Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More G-d Stuff

I don't follow this one regularly, but I do pop in from time to time. This post got my attention, most notably, this paragraph:

"We are all afraid of Judaism becoming irrelevant. But we are afraid for different reasons, and our hearts sing in different ways. I have a place for feeling in my heart. I have a place for the Hasidism which sings such feeling and makes it true. It is in the way they sing and dance, as Professor Malter told his son. The scholarly world of academia cannot quite sing and dance like that. And as for me, there is something of that lightness in me, something that I would like to retain, that I cannot give up. I will not give it up."

This is my Chabbad background coming up again. (Just out of curiosity, how many of my readers, excluding Nemo, Yoni, and the Sabra, have learned hard core Chabbad Torah? I'm just curious, it would be cool if I could get a head count.) When Chabbad originally got started as a Chassidic movement, it had a mission statement: to combine Litvishe lomdus with all the emotional transcendence of Chassidut. As anyone who's actually been inside a Chabbad community long enough to be able to get at some actual Chabbad Torah knows, this is exactly what they accomplished. The Rebbe's sichot are intensely logical arguments, mostly between the Rambam and the Rashba, and half of Tanya is basically gemarrah. But yet it's mixed with a healthy dose of the Zohar, and laden with niggunim, and back lit by fantastic stories that make up almost as much of our heritage as the rest of it.

It wasn't until I left Chabbad that I realized how many Jews do not mix these approaches. Mainstream trend seems to be, either you're spiritual, or you're logical. The two don't mix. Now I understand that there are lots of people who just can't get into the spiritualism thing. It can get pretty hokey, I'll admit. And I can understand that there are people who basically thrive on air- on love and energy and the food of the spirit, and can't wrap their head around a halachik argument for the life of them. And I don't have a problem with the fact that there are people who can only really do one and not the other. But this puts me in a bit of a pickle.

See, the line between the rational and the spiritual is so stark, the divisions are so black and white, that it takes people a while to realize that the two can in fact intermingle. That a person can reach a truly spiritually transcending moment when learning a daf gemarrah, or a perek of Rambam, or even the kitzur shulchan aruch. The intellectual workings of the mind have always been intensely spiritual for me, and extremely emotionally uplifting. I connect to everything through my mind, so of course that's how I would connect to G-d and Judaism. But this connection is such a spiritual thing. I can't seperate the two no matter how hard I try.

And that's perhaps why I'vebeen having issues lately. See, when your connection to Judaism is all about nostalgia and community and maintaining a cultural heritage, those are things you still connect to even when you don't believe. But when your love is for the text, and the text is found wanting, then where are you? Where is the connection then?

Don't get me wrong. I still love learning. And I don't think, by the way, that the faults in our texts are any faultier than the faults in everyone else's texts, and this gives a certain amount of defendable legitimacy. But the connection is not the same.

Anyway, the reason I brought the excerpt from Chana's post is because we are all afraid of Judaism becoming irrelevant. And clearly different people are having different reactions as to how to prevent this. And I am more than willing to dedicate my life to the re-birth of a rational, halachik Orthodox Judaism that is capable of existing, and being halachik, and orthodox, (and even rational!) without stifling the individuality, or the passion, or the intellect of almost anyone. And I think part of the way towards doing this is by showing others what Chabbad has shown me - that the intellectual and the spiritual do go together hand in hand, and that when this is done properly it is potentially the most fulfilling way of serving G-d.

The problem is - I really don't know that I can do it.

19 Comments:

Blogger chanie said...

I've learned Chabad Chassidus- or perhaps it would just be easier to admit to being one of those labeled as chassidim?

4:25 AM  
Anonymous Hesh said...

Good post- really interesting and thought provoking.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Tobie said...

Migdal Oz alumnae allege that the girls there manage to blend the spiritual and the intellectual. And I think that it's absolutely possible for some people. But at the same time, I think that one will always be dominant- one will always be defined in terms of the other one, or one will always define the way that people have of looking at things. You can either be into the spiritual high for itself and the intellectual for the spiritual high, or else you can be into the rational for its own sake and the spiritual because you rationally decide that it's useful. I don't think that they can co-exist as complete equals.

