. At first I thought the operation had failed. So far from dying, the creature was still struggling and even growing bigger as it struggled. And as it grew it changed. Its hinder parts grew rounder. The tail, still flickering, became a tail of hair that flickered between huge and glossy buttocks. Suddenly I started back, rubbing my eyes. What stood before me was the greatest stallion I have ever seen, silvery white but with mane and tail of gold. It was smooth and shining, rippled with swells of flesh and muscle, whinneying and stamping with its hoofs. At each stamp the land shook and the trees dindled.

The new-made man turned and clapped the new horse's neck. It nosed his bright body. Horse and master breathed each into the other's nostrils. The man turned from it, flung himself at the feet of the Burning One, and embraced them. When he rose I thought his face shone with tears, but it may have been only the liquid love and brightness (one cannot distinguish them in that country) which flowed from him. I had not long to think about it. In joyous haste the young man leaped upon the horse's back. Turning in his seat he waved a farewell, then nudged the stallion with his heels. They were off before I well knew what was happening. There was riding if you like! I came out as quickly as I could from among the bushes to follow them with my eyes; but already they were only like a shooting star far off on the green plain, and soon among the foothills of the mountains. Then, still like a star, I saw them winding up, scaling what seemed impossible steeps, and quicker every moment, till near the dim brow of the landscape, so high that I must strain my neck to see them, they vanished, bright themselves, into the rose-brightness of that everlasting morning.

While I still watched, I noticed that the whole plain and forest were shaking with a sound which in our world would be too large to hear, but there I could take it with joy. I knew it was not the Solid People who were singing. It was the voice of that earth, those woods and those waters. A strange archaic, inorganic noise, that came from all directions at once. The Nature or Arch-nature of that land rejoiced to have been once more ridden, and therefore consummated, in the person of the horse. It sang,