Friday, August 3, 2007

Torahs place in redemption and the quest for Malchus Shamayim #4

Yiras hashem reeshis das:
To understand this we must go one level deeper into the story of yetzias mitzraim and the educational role of the makos and of Moshe Rabbenu. The Geulei Mitzraim had a very different life experience than ours as Western Jews. Like most people who have not experienced tyranny, the Western Jew instinctively accepts his group's civilizational vision of reality conveyed by Pharoah without question. This vision is so dominating that it determines the very framework through which he interacts with the external world.

The Westerner's very identity can only be formulated in terms of this vision of the world. If asked what he does the only response is in terms of his function of human attainment - whether professional: actors, professors, accountants, students - or familial: mothers, fathers, children, etc. Of course, we are continuously measuring our own success in these functional roles. The artificial seperation into scientist and humanist makes sense only in this civilization of human attainment. One whose talent lies in abstract reasoning competes for fame and fortune within the artificial vision of the state by competing with others of like talent in science/math departments, universities or industry. Those whose talent lies in aesthetics compete for fame and fortune in the humanities departments or in the arts or theater. Neither seeks the natural development of their soul within the overarching order of Malchus Shamayim. To the contrary, they have contempt for the very notion that they should distract themselves in order to seek their natural purpose - “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; but the foolish despise wisdom and discipline.” We rarely question or even consider the natural basis of this social vision. Is our societally centered vision reflective of man's true place in the universe? Such questioning distracts us from single-minded pursuit of our social vision of success. It feels to us at best boring and annoying, at worst a threat. Socrates paid with his very life for questioning the place of human vision in the natural order. Avraham escaped this fate by miraculous intervention only, as did the Jews during Channuka and Purim. Generations of Jews following the destruction of the Temple have not been so blessed. Millions and millions have been slaughtered fro daring to raise this question. Our animal psyche precludes any shift of focus from the small picture of the world of society seen with the eyes, it will protect itself from this even at the cost of mass murder and genocide.

This would necessarily have been the fate of human civilization for all time if not for a unique observation made possible through hashgacha and the redemptive educational agency of Moshe Rabbenu.

In contrast to the Westerner, the "Yotzei Mitzraim" were more like Holocaust survivors. In accordance with the divinely inspired process of Brit bayn ha-betarim they had observed the dark side of "the state" and the political vision of its Fuhrer – Pharaoh. Like the Holocaust survivor they had seen first hand the transition from a welfare state attending to the material needs of its hungry citizens to a murderous regime. They experienced how the centralization of state power, the dream of Pharaoh aided by the able wisdom of Yosef ha-tzadik, had turned into the nightmare of enslavement of a Pharaoh who did not remember Joseph. What a cynical use Pharaoh/Hitler made of the organization of all Egypt around Joseph's vision! Rather than coordinating his people for their benefit, to rescue them from the divinely decreed famine as Joseph had done, Pharaoh/Hitler used his absolute power to manipulate all of Egypt into the genocidal enslavement of the Jewish people. Rather than using his rhetorical ability to clarify a vision beneficial to Egypt, he convinced his people of the snake oil of a nonexistent threat from Jews for his own insatiable power needs.

The Jews were, therefore, in a unique position to be taught about the terrible danger of a society founded upon visions of Pharaohs rather than upon kabbalas ole Malchus Shamayim. They had felt on their own flesh the fantastical character of such visions.

The makos and Yam suf were designed to create a textbook case of this danger, for the Jews to observe and memorialize for all humanity. Pharaoh led Egypt to ruin, during the makos and then again at Yam Suf. So extreme was Pharoah's fantasy of his own divine right that he could not see what was manifestly obvious to his own magicians: “the finger of God is involved.” So too, he could not stop exhorting his people to his own vision and spin even in the face of utter disaster, even as his own people cried out “have you not noticed that Egypt is lost?” The Shiras Hayam specifies the evil spin of Pharaoh, describing his fantastical belief that he could destroy the servants of God, just as Hitler attempted - to his ruin. “The enemy said, ‘I will pursue. I will overtake. I will divide the spoil. My desire shall be satisfied on them. I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’”

The Shiras Hayam was Moshe Rabbenu's education of the Jewish people to the meaning of Malchus Shamayim. Witnessing Pharoah's defeat at Yam Suf, in the height of his rhetorical spin, concluded this foundational process:

14:30 Thus the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.
14:31 Israel saw the great work which the LORD did to the Egyptians, and the people feared the LORD; and they believed in the LORD, and in his servant Moses.
15:1 Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the LORD, and said, “I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously. The horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
15:2 The LORD is my strength and song. He has become my salvation. This is my God, and I will praise him; my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
15:3 The LORD is a man of war. The LORD is his name.
15:4 He has cast Pharaoh’s chariots and his army into the sea. His chosen captains are sunk in the Sea of Suf.
15:5 The deeps cover them. They went down into the depths like a stone.
15:6 Your right hand, LORD, is glorious in power. Your right hand, LORD, dashes the enemy in pieces.
15:7 In the greatness of your excellency, you overthrow those who rise up against you. You send forth your wrath. It consumes them as stubble.
15:8 With the blast of your nostrils, the waters were piled up. The floods stood upright as a heap. The deeps were congealed in the heart of the sea.
15:9 The enemy said, ‘I will pursue. I will overtake. I will divide the spoil. My desire shall be satisfied on them. I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’
15:10 You blew with your wind. The sea covered them. They sank like lead in the mighty waters.
15:11 Who is like you, LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?
15:12 You stretched out your right hand. The earth swallowed them.
15:13 “You, in your loving kindness, have led the people that you have redeemed. You have guided them in your strength to your holy habitation.

Such a Jewish people would indeed be in a different position to make judgements about the reality of Malchus Shamayim. Their ability to sustain the fantasy of absolute human sovereignty cast in artificial 'Pharoahic' visions would be shattered. People who are comfortable do not have the energy to seek to understand the place of man in Creation. We do not question the established social order, we are overcome by our snake like psyche. But an oppressed group thinks very differently. As the oppressed Jews of Purim, as the oppressed Jews of Channuka, as the oppressed Jews of the Holocaust, as the oppressed Europeans in Royal Europe, the Jews of Egypt were in an opportune position to question the natural place of man in the Universe and the proper place of the enticing rhetoric of the sovereign. Their bitter experience with tyranny made them ready to wonder: Where is human leadership's proper place in the natural order of Creation? A reality-based yirah of divine power awakens interest in understanding how their own powerful instinct to follow their leader, the very natural tendency to follow an appealing vision, could have led them so astray. Prompting them to ask their parents this question at the seder, as they were told the story of the makos and redemption: How do we find the educational path (mussar) to avoid such disastrous fantasies in the future?

It is just this foundational seeking of guidance from our parents which Shlomo HaMelech intends to build upon in the first pesukim of Mishlei:

1 The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel;
2 To know the instruction of wisdom; to comprehend the words of understanding;
3 To receive the discipline of wisdom, justice, and judgement, and equity;
4 To give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion;
7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; but the foolish despise wisdom and discipline. {P}

The two stories of Creation are the starting point for the formal education of a child whose identity is forged in the civilization of Yirah ( one who has awe) born of vi-higadita li-vincha. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; but the foolish despise wisdom and discipline.”

Such a one is liberated from the artificial seperation “scientist” and “humanist”. The child taught Yiras Hashem realizes that life is not about the pursuit of fame and fortune in Pharoah's state. All talents are meant to naturally develop into one unified pursuit of the beauty of Malchus shamayim! Bichol derachecha daey-hu- in all your ways you should know Him! He pities the slave whose talent for abstract reasoning is wasted on competition for fame and fortune within the artificial vision of the state. He equally pities the humanist whose talent for rich description is wasted on competition for fame and fortune in the humanities departments or in the arts or theater. This perspective of mind is well described by Rambam:
[ב] והיאך היא הדרך לאהבתו, ויראתו? בשעה שיתבונן האדם במעשיו וברואיו הנפלאים הגדולים, ויראה מהם חכמתו שאין לה ערך ולא קץ--מיד הוא אוהב ומשבח ומפאר ומתאווה תאווה גדולה לידע השם הגדול, כמו שאמר דויד "צמאה נפשי, לאלוהים--לאל חי" (תהילים מב,ג).
ב וכשמחשב בדברים האלו עצמן, מיד הוא נרתע לאחוריו, ויירא ויפחד ויידע שהוא בריה קטנה שפלה אפלה, עומד בדעת קלה מעוטה לפני תמים דעות, כמו שאמר דויד "כי אראה שמיך . . . מה אנוש, כי תזכרנו" תהילים ח,ד-ה.
What is the proper path to love and awe of Him? When a person gains insight into His actions and His great and glorious creations, seeing in them His wisdom that is without measure or limit, he immediately loves, glorifies and is filled with an enormous desire to know the great name... When he applies these very same principles, he is immediately overwhelmed, is filled with awe and fear knowing that he is but a small and lowly creature...

