Shiur: Kol Dodi Dofek #1 – Theodicy and Destiny

The first of two lectures about Rav Soloveitchik’s “Kol Dodi Dofek.” In this lecture, we explore Rav Soloveitchik’s rejection of theodicy, of attempting to justify God and find divine meaning in suffering that befalls us. Instead, as we explore in the second half of the lecture, he pivots to human action, and the ability to create human meaning in our lives.

 

Theodicy and Destiny

1. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, trans. David Z. Gordon (2006), 21

We too are living in troubled times, in days of anger and distress. We have been afflicted with violent pogroms and have become accustomed to suffering. In the past fifteen years [1941-56] we have undergone tortuous ordeals that are unparalleled in thousands of years of diaspora, degradation, and destruction. This chapter of suffering did not end with the establishment of the State of Israel.

 

Theodicy: Searching for Meaning

2. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 1–2

One of the deepest of mysteries, troubling Judaism from the dawn of its existence, is the problem of suffering… Why and wherefore are hardships visited on man? Why and wherefore do the righteous suffer and evildoers prosper? From that wondrous morning when Moses, the faithful shepherd, communed with the Creator of the Universe and pleaded for the comprehensive solution to this question of questions, throughout the generations, the prophets and sages of Israel have grappled with this conundrum. Habakkuk demanded satisfaction for this affront to justice; Jeremiah, King David in his Psalms, and Solomon in Ecclesiastes all pondered this problem. The Book of Job is totally dedicated to this ancient riddle that still hovers over our world and demands its own resolution: Why does the Holy One, blessed be He, permit evil to have dominion over His creations?

 

3. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 4–5

Judaism, with its realistic approach to man and his status within existence, understood that evil does not lend itself to being obscured and glossed over, and that every attempt to diminish the import of the contrast and cleavage in existence will not bring man to inner peace or to comprehension of the existential secret. Evil is a fact that cannot be denied. There is evil in the world. There are suffering and agony, and death pangs. He who would deceive himself by ignoring the split in existence and by romanticizing life is but a fool and a fabricator of illusions. It is impossible to conquer monstrous evil with philosophical-speculative thought. Thus, Judaism determined that man, submerged in the depths of a frozen fate, will in vain seek the solution to the problem of evil in the context of speculative thought, for he will never find it. Certainly, the testimony of the Torah regarding creation — that “it is very good” (Genesis 1: 12) — is true. However, this is only stated from the unbounded perspective of the Creator. In man’s finite, limited view, the absolute good in creation is not apparent. The contrast is striking and undeniable. There is evil that is not susceptible to explanation and comprehension. Only by comprehending the world in its totality can man gain insight into the essence of suffering. However, as long as man’s perception is limited and fragmented, so that he sees only isolated portions of the cosmic drama and the mighty saga of history, he cannot delve into the recesses of evil and the mystery of suffering. To what might this situation be compared? To a person who views a beautiful tapestry, the work of a fine artisan, which contains, woven into it on its front, a representation dazzling to the eye. To our great sorrow, we see this image [i. e. , the world] from the obverse side. Can such a sight become a sublime esthetic experience? Thus, we are incapable of comprehending the panorama of reality without which one cannot uncover God’s master plan — the essence of the works of the Holy One. 

In short, the “I”of fate asks a speculative/metaphysical question about evil, and this question is not given to solution and has no answer. 

 

4. Rav Shagar, “Muteness and Faith,” Bayom Hahu, 75–76

With the beginning, the concealed and unknown created God. What does that mean? In Ezekiel’s prophecies, we ready about the divine throne: “Above the expanse over their heads was the semblance of a throne, in appearance like sapphire; and on top, upon this semblance of a throne, there was the semblance of a human form” (Ezekiel 1:26). In Tanakh, God wears a human face–“ the semblance of a human form”–when revealing himself to humanity and addressing people. Moreover, the human being draws his very humanity from this divine face and address. This divinity is the beginning of the created, human world–the “this palace” of the Zohar–and as such humans can access and know it. The Holocaust revealed something beyond this–the inhuman divine, “the unknown concealed one” who is beyond both the Torah and our human existence, and who therefore cannot be expressed in language–the differend. Perhaps this was what the Lubavitcher Rebbe meant when he said, “We cannot explain or clarify (based on the wisdom of the Torah) at all about the Holocaust. All we know is the fact that ‘thus it arose in thought before me’ and ‘it is a decree from before me.’” Not only can the Holocaust not be explained, but the very language and terminology of Torah also denies any explanation of the Holocaust, as the divine that manifested in the Holocaust is not part of human-divine discourse, a discourse which the Torah itself creates… In regard to God, the Holocaust, revealed the “awe-ful divine” (nora ha’eloki) that is above the “image of man.” It cannot be humanly apprehended, but the human cannot transcend the human in order somehow grasp this meaning that is foreign to him. What does it mean to say that there’s meaning “over there,” other than an acknowledgment of the simple fact, without comprehending its reality? Perhaps this was what the Lubavitcher Rebbe meant when he said, “We cannot explain or clarify (based on the wisdom of the Torah) at all about the Holocaust. All we know is the fact that ‘thus it arose in thought before me’”? Does this meaningless statement function in the same way as “negative attributes”? … “In the differend, something asks to be put into phrases and suffers from the wrong of not being able to be put into phrases right away.” Perhaps a meaningless statement constitutes an encounter with something that asked to be expressed but cannot do so?

I will conclude with the posing of these questions.

 

Destiny: Make Your Own Meaning

5. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 2–3

Posing the question of suffering, claims Judaism, is possible in two separate dimensions: the dimension of fate and the dimension of destiny. Judaism has always distinguished between an “Existence of Fate” and an “Existence of Destiny,” between the “I”which is the progeny of fate and the “I”which is the child of destiny. In this distinction lies hidden the Jewish doctrine of suffering. 

What is an Existence of Fate? It is an existence of duress, in the nature of “against your will do you live”(M. Avot 4: 29). It is a factual existence, simply one line in a [long] chain of mechanical causality, devoid of significance, direction, and purpose, and subordinate to the forces of the environment into whose midst the individual is pushed, unconsulted by Providence. The “I”of fate emerges as an object. As an object, man appears as acted upon and not as actor. He is acted upon through his passive collision with the objective outside, as one object confronting another. The “I” of fate is hurled into a sealed dynamic that is always turned outward. Man’s existence is hollow, lacking inner content, substance, and independence. The “I” of fate denies itself completely, because the sense of selfhood and objectification cannot dwell in tandem. 

 

6. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 5–6

What is an Existence of Destiny? It is an active Existence, when man confronts the environment into which he has been cast with an understanding of his uniqueness and value, freedom and capacity; without compromising his integrity and independence in his struggle with the outside world. The slogan of the “I” of destiny is: “Against your will you are born, and against your will you die”(M. Avot 4: 29), but by your free will do you live. Man is born as an object, dies as an object, but it is within his capability to live as a “subject” — as a creator and innovator who impresses his individual imprimatur on his life and breaks out of a life of instinctive, automatic behavior into one of creative activity. According to Judaism, man’s mission in this world is to turn fate into destiny — an existence that is passive and influenced into an existence that is active and influential; an existence of compulsion, perplexity, and speechlessness into an existence full of will, vision, and initiative. The blessing of the Holy One to his creation fully defines man’s role: “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Conquer the environment and subjugate it. If you do not rule over it, it will enslave you. Destiny bestows on man a new status in God’s world. It bestows upon man a royal crown, and thus he becomes God’s partner in the work of creation. 

 

7. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 6–9

As stated above, in man’s “Existence of Destiny” arises a new relation to the problem of evil. As long as man vacillates in his fateful existence, his relationship to evil is expressed solely in a philosophical/speculative approach. As a passive creature, it was not within his power to wrestle with evil in order to contain or to exploit it for an exalted purpose. The child of fate is devoid of the ability to determine anything in the realm of his existence. He is nurtured from the outside, and his life bears its imprint. Therefore he relates to evil from an impractical perspective and philosophizes about it from a speculative point of view. He wishes to deny the reality of evil and to create a harmonistic outlook on life. The result of such an experience is bitter disappointment. Evil mocks the prisoner of fate and his fantasy of a reality that is all good and pleasant. 

However, in the realm of destiny man recognizes reality as it is, and does not desire to use harmonizing formulas in order to hide and disregard evil. The “Child of Destiny” is very realistic and does not flinch in anticipation of a face-to-face confrontation with evil. His approach is halakhic and moral, and thus devoid of any metaphysical/speculative nuance. When the “Child of Destiny” suffers, he says in his heart, “There is evil, I do not deny it, and I will not conceal it with fruitless casuistry. I am, however, interested in it from a halakhic point of view; and as a person who wants to know what action to take. I ask a single question: What should the sufferer do to live with his suffering?” In this dimension, the emphasis is removed from causal and teleological considerations (which differ only as to direction) and is directed to the realm of action. The problem is now formulated in the language of a simple halakhah and revolves around a quotidian (i. e. daily) task. The question of questions is: What does suffering obligate man to do? This problem was important to Judaism, which placed it at the center of its Weltanschauung. Halakhah is just as interested in this question, as in issues of issur and heter and hiyyuv and p’tur. We do not wonder about the ineffable ways of the Holy One, but instead ponder the paths man must take when evil leaps up at him. We ask not about the reason for evil and its purpose, but rather about its rectification and uplifting. How should a man react in a time of distress? What should a person do so as not to rot in his affliction?

