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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

control is a drug

Ishbitz dancehall we celebrated at the beginning of Teves. It was a big success and a subtle maybe faliure for a few reasons.

Control is a very important drug, one of those work drugs that magically lets things happen externally instead of internally. All heroism in Judaism is associated less with sacrifice per se' and more with control. All righteousness in Torah before a certain point has to do with (self) control.

This is one of of the distinctions made between Jewish valour and Secular valour, in the world, a hero, a strong man, a Gibbor, is someone who does their will, the early sages tell Alexander, that a hero is one who conquers his own will.

I have a friend, he's very annoyed by that tendency in Judaism, the hafuch al hafuch Moshiach he calls it. By being the opposite of something, i'm really being it, by surrendering, i'm really conquering, by being a criminal i'm really fufilling the law, by failing to redeem, gevalt, am I redeeming... It fudges he meaning of what We're Really Asking For. Only by giving up can you win?

Moses doesn't seem to believe, that, he seems to hold by actual winning. In Parshat Shmos, he does one of the most amazing and dangerous acts of Control-taking imaginable... He kills a cop.

Magic is all about taking control, through Law. Killing a police officer is not unlike killing a very holy angel, and about as dangerous-- and empowering. One of God's greatest virtues is that he overcomes great kings, and wipes out their enforcers.
This is one of the main ways God proves that he's God, is by taking out those who control the world.

Law is magic, as is known. By creating penalties and reactions to a given act, reality is being made. It's very important to Egypt and any other capital based system that it's law be obeyed, or else how else can they control you from taking the wheat for yourself? Slavery depends on a lack of other options.

Control of self and situation is the strongest grace in the world, drawing close money, power and women. Everyone just wants to be around people the can trust.

Arele Steinfeld says that life is always a conflict between what we want and what we believe.

To take control of a situation through violence is very dangerous, and as easy as it was for you to take control is as easy as it will be for someone else to take it from you. And once your will is revealed, you become blind to what wants to happen, such a delicate listening relationship...

The greatest, sweetest things are destroyed by excess control. This is one of the great mysteries of culture, the more music and quality are controlled, the less music and culture are alive, i.e. touching/entertaining. A culture has to grow independent of much resource ("money") to feel authentic, a grass has to be wild to heal strongly. A red heifer must never have had a yoke put on it if it is to be purifective, and the more one tries to force something beyond a certain point, the more it resists.

The Law of Moses is rejected before it's even seen, Shlomo says, why did Moshe smash the first Luchos? He's telling G-d, if your Torah is so small that anyone can reject it or violate it just like that, what good is it? Give us something deeper, more infinite.

I was arguing with someone last week, they were saying, anything you really want, if you want it long enough, strong enough, it can be yours.
That might be true, is it really a good thing to know always? What about love and relationships, where the more something is pushed, the worse it gets maybe?

I'd love to hear a really positive "got someone to love me" story, because I never have heard any, and maybe I don't want to hear that, for fear that I have been wrong in letting go of Lovers and relationships so easily... Like I was supposed to put up a fight or something? I don't understand that at all...

Lets say that I fell in love, like thirty times in the last few months... Like really in love, like would you marry me? I'll change anything about myself if you ask kind of in love... where really, if I knew there was something I could do to make her want me too, I would do it... Would that be a failure of some kind? It would be so sad to try,
for naught, it's so sad to work on things that are already over, andbutandbutand...

Let's say you somehow magically, divinely, know what to do to charm a particular daughter, somehow it was clear...great. Don't mention this, bring her that, say something like this, listen so closely to that... it's easy, almost as if the information is being whispered into your ear by the angel of experience... in a situation like this, you might as well take control, especially if the Other clearly wants something, but somehow either needs help feeling safe with, or invited to. When you know what someone wants/needs, go for it, right away, If YOU REALLY KNOW, REALLY REALLY KNOW, SOMEHOW. Be careful with this, little is more destructive than someone acting like they know when they don't. Knowing is the biggest responsibility ever, science demands that the theories be tested... Somehow.

