Sunday, February 25, 2018

Heaven On Earth

"Says Rava: A man is obligated to drink (on Purim) until he doesn't know the difference between "cursed is Haman" and "blessed is Mordechai" (Megillah, 7a).

Here we are, celebrating the miraculous salvation of the Jewish people, wherein the evil Haman and his supporters are killed as the saintly Mordechai rises to power, and the way we celebrate is... by getting too drunk to recognize the difference between the two? Granted, it's not unusual for people to get drunk at a party, but this is supposed to be the spiritual opportunity that the Ari'zal says is greater the Yom Kippur! (The Ari'zal famously says Yom Kippur is called "Yom HaKippurim" in the Torah because "Keh-Purim" also means "like Purim." In other words, it approximates Purim in its greatness.)

The answer follows my previous post. On the inside, we know the external world we live in doesn't really reflect what we know inside to be true. Enjoyments are temporary and weak, people are given credit they don't deserve, and there is even evil in the world. 

At the same time, we have this need to build and grow, actualize our potential, and tell right from wrong. Some philosophies attribute this to "ego." Not so in Judaism. The same אני, the "I" that senses the strangeness of our existence also demands that its reality be actualized and honored. The same thing that says we live in transition also says we should have a home.

Inorder to bring that world that is beyond externality here, we need revelation. The Torah that was revealed at Sinai is called תורה מן השמים, Torah from Heaven. The word שמים, heaven, can also be read as the plural of the word שמ, which means "there," or a destination. שמים is the "place" of destinations or ends. The word for land or earth, ארץ comes from the word רץ which means to run. The Jewish soul that doesn't ignore the inner conflict of transience and permanence demands that there be some way of having heaven on earth. That is Torah. The only way we can be in a world that is constantly running and vanishing and still have the permanence of true existence.

But why can't we just skip to the true existance part and forget about this whole existential conflict? Why did G-d make us this way?

This world is a transition to the world to come. But the world to come is not just a removed concept or fantasy - it is a world of Truth where nothing gets in the way of experiencing who you really are. Eternity means it doesn't depend on circumstances or time - everything just is what it is essentially and that's it. It's purely experiencing the destination. But it has to happen through this world. Like it says in Pirkei Avos (4,22), "one moment of returning to reality (teshuvah) and good actions in this world is more beautiful than all of life in the world to come, and one moment of serenity in the world to come is more beautiful than all of life in this world." Only by creating ourselves in this world can we experience the Truth of who we have become, or of our becoming. But those who are attentive can sense that supernal light seeping through special people even here in this world aswell.

The happiness of Purim is accepting Torah out of love. It means appreciating that the Torah gives meaning to a transient world and that we're here to be a part of something way bigger than what we can possibly understand right now. So we drink until Haman and Mordechai, good and evil, external falsehood and internal truth, all blend together until the life that reaches beyond all of it shines through.     

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Perfect Moment (?)

Why did the chicken cross the road? To post it on facebook of course! What other reason could there be for crossing the road? Getting to the other side just isn't as exciting or arousing. And things are always supposed to be exciting and arousing... aren't they?

If you look around, you see attractive looks, impressive titles accolades. You see a series of idyllic freeze frames with just the right smiles and just the right lighting, HD, the music just right in the background. Perfect.

Perhaps, amidst all of this, a nervousness shuffles inside, rumbling and foreboding. If it would speak, it would say, "Why can't I be like that? Why am I different?" As much as you want to get into it, the perfection of the moment you anticipated doesn't really land the way you feel it should.

The Gemara (Nedarim, 9) tells of a young shepherd with beautiful eyes and locks of hair who is praised for being a rare case of appropriately becoming a nazarite (a vow to abstain from wine for a limited time and shave your head). He saw his reflection in a well, felt his creative powers aroused, and said to his evil inclination "Evil one! Why do you pride yourself on a world that is not your own?" Whereupon he immediately made a nazarite vow to distance himself from the falseness.

The lesson of this gemara is not necessarily about abstinance. Even for your average person who doesn't take on extra restrictions, it's important to know the world of appearances is a world that is "not his own." We don't live in freeze frames. Everything we see in this world is gone in the blink of an eye, every moment in time is gone as soon at it has come and we are constantly evolving. But there is a part of us that feels that our existence really has more permanence to it, and that things should last forever. If that's not "my world" than what or where is it? When we look to "kodak moments" for an answer, an eerie kind of feeling says why isn't this working?

We live in a transitional world. We are all "crossing the road," so to speak. Embracing the impermanence of this world is conuter-intuitive to the western mind, but it's actually not depressing with the right approach. And logically, it shouldn't be depressing, to the extent that it's just a fact of life. Jewishly, any fact of life has to have some purpose to it. We don't live in a cruel world or a meaningless world where happiness comes from ignoring reality. That just doesn't make sense.

And  a concientious Jewish person is also uncomfortable with a philosophy of total impermanence and doing away with the self. We want to know where the permenence that we so deeply desire can be found - and it has to be more than a far-removed notion of life after death.

This post is meant to bring up the question of impermanence as something everyone has to deal with. Just accepting that its a question worth adressing is a big step. G-d willing I'll give some insight into the Jewish approach to the answer in the future. But in the meantime, Rav Chaim Volloziner's metaphor: The world is a rapid river that will drown you in its current, and the Torah is a solid boulder - would you not hold on for dear life?