Friday, January 6, 2017

Hungry? Eat a Mitzvah

Continuing on the theme from last week...

Isiah 1:3: "ידע שור קונו וחמור אבוס בעליו ישראל לא ידע עמי לא התבונן" An Oxe knows its master and a donkey its manager, Israel doesn't know, My nation doesn't reflect!? 

The prophet is giving rebuke, provoking repentance and return. Simply stated, he's saying, if even these animals can recognize their masters who provide for them, why do the Jews act as if there were no Master?

On second thought, it is really a strange comparison. Animals recognize their master because they see him feeding them. They feel hungry, and instinctually seek out the source of their previous meal. And if they obey their master, it is only because they have been trained to do so. These animals never asked themselves why bad things happen to good people, never pondered infinity, never heard a debate between a theologian and an atheist. What merit would it be for the Jewish people if they were more like these animals that follow there survival instincts? What has faith go to do with Pavlov's dogs?

We tend to think of survival instincts as being at odds with a religious view of life. We place evolution at on extreme, together with a principle of survival of the fittest, and creationism at the other, together with free will and divine intervention.

Isiah lives in a different paradigm. Man is not just a very intelligent animal. He has a body, and he has a נשמה (neshama) a soul. Just like his body has instincts like an animal does, so does his neshama. The neshama is also hungry. When the Jews act as if there is no creator and no special relationship with Him, it is spiritually unnatural. They still have their spiritual hunger, but they turn to things that don't satisfy them, or try to ignore their hunger all together.

We do all kinds of funny things that even animals would never do, and we can be existentially passionate about all sorts of things that don't really hit the spot like they should. If we would only recognize what this hunger really is, everything would be different.    
(based on a sermon of Rav Elyah Lopian)

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