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?

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