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Friday, March 24, 2006

Lineage part 1: Rabbis are like assholes

So, i went crying to my rebbe the other day, because my other rabbi broke my heart.

Is that a weakness, that I have someone that I consider my rebbe? Yes, ultimately, secretly, according to my rebbe, but he has compassion on me despite my weakness, sometimes.

It's a truism that rabbis are like assholes: everybody's got one. By definition, if you're jewish, your tradition is recieved from somewhere, the part of your judaism that isn't just blood or something is your exposure to your Torah. Who taught you your Torah? Your master and teacher.

I grew up with a rabbi and a shul and everything. It broke my heart so much when I realized that I needed better Torah than he could ever give me...

Not to disparage the Torah he did give over, there on the altar every Saturday morning. An expert orator and student in the tradition of R' Yitzchak Hutner, he would say really deep things to an audience who would rarely give an indication of listening very closely. But I did, at least sometimes. It was my first exposure to some of the Torahs that still define my paradime.

And yet, too many of the questions I would come to him with would be given the answers I'd already heard, that we'd all heard a million times. They're very deep answers, so full of meaning that never gets worn out, even the millionth time is a central dogma of Rabbinic Judaism. The more you listen, the more the given pat answer will refine your soul and the more you might come to really understand--

Bullshit, to some degree, sometimes, maybe we really do understand what Rashi was saying, and maybe it's not so insightful anymore, maybe the blood has been drained from the poor Torah, and something more directly and accessibly true is more needed once in a while, if not ALL THE FUCKING TIME FROM NOW ON.

If not. What did Jeremiah mean by "a new covenant?" We know what the christians think, the Jewish tradition is that it means a new relationship with the covenant we've had the whole time... WHATEVER THE FUCK THAT MEANS.

Ugh. My fucking rabbi accused me of thinking i was Jesus Christ last week. Which, in many cultures might be a compliment, but not in our anti-messianic rabbinism, where concern with the world= selling out.

We met last week for dinner, me and the Rabbi of the shul I grew up in. He's the guy what charmed my father back into Judaism, as if that wasn't already just what he'd always wanted.

He was visiting Jerusalem for a bit, hey, why not go out for dinner? My wife is into that healthy food you're into, take us somewhere nice. Great!

We haven't been able to talk for a while, since the shabbos we did a couple years ago. the rabbi comes into the shul at midnight, sees me and a bunch of friends jumping and dancing, singing shabbos songs... boys and girls together. oops! We sat down eventually, and some of my friends there said really deep and/or sweet things, led some quieter devotional songs...
I thought it was all good. The Rabbi said nice things about us in the morning during the sermon.

And from then on he'd veto anything that i'd try to do in and with the shul.

And yeah, looking back I can't imagine being able to expect anything else. R' Adam Baal shem story.

Lineage is everything, not really, but where else would we get the information and language from?

So we meet in the village green, ready for a nice, low key meal. And I have to be unhappy with shallow conversation, and insist on bringing up ideas...

After the shabbos in Williamsburg, I called the Rabbi to ask how he enjoyed the Shabbos, and if it was possible to organize another one like it. He started expressing his suprise and concern over the boys-and-girls sitting together thing. If we were to do something in the shul again we'd have to have them sitting separately.

But the shul meals, the parties are never done separate seating?

"Those are families, not single people!"

Which looking back, was validish in that context. But in the moment, it felt incredibly stupid and short sighted, so said:

God, that's incredibly stupid and short sighted. Do you know how many people were turned on to their first shabbos that shabbos, who never knew how good shabbos could be before, and are now inspired and curious?

The Rabbi expressed his inimpressment with the shabbos that we made. Why not just have them boys and girls sit separatly?
R' Kook talks about the separation between men and women as being one of the most basic aspects of judaism, and anyway, it doesn't matter, this is not up for discussion.

Which really pissed me off a bit, partially inflaming a secret plot in my heart to work around him and just get the permission of the shul memebers, democratic patriotic institution that it is. But do the old men trust me more than the Rabbi? Some sure do... Does it really have to be so comabatative? Can't we work it out somehow?

Anyhow, asked the Rabbi during my brief but ominous silence, why didn't you invite me to speak at the meal?

Oh wow! I'm sorry, it didn't occur to me. I didn't really invite anyone per'se...

You did! Some people got up to speak!

You could have also, i'm so sorry, i didn't realize you wanted to!

Stam, it doesn't matter. Listen, I have to get back to work. I'm sorry I got so angry, I didn't mean to... It's not really who I am...

Rabbi, I'm so happy we're having this conversation, I feel like it's the first itme in a long time that we're really talking at all. Can we continue this some other time.

Sure, sure. I'm pretty busy, but some other time.

And sure enough, some other time didn't happen for quite some time. In public, whenever I would come back from Israel, he would say nice things about me and my spiritual aspirations, and wish good things for me. And then, after the services, we really souldn't talk very much. I would try to fring up ideas and questions that were important or interesting to me that I hoped might turn him on, arousing some kind of insight or something, but nothing. I would try to make him feel appreciate by reminding him of crucial brilliant Torahs that i'd learned from him, to which he would not respond.

Like what you ask? The one that sticks out the most, i heard when i was like twelve. I missed many of his shiurim once I got involved in setting up the shul kiddush downstairs during Krias ha torah, sometimes coming up in time to hear it, but later on, less and less. It could be he started saying less and less of real impact as time went on. More than a few times since I was in Israel and heard him speak as an adult, i've had to walk out in annoyance and dissapointment, but at least once I remember him saying stuf on the level of:

Jacob is punished
By God
for calling Eisav his brother: "My master"

Why? (Keep in mind. This Rabbi is a great Orator, with a booming dramatic voice and strong narration.)

Why is he punished?

We learn that he did the right thing, humbling himself before his brother, to save his life!
And the life of his family!

So why is he punished?

You don't have to die for the sake of pride!

so why is he punished?

I heard from Rav Hutner Z"L

Does everything they do
for two reasons.

The good reason, the holy reason.

And the bad reason.

All the best things
and all the worst things.

We do for both reasons.


Psh. amazing right?

I mentioned this Torah to him once, he had no recollection of having ever said it. Our shul maybe had a few more intelligent and demanding people in it when I was young maybe, at least three or four. Now it's only devoted but disinterested old men, who really aren't paying much concious attention, and maybe, he's been through alot too...

So, any how, we meet up at the Village Green. My Sister's there, his wife is too. I didn't get the message to come until an hour late, so i get there after they're done eating. Like a chump, I order food, and sit down to talk.

The small talk gets out of the way quick. Neither of us want to push any buttons. How's your trip? how're the grandkids?

I really want to get some kind of a heart expression out him, I ask about the Yeshiva he learned at when he was young, if he's visited it, what it was like. He gives it over not too enthusiastically. And then what?

And so, I start asking about R' Hutner. And that's where things got out of control.