The halakhic answer to this question is very simple. Suffering comes to elevate man, to purify his spirit and sanctify him, to cleanse his mind and purify it from the chaff of superficiality and the dross of crudeness; to sensitize his soul and expand his horizons. In general, the purpose of suffering is to repair the imperfection in man’s persona. The halakhah teaches us that an afflicted person commits a criminal act if he allows his pain to go for naught and to remain without meaning or purpose. Suffering appears in the world in order to contribute something to man, in order to atone for him, in order to redeem him from moral impurity, from crudeness and lowliness of spirit. The sufferer must arise therefrom, purified, refined, and cleansed… From the midst of suffering itself he will achieve lasting redemption and merit a self-actualization and exaltation that are unequaled in a world devoid of suffering. From negation sprouts affirmation; from antithesis, thesis emerges; and from a denial of existence, a new existence is revealed. The Torah gave witness to man’s mighty spiritual reaction to suffering inflicted upon him when it said,“In your distress when all these horrors shall come upon you, then you shall return to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 4:30). Suffering requires man to repent and return to God. Distress is designated to arouse us to repentance, and what is repentance if not the renewal and supreme redemption of man?

 

8. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 22–23

If we want to ask a penetrating question at a time beset by terrifying nightmares, it is incumbent upon us to do so in a halakhic mode: What obligation accrues to the sufferer as a result of his suffering? What commanding heavenly voice breaks through from the midst of suffering? As we have said, this question has a solution which is expressed in a simple halakhah. There is no need for metaphysical speculation in order to clarify the rules of rectifying evil. “For it is not in Heaven”(Deuteronomy 30:12). If we succeed in formulating this doctrine without dealing with questions of cause and telos, we will earn a complete salvation, and the scriptural promise will be fulfilled for us, as it is written: “Take counsel together, and it shall come to naught; speak your harshnesses and they shall not come to fruition, for God is with us” (Isaiah 8:10). Then and only then shall we emerge from the depths of the Holocaust with enhanced spiritual stature and augmented historical splendor, as it is written, “And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10) — double in quantity and quality.

When the doctrine of the corrective effect of suffering is put into practice, it demands of the sufferer courage and spiritual discipline. He must gird himself with extraordinary strength, make a detached assessment of his world, examine his past and look to his future with complete honesty… And we, too, who are softhearted, weak-willed, bound by fate, and devoid of spiritual strength, are now bidden by Providence to adopt a new attitude; to ascend and raise ourselves to a level where suffering teaches us to demand from ourselves redemption and deliverance. For this purpose we must look at our reflection with spiritual fortitude and pure objectivity. This reflection bursts through to us from both the present and the past.

 

9. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 85–86

Let us return to what we said above. How does destiny differ from fate? In two respects: fate means a compelled existence; destiny is existence by volition. Destiny is created by man himself, who chooses and makes his own way in life. Fate is expressed in a teleological sense, in a denuded existence, whereas destiny embodies purpose and objectives. 

 

10. Rav Soloveitchik, Kol Dodi Dofek, 6–9

In short, man must solve, not the question of the causal or teleological reason for suffering with all its speculative complexity, but rather the question of its curative role, in all its halakhic simplicity, by turning fate to destiny and elevating himself from object to subject, from thing to man.

Suffering Without Meaning – Rav Shagar on the Unsayable Trauma of the Holocaust

Below is a translated excerpt from one of Rav Shagar’s derashot for Yom Hashoah, the day Israeli society collectively recalls and remembers the Holocaust. Specifically, it is the introductory section of the derashah, “Muteness and Faith,” which focuses on two ideas:

1. that which exceeds or cannot enter our speech (using Lyotard’s concept of “the differend” and the Zohar’s concept of סתימא דלא אתיידע, “the concealed and unknown”).

2. the Rebbe of Sanz-Klausenburg’s steadfast attachment to his Judaism, beyond reach of any mitsvah–beyond both Hitler and God.

The excerpt below is from the introduction to the derashah, where Rav Shagar meditates on his own relationship to the Holocaust as a child of survivors, as someone for whom the Holocaust was both an “incurable genetic disease” and “a horror on display in the noonday sun.”

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When tragedy strikes, believers typically ask, “What does this mean?”[1] The Holocaust denies all possibility of asking such questions, because it represents a total shattering of the world and its cultural construction. It falls outside the constructive world, the world of discourse.

This is how I experienced the “meaning” of the Holocaust in regard to my parents (of blessed memory), if it even makes sense to say such a thing. The Holocaust tore apart their youth, and they carried it with them for the rest of their lives. They almost never spoke about that time. They went on with their daily lives based on a sort of stubborn muteness, concealing the irreparable. They were victims for their entire lives. They could never speak, for the Holocaust had forced them into an incurable muteness. They lived without feeling like they could trust reality or people, rendering them incapable of accepting the other or addressing them with an open heart. They were barred from experiencing the sense of well-being which Tanakh describes as “everyone under his own vine and under his own fig tree” (1 Kings 5:5). In a certain sense, I myself continue to carry this burden.

This idea reminds me of the Kabbalistic and Hasidic commentaries on Passover and the exodus from Egypt which see the word Pesah as breaking down into peh-sah, “the mouth that speaks”–speech itself leaving its exile.[2] Speech generally enables us to turn a harsh, traumatic event into processable human suffering, which is the first step toward redemption from it. The Holocaust, however, is not just suffering. It is suffering that lacks speech, that is mute. There is no conceptual framework that could render it as suffering. In this sense, my parents never left the Holocaust. The Holocaust wasn’t just murder, it was the murder of murder. It is not an injustice or suffering that took place within the normal circle of human existence–it somehow transcends and refutes it. The Holocaust cannot be rendered conceptually into any other thing, so it cannot achieve any sort of conciliation. That is how I explain my parents’ muteness: they lived their lives in the empty space split open by the Holocaust. This is the meaning of the Holocaust, “the differend”–“an unsayable debt”: “Auschwitz was the death of death. In this death, even the possibility of mourning over what was lost is itself dead. The process of mourning cannot take place, so it is impossible to continue forward and move on.”[3]

When I discuss the Holocaust, I do so not from the perspective of someone who experienced it first-hand, but from the perspective of someone who inherited it–this is the incurable genetic disease of the second generation. In a certain sense, members of the second generation are no less victims of the Holocaust than members of the first. They too experience the Holocaust via an absolute lack of security in existence, in reality’s fundamental need for some basis or foundation. They experience a persistent sense of threat in the background of their lives, due to the presence of a “black hole” just waiting to swallow up everything.

For me, the Holocaust is just such a black hole of non-existence that nevertheless exists. It is a horror on display in the noonday sun–a horror that should have reduced annihilated everything, taking place in a world that continues to turn exactly as before–non-existence that nevertheless exists. This is a reality that leads only to being stuck, without any ability to escape or even to disappear.

_________________________________

[1] See Shimon Gershon Rosenberg, Bayom Hahu, 256–259.

[2] See, for example, R. Isaac Luria, Peri Ets Hayyim, Gate of the Holy Scriptures, ch. 4; Rebbe Nahman of Bratslav, Likkutei Moharan II 74. This is how I understanding a famous statement by the Hiddushei Harim of Ger: “’And you shall know that I, the Lord, am your God who freed you from the sufferings of the Egyptians’ (Exodus 6:7) – ‘Sufferings,’ so that they no longer suffer from the practices of Egypt” (quoted in Sefat Emet, vol. 2, Va’era 1878). In Egypt, when speech was in exile, a person simply continued to suffer, unable to free himself from the sufferings imposed on him.

[3] Adi Ophir and Avraham Azulai, “Memale Makom: Be’ikvot Sihah Im Leyotar,” in Jean Paul Leyotard, Hamatsav Hapostmoderni (Jerusalem: Resling Books, 1999), 127–128. Indeed, I have often had trouble believing statements about the Holocaust, not because I thought they were insincere, but because I saw them as foolish attempts to conquer the unconquerable.

Shiur: The Lonely Man of Faith #3 –Translation and the Untranslatable: Religion vs. Faith

This is the third of three classes on The Lonely Man of Faith that I recorded for my Rav Soloveitchik course after it was unceremoniously cut short by the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

This class explores the different religious communities created by”Adam the first” and “Adam the second” respectively, focusing on the true nature of faith and importance both of translating faith into intellectual terms, and of faith being partially untranslatable.

I think I forgot to mention this in the class itself, but the “Adam the first” category of religion and finding pragmatic value in faith/ritual/etc. should definitely include “social orthodoxy” and orthoprax models of Judaism.

 

 

 

Translation and the Untranslatable: Faith vs. Religion

 

From Tension to Resolution and Back Again

1. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 75–76

The element of the tragic is not fully eliminated from the destiny of the man of faith even after joining the covenantal community. We said at the very beginning of this essay that the loneliness of the man of faith is an integral part of his destiny from which he can never be completely liberated. The dialectical awareness, the steady oscillating between the majestic natural community and the covenantal faith community renders the act of complete redemption unrealizable. The man of faith, in his continuous movement between the pole of natural majesty and that of covenantal humility, is prevented from totally immersing in the immediate covenantal awareness of the redeeming presence, knowability, and involvement of God in the community of man. From time to time the man of faith is thrown into the majestic community where the colloquy as well as the covenantal consciousness are swept away. He suddenly finds himself revolving around the cosmic center, now and then catching a glimpse of the Creator who hides behind the boundless drama of creation. To be sure, this alternation of cosmic and covenantal involvement is not one of “light and shade,” enhanced activity and fatigue, as the mystics are accustomed to call their alternating experiences, but represents two kinds of creative and spontaneous activity, both willed and sanctioned by God. Let us not forget that the majestic community is willed by God as much as the covenantal faith community.

