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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

I was talking with a friend about where some ideas come from, the first conversation I had this Shavous night, he said, sarcastically, something about them coming from Mars.

I smiled and said, Isn't there a whole thing about the Torah being received from the mouth of Gevurah (restrain/strength, in many cosmologies the the sephira associated with Mars)?

And he said, only when it's Lo Lishma, not for the sake of the name. Whatever that means. What does it mean?

Recall, the mystery of whether Torah is medicine or poison depends on whether or not it is done "lishma" literally "for the sake of her name" or not. Some say, done in the name of God, or not. But what does that ever mean? Lot's of toxic things go on in the name of God, even earnestly. Generally, I have related to the "lishma" concept as meaning "for it's own sake" like, if you're learning for any reason, it's killing you, and if you're doing it just because there's nothing you'd rather do, well alright!

There's much debate over this concept, namely in terms of justifying a torah studious lifestyle, where that is what you do professionally, pretty much all day, in exchange for a stipend from the community, and/or, in Israel, usually from the state. If you're getting paid to do it, how can it be lishma?

There is, on the books, a prohibition against ever studying or teaching Torah for money, as "bribes blind the eyes of a judge," (Exodus 23, 8) And this is the major problem with Torah study nowadays according to some thinkers in modern Jerusalem, that there is no content in any torah being said nowadays, as, we really don't want to insult those providing for us, and all institutional torah study depends on Somebody Else.

And this is why most of the torah you hear is so toothless and non-threatening.
Because we saw how dangerous it was to step on the wrong toes, and just didn't want to risk our lives, or the lives of those depending on us, like that ever again. Apparently, it wasn't worth it.

Why do we drink so much on Simchas Torah, the Joy of torah holiday? I've heard mi pi Rabbeinu, it's for the same reason native Americans became alcoholics: otherwise, they would have had to die, over whelmed by anger, as many of their brothers did, fighting an unbeatable enemy. So, instead of dying, we sacramentize the drink, and the first new holiday of Exile (before Purim even!) becomes the one where we celebrate how good what our little tribe has is, and we drinks ourselves into passivity, thus saving our lives.

A little death can save you from a bigger one. Sometimes, it might be better to get fucked up than to BE fucked up. Some hold it's not true, it's better to see it through with a sober mind, and deal honestly with all conflicts. I try to hold than way, thanks G-d almighty, I've never had to deal with anything so bad, and I've been very priviledged with tools and support to see traumas through, bli ayin hara. But I dare not judge the oblitrati who couldn't handle it: chassidic stories are rife with holy drunkards who save the world somehow, are terribly righteous, and just destroyed by some of the pressure of living. Lord have mercy on us all.

So, any how, I asked my friend shavuos night, in a fit of "what the fuck are you gonna say" What does lishma mean? What is the Torah that is only received from Gevura?

And he said, well one opinion, is torah that's learned for the sake of Kavod, honor. Increasing your own honor by showing yourself of as learned.

I kinda scoffed for a moment, and said, yeah, Kavod means clothing, Lo Lishma means you're doing it to support yourself. Which is, chas v shalom, why many of us go to learn in Kollel, or Yeshiva, or university. It's known in Brisk and Lakewood that the best scholars get set up with the rich men's daughters, and never have to worry about money again. Lord, have mercy, that sounds so nice to me sometimes. But it can't be fun once you have to do it, that might be part of the trade off.

In fact, King Solomon seems to think that things are much funner, only once they're forbidden, hence, "stolen waters are sweeter" (proverbs 9, 17) and there's opinions that that's why all the least important things are permitted easily, while the most important are strongly controlled. If they weren't, if you could eat while walking around, and fuck just anybody anytime, how much fun is that?

Maybe this is why the deepest thoughts and revelations have to be forbidden. So, that way, only those who really care will bother.

Anyhow, my friends smiles, brushes off my remark, and says, "one opinion, I think it's Rabbeinu Nachman (mibreslev ) says, Lo Lishma, is some one who learns Torah, so that he can be called a rebbe"

That one hit me hard. I don't want any hand in authority, only because I do so much. I am so afraid of leading, for fear of all the terrible things that rulership does, to the self and to the others, and yet, really, really, would love to be able to "make" "good things" happen.

I had moments, by the kotel at dawn, the next morning, kind of wanting to be leading the davening, guiding the prayers... and it's clear to me that those are the moments when I'm most trapped. It's only a slave who longs to be a king.

R' Nachman, a strange case of someone who seemingly resented authority, and at the same time became willing to take the role of spiritual commander and "rebbe" for his chassidim, once wrote:

All evil comes from the desire to rule, and everyone has this desire, and everyone has some rulership. Over himself, over his family, over his community, over his country.

And, commensurate to the extent of his authority, is his responsibility to spread awareness of Godliness in the world.

To ignore that responsibility is to allow famine to go on. What's a king?, R' Shlomo asks: Some one who says "I'll do it for you"

Lawbreaking is the priviledge only of royalty. It's a statement of sovernity, I rule my own life, thank you. This was the claim made by Rashi, as to why Achan did not feel bound by Joshua's authority (yehoshua 17), and why the brothers felt threatened enough by Joseph to try to kill him. If you are not bound by my authority, you might well be a threat to my authority, and worse, your authority might replace mine with a more popular one. Oh no!

Lord! give us, please, all the world, hearts of true security, to trust each other boundaries and personal paths-- to not need to fear, and to not fear, the rules each of us set for ourselves, nor to be bound in servitude to anything we revile, instead, put us all in service of things we love, works that heal us all together, and make more and better appreciation possible! So please be your will.

4 Comments:

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Independance is not new to this guy. He used to write responsas critiquing Rabbi Moshe Feinstein! Awesome!

Shalom Aleichem.

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