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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sippur Yetsiat Mitzriam, Narrative Therapy and Amalek as Deconstruction

“Narrative therapists are interested in working with people to bring forth and thicken stories that do not support or sustain problems. As people begin to inhabit and live out the alternative stories, the results are beyond solving problems. Within the new stories, people live out new self images, new possibilities for relationships and new futures.” 
Narrative Therapy: The Social Construction of Preferred Realities, Jill Freedman and Gene Combs, p.16

"This book is not about imposing new stories on people's lives or giving advice. Instead, this book invites readers to take a new look at their own lives and to find significance in events often neglected, to find sparkling actions that are often discounted, to find fascination in experiences previously overlooked, and to find solutions to problems and predicaments in landscapes often previously considered bereft...This will provide the reader with the options in knowing how to go forward." 
Retelling the Stories of Our Lives: Everyday Narrative Therapy to Draw Inspiration and Transform Experience, by David Denborough, p. x, quoting Michael White

“Every time we ask a question, we're generating a possible version of a life” 
David Epston, in Freedman & Combs, p. 113

"It is stated in the Haggada that 'All those that tell the story at length is praiseworthy,' for story-telling [sippur] leads to knowledge [da'at], as the verse states 'and that you may tell in the ears of your son, and of your grandson...  that you may know that I am the Lord.' Since the Exodus from Egypt is written in the Torah and the Torah was given to Israel, it has the potential to awaken the force of redemption, for the redemption moves from potential to actual through story-telling. This is similar to the relationship between the Written Torah and the Oral Torah through which Israel creates new understandings of Torah. This comes through the power of language, which reveals hidden reasons.

The Tannaim [R. Yosi the Gallilean, R. Eliezer, and R. Akiva] mentioned in the Haggada accomplished this when they expounded that each plague consisted of four or five plagues and at the splitting of the sea two-hundred and fifty plagues. These plagues were hidden in the plagues [explicit in the narrative], and they brought them from potential to actual. This is the meaning of  'All those that tell the story at length is praiseworthy,' that they increase and expand the miracles through story-telling of the Exodus. 

The final redemption will emerge when all of the hidden aspects of the narrative of the Exodus from Egypt will become clarified. The initial redemption included within it the future redemption...through remembering and recounting the Exodus it will bring the Messianic era. 

When Israel left Egypt it was intended that this would be the final rectification, with the revelation of God is One and His Name is One. However, the wicked Amalek confused Israel, as it states: '[Amalek] cooled you [the Children of Israel] on the way'. Therefore we must remember our hatred of Amalek for all time since they caused all future exile. Only through telling the story of the Exodus from Egypt every year will the ultimate rectification emerge and the name of Amalek erased little by little." 

Sefat Emet, Pesach, 5635

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The idolatry of technology

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands.

They have mouths, but they speak not: they have eyes, but they see not:

They have ears, but they hear not: they have noses , but they smell not:

They have hands, but they feel not: they have feet, but they walk not: nor do they speak through their throat.

They that make them shall become like them; all of those that put their promise in them.

Tehillim 115:4-8 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"at thirty strength" (Avot 5:25)

It happens often in the twenty-ninth year of a life that all the forces that have been engaged through the years of childhood, adolescence and youth in confused and ferocious combat range themselves in ordered ranks (and during which) the straight and narrow gateway of maturity, and life which was all uproar and confusion narrows down to form and purpose, and we exchange a great dim possibility for a small hard reality. 

Also in our American life where there is no coercion in custom and it is our right to change our vocation so often as we have desire and opportunity, it is a common experience that our youth extends through the whole first twenty-nine years of our life and it is not till we reach thirty that we find at last that vocation for which we feel ourselves fit and to which we willingly devote continued labor.

Gertrude Stein, Fernhurst, p. 29

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Inspiration vs. Perspiration

אמר ר' יצחק אם יאמר לך אדם יגעתי ולא מצאתי אל תאמן לא יגעתי ומצאתי אל תאמן יגעתי ומצאתי תאמן
מגילה ו:

"Rabbi Yitzchak said: If someone tells you, "I labored (studying Torah) but I did not find," don't believe him. If he tells you "I haven't labored, yet I did find," don't believe him. If, however, he tells you "I have labored and did find," you may believe him." 