 

2. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 78–79

If one would inquire of me about the teleology of the Halakhah, I would tell him that it manifests itself exactly in the paradoxical yet magnificent dialectic which underlies the Halakhic gesture. When man gives himself to the covenantal community the Halakhah reminds him that he is also wanted and needed in another community, the cosmic-majestic, and when it comes across man while he is involved in the creative enterprise of the majestic community, it does not let him forget that he is a covenantal being who will never find self-fulfillment outside of the covenant and that God awaits his return to the covenantal community. I would also add, in reply to such a question, that many a time I have the distinct impression that the Halakhah considered the steady oscillating of the man of faith between majesty and covenant not as a dialectical but rather as a complementary movement. The majestic gesture of the man of faith, I am inclined to think, is looked upon by the Halakhah not as contradictory to the covenantal encounter but rather as the reflex action which is caused by this encounter when man feels the gentle touch of God’s hand upon his shoulder and the covenantal invitation to join God is extended to him. I am prompted to draw this remarkable inference from the fact that the Halakhah has a monistic approach to reality and has unreservedly rejected any kind of dualism. The Halakhah believes that there is only one world—not divisible into secular and hallowed sector…

 

3. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 82–83

Since the dialectical role has been assigned to man by God, it is God who wants the man of faith to oscillate between the faith community and the community of majesty, between being confronted by God in the cosmos and the intimate, immediate apprehension of God through the covenant, and who therefore willed that complete human redemption be unattainable.

Had God placed Adam in the majestic community only, then Adam would, as it was stated before, never be aware of existential loneliness. The sole problem would then be that of aloneness—one that majestic Adam could resolve. Had God, vice versa, thrust Adam into the covenantal community exclusively, then he would be beset by the passional experience of existential loneliness and also provided with the means of finding redemption from this experience through his covenantal relation to God and to his fellow man. However, God, in His inscrutable wisdom, has decreed differently. Man discovers his loneliness in the covenantal community, and before he is given a chance to climb up to the high level of a complete covenantal, revealed existence, dedicated in faith to God and in sympathy to man, man of faith is pushed into a new community where he is told to lead an expanded surface existence rather than a covenantal, concentrated in-depth existence. Because of this onward movement from center to center, man does not feel at home in any community. He is commanded to move on before he manages to strike roots in either of these communities and so the ontological loneliness of man of faith persists.

 

Subversion

4. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 86–87

Contemporary Adam the first, extremely successful in his cosmic-majestic enterprise, refuses to pay earnest heed to the duality in man and tries to deny the undeniable, that another Adam exists beside or, rather, in him. By rejecting Adam the second, contemporary man, eo ipso, dismisses the covenantal faith community as something superfluous and obsolete. To clear up any misunderstanding on the part of my audience, I wish to note that I am not concerned in this essay with the vulgar and illiterate atheism professed and propagated in the most ugly fashion by a natural-political community which denies the unique transcendental worth of the human personality. I am referring rather to Western man who is affiliated with organized religion and is a generous supporter of its institutions. He stands today in danger of losing his dialectical awareness and of abandoning completely the metaphysical polarity implanted in man as a member of both the majestic and the covenantal community.

 

5. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 88–89

The prime purpose [of the religious community] is the successful furtherance of the interests, not the deepening and enhancing of the commitments, of man who values religion in terms of its usefulness to him and considers the religious act a medium through which he may increase his happiness. This assumption on the part of majestic man about the role of religion is not completely wrong, if only, as I shall explain, he would recognize also the non-pragmatic aspects of religion. Faith is indeed relevant to man not only metaphysically but also practically. It gives his life, even at the secular mundane level, a new existential dimension. Certain aspects of the doctrinal and normative covenantal kerygma of faith are of utmost importance to majestic man and are, in a paradoxical way, translatable into the latter’s vernacular. It is very certain and self-evident that Adam the first cannot succeed completely in his efforts to attain majesty-dignity without having the man of faith contribute his share. The cultural edifice whose great architect Adam the first is would be built on shifting sands if he sought to conceal from himself and from others the fact that he alone cannot implement the mandate of majesty-dignity entrusted to him by God and that he must petition Adam the second for help. To be sure, man can build spaceships capable of reaching other planets without addressing himself to the mystery of faith and without being awakened to an enhanced, inspired life which reflects the covenantal truth. He certainly can triumph to a limited degree over the elemental forces of nature without crossing the frontiers of here-and-now sense-facticity. The Tower of Babel can be built high and mighty without beholding and acknowledging the great verity that Heaven is yet higher. However, the idea of majesty which Adam the first is striving to realize embraces much more than the mere building of machines, no matter how complex and efficacious. Successful man wants to be a sovereign not only in the physical but also in the spiritual world. He is questing not only for material success, but for ideological and axiological achievements as well. He is concerned with a philosophy of nature and man, of matter and mind, of things and ideas.

 

6. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 92–93

Since majestic man is in need of a transcendental experience in order to strengthen his cultural edifice, it is the duty of the man of faith to provide him with some component parts of this experience. God would not have implanted the necessity in majestic man for such spiritual perceptions and ideas if He had not at the same time endowed the man of faith with the skill of converting some of his apocalyptic experiences—which are meta-logical and non-hedonic—into a system of values and verities comprehensible to majestic man, the experimenter, aesthete, and, above all, the creative mind.

 

7. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 93–5

At this point, however, the crisis in the relations between man of faith and majestic man begins to develop. If the job of translating faith mysteries into cultural aspects could be fully accomplished, then contemporary man of faith could free himself, if not from the ontological awareness which is perennial, then, at least, from the peculiar feeling of psychological loneliness and anguish which is due to his historical confrontation with the man of culture. The man of faith would, if this illusion came true, be at peace with the man of culture so that the latter would fully understand the significance of human dialectics, and a perfect harmonious relationship would prevail between both Adams.

However, this harmony can never be attained since the man of faith is not the compromising type and his covenantal commitment eludes cognitive analysis by the logos and hence does not lend itself completely to the act of cultural translation. There are simply no cognitive categories in which the total commitment of the man of faith could be spelled out. This commitment is rooted not in one dimension, such as the rational one, but in the whole personality of the man of faith. The whole of the human being, the rational as well as the non-rational aspects, is committed to God, Hence, the magnitude of the commitment is beyond the comprehension of the logos and the ethos. The act of faith is aboriginal, exploding with elemental force as an all-consuming and all-pervading eudaemonic-passional experience in which our most secret urges, aspirations, fears, and passions, at times even unsuspected by us, manifest themselves. The commitment of the man of faith is thrown into the mold of the in-depth personality and immediately accepted before the mind is given a chance to investigate the reasonableness of this unqualified commitment. The intellect does not chart the course of the man of faith; its role is an a posteriori one. It attempts, ex post facto, to retrace the footsteps of the man of faith, and even in this modest attempt the intellect is not completely successful. Of course, as long as the path of the man of faith cuts across the territory of the reasonable, the intellect may follow him and identify his footsteps. The very instant, however, the man of faith transcends the frontiers of the reasonable and enters into the realm of the unreasonable, the intellect is left behind and must terminate its search for understanding. The man of faith, animated by his great experience is able to reach the point at which not only his logic of the mind but even his logic of the heart and of the will, everything—even his own “I” awareness—has to give in to an “absurd” commitment. The man of faith is “insanely” committed to and “madly” in love with God.

 

7a. Rav Shagar, Faith Shattered and Restored, 22–23

In effect, according to Rabbi Naman, not only is faith not a public language, it is not a language at all. That is why it is so difficult to fully depict one’s faith. Something will always remain unspoken, a mystery and intimacy that cannot and should not be revealed, for baring it would violate the intimacy of faith… The freedom to be private is a prerequisite of faith, and the only thing that can lead, on the next level, to honest, genuine dialogue between believers.

Hence, what I am trying to describe here is not a philosophy or outlook regarding faith. Philosophies and outlooks are, in this context, nothing but rationalizations – apologetics, even – whose sole role is to justify what has already been arrived at, and which must thus be regarded with a certain wariness. They are not the substance of faith but explanations for it; thus, they are ancillary to it and always involve a degree of duality. To paraphrase the opponents of Maimonides and his school, who stated that a God whose existence must be proven is no God at all, I offer the absurd assertion that a believer who requires an intellectual proof for his faith is no believer at all.

There is no proof of faith, and no certainty of faith to be gained with a proof. In any event, proofs do not impact our existence like a gun pointed at one’s temple; they do not touch upon the believer’s inner life. That is why, when it comes to faith, I prefer to use terms such as “occurrence” and “experience.”

 

8. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 95–97

The untranslatability of the complete faith experience is due not to the weakness, but to the greatness of the latter. If an all-embracing translation of the great mystery of revelation and its kerygma were possible, then the uniqueness of the faith experience and its commitments would be lost. Only peripheral elements of the act of faith can be projected on a cognitive, pragmatic background. Prayer, for instance, might appeal to majestic man as the most uplifting, integrating, and purifying act, arousing the finest and noblest emotions, yet these characteristics, however essential to Adam the first, are of marginal interest to Adam the second, who experiences prayer as the awesome confrontation of God and man, as the great paradox of man conversing with God as an equal fellow member of the covenantal society, and at the same time being aware that he fully belongs to God and that God demands complete surrender and self-sacrifice…

In a word, the message of translated religion is not the only one which the man of faith must address to majestic man of culture. Besides this message, man of faith must bring to the attention of man of culture the kerygma of original faith in all its singularity and pristine purity, in spite of the incompatibility of this message with the fundamental credo of a utilitarian society. How staggering this incompatibility is! This unique message speaks of defeat instead of success, of accepting a higher will instead of commanding, of giving instead of conquering, of retreating instead of advancing, of acting “irrationally” instead of being always reasonable. Here the tragic event occurs. Contemporary majestic man rejects his dialectical assignment and, with it, the man of faith.

