The # 1 Most Widely Read Post of all 2011 (l'misparam)
Inspired by my reading of "Beyond Belief"
The events of the past week, very obviously demonstrate the way we understand our cultural history. But for the few of us that truly understand our history, as I do, untangling some of its complex strands has practical and intellectual consequences.
In my own case, the hardest - and the most challenging - is my never-ending research of Judaism's core values. I had to unlearn what I thought I knew, and was forced to shed presuppositions I had grown up with and taken for granted internally and intellectually.
This type of introspection, difficult to the extreme, has given me the depth of understanding of the Jewish doctrines to which is part of my very being, embedded in my DNA, and has assisted me in determining, at least for myself, what is divine and what is human.
For those who will never experience my struggle, there is no contradiction at all to the divine and human perception, the challenge is integrating the two. They are not diametrically opposed to one another as your ignorant rabbis would have you believe. They rule out that learned and spiritually inclined Jews, have always sought to discern spiritual truth via their intuition, reflection, senses, and creative imagination.
The rabbis that will deny you your God-given intellect, to experience on your own what humankind was destined to evolve into, a mirror-image of the beauty of what could and should be the Divine will of chochmat ha'briah; the understanding of the evolution of the intellect to adapt to today's realities of truth and practicality. What they would want you to forget, that only with the shedding of the "Church" as the arbiter of truth and morality in the U.S. Constitution, a mere couple of hundred of years ago, was then civilization, at least the United States, able to remove its intellectual shackles burdened and encumbered by nonsense, cruelty, ignorance and hell.
We've developed more in the last few hundred years, than we have in the last untold thousands. That does not come without a price, however. But that is not the thrust of this post.
Rabbis who will deny such experiences, can teach us anything they choose to about God,and have always identified themselves as our "guardians" of the ancient traditions, or Mesorah. They will preach with fire in their eyes and bimah-banging that it is only they that can determine your faithfulness - by your ability to abide by their interpretation of what was handed down from ancient witnesses -- never adding or subtracting anything unless you consult with them first. And these "guardians", who refer to themselves as the "eini ha'edah" or the eyes of the community, that this view of their role expresses appropriate humility; and it vests them and them alone of the Divine Truth, with God's own authority.
These so-called leaders, of course could not ban the imagination entirely, but they effectively channeled your religious imagination to support their opinions, no matter how cruel and ignorant they may be. Everything you are, they teach, is because you are merely an extension of them, not individuals who have the ability to know right from wrong. And if you stray; like Heaven forbid, do not consult with them if an ongoing series of heinous crimes and cover ups are transpiring under your noses, by the very rabbis that will have you consult with them only, than it is you that is the heretic, the maskil, the sheigetz, the oisvorf and the menuvel.
But in fact, these "heretics" having left the intellectual ghettos of Brooklyn, have impoverished the very system that they outgrew. These "heretics" often walk alone - despite the fact that the spiritual inquiry that they undertook, forcing them to leave their ghettos of origin behind, have become primary sources of inspiration to tens of thousands, and eventually their ideas to the vast majority of Jews, because ultimately I pray "right makes might"!
What such people seek, however, is NOT a different set of rules and obligations to their faith, but rather insights or intimations of the Divine, that would validate themselves in experience. Some who have engaged on this path pursue it in voluntary solitude; others participate in various forms of worship, prayer and action, or a combination of the above.
Engaging in such a practice requires the highest form of faith, or belief, but it also involves so much more; the trust that enables us to commit ourselves to what we hope and love. We have the knowledge and experience to declare boldly; "THIS IS NOT SO, I DO NOT ACCEPT THAT!"
The sociologist Peter Berger points out that everyone who participates in tradition today chooses among elements of that tradition. We survived thousands of years BECAUSE we were able to relive, reinvent, and transform what we received.
This act of choice - which the term heresy originally meant - leads us back to the problem that Orthodoxy meant to resolve; how can we tell truth from lies? What is genuine and thus connects us with one another and with reality, and what is shallow, self-serving, or evil? Anyone who has seen foolishness, sentimentality, delusion, and murderous rage disguised as God's truth, knows that there is no easy answer to this dichotomy. Orthodox Judaism distrusts our capacity to make such discrimination and insists on making them for us. Given the often notorious human capacity for self-deception, we can thank our so-called rabbis for this. And the many of you that wish to be spared hard work, gladly accept what these rabbis tell you.
But the fact that we do not have a simple answer, does not mean we should evade the question. We have also seen the hazards - even terrible harm - that sometimes result from unquestioning of religious authority. Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman's tyrannical, unforgivable conduct during the Holocaust comes immediately to mind. Thousands went to their death upon instruction from him. How many hundreds of thousands of "modeh ani l'fanechahs" will forever remain unsaid every morning from the mouths of children?, perhaps only God knows, but I suspect that He does not know either.
Many of us, however, sooner or later, at critical points in our lives, will have to make our own path where none exists. And that, done correctly, is a good thing. As for me, I am resolute, passionate in my beliefs, non-yielding to any ideological foe that crosses my path. I live in my head and in my contemplative soul. Any setback I view as temporary and a challenge to outhink my opponent. I never concede to evil, never...and I never will. My children and grandchildren are counting on me, whether they know it or not.
And so are you....
As the posuk in יְשַׁעְיָהוּ Isaiah - 10:13 says, "The light of Israel will be fire and its Holy One - flame, it will burn and consume its thorns..."