In his intro to Chelek, Rambam discusses the need to take great care in developing the psyche into an instrument of mind. Educating a child to accept ole malchut shamayim is hazardous. The reality of an all encompassing Malchus Shamayim must be presented honestly, yet in a way that is not too disruptive to the animal psyche. How is this true education accomplished?

It is precisely this education that we see realized in the two introductory Mashalim of B'raishis that introduce the soul of the Yareh to its true place in creation. Each Mashal deals with one of the insights that the soul needs to make. Since the principles are embedded in a Mashal, the psyche can absorb them at the rate it is able. While the general outlines of the story are made known to every Jew, there are many details that are hidden, doled out as the psyche becomes ready to handle them. These general themes are pointed out by the Baalei Mesorah - most potently I believe by the Rambam and his school. Let us use the Ralbag's approach to these two mashalim as a case in point.
Mashal 1) The first story introduces the abstract scientific mind to its intuition of God's design in his Creation. It depicts this design according to the Mashal of an artist who expresses a beautiful design through the medium of a "world" comprising the entire universe (Shamayim Va-Aretz). The creations of God grant us a glimpse of the beauty of the "design" of the divine "craftsman" that is pointed to by the order of His Creation. The Yareh realises that he must not use science and craft in a vain attempt to remake his world into a new product. Rather we must make make a civilized living space instrumental to knowing His craft, His wisdom. Yet how much science is used in this way? How much more is used in never ending pursuit of a divine human dominion?
This point can be seen in the very first paragraph of the introduction of the Ralbag to the Torah:
Blessed and most revered be the tzur ("rock"), foundation of all existence, whose “insight” (T'vunaso) , “wisdom” (chochmaso) and “knowledge” (Da’ato) bring into being, a system of existing things, whose existence exhibits a wisdom and grace which none but He can completely apprehend.

Mashal 2) The second Creation story alerts us to the difficulty of harnessing the animal instincts of the psyche to be instrumental to the research needed for realizing the natural capacity of the soul to gain these glimpses of His Chochma. How difficult it is to direct our ability to observe and describe to mature purpose! How much literature and art is truly honest - creative in the sense of seeking to provide material to the soul seeking a mature vision of malchus shamayim? How much more are we driven to provide art and literature that is merely entertaining, useful for making money and gaining creativity in a fantasy sense of being like “gods knowers of good and evil”, giving people the comfort they desire in an immature attempt to escape malchus shamayim. It is for this reason that the Creation story of Adam is more humanistic, depicting "order" according to the Mashal of a benevolent Sovereign whose coaxes Adam into the ideal educational environment of Gan Eden. It is in Gan Eden that the divine sovereign teaches Adam the Mitzva/law that guides Adam HaRishon through the unique struggle of developing his soul in the face of the animalistic temptation to being “like gods knowers of good and evil” as portrayed by the snake. This dimension of soul is the second point noted by Ralbag in his intro:
Praised be the creator, who, because of the desire to benefit the creations and facilitate their maturation, directed His hashgacha upon these lowly beings, developing them through the appropriate stages climaxing with the emergence of mankind. This hashgacha is not limited to the magnificence of man’s anatomy and physical abilities by which his physical existence is maintained, but rather extends to guiding man along the path of mental development - the one true fruit of human existence for whose sake alone lowly material reality is endowed with tzura to the extent that it is. We refer of course to the divine Torah, which is a regimen that orders those who practice it properly to true success.

Far from being confused, the Yareh sees a deep unity in the two stories of Creation, a new pathway to Torah through these two dimensions of himself. He realizes that the aim of the Torah is to research life in a way that reconnects his experience of the world to the intuition of Malchus Shamayim. Far from ending, the first theme is omnipresent, ever awaiting man's ability to see himself, his surroundings and civilization as part of the great hierarchy of Malchus Shamayim. This quest begins, of course, with understanding the causation of the fall of man to the force of the evil snake - the ego driven psyche. It moves through the redemption of Egypt where man observed the evil effect of this egotistical world. It then moves on to the prospect of a new civilization of Israel fulfilling man's original promise of living a unified life of mind in a Mitzva governed life in Israel. Far from departing from the first theme, the path of Torah yearns to return to it. The ticket to return is overcoming our psyche's predilection for fantasy visions of grandeur. The measure of readiness to engage in seeing the complete Malchus Shamayim is undergoing the regimen that orders those who practice it properly to true success. This is also the meaning of Rambam:

When a person gains insight into these d’varim (first principles), recognizing (the entire hierarchy) of the creations, from angel and galaxy all the way to man (and his environment), and therefore sees the chochmas Hashem in all the creations, he adds to his love of the Makom, and his soul thirsts and his flesh yearns to love the Makom baruch hu. Simultaneously, this person feels a great awe and fear resulting from his smallness and inconsequentiality ...