 

9. Rav Soloveitchik, The Lonely Man of Faith, 103–106

Elisha was a typical representative of the majestic community. He was the son of a prosperous farmer, a man of property, whose interests were centered around this-worldly, material goods such as crops, livestock, and market prices. His objective was economic success, his aspiration—material wealth. The Bible portrays him as efficient, capable, and practical, remindful of a modern business executive… Suddenly the mantle of Elijah was cast upon him. While he was engaged in the most ordinary, everyday activity, in tilling the soil, he encountered God and felt the transforming touch of God’s hand. The strangest metamorphosis occurred. Within seconds, the old Elisha disappeared and a new Elisha emerged. Majestic man was replaced by covenantal man… However, Elisha’s withdrawal from majesty was not final. He followed the dialectical course of all our prophets. Later, when he achieved the pinnacle of faith and arrived at the outer boundaries of human commitment, he came back to society as a participant in state affairs, as an adviser of kings and a teacher of the majestic community. God ordered him to return to the people, to offer them a share in the covenantal drama and to involve them in the great and solemn colloquy. He was God’s messenger carrying, like Moses, two tablets of stone containing the covenantal kerygma.

Shiur: Adar 2020 – Up is Down, Holy is Unholy: From Vayikra to Hasidut to Rav Kook and Rav Shagar

Up is Down, Holy is Unholy:
From Vayikra to Hasidut to Rav Kook to Rav Shagar

 

1. Talmud Bavli, Megillah 15b

 

“On that night the sleep of the king was disturbed” (Esther 6:1). Rabbi Tanḥum said: The sleep of the King of the universe was disturbed.

Kodesh vs. Hol

 

2. Vayikra 10:8–11

 

And the Lord spoke to Aaron, saying: 9 Drink no wine or other intoxicant, you or your sons, when you enter the Tent of Meeting, that you may not die. This is a law for all time throughout the ages, 10 for you must distinguish (lehavdil) between the sacred and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean; 11 and you must teach the Israelites all the laws which the Lord has imparted to them through Moses.

 

3. Vayikra 11:44–47

 

For I the Lord am your God: you shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not make yourselves unclean through any swarming thing that moves upon the earth. 45 For I the Lord am He who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God: you shall be holy, for I am holy. 46 These are the instructions concerning animals, birds, all living creatures that move in water, and all creatures that swarm on earth, 47 for distinguishing (lehavdil) between the unclean and the clean, between the living things that may be eaten and the living things that may not be eaten.

Hasidut and Its Opponents

 

4. Keter Shem Tov, Bereshit §189

 

“The whole earth is filled with his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). Nothing exists, large or small, that is separate from God. Thus, a perfect (shalem) person can perform divine unifications, even in physical activities like eating, drinking, and sexual relations, like business and mundane conversations between friends.

I have thus received a tradition from a wise man… this is the meaning of the verse, “Know him in all your ways” (Proverbs 3:6), which is like “And the man knew Eve his wife” (Genesis 4:1), meaning unification and coupling.

If this is true about physical matters, all the more so with matters like prayer that stand in the heights of the world. There are many levels, and on each and every level a person can perform unifications, in the mystery of “Thus shall Aaron come to the holy” (Leviticus 16:3). Whatever level a person is on, from there he can include himself within the entirety of the world, which are on these levels. They are all the limbs of the Knesset Yisrael. At this point a person can pray, and it will be that “his God be with him and he ascends” (II Chronicles 36:23).

 

 

5. Rav Ḥayyim of Volozhin, Nefesh Haḥayyim III:5

 

Translation from Eliezer Lipa (Leonard) Moskowitz, The Soul of Life, 304–5

But even considering this, these are His heroic and awesome [works]: that even so, He hid–so to speak–His glory so that it would be possible to actualize the matter of the existence of the worlds, and the powers, and created beings, both newly created and renewed, having different qualities and diverse situations, and distributed in different locations—places that are holy and pure, and the opposite: impure and filthy. And this is our perspective, namely, that our capacity for sense perception is limited to the realities as they appear, and on this perspective is built the system that mandates our behavior, as we were commanded directly by Him (blessed be He), it being immutable law. And from this perspective our sages metaphorized Him (so to speak) per the matter of the soul-Neshama’s relationship to the body. And as is stated in the Zohar that He (blessed be He) is the soul-Neshama of all the worlds, being that in people the senses only perceive a person’s body, and: 

  • even though the soul-Neshama permeates the entire body, it is an aspect hidden to eyes of flesh but revealed to the mind’s eyes,
  • so too, based on our grasp of what can be perceived, so appears the reality of all the worlds and creations, and that He (blessed be His name) permeates and is hidden (so to speak) within them to enliven them and to sustain them,

as in the matter of the soul-Neshama that permeates and is hidden within all the various parts of the body’s limbs/ organs, to enliven it.

 

6. Rav Ḥayyim of Volozhin, Nefesh Haḥayyim III:6

 

Translation from Eliezer Lipa (Leonard) Moskowitz, The Soul of Life, 307

And so it is that all of the fundamental principles of the holy Torah, every one of the warnings and command­ments, positive and negative, all operate within this context, that from our perspective there absolutely exist differences and variations between places. In clean/pure places we are permitted and also obligated to discuss and to reflect on the Torah’s words. And in filthy places we are prohibited even to reflect on the Torah’s words. And so it is with all the matters and the system of behavioral obligations that we are directly commanded in the holy Torah, and lacking this context of our perspective there wouldn’t be any room for the Torah and commandments at all.

 

7. Rav Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica, Mei Hashiloaḥ, vol. 1, Ki Tisa, s.v. Elohei Masekhah Lo Ta’aseh Lekha

 

“Molten gods, you shall not make for yourselves” (Shemot 34:17). “Molten” refers to the general principles. This is the meaning of the verse: In a moment when you have explicit “understanding of the heart” (binat halev), then you should not look to the general principles to guide your actions. Understanding of the heart should be your sole guide as to how to act in each individual instance, as we find by Eliyahu on Har Carmel, and as we explained well in Parashat Ḥukkat.

 

8. Rav Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica, Mei Hashiloaḥ, vol. 1, Ḥukkat, s.v. Vayis’u Benei Yisrael Vayiḥanu Be’ovot

 

It is written in the Gemara (Berachot, 54a), it is a time for God to act, for they have made Your Torah void’ (Tehillim, 119). says, “It is a time to do for God, for they have made void your Torah.” This means, since they have made your Torah void, act only in the will of God. At a time when it is perfectly clear that it is a time to solely for Eliyahu on Mount Carmel, then it is necessary to put aside the principles of the holy Torah and act only in the understanding that the blessed God instills in you. Rebbe Natan is saying that at a time when this given under standing is not completely clear to you, you must act according to the principles of the Torah and mitzvot without stepping out of the bounds of the Halacha. Yet Rebbe Natan is also saying that if your heart is drawn after the will of the blessed God, and have removed from yourself any kind of impurity (anything that could bring you down), afterward God may provide you with an opportunity to act in a way that may seem as if, God forbid, you have removed yourself from the bounds of the principles of the Torah. Concerning this Rebbe Natan said that for the one whose heart is drawn after God and has cleansed himself from any affliction, certainly God will not let him fall into a transgression, God forbid. He will surely then know that it is “a time to do for God.”

Kodesh vs. Hol 2.0: Spiritual vs. Unspiritual

 

9. Rav Kook, Mussar Avikha 2:2

 

Translation from R. Ari Ze’ev Schwartz, The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook, 55-56)

“In all of your ways, know Him” (Mishlei 3:6). One must search for God in everything one does. When praying, one must search for God by trying to focus on the words of prayer with deep concentration and a dedicated heart. One must not search for God in other matters at that moment. Indeed, while involved in that specific action, it may be said that God can be found within that action and nothing else. When studying Torah, one must realize that God is found in the very act of analyzing and trying to understand each idea. At that moment, God reveals Himself in that specific action and not in anything else. And finally, when involved in gemilut chasadim (acts of kindness), one must search for God by trying to uncover the best possible way to help one’s friend.

This principle is true in all actions that a person does. Do not all matters in the world uncover the Divine? Therefore, everything a person does should be understood as a mitzvah, because one must search for God in every action. We may accurately say that one who dedicates his or her entire mind and strength to performing every action with the greatest level of perfection knows God in all of his ways…

 

10. Rav Shagar, Nahalekh Baragesh, 170

 

Paradoxically, the logic of self-nullification (bitul) leads to a parabolic movement culminating in a return to the world. The righteous person nullifies himself, but in this the lack of nullification–the non-spiritual, worldly life–itself becomes nullification, a vessel for infinite light, an instance of “existing but not in existence.” The divide between creator and creature, between a righteous person and his creator, blurs. 

 

11. Rav Shagar, Shiurim Al Lekutei Moharan I:29, vol. 1, 368

 

Similarly, Rebbe Naḥman’s understanding of tikkun habrit does not depict the berit as identification. Identifying with something still expresses a dualistic consciousness, because a person could identify with something outside of himself. Berit means getting rid of duality, so being overly aware of what we are doing ruins it. For example, we say “Thank God,” and that immediately traps us, as if we are doing something good by saying “Thank you.” We can free ourselves from this trap by saying “Thank you” from a place of linguistic oneness, of simplicity (peshitut). If I pray, and I must identify with the prayer, then this is still a matter of innerness and duality. The highest prayer is simply saying, speaking. This act can create the most delightful prayer.