As [Ruth Stone] was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out, working in the fields and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming...cause it would shake the earth under her feet, she knew she had only one thing to do at that point. That was to, in her words, "run like hell" to the house as she would be chased by this poem.
The whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. Other times she wouldn't be fast enough, so she would be running and running, and she wouldn't get to the house, and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it, and it would "continue on across the landscape looking for another poet".
And then there were these times, there were moments where she would almost miss it. She is running to the house and is looking for the paper and the poem passes through her. She grabs a pencil just as it's going through her and she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. In those instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact, but backwards, from the last word to the first.^ Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity,, Feb 2009

Friday, October 18, 2013

Torah Sh'b'al Peh and Greece

כי תקנה עבד עברי. To the unprejudiced mind, nothing can show so strikingly the truth of the traditional oral-law as the first two paragraphs [of Shemot 21], V. 2-6 and 7-11, with which this “Mosaic Lawgiving” starts. The civil and criminal laws of the Nation are to be given, the fundamental basis and the ordinances of justice and humanness are to be laid down, which are to govern the relationship and behavior of man to his fellow-man in the state; the first matter to be dealt with, quite naturally deals with the rights of man, and this starts with the sentences: “When a man sells another man,” and “when a man sells his daughter!” What an unthinkable enormity if actually this “written word” of the “book of Law of the Jewish Nation” should really be the one and only sole source of the Jewish conception of “Rights.” What a mass of laws and principles of jurisprudence must have already been said and fixed, considered, laid down and explained, before the Book of Law could reach these, or even speak of these, which, after all, are only quite exceptional cases. And it is with these sentences, the contents of which deny and limit the very holiest personal right of man, the right to personal freedom, that the Law begins. But it is quite a different matter if the written word, the “Book” is not the real source of the Jewish conception of Rights, if this source is the traditional law, which was entrusted to the living word to which this “book” is only to be an aid to memory and reference, when doubts arise…

“The תורה שבכתב is to be to the תורה שבעל פה in the relation of short notes on a full and extensive lecture on any scientific subject. For the student who has heard the whole lecture, short notes are quite sufficient to bring back afresh to his mind at any time the whole subject of the lecture. For him, a word, an added mark of interrogation, or exclamation, a dot, the underlining of a word etc. etc. is often quite sufficient to recall to his mind a whole series of thoughts, a remark etc. For those who had not heard the lecture of the Master, such notes would be completely useless. If they were to try to reconstruct the scientific contents of the lecture literally from such notes they would of necessity make many errors. Words, marks, etc., which serve those scholars who had heard the lecture as instructive guiding stars to the wisdom that had been taught and learnt, stare at the uninitiated as unmeaning sphinxes. The wisdom, the truths, which the initiated reproduce from them (but do not produce out of them) are sneered at by the uninitiated, as being merely clever or witty play of words and empty dreams without any real foundation.”

R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, Commentary of the Torah (trans. Isaac Levy), Shemot 21:2

“It seems to me, indeed, that in order to understand the works of the philosophers of antiquity we must take account of all the concrete conditions in which they were wrote, all the constraints that weighed upon them: the framework of the school, the very nature of philosophia, literary genres, rhetorical rules, dogmatic imperatives, and traditional modes of reasoning…I do want to stress the fact that written works in the period we study are never completely free of the constraints imposed by oral transmission. In fact, it is an exaggeration to assert, as has still been done recently, that Greco-Roman civilization early on became a civilization of writing and that one can thus treat, methodologically, the philosophical works of antiquity like any other written work.

“For the written works of this period remain closely tied to oral conduct. Often they were dictated to a scribe. And they were intended to be read aloud, either by a slave reading to his master or by the reader himself, since in antiquity reading customarily meant reading aloud, emphasizing the rhythm of the phrase and the sound of the words, which the author himself has already experienced when he dictated his work. The ancients were extremely sensitive to these effects of sound…

“This relationship between the written and the spoken word thus explains certain aspects of the works of antiquity. Quite often the work proceeds by the associations of ideas, without systematic rigor. The work retains the starts and stops, the hesitations, and the repetitions of spoken discourse. Or else, after re-reading what he has written, the author introduces a somewhat forced systematization by adding transitions, introductions, or conclusions to different parts of the work…

“More than other literature, philosophical works are linked to oral transmission because ancient philosophy itself is above all oral in character. Doubtless there are occasions when someone was converted by reading a book, but one would then hasten to the philosopher to hear him speak, question him, and carry on discussions with him and other disciples in a community that always serves as a place of discussion. In matters of philosophical teaching, writing is only an aid to memory, a last resort that will never replace the living word.”
Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a way of life (ed. Arnold I. Davidson), pp. 62-63

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Sound of Silence

“The silence in the wadi is an ancient silence, so overwhelming that it is almost a presence, a sound. Perhaps it is the sound of God. It feels that way to me. I feel that I am in the presence of majesty, of glory. As the explanation for one of the most important prayers on Rosh HaShana and Yom Kipper relates: God is the sound of a still soft voice. In the book of Kings, Elijah flees to wilderness, to hide in a cave. Perhaps this cave is connected to the cave where Koby was killed. There, Elijah was told that God would appear. He felt a strong wind, heard an earthquake and saw a fire, but God was not in any of these. God instead was in a soft hushed voice. God’s presence is not something that forces you to recognize it; you have to listen very hard to hear. You have to make room for it in your own silence. That the silence in this canyon: it’s not an emptiness. The silence is like putting your ear to the hush of a shell that has been waiting for you to pick it up from the beginning of time.