Now I say that it is inappropriate to tour the pardes except for he who has filled his belly with bread and meat. “Bread and meat” refers to knowing the assur and mutar (i.e. the applied principles) in that which is not first principles. Even though these principles are called davar katan... they come first educationally, since they cultivate (meyashvin) the mind and additionally are the great good by which we develop this world (yishuv Aretz) and attain the world to come.

May we all merit to be redeemed to see the true problem of the pitfall of the psyche and avail ourselves of the one true guidance, the path of Torah by which we remake ourselves to be ohavei shmo! Deracheyha Darchei noam, vichol nesivosayha- Shalom.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Torahs place in redemption and the quest for Malchus Shamayim #3

The nature of ole malchus shamayim:

Man’s development into a rational being begins with a conflict between man’s mind and the immature animal psyche through which that mind operates. We are not born wise, with fully formed minds ready and able to fulfill our potential to apprehend God's design - to see Malchus Shamayim in all His Creation. On the contrary the mind starts off with only the vaguest intuition that the grand design of God exists and must, therefore, spend a lifetime in research if this intuition is to be realized. We must gather data and general principles through long and careful observation and classification. To do this research we must use our psyche, our animal ability to observe with our eyes, remember and describe the world we see. The problem is that the animal psyche of man is moved by a survival instinct that gives it a constant sense of the supreme value of man's personal existence. This situation leads to conflict, a constant competition between two principles of sovereignty by which to govern the powers of the psyche:

1) The mind yearns to fit in to malchus shamayim the light of G’s supreme design. In line with this it seeks to cultivate its psyche and physical environment to be instruments utilized for this research. The Rambam calls this “cultivation” yishuv daat and yishuv aretz.

2)The animal instincts, which seek to be an independent sovereign. Our instinctual makeup pushes man to the belief that as the supreme being in the animal kingdom, he has the right and the power to impose his own design upon the raw materials of Earth, transforming them into a independent new creation, a Malchus Adam. The human animal justifies this fantasy vision by ignoring Malchus Shamayim, the supreme design from which the laws of the universe emerge, focusing instead exclusively on his own preeminence as a mind within the animal kingdom.

It is the very force of this animal need for absolute sovereignty that precludes the mind from focusing upon man as an object of studyand that made it so difficult for the Jews to understand the lesson of yetzias mitzraim. The Jewish psyche then, as ours still does today, wanted Pharoah to win. In large measure Pharoah's victory is our psyche's victory! The psyche drives us to seek out Pharoah's vision as a lifeline to its own fantasy of greatness, for if Pharoah's fantasy vision can be maintained about his great dominion of the empire, then our fantasy vision can be maintained about our small part of that dominion. It is this mechanism that shields the fantasy of sovereignty from our theoretical mind.
Man’s theoretical mind perceives the world through the principle of a universal law manifest in all parts of the universe. This principle is implicit in our expectation that every part of the universe, from the most small in physics and chemistry to the most large in astronomy and cosmology, be subject to lawfulness. Yet the same rational man who expects law in every aspect of the universe, balks when it comes to his own sovereignty. Intellectually, the mind recognizes that man’s interaction with his environment must be a special case of this very same universal law. Man's exemption of his own dominion from the principle of universal law manifest in all parts of the universe cannot be understood in terms of intellect; but rather, in the animal psyche's instinctive aversion to loss of sovereignty. The human animal refuses to allow the framework of universal laws to the topic of sovereignty over the material world, instinctively resisting this kabbalas ole as a wild mustang resists the harness and as the mule resists the yoke. The challenge of civilization is to summon the courage to recognize the resistance to Malchus Shamayim for what it is - an animal aversion to yielding any sovereignty. The civilizational recognition of human sovereignty as a topic fully subject to higher cause, is the essence of kabbalas ole malchus shamayim. So how exactly did the Mitzraim enable this civilizational revolution? How does understanding this revolution show a resolution to the problem of understanding the Torah's introductory themes?

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Torahs place in redemption and the quest for Malchus Shamayim #2

The civilizational basis of formal education:

Upon further reflection we see that Ralbag cannot possibly mean that we should read the Geulas Mitzraim story first. The story of Creation is obviously the
first story in the book and must, therefore, be read first. What Ralbag means is that there is an experience of Geulas Mitzraim other than reading that must occur prior to reading the Torah at all.

