Friday, April 02, 2004

Latest reply from Jay:

> "I mean to study a little bit of Talmud with the Chabadniks there."
>
> i would question whether that's worthwhile. go to dharamsala and learn
> tibetan buddhism. sit and practice.
>
> "I meant the core of Judaism as seen by Judaism itself. I'm aware of
> the circularity in talking about "Judaism itself" and therefore implying
> a specific centre. It may be a product of being in the yeshiva
> environment, but I find it difficult not to think of certain textual
> forms - Tanach, Mishnah, Gemarah, Tshuvot and Halachah - as somehow
> the most 'essentially Jewish'. Learning Talmud Torah in a yeshiva
> environment is a good example of a 'normative' Jewish ideal."
>
> sure, as seen by those texts. the act of learning is an act of
> intellectual stimulation and godwrestling. great. i guess i would
> take a step back. why do it? why go learn? come up with the answers,
> and then i think the priorities are in order. systems and ideologies are
> developed by humans. period. humans are in touch with God, yes,
> and so it ok with me to say "God wrote the Torah." but this idea of God
> commanding and me obeying - i'm sorry, but that is so dualistic as to
> become almost incoherent. i'm happy to accept binding halacha, i guess,
> as a construct. but i am not willing to sacrifice any part of myself or more
> importantly the part of me that loves god and truth. therefore i am just
> not willing to posit something which isn't true, which includes a conventional
> understanding of obligation, which in its conventional form i think is
> only a translation of what is hard to express for some people.
> i think once you get behind the curtain, in yeshiva, in philosophy,
> in mystical practice - once you do that, you begin to see the strings and the
> levers and the pulleys. this can be very disappointing if you didn't think
> there were any of those things, but not if you know that that's all
> they are and not more than that.
>
> if "commandment" helps you articulate the mitzvot, great. however, the
> mitzvot are the mitzvot. that is it. they cannot be reduced to something
> else. if they could, they could be replaced with something else. that
> statement may well be functionally identical, and even conceptually
> akin, to "commandment" and i'm fine with that. but i find the narrative of
> commandment to be a source of error and frustration. why do we need to
> say "mitzvot _means_" anything, except to explain them to other people?
> the mitzvot are practices. that's really about all we can say.
> commandment implies "practices with the reason being obedience" or
> something. just as saying mitzvot are connecting-tools to God implies
> "practices with the reason being connection to God." i think the
> practices are the practices. the reasons are the reasons. they should
> not be confused one with the other.
>
> "As Leibowitz points out, even the original Kabbalists and Chassids saw
> Mitzvot as binding commandments. I know there are other ways of relating
> to halacha, but doesn't obligation come first, in the knowledge that the
> system is strong and intransient enough to take the many interpretations
> of different ages, groups and individuals? It may be that a sense of obligation
> is the only way a system of mitzvot is sustainable in society."
>
> not to most people who don't believe in the commander. in fact, i think
> this idea of obligation has way outlived its pedagogical usefulness. in fact,
> i think people who want to obey - i doubt that is where a whole lot
> of creativity resides. some, definitely. but think about it!
>
> "I think Leibowitz has a point when he identifies the 'halachic enterprise' as
> the central linking thread."
>
> well, that may be true from 200-1800, but that is only a minority % of
> jewish history.

> "Granted, the self may be an illusion. And yet more often than not we
> experience life as individuals. It as a self that I observe, think and
> act as an agent in the world. I can directly experience nonduality
> through meditation, prayer and other such practices. And I can keep
> some of this awareness with me as I return to my habitual sense of acting
> as a distinct self. But surely I have no choice but to return. Thus I
> can be obligated, even to a system which ultimately leads me to an
> awareness that the self who is obligated is only an illusion. There is no
> conflict between the concept of individual obligation and your
> interpretation of halacha as "a set of practices which both inculcate right
> understanding and respond to the reality of God with right action"."
>
> the self is an illusion. the separate obligator is an illusion. the
> practices are the practices. period. the practices are multi-meaninged
> and multi-significant. that is the great virtue of judaism. read
> moses mendelssohn's "jerusalem" - it's easy and you'll find it very
> useful to this thread. the point is, it's the practices, not the reason.
> in that i agree quite a lot with leibowitz. i would just like to go one
> step further and even dispense with the term "obligation" since it
> connotes a debt, or a requirement, or something else that isn't free.
> we are free human beings, free to do anything in the world. to take on
> certain practices, great. but to imagine that we are not free is pure cowardice.
>
> "If we accept that most of the time we inevitably function as selves,
> obligation may play another function"
>
> i think we fuck up ourselves and our world by functioning as selves.
> when i'm not associated with this self - it's still there, i just don't
> identify with it - i tend to be happier, more compassionate, more open.
>
> "If I always obey my will as an autonomous individual then I make myself
> my master. In fact, I might say I am both master and slave. If I
> perceive a de facto obligation and assert its divine nature, I
> acknowledge God as my master. (We were just studying a part of
> Masechet Rosh Hashanah which defines the correct kavanah for Kriat
> Shema as an intention to 'seat God on his throne'.) Leibowitz is very
> wary of any utilitarian interpretation of mitzvot - as it makes God the
> servant of the individual, when really it should be the other way round.
> Personally, I think this makes sense, but as a starting point. It
> falls short in so far as it fails to acknowledge that ultimately there is
> no distinction between God and everything else, including the
> individual."
>
> now you're getting there. take the self off the throne and put god
> there. that's it, that's it, add the non-dualism piece and you're just
> about enlightened. got it? ditch the self, ditch the will, ditch the yetzer
> hara, the force of separation. celebrate all these things when you get
> "back" from the path, but on the path, ditch them. put god on the
> throne of yourself. but not god as separate from yourself, the god
> which you ultimately are. the real you. not the mind, not the self,
> but your true nature. seat god on the throne is 100% right, as long
> as you don't think you're some guy kneeling before another guy on the
> throne. it's an internal metaphor. let god drive the car. let god read
> the next sentence. let god awaken and let "joel" and "jay" drop away.
>
> you'll come back, and put the joel mask back on, and it'll still be there,
> good as new. you'll still have sex and listen to music and drink wine
> and all the other great things about being a self in a body. but who is
> _driving_ who is on the "throne" - i think the driver's seat is a more
> useful contemporary metaphor. believe me, when i'm driving, it's hell.
> when god's driving, it's heaven.

Shabbat Shalom - have a great weekend everyone.

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