Shiur: Tevet 2019 – The Thing About Miracles: From Hanukkah to Everyday Life

The Thing About Miracles:
From Hanukkah to Everyday Life

 

What is a Miracle?

 

1. Melakhim Alef 16:1-8

 

Elijah the Tishbite, an inhabitant of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord lives, the God of Israel whom I serve, there will be no dew or rain except at my bidding.” 2 The word of the Lord came to him: 3 “Leave this place; turn eastward and go into hiding by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4 You will drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” 5 He proceeded to do as the Lord had bidden: he went, and he stayed by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 6 The ravens brought him bread and meat every morning and every evening, and he drank from the wadi. 7 After some time the wadi dried up, because there was no rain in the land. 8 And the word of the Lord came to him: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon, and stay there; I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”

 

What Does It Matter?

 

2. Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Yesodei Hatorah 8:1-3

 

The Jews did not believe in Moses, our teacher, because of the wonders that he performed. Whenever anyone’s belief is based on wonders, [the commitment of] his heart has shortcomings, because it is possible to perform a wonder through magic or sorcery.

All the wonders performed by Moses in the desert were not intended to serve as proof [of the legitimacy] of his prophecy, but rather were performed for a purpose. It was necessary to drown the Egyptians, so he split the sea and sank them in it. We needed food, so he provided us with manna. We were thirsty, so he split the rock [providing us with water]. Korach’s band mutinied against him, so the earth swallowed them up. The same applies to the other wonders…

What is the source of our belief in him? The [revelation] at Mount Sinai. Our eyes saw, and not a stranger’s. Our ears heard, and not another’s. There was fire, thunder, and lightning. He entered the thick clouds; the Voice spoke to him and we heard, “Moses, Moses, go tell them the following…”

 

3. Rav Shagar, Leha’ir Et Hapetahim, 114

 

Rambam thought that faith that is based on miracles is faith that has flaws. A miracle that is presented as a proof for faith is forced on a believer artificially, from the outside, such that there will always remain a gap between the believer and their faith through which doubt can slip.

Seeing miracles as a proof for faith is a manifestation of a desire to hold onto the absolute. But the absolute cannot be seized, it only reveals itself as an intangible and unmediated presence. The very logic of proofs defeat them, for they introduce a duality into faith that blocks the path to the absolute. When miracles function as proofs, they become a hard fact that externally indicate the existence of God, and in doing so they dissolve the realness of this existence and sustain the persistence of doubt.

 

The King of India

 

4. The Kuzari I:19-22, 25

 

  1. The Rabbi: If thou wert told that the King of India was an excellent man, commanding admiration, and deserving his high reputation, one whose actions were reflected in the justice which rules his country and the virtuous ways of his subjects, would this bind thee to revere him?

 

  1. Al Khazari: How could this bind me, whilst I am not sure if the justice of the Indian people is natural, and not dependent on their king, or due to the king or both?

 

  1. The Rabbi: But if his messenger came to thee bringing presents which thou knowest to be only procurable in India, and in the royal palace, accompanied by a letter in which it is distinctly stated from whom it comes, and to which are added drugs to cure thy diseases, to preserve thy health, poisons for thy enemies, and other means to fight and kill them without battle, would this make thee beholden to him?

 

  1. Al Khazari: Certainly. For this would remove my former doubt that the Indians have a king. I should also acknowledge that a proof of his power and dominion has reached me…

 

  1. The Rabbi: … In the same strain spoke Moses to Pharaoh, when he told him: ‘The God of the Hebrews sent me to thee,’ viz. the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. For Abraham was well known to the nations, who also knew that the divine spirit was in contact with the patriarchs, cared for them, and performed miracles for them. He did not say: ‘The God of heaven and earth,’ nor ‘my Creator and thine sent me.’ In the same way God commenced His speech to the assembled people of Israel: ‘I am the God whom you worship, who has led you out of the land of Egypt,’ but He did not say: ‘I am the Creator of the world and your Creator.’ Now in the same style I spoke to thee, a Prince of the Khazars, when thou didst ask me about my creed. I answered thee as was fitting, and is fitting for the whole of Israel who knew these things, first from personal experience, and afterwards through uninterrupted tradition, which is equal to the former.

 

5. Rav Shagar, Zeman Shel Herut, “This is For You, A Sign,” 78–79

 

The Haver of The Kuzari also gives miracles a central role in the context of faith. However, rather than framing miracles as proof for faith, he says that they create a connection to faith. The Haver chooses to present himself to the Khazar king as “believ[ing] in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, who led the children of Israel out of Egypt with signs and miracles… who sent Moses with His law.”  The king is confused by this confession and asks, “Now shouldst thou, O Jew, not have said that thou believest in the Creator of the world, its Governor and Guide, and in Him who created and keeps thee?” In response to the king’s shock, the Haver emphasizes the miracle of the exodus from Egypt as the basis of faith. The Exodus from Egypt demonstrates God’s direct, personal relation to the Jew that transcends nature. This personal relation creates the Jew’s connection to his God and his Torah.  This great, revealed miracle demonstrates real, divine closeness, and this closeness is itself the primary revelation of faith. As far as The Kuzari is concerned, miracles are not some momentary “hocus pocus,” they are events that carry within them the sensation of direct encounter with the wondrous, the mystical. This is the religious significance of miracles, without which they have no meaning.

 

What is Faith?

 

6. Rav Shagar, “My Faith,” Faith Shattered and Restored, 22-24

 

Philosophies and outlooks are, in this context, nothing but rationalizations – apologetics, even – whose sole role is to justify what has already been arrived at, and which must thus be regarded with a certain wariness. They are not the substance of faith but explanations for it; thus, they are ancillary to it and always involve a degree of duality. To paraphrase the opponents of Maimonides and his school, who stated that a God whose existence must be proven is no God at all, I offer the absurd assertion that a believer who requires an intellectual proof for his faith is no believer at all.

There is no proof of faith, and no certainty of faith to be gained with a proof. In any event, proofs do not impact our existence like a gun pointed at one’s temple; they do not touch upon the believer’s inner life. That is why, when it comes to faith, I prefer to use terms such as “event” and “experience.” God’s presence in my prayers is as tangible to me as the presence of a human interlocutor. That is not a proof but rather an immediate experience. Similarly, I do not assert that the sight of someone standing in front of me is proof of the person’s existence. That would be foolish: After all, I see you.

 

You Did Miracles For Our Forefathers

 

7. Yishai Mevorach, A Theology of Absence, 57

 

“With those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here this day” (Devarim 29:14).” These words correctly present the deep meaning of the biblical idea of a covenant (berit), which means being a sign-representation of the past encounter, of the moment of responsibility and obligation towards the other who confronts me. Similarly for the father of the nation, Avraham: “I will maintain My covenant between Me and you, and your offspring who come after you, as an everlasting covenant throughout the ages, to be God to you and to your offspring who come after you. […] As for you, you and your offspring who come after you throughout the ages shall keep My covenant. […] every male among you shall be circumcised. […] and that shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. […] Thus shall My covenant be marked in your flesh as an everlasting pact” (Bereshit 17:7-13). If so, maintaining the covenant means being a body that expresses the past, as a past that was, in a present that has nothing of its own. Maintaining the covenant means living without revelation or redemption that happen to me. Instead, I see myself as “offspring who come after,” as a symbol of the event and encounter that was.

 

8. Yishai Mevorach, A Theology of Absence, 63

 

A covenantal life is when two people willingly exist as representations of a moment of revelation, the engagement, that happened in the past. In their past there was a “face to face” moment of revelation-responsibility, and now the couple are a symbol of that time. A life of covenant is not about the Other who reveals himself to me, but the Other who revealed himself to me, and the I, the face, who was the address of that revelation.
Here too, as with prayer and the commandments, secularized Western culture boldly tries to fill a couple with tension and expectations of revelation. This is why couples are always told about workshops, classes, magical getaways with youthful atmospheres, bungalows, taking time away from parenting, analyzing their tension, and so on and so on, ideas without end, all just so that the couple will resume discovering each other and revealing themselves to one another. However, “this is all Christian,” as Rosenzweig would say. Someone who wants to hold onto an Other who is currently revealing himself, without any disruption, is asking to live without a covenant. In a covenant, there is no revelation, only a faithful representation thereof. This forces or coerces a person to carry the covenant onward, toward the children who bear its sign.

Rav Shagar on Shabbat Hanukkah- The Candle and the Sacrifice

My latest Rav Shagar translation, a derashah for Shabbat Hanukkah, with an explanatory introduction by Prof. Alan Brill.

Rav Shagar on Shabbat Hanukkah- The Candle and the Sacrifice

https://kavvanah.wordpress.com/2019/12/22/rav-shagar-on-shabbat-hanukkah-the-candle-and-the-sacrifice/
— Read on kavvanah.wordpress.com/2019/12/22/rav-shagar-on-shabbat-hanukkah-the-candle-and-the-sacrifice/

Yom Kippur 2019 – Being Together with Man and God

Yom Kippur approaches. The long day of atonement the ascetic quest for apology, catharsis, and, if we dare to hope, reconciliation. This quest is in some ways driven by the persistent drumbeat of prayer, particularly the vidui, the rhythmic recital of the sins we have sinned. Ashamnu.

According to Rav Shagar, this detailed enumeration of our iniquities is not self-important, it’s not about itself. What it is about is our underlying posture toward each other. We don’t commit interpersonal sins, stealing or lying, without first seeing ourselves as separate from and in competition with those around us.