But maybe that's just me.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Yoni said...

I dunno, I love studying and get quite the high from intelectual discovery, but I also get quite the high from hugging a sefer torah and dancing with it, or huge warm fuzzies from seeing reform, conservative, MO, lubavitch and heredi jews all dancing in this huge circle three rows deep going in alternate directions and all singing and clapping to the same (often chabad) tune. :) young and old, with women and men dancing, and the women's circle 40% larger and ten times as heartfelt as the ments.

it just gives me warm fuzzies and my knees go weak and I just kinda crumple crying thanking hashem for letting me see that day and declaring "happy is he who's nation is thus!"

or reading tehilim and bawling my eyes out because of how moving it is, or just simply holding a little living sefer torah and teaching them aleph bais or watching them built a tower out of legos.

Or of course learning the intricacies of halacha and chassidut and how much hashem loves benei yisroel (which is really what kabala is) or how great is hashem and hiow much we should love him (chassidus).

or learning about particle physics which makes me feel how amazing things are and just everything.

life can be so fuzzy.

but maybe I'm a bit giddy. :)

4:39 PM  
Blogger Lubab No More said...

> I think believing in the Cubs is a little like believing in G-d.

But with the Cubbies you get some feedback. Sometimes they make the playoffs, often they don't. Sometimes you go to the game and they win. You cheer, they hear you. You throw a homer back on the field and they go pick it up. There is a relationship.

With god the whole relationship (if it exists) is one way. :(

Belief that the Cubs will bring a championship to the friendly confines may be unlikely, but you can keep faith alive because you know it IS absolutely possible. You get no such assurance with god.

BTW, check out this paragraph from fivethirtyeight.com about Illinois and Obama:

Jubilation if and when Obama wins the Presidency, culminating in a rally in Chicago's Grant Park that may draw one million souls. It's not a Cubs' World Championship, but most Illinoisans will take it; what kind of odds could you have gotten in 1908 that a black dude would get elected president before the Cubs won the Series again?

(link to source)

7:25 PM  
Blogger Miri said...

Chanie-
it's always easier to admit to the label. But I mean, there are a lot of shiurim on Tanya for non-chabbadnikim that still somehow don't get at the essence of Chabbad Torah. Do you know what I mean? If you do, you've probably learned it, and if you don't you probably haven't.

Hesh-
thanks!

Tobie-
But that's exactly where I disagree. I think that the intellectual and the spiritual can come together with something like a perfect synergy.
Of course, the fatal flaw in the argument is that really everyone's approach to G-d and spirituality depends mostly on personality and largely on background and education. So the fact that to me the intellectual and the spiritual are the same thing really just means that that's how my personality integrates these two concepts - whereas that might not work for you, just because that's not how your personality integrates these concepts. My main problem is with the people who insist on keeping them separate, who insist that they cannot share the same space. Because I say, they can! Even if you can't do it, that doesn't mean that it can't be done!

Yoni-
I know what you mean. There are lots of different ways to get high on life ;)

LNM-
All this really provves that you are not a Chicagoan. :) I know it's a flawed metaphor, but it seemed apt enough in context. And after all, what is our religion based on if not flawed metaphors?

I don't know if it's funny or sad that we got a black president before the Cubs got a world series win. Although to be truthful, at this point, I think we'd take a respectable playoffs loss and be grateful....

9:56 AM  
Blogger chanie said...

Miri- I do get it. That's the problem...

10:11 AM  
Blogger Miri said...

I agree. It is a problem.

4:37 PM  
Blogger Αλέξανδρος said...

The biggest thing that attracted me so much to Chabad was the fact that it approached spirituality and mysticism with rationality. I hated then and hate still spirituality. Half of “pure” spirituality is fake; the other half is not Judaism. At the same time, through Chabad I realized how hollow Torah that relies only on cold logical breaking down is — it’s not Torah, it worshiping of one’s ga’avah and ta’anug from intellectual geshmak.

