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?

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