“The sins of guilt and betrayal mentioned in the confession are not necessarily private, specific guilts, but forms of being connected to the metaphysical guilt and betrayal rooted in the foundations of our existence; betrayal of the Other is inherent in the very nature of the human situation. I will always care for my children better than I will care for your children. “Man is a wolf to man” — This law is not psychological but ontological — this is the meaning of betrayal.” (Rav Shagar, She’erit Ha’emunah, 188)

When we sin against our fellow man, we act out our underlying sense that it’s us or them, and we always choose us. We are always at war, and we have always been at war; there is never more than a cold peace between me and the enemy I see across the table, nevermore than a lazy ceasefire.

What we need then, is to reimagine the way we exist in the world, not our actions, but the underlying orientation toward other people from which our actions spring forth. We cannot keep seeing ourselves as competing with everyone else in a zero-sum game for existence and happiness. We need to learn to see the other’s gain as my own gain as well, to see ourselves as part of a larger unity.

“The choir represents the intentional intermingling of individuals , and that is what makes it so powerful. It is enjoyable because of the harmony it creates between individuals, and therefore there is no better way to create the unified collective of the congregation.” (ibid.)

This is not a mystical, organic unity, however. We are not part of one solid organism called “the Jewish people,” “humanity,” what have you. This is individuals coming together as part of a larger project, with a shared vision of a brighter future, of the possibilities of transcendence.

That matters because this is a unity without difference. This is about different, separate individuals coming together out of choice. Consequently, I may actually experience another person gaining as my own losing; sometimes reality really is limited. This unity means taking a moment to re-evaluate what it means to lose.

“They say that love will win, but love cannot win. This is because where there is love there is no winner, and where there is victory there is no love. Quite the reverse, love loses, it is constantly losing, it is inextricably tied to giving up, to sacrifice and self-degradation.” (Rav Shagar, Nahalekh Beregesh, 336)

Losing is an inherent part of any relationship. Any time I commit myself to another person, I agree to make sacrifices for them. I recognize the importance, within my own life, of things and people other than myself. (For Rav Soloveitchik this was submission,;for Rosenzweig it was judgment; for Heschel ,self-transcendence; for Levinas, the infinite command of the other; and for Rav Froman, the true freedom that only comes from commitment.) This is all the more true when it comes to being part of a group. Choosing to be part of a collective means choosing to put the group before the self, at least in some areas and respects. It means choosing to lose for the sake of the group and the other people in it, because that itself is a kind of win. It may not take away the sting of the sacrifice, but it adds its own kind of sweetness, a pleasant aroma before God.

This sweetness is the theological horizon of unity. Yom Kippur is not just about society, and unity is not just interpersonal; our relationships with others are simultaneously our relationship with The Other, God who transcends human existence.

“The confession does not mention sins between man and God at all, something that gets to the heart of the confession; the guilt that it deals with is ethical-existential guilt of betraying the essence of existence, something that is manifest in societal wrongs, not in the religious realm between a person and his god. The social realm is the location of the kingdom of God, in it and through it the divine unity is realized – “Hear O’ Israel, the Lord is our god, the Lord is one.”” (Rav Shagar, She’erit Ha’emunah, 188-189)

Human unity and divine oneness are inextricably intertwined. Loving and losing can never be torn apart. Atonement begins with the recognition of fundamental sin. When we apologize to other people, when we begin to shift our basic posture toward them, we begin to reveal the kingdom of God. When we declare before God that we have sinned against other people, we declare the divine significance of the social realm. And when we begin to see others as collaborators rather than competitors, individuals for whom we would sacrifice rather than enemies to overcome, we begin to mend the tears in the very fabric being, both human and divine. Bagadnu, and no more. Peace, purity, and reconciliation.

Av 2019: Should You Believe in a Third Destruction?

Should We Believe in a Third Destruction?
Rav Shagar and Rav Froman on the Surprising Nature of Faith

  1. Yirmiyahu 7:1-15

The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Stand at the gate of the House of the Lord, and there proclaim this word: Hear the word of the Lord, all you of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord! Thus said the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel: Mend your ways and your actions, and I will let you dwell in this place. Don’t put your trust in illusions and say, “The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord are these buildings.”

[….]

As for Me, I have been watching—declares the Lord. Just go to My place at Shiloh, where I had established My name formerly, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. And now, because you do all these things—declares the Lord—and though I spoke to you persistently, you would not listen; and though I called to you, you would not respond— therefore I will do to the House which bears My name, on which you rely, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, just what I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of My presence as I cast out your brothers, the whole brood of Ephraim.

Rav Shagar

  1. Rav Shagar, Shiurim al Lekutei Moharan, vol. 1, 269-271

I was recently at a symposium on the relationship between certainty and faith. One of the speakers told of a certain forum where a person raised the possibility that there could be a third destruction, as opposed to Rav Herzog’s famous words, spoken in the earliest days of the state, about how we have God’s promise that there will not be a third destruction. In response, he was thrown out of the forum, because of the “heresy” involved in casting doubt on the continuing redemptive process of the modern state of Israel. The speaker told this story in praise of the certainty of faith, and looked positively on the total unreadiness to hear claims like his. He saw it as a revelation of true faith. I was shook. I saw this as making faith into an idol, expressing an arrogant religion that refuses to accept the other. It comes from the violence laid bare in religious discourse.

To my mind, rejecting the idea of a third destruction comes from patriotism in the negative sense, rather than from a position of deep faith. Absolute certainty is a handhold that lets the speaker feel confident about the righteousness of his path, but faith happens only in the moment when a person gives up on certainty and opens up to the possibilities that exceed the limits of his understanding. In this context, raising doubts is not only not opposed to faith, it itself is the thing that can lead us to real faith. Raising doubts is not an educational goal, and I do not mean that we must encourage doubts, mainly because some people remain in a chronic state of baselessness. The trap of ideological excess can lead to acting like an idolater, coating their opinions with words of faith.

It’s important to remember that an answer like “perhaps” is a real possibility in existence, which can be just as certain as certainty. The very existence of a positive option itself changes the feeling of your life. For example, things in my life don’t have to be good in a simplistic sense in order for me to have faith; it is enough that I have faith that things could be good, that the potential exists, in order to experience the presence of God. Faith is not necessarily certainty, and therefore it’s possible for a faithful answer to the question “Is there a creator of the world?” to be: Perhaps. From this perspective, the presence of faith in the world depends on people, on their readiness to accept the existence of God in the world despite the lack of uncertainty…

It is specifically doubt that can lead to faith, because language forces us to define every phenomenon, and thus instead of actually encountering the phenomenon we suffice with defining it externally. Doubt opens up a language anew, in order to prevent rigidity and to enable us to once again come into contact with reality. If we say, “Yes, God definitely exists,” this statement can lead us to block off the possibility of revelation. It is specifically the ability to answer “perhaps” in regard to religious life that creates a space where the sudden possibility of revelation could take place.

  1. Rav Shagar, “Education and Ideology,” Luhot U’Shivrei Luhot, 184-188

Religious Zionist education… is inherently ideological, meaning that it inexorably aims at a specific understanding of the world, one which often differs greatly from the lived reality of young Religious Zionist men and women…

What is ideology? One definition comes from the critical approach to ideology in the last fifty years. Generally speaking, an ideology is an all-encompassing vision, like the great “isms” of modernity. This vision makes extreme demands on society, while ignoring the needs and ambitions of the “the little guy.” … ideology creates a gap between a person’s consciousness and his real existence. This is true of his individual existence, according to the more general explanation, and of his socioeconomic existence, which Marxism sees as a person’s true existence. The problem with ideology is therefore not that it serves the political and economic needs of the powerful. The problem lies in the very need for ideology, in grasping for a single supreme value and a lone source of truth, which has nothing to do with the truth of a person’s real existence… Ideology is a dead idea, an idol, and is therefore inhuman.

A similar critique applies to ideological education. Ideological education does not just convey ideas and concepts. In addition to the explicit messages, education also implicitly tells the student that they must obey these messages. Not only should they not be questioned, but any questioning of them is itself forbidden. It is a transgression, bringing on sanctions and punishment (primarily in the social realm), as well as feelings of guilt. In this context, the problem with ideology is that it creates people driven by abstract ideas and by alienation from reality. Another problem develops when ideology comes with a denial of the alienation it represents. Such an ideology does not recognize any other legitimate procedure for determining the true and the good. This leads a person to feel guilty and to violently make himself “toe the line.”

As we noted, Religious Zionism arose in the golden age of ideology, and it is ideological by nature. It demands an all-encompassing vision, without consideration for the individual or reality. Moreover, young Religious Zionist men and women live in multiple worlds, leading to an increased ideological excess. These Religious Zionist men and women have more than one identity. As just one example of their multiple identities, many religious youths struggle with the question, “Are you Jewish or Israeli?” The gaping chasm between the lived experience of Religious Zionist youth and the Torah, taken to be a totalizing entity, is unavoidable. In order to be accepted in this world, the Torah distances itself from the complexity of reality and becomes ideology.

I must emphasize that, as opposed to thinkers who deny any and all value that might be attributed to ideology, I think that there is no human existence without some degree of ideology. A person needs to explain himself and his life, to try and organize them in a meaningful way, and this requires ideas and concepts. In practice, the idea will never perfectly match lived existence, but it only becomes problematic when the difference becomes too great. At that point, the ideology ceases to be an interpretation of reality and becomes a false consciousness, as the Marxists claimed. I suspect that we often live in exactly this state. We rightly take pride in our idealistic youth, who are a refreshing holdout against the boring Israeli landscape. However, is idealism always a good thing? Does it not bear a heavy price? Is it not itself harmful? One of my friends described the harm like so: Religious Zionism combines an ideology about the land of Israel (as opposed to love of your homeland or faith) with its nature as a community of baalei teshuvah. It adds to this emphasized military service, making for a very dangerous combination.