Chabad Chassidus is not spirituality. It is a wake-up call: know in front of whom you’re standing. Know whose Torah you’re learning. Know who sent you here and why.

All the rest of Lubavitcher warmkite (the niggunim, the dancing, the farbengens) is fake, if one doesn’t have the pnimiyus of Chabad Chassidus. If one does, they are not spirituality either — they are a keli for the teachings of Chabad Chassidus, just like davening b’avoida or learning lishmah are.

7:55 PM  
Blogger Miri said...

the person with the greek name-
"At the same time, through Chabad I realized how hollow Torah that relies only on cold logical breaking down is — it’s not Torah, it worshiping of one’s ga’avah and ta’anug from intellectual geshmak"

I'd like to be clear about something. I love Chabbad torah. But one of the things that drove me away from chabbad is their total lack of respect or even acknowledgement of anyone else's Torah. Chabbad's approach, while I identified with it very much, is not the only approach to Torah learning or avodat Hashem. And I think that neither G-d nor the Rebbeh would want anyone speaking of any Torah scholarship with disrespect.

Beyond that, I don't happen to find anything wrong with "pure intellectual gishmack." I don't find it cold or unfeeling - in fact I find it enriching, mind-expandiing, and thrilling. But again, I can't seperate between the intellectual gishmack and the spiritual elevation. for me they are one and the same thing. That's why Chabbad Torah appeals to me.

Simultaneously I don't think that all spirituality is fake. I'm not into pure spirituality with nothing else, but it is a legitimate approach that is succesfully used by many completely sincere ovdei Hashem, whose emunah is much stronger, and whose acts of chessed far outnumber my own. So you know....not judging, I'm just saying that I think Chabbad is a good example of integration of these two mindsets. That said, really dude, they're not the only Judaism in the world, and it's important to know that.

5:53 AM  
Blogger Αλέξανδρος said...

No doubt you enjoy intellectual geshmak of learning Torah (or, lehavdil, other things) and, on the other hand, spirituality. I enjoy them too. The question that Chabad Chassidus asks is: what does that have to do with Hashem and the reason you came into this world? When enjoyment of Torah (from any perspective) or of the world in general is divorced from understanding and knowledge of the pnimiyus, then those things are not connecting one to Hashem, they are connecting one to superficial and artificial pleasures.

I too at one point enjoyed Chabad Chassidus merely for its combination of intellectual and emotional. I was learning ma’amorim for the sake of intellectual “high” I got out of them. Then, when I got to S”V, it suddenly clicked — that’s not what Chabad Chassidus or yiddishkeit are about.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to invade your blog :), I just liked your comment on FrumSatire.

9:48 AM  
Blogger the sabra said...

I'm a reader?

11:17 AM  
Blogger Miri said...

person with the unreadable Greek name-

First of all, I'm always happy to have a new commenter. I'm glad you like my comment.

Second, I'd like to dispute your point a moment, although I can sense we're probably not going to make much headway here.

"The question that Chabad Chassidus asks is: what does that have to do with Hashem and the reason you came into this world? When enjoyment of Torah (from any perspective) or of the world in general is divorced from understanding and knowledge of the pnimiyus, then those things are not connecting one to Hashem, they are connecting one to superficial and artificial pleasures."

Look. I know frum people like to think that anything one enjoys must be shallow and meaningless; and that therefor if you enjoy anything intellectual or spiritual, there must be something tumadik there. I disagree. Now I know what you're going to say - you're going to say "of course not! of course G-d created a world of things for us to enjoy! BUT -" and it's there I'd like to stop you. There is no but. If G-d made apples delicious so that I would enjoy eating them, then I can enjoy eating them. And if G-d made the Torah something pleasurable to learn - and if G-d made me in such a way that I would enjoy learning His Torah - that's all there needs to be. G-d wanted me to enjoy it. I do enjoy it. This and this alone is a very spiritual thing - and THEREFOR I connect to Hashem. I don't need there to be some extra reason to justify my action enough for it to be holy. It just is holy - and it's holy because I enjoy it. What I mean when I say this (lest you misinterpret my meaning, and thereby extrapolate , 'oh well then, random acts of sexual misconduct must also be holy, if it's holy bc you enjoy it'- this is NOT what I mean)what I mean is G-d made the Torah enjoyable so that we could connect to Him through it. I think that enjoying Torah is a connection to G-d, and I don't think there's anything gaavadik, shallow, or empty about that.