“The silence of the cave, the silence of the canyon – in the face of pain and suffering, silence respects the mystery of life and the limits of language. It says that there is more to our lives that we can speak about. It admits there is another way of knowing and that knowing is sometimes in the space between words.”
The Blessing of a Broken Heart, by Sherri Mandell, pp. 59-60

“R. Aryeh Levine recounted:

“…I derived particularly great pleasure at sitting before the Nazir, R. David Cohen, and listening to the ‘sound of his silence.’ It was a kind of mysterious sound, an exalted sound. The sound of sublime song emanated and ascending from his silence.

“Once, I was confronted with a very serious and urgent matter, and I could not decide how to act. I went to consult with out master, Rav Kook zt”l, but, by chance, he was not home at the time. I entered the beit midrash and found it practically empty. Only R. David Cohen was there, sitting in a corner, immersed in his studies. I went up to him and greeted him cordially. He reciprocated with a cheerful grin and motioned to me that I should sit down. I sat down next to him, and neither of us uttered a word for close to half-an-hour. We just sat there silently. Afterwards, I stood up, took my leave, and returned home. When I arrived, I felt as if all of my questions and doubts were solved. Everything that I wanted to ask seemed so simple now, so clear. It was amazing.

“R. Chayim Ya’akov Levine, R. Aryeh’s son, once told this story to Rav Kook, and the Rav responded: ‘Why was [your father] so amazed? Does he think that our R. David is the silent type? Not so. R. David talks a lot; he doesn’t stop talking. It’s just that he speaks in his own unique language – the language of silence, which is the language of wisdom.’

“Then the Rav added: ‘The Maharal of Prague writes in Nitivot Olam that wisdom can take hold [only] in the realm of thought, a realm where folly has no grasp. Wisdom can exist in thought because it is spiritual; folly, on the other hand, cannot, for it is [more] material. Folly has no existence until it materializes and becomes embodied in speech. Silence is an expression of thought; it is the language of wisdom. This is what Elifaz meant when he said. There was silence, and I heard a voice (Iyov 4:16). And when two hears unite in silence, they can hear a voice passing from one to the other.”
-An Angel Among Men: Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, by Simcha Rav (trans. Moshe Lichtman), pp. 371-373

“Someone once asked the Heilige R. Nachman of Breslov, ‘How loud should a person yell when he davens [prays]?’ And R. Nachman answered, ‘You have to pray so loud that nobody can hear a thing…’

“You know, all the Holy Masters had different ways of giving over their exalted teachings to their chasidim. Sometimes they gave formal lessons or Torah discourses, Or maybe they’d clothe their message in the form of stories or parables. But there was one Rebbe, the Heilige R. Menachem Mendel of Vorka, the younger son of the Holy R. Yitzchak Vorker, who was different than all the rest. Not only did he never give classes, he mamash hardly ever spoke at all. R. Mendele taught through silence. And so he was called the Silent Tzaddik, the Silent Rebbe.”

Lamed Vav: a collection of the favorite stories of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, p. 267

Rav Dovid Cohen, The Nazir

Monday, September 2, 2013

Mirrors: Part II

 וְאִם-בְּאֵלֶּה לֹא תִוָּסְרוּ, לִי וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי קֶרִי
 וְהָלַכְתִּי אַף-אֲנִי עִמָּכֶם בְּקֶרִי
 וְהִכֵּיתִי אֶתְכֶם גַּם-אָנִי שֶׁבַע עַל חַטֹּאתֵיכֶם
“If despite these you will not be chastised toward Me, and you behave casually with Me, then I, too, will behave toward you will casualness; and I will strike you, even I, seven ways for your sins.”
Vayikra 26:23-24

עִם-חָסִיד תִּתְחַסָּד  עִם-גְּבַר תָּמִים תִּתַּמָּם 
 עִם-נָבָר תִּתְבָּרָר וְעִם-עִקֵּשׁ תִּתְפַּתָּל
“With the devout You acted devoutly, with the wholehearted man You act wholeheartedly. With the pure you act purely, and with the crooked you acted perversely.”
Tehillim 18:26-27 (see also Mishlei 3:34)

 ה΄ שֹׁמְרֶךָ   ה΄ צִלְּךָ עַל-יַד יְמִינֶךָ
“God is your guardian; God is your shade/shadow at your right hand.”
Tehillim 121:5

אמר לו הק΄ למשה, משה אמור להן לישראל שמי אהיה אשר אהיה, ומהו אהיה אשר אהיה, כשם שאתה הווה עמי, כך אני הווה עמך, מסרתי להם שתי מידות טובות המשפט והצדק, אם עושין הן משפט, אין אני עושה משפט, ואני משפיע טובות, אם אינן עושין משפט, אני עושה משפט ומחריב העולם, וכן בצדקה, אם פותחין הן את ידיהן ונותנין, אף אני אפתח להן...

