Shavuos has passed, and we will be having quite a dry spell before there are any new times of renewal. Does that mean that you are doomed to a several month spell of FOMO?
The best time of all is real life. That's where you give birth to yourself, and let the true you emerge. One of the ways in which your choices happen is by stepping back and figuring out what your priorities really are. There is a bit of Gemarah that says, “Rabba bar Machsya says that Rav Chamma bar Guria says that any city that has the roofs higher than the roofs of the synagogues will eventually be destroyed as it says, “To trample Hashem’s house and to establish its destroyed places”
The reason that I gave you an exact quote is that there are quite a few things that you can see in it that may change your focus. One is that everything here is attributed. I don’t much about Rav Machsya and even less about Rav Chamma, but there is one thing that I do know; Rav Machsya was an amorah, a teacher in the Talmudic era, someone who was close to the Oral Law in ways that I will never know. He had the opportunity to meet with and observe people who were one step closer to Sinai, and who had direct linkage with those before them. It doesn’t just take you back to Moshe, it takes you all the way back to the One who gave the Torah, who is the same One who created the world.
When you look around you or (for those of you who like this sort of thing) when you learn about the incredible intricacy of literally everything physical, you see the Hand of a giver, the One who wants you to live and interpret His world in ways that give you meaning, you know this because he chose to make you a human being.
Humans are the top of the pyramid, but we are simultaneously the only ones who could choose not to find their place. Everything in the world is still connected to its source just as much as it was on the day it was created. You are no exception. Your body, soul and evolving history are connected to Hashem. Every choice can get you closer to the One who creates life every second, or distance you. The scholars of the Talmud chose to learn, to explore, and to ultimately share what a human can know of the pattern that governs every choice you can possibly make.
Here they talk about living in a city; a topic which is not an easy one just now.
I am aware, that as I write this, the incredibly painful destruction takes place every night in many of Americas metropolises. Wanton, heartless destruction, surrounds you if you go out to see the scene. It didn’t come out of nowhere - there is history that has to be confronted. From the perspective of the Talmud, one thing must be said.
The fact that there is rage doesn’t mean that its offshoot is justice. There is nothing remotely resembling justice in looting a Gucci bag or a large-TV screen.
The voice of anger is always the same. This can be true of genuinely justified anger (Imagine the anger a parent would feel if their child was murdered), or trivial anger (the kind that you feel when you find yourself asking, “how dare he park where I wanted to park”). The voice says, “This isn’t how it should be; it should be the way I want it to be”. The underlying assumption is, of course, that the way you want “it” to be must be right.
How can you know?
The Talmud says that the beginning of the destruction of a city is when the roofs of the local buildings are higher than the roofs of the synagogues. Maharal explains this by saying that spiritual reality is inherently more exalted than material reality. That would mean that values that are eternal (and you can only know what they are from the Torah) have to be seen as transcending material reality. What happens when this is reversed? When questions of what morality really means are not asked? You have a situation evolve in which the purpose of life, its Source and its meaning are forgotten. What is remembered is how good material pleasure feels, how loud the desire for status talks, and how marvelous it feels to experience a little righteous indignation. This mixture is what you see every night. To use Maharal’s words; “lowliness is a part of the physical world (it was created to follow, not to lead); exaltation belongs to the non-physical world. When you reverse this, the inherent plan Hashem had for the world and order for the world that the Torah reveals, is destroyed”.
What does this mean in plain language? It means that the indignation about a murder (which, needless to say is part of the Torah’s system, and reflective of valuing the true worth of human life) is just. Looting, violence towards the law officers (whose lives are not less valuable than that of Floyd), are not part of this system. It is part of another system, one in which whoever is most vicious wins. It’s a perversion of what being human is all about.
What does this have to do with you?
Do you always put the right things first? I try to, but I don’t always succeed. The immediacy and the here and now nature of living in a way in which grabbing for what you want gives you instant pleasure is sometimes overwhelming. It can be the pleasure of saying what shouldn’t be said because it feels so good, or doing something that shouldn’t be done for the same reason.
Here’s the good news. Once you know who you don’t want to be, you are much closer to being who you do want to be. We have all summer to practice!
Tziporah Gottlieb (can’ya believe it? I am still floating