By the way, you seem to have quite a vendetta against "shallow spirituality." Now I don't know what your experiences have been, and I'm really not that sure what you mean when you say this; but there are a lot of sincere people who truly find meaning in this form of a connection. There are some personalities that need this kind of connection. I wouldn't be so quick to judge them.

5:31 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

>person with the unreadable Greek name

Hilarious statement. His name is eminently readable to anyone who reads Greek.

His name is Alexandros (Alexander)

5:59 PM  
Blogger Miri said...

Don't I at least get points for recognizing the Greek alphabet?

9:18 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

>Don't I at least get points for recognizing the Greek alphabet?

Not in my class :)

10:25 AM  
Blogger Miri said...

That's cuz you're an elitist. I bet you voted for Obama. :)

1:02 PM  
Blogger Crawling Axe said...

By the way, you seem to have quite a vendetta against "shallow spirituality." Now I don't know what your experiences have been, and I'm really not that sure what you mean when you say this; but there are a lot of sincere people who truly find meaning in this form of a connection. There are some personalities that need this kind of connection. I wouldn't be so quick to judge them.

I changed my name specifically for Greek-intimidated bloggers. :)

Perhaps you’ve heard a story of the Maggid and his chavrusa. They were friends and used to daven and learn together while they were young. Then, the Maggid became the Maggid, and later, a chossid of Baal Shem Tov, and his friend became a businessman. He would learn Torah all day, and his wife would help with retail part of the business. Then, once a year he would make a trip to Leiptzig (Germany), where he would make all business dealings, buy material, arrange and oversee shipping, etc., etc., then go home, hand business over to his wife and go back to learning.

In many years, he and the Maggid met again. They decided to spend a Shabbos together. The businessman davened for a few hours, and the Maggid took a whole day to daven. His friend asked him: “What happened? It used to take us couple hours to go through all the kabbalistic kavanos in the davening, to go all the way to Atzilus and back. Are you getting old that you need more time?”

The maggid answered: “Every year, you take time off from learning Torah, go to Leiptzig, do business dealings, spend time on the cold boats, shipping stuff by rivers, etc., etc. Why not do the whole thing in five minutes? Go to your office, close the door, imagine a trip to Leiptzig, imagine doing business, imagine shipping everything back to Poland, and that’s it! You’re done. What’s the problem?”

“The problem is: it will be only imaginary,” his friend answered. Maggid then said: “The same thing is with davening. If you imagine all the upper worlds, and the lights, and the keilim and all the kavanos, and then go back to everyday life, all you will get is imaginary stuff. Imaginary G-dliness, imaginary emotions, imaginary experience. To get the real stuff take work and time.”

Maggid’s youngest student would add: And pnimiyus.

I am not getting on a high horse here, I am just saying what my problem is with spirituality without depth.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Miri said...

I'm not denying that a real spiritual connection takes work. I do take issue with random people deciding for other random people that their spirituality is shallow, bc they haven't learned as much chassidus as you. maybe their connection is of a different nature. the same approach doesn't work for everybody, you can't just assume that bc someone's Judaism is different from yours, it is necessarily inferior. That would be arrogance and closed-mindedness. Also, it would display a marked lack of respect for one of Judaism's basic tenets - that debate and independent thought towards spiritual matters are positive; that a certain amount of diversity within the framework of halcha is actually what makes halacha work, and what makes halacha beautiful. G-d didn't want one way for all Jews, even under Orthodoxy. I'm saying, Chabbad chassidut is great, I really connect to it. But one of the reasons why I couldn't stay in that community is bc they barely know that other Orthodox Jews exist. Forget the world of non-Jews - they don't know the world of Jews! That is fundamentally disturbing to me, and something that I think G-d would be very anti. from a halachik perspective.

4:47 PM  

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