וכן אמר דוד ה΄ שומרך, ה΄ צלך על יד ימינך (תהילים קכ"א), כצלך, מה צלך, אם אתה משחוק לו הוא משחיק לך, אם אתה בוכה לו, הוא בוכה כנגדך, אם אתה נותן לו פנים זועפות, אף הוא נותן לך כך, ואם פנים מסוברות אתה נותן, אף הוא נותן לך...

“The Holy One said to Moshe: Moshe tell Israel that my name is ‘I will be as I will be.’ What is the meaning of “I will be as I will be? Just as you are with me, I will be with you. I gave you two good attributes – justice and charity. If you judge [appropriately], I will not judge; If you do not judge, I will judge and destroy the world. So too regarding charity: If you open up your hands and give, I too will open [my hands] to you…

“Similarly, David said ‘God is your guardian; God is your shadow at your right hand.’ As a shadow – if you play with your shadow, it plays as well, if you cry to it, it cries in response to you, if you give it an angry face, as such it will return to you, and if you give it a happy face, so will it give to you…”
מדרש השכם\ספר והזהיר על פרשת משפטים[i]  

כַּמַּיִם, הַפָּנִים לַפָּנִים כֵּן לֵב-הָאָדָם, לָאָדָם
“As a face is reflected in water, so the heart of man to man.”
Mishlei 27:19

וכמו שהאדם דבק להשי״ת כן הקב״ה מדבק בו
וכמ״ש ועל הכסא דמות כמראה אדם
וכן כל הנביאים ראו בדמות אדם לפי שהן אדם לכן מראה עצמו להם בדמות אדם
“As a person cleaves to God, so The Holy One cleaves to him. This is the meaning of the verse ‘And on the throne [of glory], an image like the face of Man.’ So too, all of the prophets saw in [their visions of the heavenly throne] the image of Man since they are men. Thus, He shows Himself to them in the image of Man”
Peirush ha’Gra on Mishlei 27:19

כל נביאים נסתכלו באספקלריא שאינה מאירה, משה רבינו נסתכל באספקלריא המאירה
“All the prophets looked through a poorly reflective mirror; Moshe looked through a highly shined mirror.”
Yevamot 49b (see Sukkah 45b)[ii]

בא ליטמא פותחין לו, בא ליטהר מסייעים אותו
“If one comes to defile himself, they [heaven] provide an opening for him. If one comes to purify himself, they help him."
Shabbat 104a[iii]

במדה שאדם מודד, בה מודדין לו
“In the measure that a person measures [his actions], so they [heaven] measure to him”
Sotah 8b[iv]

בדרך שאדם רוצה לילך, בה מוליכין אותו
“In the way a person wishes to go, in that way they [heaven] lead him.”
Makkot 10b

[i] See Ramban and Torah Shleimah on Shemot 3:13; Avodat haKodesh, Chapter 16; Midrash Shmuel on Avot 3:17; Sefer ha’Shelah, Toldot Adam, Sha’ar ha’Gadol; Kedushat Levi in many places in the name of the Ba’al Shem Tov (e.g. Derasha l’Chanukah); Nefesh ha’Chaim 1:6. For a discussion of this imagery see Moshe Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives, Chapter 8.

[ii] Regarding the meaning of “Aspaklaria” as “mirror,” see Keilim 30:2 (and commentaries there), Yerushalmi Berakhot 8:6 (and Mareh Pnim there) and Tikkunei Zohar 19 (#73).

[iii] See also Yoma 39b, which Torah Temimah quotes on Vayikra 11:43 and relates to Tehillim 121:5. 

[iv] For similar sources and applications, see Shabbat 105b, Pesachim 69a, Rosh Hashana 12b, Yevamot 107b, Nedarim 32a, Sanhedrin 90a and 108a, Chullin 127a, Arachin 16b, Bereshit Rabbah 9, Bamidbar Rabbah 11, Devarim Rabbah 11, Introduction to Eicha Rabbah, Mekhilta Beshalach 6.