  1. Rav Shagar, Shiurim al Lekutei Moharan, vol. 1, 159-160

Faith is an affirmation, a saying “yes” to reality as it is, with trust in it as it exists. I am not always able to give an accounting of how it will look, but the main point is not an accounting from a perspective external to life, but the fundamental approach, the readiness to say “Here I am” to what happens. Faith does not grant certainty that you will have money, rather it is faith in some personal, infinite good that constantly exists and is always present, and therefore the worry dissolves and gives its space to the possibility of living life itself. The very faith in life makes the way things are into good, into something independent of external circumstances, be they good or bad. Faith can be neither proven nor disproven; the value it contains is that it directs man to live his life. When a person has faith he is able to pay attention to his personal desires rather than constantly comparing himself to others and worrying about the future. In this sense, faith enables a state of renewal, as Rebbe Nahman writes in this teaching, “And then the soul shines in excess.”

  1. Rav Shagar, “My Faith,” Faith Shattered and Restored, 22-24

In effect, according to Rabbi Nahman, not only is faith not a public language, it is not a language at all. That is why it is so difficult to fully depict one’s faith. Something will always remain unspoken, a mystery and intimacy that cannot and should not be revealed, for baring it would violate the intimacy of faith. This is not to gloss over the communal aspect of faith, which is by nature a public language as well; however, the collectivity of faith is the second stage, not the first. […] Hence, what I am trying to describe here is not a philosophy or outlook regarding faith. Philosophies and outlooks are, in this context, nothing but rationalizations – apologetics, even – whose sole role is to justify what has already been arrived at, and which must thus be regarded with a certain wariness. They are not the substance of faith but explanations for it; thus, they are ancillary to it and always involve a degree of duality. To paraphrase the opponents of Maimonides and his school, who stated that a God whose existence must be proven is no God at all, I offer the absurd assertion that a believer who requires an intellectual proof for his faith is no believer at all.

There is no proof of faith, and no certainty of faith to be gained with a proof. In any event, proofs do not impact our existence like a gun pointed at one’s temple; they do not touch upon the believer’s inner life. That is why, when it comes to faith, I prefer to use terms such as “occurrence” and “experience.” God’s presence in my prayers is as tangible to me as the presence of a human interlocutor. That is not a proof but rather an immediate experience. Similarly, I do not assert that the sight of someone standing in front of me is proof of the person’s existence. That would be foolish: After all, I see you. But try as I might, I cannot refrain entirely from rationalization and apologetics. In fact, as soon as I put things into words, I am ensnared by the same fallacy. The price of language is duality, and, in the context of faith, unreality. Even what I am about to present here constitutes speech about faith; hence, it is a pale simulacrum. Faith does not reside in words, and certainly not in any exposition or essay. The language of faith is the first-person address of prayer. It is not speech about something, but rather activity and occurrence. That is why there will always be a gap between the words and what they aim to represent.

This is not to minimize rationalizations; to my mind, rationalism is a sacred task, without which “men would swallow each other alive.” Barring a shared rational platform, society cannot exist, because rationalism, despite being “speech about,” is a prerequisite of communication and understanding among people. Let us imagine a world where every individual “shall live by his faith” (Hab. 2:4), conducting himself solely according to his own inner convictions. Such a world would quickly degenerate into one where man would kill by his faith. Yet when we discuss faith in the personal context – the existential, not the social – rationalization is the source of the gap I am trying to bridge. Having clarified that, I will attempt to describe the difficulties faced by believers in the modern world, and how they can cope.

Rav Froman

  1. Rav Menachem Froman, Hasidim Tsohakim MiZeh §84

I was the last rabbi of the town of Talmei Yosef in Yamit before the withdrawal. On Friday, the army set up a siege, and on Shabbat I spoke in the synagogue. I said, based on something my wife had said, that even though in just a few days they would carry us out of here, our struggle still has great value. We are protesting against injustice. I thought it was a nice speech. After the end of the prayers, when we went home, people approached me and very respectfully said to me, “What was the rabbi talking about? Why would he depress us like that?” I had thought my words would encourage people… In the town of Atsmonah, they planted trees during the withdrawal. I could have planted trees as a form of protest, but they planted the trees because even in the midst of the evacuation they believed it would not happen.

The same thing happened before the withdrawal from Gush Katif. I was in the town of Bedolaḥ the night before they came to empty it. I spoke there and I said that even if the town was evacuated, our struggle had not been in vain. One of the residents burst out at me and said, “You came here from Tekoa just to tell us that they’re going to evacuate us?”

Perhaps if I had been at the level of faith of that Jew from Bedolaḥ, a miracle would have occurred, and the evacuation would not have taken place. On the other hand, this could be the very peak of heresy, because ignoring reality means ignoring the word of God. […] Faith can be freedom from subjugation to facts, without being blind to reality, and the voice of God contained therein. This distinction is as slim as a strand of hair.

  1. Rav Menachem Froman, Hasidim Tsohakim MiZeh §131

Rav Shagar used to critique the religious community, saying that their faith was not realistic, it was illusory. In my eyes, the problem with religious people’s faith is that instead of faith in God it has become faith in ourselves, in the rightness of our path, our worldview, in who we are. It therefore closes our hearts off to the divine.

  1. Rav Menachem Froman, Hasidim Tsohakim MiZeh §82

What is faith? Non-believers believe in a longstanding and orderly universe. Reason is all about discovering this universe’s underlying laws and logic, which together allow one to predict future results. But believers, as you know, don’t have reason… The life of faith is a life of dynamic innovation, where you can’t know what will be… It means casting reason aside, living in a world connected directly to God.

  1. Rav Menachem Froman, “This Too Is a Religious Position,” Ten Li Zeman, 217

The spiritual posture which the Gemara recommends in the face of historical upheavals is humility: there’s no way of knowing in advance where things will lead. Everything is apparently possible… According to this, we could explain the conclusion of the story, “Rabbi Zechariah’s humility destroyed our home…,” as ironi. Certainly the gemara wants us to be humble, but this humility isn’t a “mitsvah” that decides the fate of the entire world (Bavli, Kiddushin 40b). Even the greatest virtue (as the Rabbis say, “humility is greater than all other virtues”) cannot guarantee the future. History is the domain of the unforeseen, and case-in-point: It was the very righteousness of the spiritual leader of the generation that led to the destruction.

For someone uncomfortable with attributing an approach like this to the rabbis, I would emphasize that the gemara certainly connected this sort of posture toward history with a spiritual posture of fear of heaven: “Happy is the man who is fearful always.” Someone who stands astonished before the ups and downs of history, with neither certainty nor confidence (bitahon), maybe be expressing a more religious astonishment than someone who has an absolute criterion (ethical, religious, etc.) for evaluating the way history operates. The peak of knowledge is knowing that we do not know–this is perhaps the most central idea in medieval religious thought, and perhaps this peak is all a believer can enact when faced with the facts of life and their unforeseen consequences.

 

What’s the Divine Part of Revelation? How Do We Find God in the Torah? Rav Shagar’s “Face to Face”

What’s the Divine Part of Revelation? How Do We Find God in the Torah?
Rav Shagar’s “Face to Face”

In a derashah for Shavuot from the year he died, Rav Shagar explores the complex relationship between the human and divine aspects of the Revelation at Sinai, as well as of the Torah. He points out the contradiction between verse that describes the giving of the Torah as speaking to God “face to face” and God’s own statement that, “no person may see my face and live.” Seemingly, revelation means encountering the divine, while encountering the divine is impossible for a human. Rav Shagar also quotes the Baal HaTanya, who points out that the Ten Commandments are a particularly human set of commandments. They’re all “banal matters that are necessitated by human intellect itself.” If the Revelation at Sinai was some sort of transcendent experience of the divine, then why are the commandments so very human? Simply on a practical level, what did revelation add? If these are intuitively obvious rules, then we didn’t even need revelation to know them. Why did God have to reveal simple, human rules?

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Moreover, what about this revelation is divine? Where do the human words and ideas end and the divine suddenly begin? In Rav Shagar’s own striking formulation, “What significance can revelation have if it must always be processed through human concepts and ideas? What connection could revelation create, when the very idea of a connection is a human idea?” If any way we try and formulate or conceptualize revelation will be unavoidably human, how can it be an encounter with, or revelation of, the divine? And what does that mean for the Torah, written entirely using human words?

As I will briefly explain below, Rav Shagar tackles each of these topics, revelation and the Torah, in turn (I’m not going to touch on every idea in the derashah, just trace out the main ideas regarding to these two issues). He explains revelation through the ideas of dialogic philosophy, which asks about how we encounter other people as unique individuals. Given that any words we could use to describe another person, or even speak to them, could just as easily describe or be spoken to a different person, how do we encounter that unique individual. Rav Shagar will conclude that the words of revelation provide a platform for the actual, wordless encounter with the divine. This will in turn lead to his understanding of the divinity of the Torah. He will argue that what makes Torah divine is not its words or ideas, themselves unavoidably human, but the way they provide a sort of linguistic space wherein we can encounter God. Moreover, this encounter “ensouls” us (Rosenzweig’s term), bringing our normally stagnant and unnoticed inner selves to the fore, as we study and create Torah from a most intimate space within us.

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Wordless Encounter in the Words of Revelation

Rav Shagar distinguishes between “indirect, theoretical knowledge” and “unmediated knowledge derived from direct recognition.” The former refers to any knowledge you could learn from a book, or hear about from another person. The latter refers to the sort of knowledge you can only get through personal experience. Revelation thus “lets you distinguish between the layer of what is common to others and the revelation of what cannot be conceptualized.”

