7/21/2005

Broken Vessels

Now that the review has been posted and read by a whole lot of new readers (thanks in large part to DovBear, Presence, Devarim, and the Back Row, all of whom linked to it), I've asked myself the following question:

What did I accomplish by it? Was it constructive? Is it only adding fuel to the fire? How did I further the cause of Torah?

I can't claim that I wrote that piece totally 'le-shem shamayim', that it was devoid of any frustration or anger; however, I feel justified in it and would like to try to articulate why. Some of the points - such as the problem of 'frowning' upon' women saying Kaddish, I feel are obviously justified. I feel that I should address the general thrust, however, more broadly.

"God has spoken one; I have heard two" - One Torah was given at Sinai. 600,000 Torahs were recieved. Every Jew has a unique grasp of Torah, and an individual relationship to it. How so?

"There is no Beit Midrash devoid of innovation" - the process of innovation, chiddush, isn't about thinking of something that hasn't been thought of before. It's not about the intellectual tricks and gymnastics. It's about an Eternal Will of God striking my mind, with all of its flaws and shortcomings, to produce something that had never existed before: my Torah. In the authentic experience of Torah study, chiddush is inevitable. If I remain honest with the text and honest with myself, my study will bear new fruit.

Perhaps one could suggest that this vision is elitist; not everyone will reach a level of learning where they will be able to offer new interpretations that remain in the spirit of the Totality of Torah. Indeed, there's a lot of junk out there that's passed off as 'Torah'. The devil himself can quote scripture.

"A person doesn't learn, but what his heart desires." - I would counter that anyone is capable of being honest, anyone is capable of thinking about what they learn, and everyone has personal experiences that makes what they learn resonate in a different way. In truth, it's when it resonates in this way, is approached in this way, that the encounter with Torah becomes more real. The pleasure, the fulfillment, dare I say, the orgasm of the true encounter with God through the vehicle of Torah study is at its height when who's learning is really, really me, and what's being learned is really, really God's Will.

Perhaps you'll say that I'm reccomending Karism or antinomianism. Doesn't there need to be a unity, a uniformity, a standard of what ought be done, lest each person practice their own religion?

Well, yes and no. Anything that I produce through my learning is perceived and judged on two different levels - the theoretical and the practical - and in two different modes - internally and externally. Theoretical - these ideas, these understandings - do they corroborate the rest of Torah? Practical - if the implication of my learning is to behave in a particular way, how does that relate to the way that Jews have behaved historically? Internal - how does this relate to what I know. External - how does this relate to what is generally understood in the hearts and minds of the Jewish people. The theoretical naturally has more leeway than the practical, in that it's always allowed for more possibilities and that theoretical variance is obvious than practical variance. Practical variance exists but is much more strongly rooted in precedence or perceived precedence. Theoretical innovation has a much greater chance of absorption than practical innovation.

There's a term for this set of constraints, which inform and critique the way I understand and apply the Torah. The term is Mesorah. The only new Torah which will be incorporated into the ever expanding Totality of Torah is that which germinates within the constraints imposed by mesorah.

But what about all of us who weren't taught to think? Who haven't been granted the opportunity to make Torah our own (kinyan Torah), who find learning it to be interesting and informative at best, boring and obsolete at worst, but have never experienced - never been allowed or encouraged or taught to experience - the all-consuming passion of encountering God through Torah, engaging and applying every fiber of my being, seeking (lidrosh) meaning from every word, struggling to break beyond the word to find the Light and Life that they contain. What are we supposed to do?

There's an esoteric Jewish teaching that when God came to create the world, he broke something. Oftentimes, we experience creativity in the same way; it is often preceded by destruction.
[this concept has its parallel in the laws of Shabbat, in which only 'constructive destruction', to coin an oxymoron, is Biblically prohibited.]
Moving forward demands freeing one's self from whatever holds one back.

"My soul thirsts for God, for the Living God. When will I approach and see His Face?"
"All that God has created, He created only for His Glory..."
I have posted my criticism for the sake of those Jewish souls whose growth has been stunted from lack of fresh air and sunlight, completely unaware of their own possibilities and potentials. Created to live, they are imprisoned by conformity. Yearning for the Living God, they cannot move beyond those who claim to be His spokesmen, who calm them by singing beautiful but empty lullabys.

I feel that I have done them a service by sounding the alarm.
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