Everything is decaying or dying.
What a positive way to begin the week! Reality is reality: everything we see or touch forces us into confrontation with decay. The third law of thermodynamics, entropy (I know you were all thing about thermodynamics today….), is that everything is slowly dying, heading towards oblivion.
This can lead you to feeling that life is futile. This is an awfully depressing way to view the world, and in fact births two negative results. One is the philosophy of hedonism; do what you can to fill your life with pleasure today, because tomorrow it is all over. The opposite feeling can also take you over. Nothing lasts very long, or has any meaning. This depressing way of thinking leads to a sort of spiritual paralysis which makes it almost impossible to be spiritually ambitious. The laws of ritual purity that are presented in this coming week’s parshah are a response to death in its various forms. This is called tumah, which is the same letters as the word atum, which means opaque. When you are in contact with death in its various forms the meaning of life is hidden by the decaying body with is message of mockery towards everything that is real, once the soul is no longer there. The answer to tumah is taharah, purity, which has the same letters as the word rahat, which means free-flow or fluency. When you reattach yourself to life, with its constant imput of vitality and meaning, you have opened a door that living with mortality closes. The rituals described in the parshah are virtually incomprehensible. The reason is that they don’t work on a physical plane. What makes this emotionally unappealing is that it is the problem of the flow towards oblivion is visible while the solution that the Torah presents takes you into a realm that isn’t one that you can relate to by using your five senses.
Hashem is the G-d of life. The flow of His life-force is constant, and is concealed within everything. Although even things that look totally immobile to us may seem dead (like a stone for instance) everything is alive-the atoms in a stone are in constant motion. That plants are alive is far more evident to the naked eye; they grow and blossom... Animals are still more alive to the eye. They move, see, hear, and have an enormous capacity for acting with great determination to give voice to their drives and instincts. When I was in high school I discovered poetry. Blake’s line, “Tiger tiger burning bright in the forests of the night, what immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry” opened my heart to the poetry around me. People are far more alike than animals. You can feel deep love, long for meaning, experience harmony and peace that is far beyond what any animal experiences.
Some people are more alive than others. They go beyond the limitations of instinct, petty involvements, and the prison of hunger for every demand your body makes or your imagination can cook up. Only Hashem is unlimited and unchained in the ultimate sense of the world. The laws that tell you how to respond to the reality of being confined to a life in which so much of what you do and see is death-bound is something that only He can tell you. You and I are in the picture of mortality. We can’t see beyond it. One of the great acts of compassion that is inherent to the Torah is that Hashem gave us “chukim” laws that are as they are, and aren’t’ limited by your limitations. The word “chok” means engraved. When a letter is chiseled into a block of stone, it is part of the stone itself. It isn’t like a letter that is written on the stone and can be erased. Hashem told us “this is how it is” on His terms, and gave us access to a bit of life that isn’t defined or challenged by death and entropy.
How’s that for a heavy letter?
In short, that’s why I like the chukim. The kosher laws, shatnez, the whole bunch of them. I know the word a little bit, and I know my mind a bit more. It’s nice to take a vacation from subjectivity and limitations. Just knowing that if I was smarter, I still wouldn’t know all the answers, is very validating. It’s liberating to acknowledge that you aren’t G-d. The only one who could penetrate these laws was Moshe. The reason that he could go where you and I can’t, isn’t because he was smarter (which no doubt he was...), but because everything about his life echoed his humility, and his willingness to do Hashem’s will. Once you are “there” death is far less relevant.
I am getting really excited about my planned trip to kivrei tzadikim in Tammuz. Going to the resting places of people who are still “alive” in the eternal sense is an amazing experience. I just bought a new (at least to me) book by Rav Gamliel Rabinovitch, who I often consult with. His topic is kivrei tzadikim! He explains the unique and “alive’ aspects of the tzadikim who are buried here in E.Y. , their teachings, and what you can grasp from being there. If you are interested (or might be) email email@example.com or call Rachel Greenblatt at 0527608425, or Dvora Glicksman at 08 974 3013. I am enclosing the ad again in case you don’t know what I am talking about.
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