To borrow an example from R. Jason Rubinstein, there are two ways to learn about a rainbow. You can read about the technical details of its appearance and the scientific and atmospheric phenomena that give rise to it. However, none of that can tell you what it is like to actually look at a rainbow. In order to learn that, you have to experience it yourself. Experiential knowledge, like colors and flavors, can never be learned from another person, whether in writing or in person.

It is in this category of wordless, inexplicable, deeply personal experience that Rav Shagar locates the divine within revelation, in the “divine intimacy that is bared before the believer.” This bared intimacy evokes, demands, a parallel response from the individual (or nation, as it were) who receives revelation. For Rosenzweig, whom Shagar invokes, it is responding to divine revelation that the individual is “ensouled.” We only really become ourselves in responding to someone else, and to God above all. This is the intimate relationship of love, of עשיית מצווה לשמה as described by Rambam.

When we speak with someone we love (romantically or otherwise), the words we speak are often not what matters. Sometimes what we are talking about is much less important than the simple fact that we are talking. Spending time together with someone can be more important that what you do with that time together. Those topics you speak about or actions you do together are things anyone could do with anyone else. What makes the encounter a unique encounter between two unique individuals is the presence of those two individuals. What makes revelation divine is not it’s words, but their source in God.

Torah as a Linguistic Space for Encountering God

So if that’s revelation, where does that leave Torah? If the words and ideas of revelation are not what makes it divine, then what about the words and ideas of the Torah? And what does that mean for learning Torah?

“This idea requires us to change how we think about the truth of revelation. As the creation of a space wherein reality is revealed, the revelation of the Torah, like the creation of the world, cannot be evaluated based on external facts. The Torah is speech that creates, rather than depicting or representing. The words construct their meaning, which is not evaluated based on how close they adhere to reality, but rather based on internal coherence, on being substantive and not artificial.”

If revelation involves the manifestation of the divine within the human, then the divine can be encountered just as well within the human words and ideas of the Torah. What the Torah provides is not divine ideas or texts but a linguistic “space” within which to encounter the divine. It gives us a language and a set of topics to make our own, to obsess over the way a love-struck lover obsesses over a note from their significant other. The Torah becomes God’s love note, as it were, and we explore every jot and tittle for the sake of find God in it all the more.

Like the love borne within a note, the divinity of the Torah is not a function of the way the words depict some external reality. The words of the note create a sense of love independent of external reality, and the words of the Torah do something similar for divinity. The revelation of the Torah should therefore not be seen as God informing the Jewish people about reality, about objective right and wrong, but as the creation of a covenantal relationship within with God and the people encounter each other.

This has an important implication for how we study Torah. Studying Torah is not a search for objective, external truth. It requires “substance” and “internal coherence,” but beyond that it’s about the students deep, personal engagement with the text and the attempt to fing God within it. Moreover, these students can and should learn creatively, excitedly innovating new Torah ideas. The ideas have to make sense within the broader picture of Torah, but beyond that they should be very creative. The student should enjoy the process of innovation within Torah study. In revelation created this linguistic space, talmud torah helps expand and maintain it.

In conclusion, appreciating the Torah, and revelation more broadly, is not about being able to point to specific aspects of the Torah and claim they’re divine. It’s about seeing God behind those aspects, and seeing those aspects as a pathway to encountering God. When we learn Torah on Shavuot, it’s not a scientific study about the nature of reality; it’s a deep yet playful engagement with God within the platform of Torah, a platform we can help build.

Shiur: Nisan 2019 – HaḤodesh HaZeh Lakhem: Politics of the Calendar

 

I. Establishing the Calendar

1. The Economist, “Rulers of Time”

In the modern era, measurement of time provides a way to underline the clout of central government: both India and China, despite their size, have a single time zone, which keeps everyone marching in step with the capital. It also offers an opportunity for emphasising independence and non-conformity. Hugo Chávez turned the clocks back by half an hour in 2007 to move Venezuela into its own time zone—supposedly to allow a “fairer distribution of the sunrise” but also ensuring that the socialist republic did not have to share a time zone with the United States…

In theory, modern technology offers liberation from temporal tyranny, by allowing people to use whichever system they prefer. The internet runs on “universal” time, a global standard used by astronomers and other scientists, based on a network of atomic clocks. As modern as this sounds, it is really the latest incarnation of Greenwich Mean Time, with all its attendant imperialist cultural baggage. But smartphones and computers can seamlessly translate between time zones and calendar systems, allowing people to use whichever they like. There is no reason why e-mail clients or web calendars could not allow the use of the French Revolutionary clock and calendar systems, say, alongside Muslim and North Korean ones.

In practice, however, time zones and calendars are more than just arbitrary ways to rule lines on time. They do not merely specify how to refer to a particular instant or period; they also dictate and co-ordinate activities across entire societies, in particular by defining which days are working days and national holidays. These have to be consistent within countries and, in some cases, between them: just ask Saudi Arabia, which in 2013 moved its weekend from Thursday/Friday to Friday/Saturday, to bring it into line with other Arab states. The need for such coordination means there is no escape from centralised control of clocks and calendars—which explains why the tendency to politicise them is timeless.

2. Exodus 12:1-2

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first for you of the months of the year.

3. Mekhilta, Masekhta DePascha 1

“This month is to be for you…”as opposed to Adam HaRishon who did not count from it. Does “for you” mean as opposed to how Adam HaRishon counted, or perhaps “for you” means as opposed to how the non-Jews count? When it says “the first for you” that means “for you” and not for the non-Jews. Why does it [the second] “for you”? “For you,” as opposed to Adam HaRishon who did not count from it.

 

II. Changing/ Maintaining the Calendar

4. The Economist, “Rulers of Time”

North Korea is shifting its time zone this week to reverse the imposition of Tokyo time by “wicked Japanese imperialists” in 1912.

4. 1 Kings 12:26-33

Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.”

After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. And this thing became a sin; the people came to worship the one at Bethel and went as far as Dan to worship the other.

Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites. He instituted a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the festival held in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. This he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves he had made. And at Bethel he also installed priests at the high places he had made. On the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a month of his own choosing (אשר בדא מלבו), he offered sacrifices on the altar he had built at Bethel. So he instituted the festival for the Israelites and went up to the altar to make offerings.

6. Mishnah Rosh Hashanah 2:8-9

It once happened that two [witnesses] came and testified: We saw it in the morning [of the twenty-ninth] in the east, and in the evening [of the thirtieth] in the west. Said Rabbi Yohanan ben Nuri: [It’s impossible for them to have seen the new moon in the morning, since the new moon is only visible in the west at evening, thus] they are false witnesses. However, when they came to Yavneh, Rabban Gamliel [who knew through astronomical calculations that the new moon should have been visible on the evening of the thirtieth] accepted their testimony. On another occasion two witnesses came and testified: We saw it in its expected time [on the night preceding the thirtieth] but on the night of its intercalation [the thirty-first] it was not seen, and Rabban Gamliel accepted their testimony. Said Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas: They are false witnesses. How can they testify that a woman has given birth when on the next day her belly is still [swollen appearing to be] between her teeth? Rabbi Yehoshua said to him: I approve of your words. Rabban Gamliel sent him [Rabbi Yehoshua] a message: I decree upon you that you come to me with your staff and money on the day which according to you will be Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Akiva went [to Rabbi Yehoshua] and found him in great distress [that he was ordered to violate the day that was Yom Kippur according to his calculation], he said to him, I can bring you proof that whatever Rabban Gamliel has done is valid for it says: “The following are God’s appointed holy days that you will designate in their appointed times” (Leviticus 23:4), whether they are designated in their proper time, or not at their proper time, I have no holy days save these.

He [Rabbi Yehoshua] came to Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas who said to him: If we question the ruling of the Bet Din of Rabban Gamliel we must question the ruling of every Bet Din from the times of Moshe up to the present day as it says: “And Moshe ascended with Aharon Nadav and Avihu, and the seventy elders of Israel” (Exodus 24:9). Why weren’t the names of the elders specified? To show that every group of three [sages], that form a Bet Din, is considered as the Bet Din of Moshe and Aharon.

He [Rabbi Yehoshua] took his staff and his money and went to Yavneh to Rabban Gamliel on the day of Yom Kippur according to his calculation. Rabban Gamliel rose and kissed him on his head and said to him: Come in peace my master and my disciple, my master in wisdom and my disciple because you have accepted my words.

 

III. The Calendar Today

7. Rav Shagar, Bayom Hahu, 346

I don’t know how to depict this redemption, but Rebbe Naman’s words inspire me to think that, perhaps, if we stand vulnerable before God… this will enable a shift, something transcendent will reveal itself, something that is beyond difference. I am not talking about tolerance, nor about the removal of difference. The Other that I see before me will remain different and inaccessible and, despite this, the Divine Infinite will position me by the Other’s side. Again, how this will manifest in practical or political terms, I do not know. But Yom Yerushalayim will be able to turn from a nationalistic day, one which has turned with time into a tribalistic celebration of Religious Zionism alone, into an international day.

8. Rav Menaḥem Froman, Ten Li Zeman, 119

The event of the new moon (ḥidush) was, for the Sages, the most intense instance where we encounter the creator and renewer of the world. Revolutionary Marxism went to war against religion, primarily because it saw it as an anti-revolutionary force. Religious faith can lead us to conservative conclusions. Religion can sanctify the status quo as the handiwork of the Creator. However, we might also come to the exact opposite conclusion. If a person believes that the world is created (“meḥudash,” “made anew,” in medieval terminology), then he believes that the world could be radically remade anew.