And when you don't know, you can be so appreciated and filled by listening, listening so much to the new wisdom coming to lucky you.

So, in Tai chi, there's a game we play called push hands. It consist of standing opposite a partner, any partner, in a certain secure, even stance, and trying to knock the Other over. If you push too hard, it's easy to take advantage of your clumsy desperation and let you fall, gently moving out of the way of your bluster.
And if you let the other win a bit, you learn better and faster about their personal weight and vulnerabilities and how to play the game better next time. Losing is often much more useful than winning...

Yeah, that's what losers tell themselves anyway. But why call anyone names?
R Peretz Aurbach once told me, winning is Netsach and losing is Hod, and you need both legs to walk anywhere.

Anyhow, this was the problem with the Ishbitz concert... I was in a Netsachly mode, I had something really that I wanted to express, some connection I really wanted made, between me and the Israelites coming by that night... Aryeh Kaplan translates Netzach as giving to the other according to what you need them to receive, and Hod is giving them what they're needing from you... Yesod, foundation and righteousness is the balance between those two, the secret true will within every relationship. If I really love you, even as I'm trying to give you something, i'm listening so close to hear if that's what you really want/need, and we're only really in love if we're listening that way to each other.

The drunken polacks teach R Yisrael of Ruhzin the secret of true love, right? Remember this story?

Two drunken peasants
are sitting in a bar.
One is saying, maaaan,
I love you SO MUCH
You have no fucking clue
I do, I do

And his friend scoffs, and cries
If You really love me,
then tell me what I need
tell me what I need
If you really loved me
then you'd know

What does Israel really need? If you know, it means you must care. And if it refuses what you're offering. trust and listen, trust and listen, even as your heart bends and breaks.

So yeah, this concert, what really wants to happen? I totally didn't prepare at all, not the music, not the skills, didn't train on their soundsystem... me and some friends booked the whole show four days earlier, basically on a whim, funded by one friend, promoted by two others, vaguely inspired by a whiff of an idea I had had. Everyone in neo-chassidic land loves the Ishbitzer, and nothing was happenning for his yartzeit, which happened to be a saturday night this year...

Me and some friends flaked out to Sinai shortly after booking the show, leaving, like, all of the work in the hands of two girls (Jackie & Daphna = best promoters Evur!) and we only came back right before Shabbos... No preparation at all, almost.

So when we get to the dancehall saturday night to set up, i'm super motivated, enthusiastic, ready and excited. I want to give something really strong over, we spent all our time in the sinai talking antinomian torah, Ishbitzing ourselves up... the message, in some vague way was clear: liberation, there is a priority above the law. Avi Poupko went upstage and told the people that they know God's will in ways that the Shulchan Aruch never could, after having spent days with me in Sinai elaborating on what the Mei Hashiloach is really saying, the fourfold secret to recognizing whether or not a desired thing is really holy or not (p.s. is it worth dying to do? If so then you know.) and such and so forth.

And we get there and Avi's like, OK Yoseph, go for it.

Adam Weinstock, this amazing musician, was visiting from Montreal, we pulled together a band to play with him, they never rehearsed as he was in Sinai with us, got together a did this amazing set, blew everybody away. Before he went on, I spun stuff and made noise on the mike for like fifteen minutes, while the place started to fill up. I'm pretty sure I said something of substance, in some kind of semi musical dubbish way before Adam and his band came on, at which point I just got out of the way, and danced like there was nothing left to do.

I got back on stage during a Jam they were doing, inspired by this compulsion to not neglect the show and the focus. Ambivalent, also not wanting to get in the way of some divine thing happening.

Me and Avi were talking, just how "Antinomian" is this going to be, i asked. As much as you make it, he responded. How much Torah is this going to be, and how much "just" concert? Do as much Torah as you want, Daphna said. Make it meaningful.

So, how much does my ego-need to be successful inspire something great to happen, how much will it ruin the good that is happening?

