Saturday, December 31, 2016

Gaze, Don't Touch

Aristotle says that what makes man different than animals is that he can appreciate things for their own sake. On Chanukah, we say about the menorah, we are not allowed to use the light, only to gaze at it. But isn’t Chanukah about fighting the greeks? Answer: yes and no. It is true, part of what makes us different than animals is that we can appreciate things for their own sake. But if that means greek style olympian games that worship external beauty and the public sphere, it actually makes us worse than animals. Most of what we find in this world exists not for its own sake but as a means to an end. What makes us better than animals is appreciating specifically the light of the menorah for its own sake, which represents the subtle but powerful radiance that comes from doing good, and being rooted in an internal, and higher world.

Pearls and Sparks

Hebrew is also called the “holy tongue." It describes each thing according to the function it represents in creation. The word for pearl in Hebrew, פנינה (penina)comes from the word פנימי (pnimi), which means internal. A pearl is made when a mollusk is bothered by an intruder. The mollusk slowly encapsulates the intruder by excreting calcium carbonate again and again, eventually forming a precious stone in its inner chamber. More than a plattitude or quip, a pearl is an insight that invites considerable contemplation.
“Sparks” of Torah have dispersed throughout the world, to be recovered by the various exiles of the Jewish people.  Disguised and muddled, they bare a faint reminiscence to the light they originate from.  My hope is that by sharing some short Torah thoughts related to observations of the world, readers will be enticed to mull them over, search for more sparks, and form pearls of their own.