The Yotzei Mitzraim did not experience the momentous events of Geula through reading a text - they lived through the events and had them explained by Moshe Rabbenu and the Elders. The intent was for Jewish civilization to be built on this story, to be relived, generation after generation through a tradition of storytelling father to son. “Zechor es hayom hazeh. Limaan tizkor es yom tzescha mieretz mitzraim kol yimei chayyecha. Vihigadita libincha bayom hahu laymor.” The whole concept of a reading and formal education began at Sinai and the written Torah, which were actually relatively late events in Jewish development.

No child begins his intellectual development from reading, per se. Reading and formal education always presuppose a prior vision of the world and man's mission in it that is established in earliest youth through informal education – through modeling and sharing the civilization's stories with one's parents. The child who enters school is already deeply imbued with his civilization's vision of the world that the educator must contend with and build upon in the readings of school. So too in Jewish education - the reading of Torah presupposes the view of the world and human mission that arise from “vihigadita livincha.”

How does this experiencing of Geula, which Ralbag points out as the gateway to begin one's reading of the Torah, help us overcome the difficulty of the two contradictory themes of B'reishis? How does being a member of the Geulei Mitzrayim civilization enable us to understand how to use these stories as the introduction to the Torah?

The revolutionary civilization based on Malchus Shamayim:

The objective of the yetzias mitzraim was establishing a civilization based upon the foundational premise of Malchus Shamayim. Malchus Shamayim is the foundational premise that there is a source of universal order that is seen throughout Creation, including Earth and humanity itself. The most revolutionary implication of this concept is with regard to the mission of civilization. The only possible mission in a Malchus Shamayim world is Torah lishma - realizing the natural curiosity of all citizens to know and act in accordance with Malchus Shamayim. The qualification for a leader of such a civilization would also be a revolutionary departure from Egypt - Moshe Rabbenu, a chief educational officer, one able to guide all citizens on an educational path toward Malchus Shamayim. Though this premise is repeated over and over again in the Torah, it is perhaps most clear in the first dibrah, “Anochi hashem elokecha asher hotzesi eschem mieretz mitzraim mibeyt avadim.”

Amazingly, this notion of an all encompassing universal order with its accompanying Malchus Shamayim civilization emerged in the midst of an Egyptian Civilization led by an evil Pharoah who was committed to an opposing foundational premise, leading to a very different mission for man.

Egyptian society does not recognize Malchus Shamayim and its mission of developing man's natural curiosity about real things, but rather seeks to project a comfortable illusion of human divinity based upon the greatness of its design imposed upon aretz. To attain this illusion it is necessary to harness the populace to the production of the dominion through their efforts as a skilled work force. The leader's role is to provide the vision of divine greatness which motivates the populace to the hard work needed to attainment the human dominion. While this vision of dominion can vary greatly in its degree of evil, from the third Reich and communist state of Hitler and Stalin, to the great frontier of Roosevelt, or great society of Johnson, it always shares one thing in common - the vision of an independent human design, imposed by humanity's craft upon the resources of Earth. The leader's job is to rhetorically inflame people's imaginations about his vision, not convince them of its natural place in Malchus Shamayim reality. In true snake like fashion the leader spins the line that his vision is for the glory of all citizens, all the while enslaving them to his own benefit. It is interesting that Kings are always fabulously wealthy, while the citizens do the hard work.

Why Pharoah would want to deny the notion of Malchus Shamayim is obvious. What happens to the notion of visionary leadership, the very lifeblood of Egyptian society, if Malchus Shamayim is true? Malchus Shamayim leaves no room for visionary leaders like Pharoah and his snake like plan. The only basis for leadership becomes knowledge, what Moshe Rabbenu had to offer, not vision production - the only commodity of Pharoah. To know Malchus Shamayim is necessarily to realize the uselessness of Pharoah, and hence the very basis of his absolute rule is undermined and must end. Yet it seems that this lesson was hard to learn, it took shiabude mitzraim to learn it. It is our very inability to reflect upon our social vision that enslaves us, a fact bemoaned by great thinkers, perhaps best by Einstein. To paraphrase Einstein: man's focus is always on the means to his chosen goal, never on exploring the value of the goal itself. Even after a long period of seeing Pharoah bested by maka after maka the lesson was not learned. Indeed it was not until Yam Suf, when the vision of Pharoah led to the complete obliteration of the Egyptian empire, that the Jews “believed in Hashem and His servant Moses.” Why did it take so long?