On some level, the set up was too good to fuck up. Acharit Hayamim was the headliner, Dan Sieradski was the late set DJ, both of whom are awesome at what they do. Acharit Hayamim actually wound up giving the best set of their careers, transcending all kinds of previous limitations and doing something more powerful than I'd ever heard before. Dan was pissed off about going on an hour later than I had figured he'd be able to go on, amongst other technical insults and inconveniences he was forced to accept, almost giving up and going home without going on a few times, before gently rocking the thinned but enthusiastic late night crowd into a psychedelic frenzy, subtly subverting religious and legal assumptions while a mike got passed back and forth between me and others...

At one point, at a few points, I slinked on stage with Acharit Hayamim to give something over while they played, as if to jam with them, but I didn't clear that with the band before hand, nor give any clear idea of what was to happen because there was not one nessesarily. The band's manager came up to me and asked me to please stop while the band was playing.

I could insist, right? It's my show, and i'm in charge.

So much listening for what really wants to happen.

A bunch of little is-this-a-crisises unfolded and were resolved. Avi commanded the band to have me come on stage and say something at one point, which I really needed him to do to feel justified... It's very hard for me to believe that i'm in charge of anything, that I have a right to be, that it's good to act as if I am. My religion treats all law and order, all force as an evil, ultimately to be avoided except when? When life is in danger?

The main thing love has ever taught me is Don't Push, just listen. When am I to forget that lesson? Dare I ever?

It worked well throughout, the show. Just enough torah was given over to not miss the point of the Torah itself, which was the party. The music was appropriately high, holy, and just short of messianic, and we all had a great time. It was really astounding to see how easy it is to pull something together that tons of people come to and appreciate forever...

The main Torah I gave over was the piece about why does Moses only go to pick up Joseph's bones as the Israelites are leaving Egypt? Why doesn't he pick them up earlier?

Until that point
God was talking to him
all the time. Telling him what to do.

After the ten plagues
suddenly, God wasn't saying anything.
So Moses asked the oldest woman he could find,
if there was any tradition about what to do before leaving Egypt

Serach daughter of Asher tells him, yeah
we have to get Joseph's bones, they're hidden right here

And we learn from this
When The voice of God is speaking
follow that
And when it's not
look up the halacha.

It ended at like three thirty, which felt like a failure to me, to walk away while people were still rocking out, but I had made a commitment to one of the musicians to personally help him lug some of his equipment back with him, and so... more surrender, an excuse to get offstage while the crowd is still applauding.
People seemed impressed afterwards, I woke up the morning after, feeling fufillled like I hadn't in a long-- ever. Like there was nothing left to do... for a few hours, before the rest of the life rush started to wash over me and the question "What are you going to do NOW?!" started screaming in my head again.

Really, all i'd like to do is throw parties like that all the time. My fantasy is to have a dancehall temple of my very own, feeding people by day, rocking out by night,
sustained by volunteers who would come by to live and worship, and some kind of righteous positive industry, like hot lunches, brown rice and beans, and/or home brewed date wine. All in due time, my mother says... if I stop working towards it for a moment, i'm failing my g-d, and I can't push too hard, or all my efforts will collapse, as per the pattern in my life every time i've tried to force anything to happen before.

The show was a big success for the bar hosting us. We didn't charge nothing, just paid for renting the space, and the party people drank like jahfilte fish, earning the invitation of the bar to Acharit Hayamim to play every saturday night. And the last couple weeks in a row, they have! Pretty good crowd, not as high musically as the Ishbitz show, which actually created new firmaments between the heavens, but still funariffic, with Jerusalem's hottest neo-chassidic bands openning.

Was planning to play with them this saturday night, but now i'm putting it off for a bit. Maybe next week> Who'll come if we do?

Any how, it's the Kotsker Rebbe's Yartzeit this monday night, so let's end with a thought.
Why was man created?
To purify themselves into heaven?

Couldn't be
it's not a good enough reason
Wouldn't have been worth it.

Man was created to make heaven higher
and don't you forget it.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

I'll write more soon. meanwhile, I found an old archive of an American Oleh living in Nachlaot in the late eighties, growing grass and toasting it on the stove, and introducing the not-quite-legendary "Hatzbani Green" strain to the north

Historical curiousities abound: we are not the first to walk these steps.