Thursday, February 9, 2017

Purpose, Complacency, and Anxiety.

The notion that our technology and sociological advancement provide us comfort and independence is foreign to the Torah world-view. In fact, comfort itself can be anti-advancement.

When the Jews left the slavery of Egypt, they were leaving behind both the bonds of physical labor and the burden of an anti-spiritual world-view. Even the word for Egypt, מצרים comes from the word for narrow, צר, which also means suffering. The whole society was built on physicality without respect for intimate relationships, and worship of physical representations of spiritual ideas. The way this nature was established as its foundation was through the source of its livelihood: the Nile. The Nile was the sole source of irrigation in a primarily agricultural society. Everything depended on the Nile. Unlike in the land of Israel, where people depended mostly on rain, Egypt didn't have to turn to the heavens for life. שאו מרום עיניכם וראו מי ברא אלה, "Lift your eyes upwards and see who created these" (Isaiah 40, 26). They were comfortable, and their comfort kept them in their narrow world view, never thinking about where life comes from and what they could do to bring it down. Leaving the Egyptian mentality required the Jews to journey into the dessert without provisions and to depend entirely on sustenance from heaven. That was the only way they could begin to see things the way G-d sees them.

You also see this idea on a more individual level. King David said שמרני כאישון בת עין "Guard me like the pupil of the eye" (Tehillim 17,8). The Midrash explains Davids request in a metaphor, like two people, one from the north traveling south, and one from the south traveling north, asking each other to guard each other's vineyards. The Maharal explains (Nesiv HaTorah 16), just like each person has something precious that is far away from him, every Jew has a soul that is too spiritual to really belong in this physical world. That's why a person feels like he needs special protection. Just like the pupil of an eye is extra sensitive because of its refined quality, so too the soul feels vulnerable because it doesn't really belong in this world in the first place! This feeling, if it is directed properly, catalyzes a person to strengthen his relationship with Hashem through Torah and Mitzvos. It pushes him to recognize that the only reason his lofty soul is enduring in this physical world is so that he can acquire the goodness of a relationship with Hashem. But when he ignores this feeling of vulnerability, he can ignore the higher part of himself and just go along his merry way without ever getting beyond the surface. Or, he could stay in a kind of middle ground, where he doesn't totally ignore it, but also doesn't open up to see things differently - and that's where you find anxiety. Its the place between sublime calmness of purpose and the complacency of ignorance is bliss. 

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