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.

But in order to bring that reality about, 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. Having Torah from heaven is how we can have heaven on earth, the way we can live in transition in a way that is simultaneously transient and eternal. Torah is called a "path" because by doing what it says and making it our way of life it becomes our reality. With Torah, running the race is winning the race

Consider, if G-d needed things to get done in the world, He could just do them Himself. If He's giving us a to-do list, it's because there is something special about us doing it. And while we know just from within ourselves is that there has to be something that satisfies this deep yearning we have, and that that's what life is about, whatever satisfies this need is the kind of thing that has to come from beyond us (that's where the ego can get in the way for someone who feels he's the be all end all). 

The Jewish perspective is that we live in transition between this world and 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. It's where you live totally connected to your "to come," to you end goal, even as you are constantly growing. We are placed in this world in order elevate our natures by choosing good over evil and becoming partners in creation by creating ourselves, but the truth of who we become, or, the truth of our becoming, is something that can't really be contained in this fleeting world. We are here for there to be Torah from heaven on earth. 

The happiness of Purim is accepting Torah out of love. It means embracing that our life in this world is transient, but because it is transient, and because we live amidst externality and potential for evil, we can bring about revelation and we can be a part of something way beyond and totally eternal. So we drink until Haman and Mordechai, good and evil, external falsehood and internal truth, all work together to bring out our happiness and our true selves.  

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Moment Like This (some people wait a lifetime)

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 what seems like attractive looks, impressive titles accolades. You see a series of idyllic freeze frames, HD, movies that show you specific angles and scenes and music that tell you how to feel and what it means (even if the feeling is uncertainty or the meaning is metaphorical).

Perhaps, amidst all of this, a nervousness shuffles inside, rumbling and foreboding. If it would speak, it would say, "Why should I feel the way they tell me to feel? Why do I feel resistance? Why am I different?" As much as you want to get into it, the perfection of the moment 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.

Anyone can choose abstinence, but it takes a special person to do it because he really knows he's dealing with a world that is "not his own." We don't live in freeze frames. Every moment is gone as soon as it comes, our feelings and enjoyments come and go, and our bodies age and die. But there is a part of us that feels that our existence really has more permanence to it, and that things should last forever.

The truth is that both sides are true. We live in a transitional world. We are all "crossing the road," so to speak.When we jump up for joy and close our eyes and hope we will just stay up their, suspended above the ground, we are dissapointed. But if we say that this fleeting, ephemeral quality of things is all there is, then the אני, the "I" that is not ephemeral is denied its voice.

Embracing the impermanence of this world is conuter-intuitive to the western mind, but this kind of perspective is actually not depressing. When people are in transition, they focus on essentials and don't get stuck on small things. What is actually depressing is when you run and run and feel you're supposed to be getting somewhere but your not. And what is actually anxiety-provoking is the sense that something from inside that says you're not really settled is haunting you.

But a concientious Jewish person wants to know where the permenence that I so deeply desire can be found - and it has to be more than a far-removed notion of life after death.

G-d willing I will shed some light on how true happiness is born from this search, and about the happiness of Purim in a world of appearances. 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?