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exilic thoughts

In the Place Where the ‘Addict’ Stands, the ‘Non-Addicted’ Cannot Stand

For the past few years I have been giving a spirituality talk to individuals in acute inpatient recovery for addiction. This parable has been shared countless times, put down in writing in response to numerous requests. Addiction is but a metaphor…

 

 

 

An event is announced: “the vase will be on display for a limited time only”.

The hall was set up for the showing. Ushers were called in; with partitions set to ensure the requisite distance between human and art (human beings are extra cautious when it comes to minding the gap between the two). The vase was placed on a white concrete stand with a glass casing covering over the vase for protection.

Being that the announcement was published in the magazine whose readership made up the who’s who of the rich and stable, the hall was packed on opening night. Dressed in their finest, they wandered around the room paying more attention to the expressions on each other’s faces than to the vase centered in the middle of the room. A subtle air of boredom suffocated the room.

Suddenly, the back doors of the hall fly open and in stumbles the town addict (alcoholic, user, junky, crackhead, drunk etc. all dependent on the relative respect with which the rich and stable address the other). All heads turn towards the back of the hall, mouths gaping, audible shock. Now they have something to look at, something that draws their attention away from their preoccupation with nothing but themselves.

The addict stumbles towards the center of the room. With guests moving quickly out of the way so as not to catch his illness (but not too far as to miss the excitement of it all), the addict quickly arrives at the center of the room. At this point the silence is palpable, what will he do next? Myriad questions (and assumptions) run through the minds of all those present, except of course the one question that would be helpful, namely: “can I help you in anyway?”

The addict pushes the ushers out of the way. Knocks down the partitions (closing in on the distance that separates human frailty from the sublimity of art, albeit through the self-destructive repetition in which the addict loses themselves). Smudges his hands all over the glass casing, he casts it to the side. Picks up the vase and holds it for a moment. The crowd at this point is waiting with bated breath to see what happens next.

The anonymous addict lifts the vase, and lets it fall from his hands, shattering into a million little pieces. The crowd goes wild. “It’s his parents fault!” yells one person; “it’s the schools fault!” yells another. “It’s the pharmaceutical companies!” cries the third; “it’s his own fault!” says the crowd in unison. Of course, nobody approaches the addict to see if they can help pick up the pieces. No one sits with the addict, quietly sharing his pain/shame/guilt/hopelessness about the destruction. The voice of the chorus continues to swell- until suddenly- the crowd gets bored again, slowly exiting the hall, back towards their lives in search of a less severe, less abject form of entertainment.

Left alone, the addicted individual has two options. He can wander off in search of something else to break; or, he can sit amid the mess, amongst the broken pieces, and slowly try to put the vase back together.

The addict sits, slowly and painstakingly putting the vase back together piece by piece. Making progress, it falls apart again. Cutting himself on the broken glass. Losing hope, finding hope. The addict slowly but surely puts the vase back together. He places the vase back on the concrete stand. Walking over to the glass covering, he cleans the smudges. Puts the partitions back in place, calling the ushers back for a new showing.

A new showing is announced, the rich and stable return to look at the vase. The addicted individual puts on new clothes, vanishing- anonymously- back into the burgeoning crowd. At this point the crowd and the addict are gazing at the same vase. But while the crowd sees the same old vase in all of its boring banality, the addict sees something entirely new. Intimately aware of the delicacy of the vase, he is attentive to each and every detail that makes up the vase. Anxiously aware of the vulnerability that cuts through the heart of what appears stable, the addict enjoys each and every moment of the vase in its stability.

Where the crowd sees the same, the recovering individual sees the perpetually new.

 

 

 

 

 

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R. Tzadok Ha-Kohen on Purim: Minimal Excess

This is the aspect of Purim, that they did not accept upon themselves the prohibition of  melacha (TB. Megillah 5b). For in truth, the nullification of melacha is from the perspective of God who has no need for effort (his’tadlut), and it is only applicable to the perspective of God and the sanctity of the Sabbath which is permanent and enduring.

This is not the case when it comes to yom tov whose sanctity depends on the Jewish people and as such remains dependent on effort. The nullification of melacha, however, is only because on yom tov there is an additional sanctity that is created by the Jewish peoples sanctification. Furthermore, the sanctity of yom tov is rooted in the sanctity of the Sabbath , meaning, the sanctity of God that is the source of all from which all draw their strength. This surplus sanctity of yom tov then becomes an aspect of “permanent and enduring”.

On Purim however, there is no addition, rather, there is a disclosure of a light that negates the need for addition, for when one is connected to essence there is no surplus. This is the reason that while all  yamim tovim stand to be nullified in the future, Purim will never be nullified; for every yom tov  is rooted in the miracle and salvation that creates an addition, while in the future God will be “the light of days” negating all novelty and addition. Purim, however, is rooted in this very light.

In truth, there is no addition. It is only from the perspective of this worldliness that addition exists. There is only this additional insight which reveals that there is no addition whatsoever.

(Resisei Leila, 32:3)

Some Brief Thoughts on R. Shalom Sharabi on the Anniversary of his Death

Some brief thoughts on R. Shalom Sharabi, the Yemenite kabbalist known as the Rashash (1720-1777) on the anniversary of his passing.

It is only recently that the kabbalitic project of the Rashash has begun to move beyond the preconceived boundaries that enclose it.

Typically seen as a highly arcane model of Lurianic interpretation, the Rashash has often been described as an excessively complex, nearly mathematical interpreter of  Lurianic Kabbalah.  Associated with the meditative school of sefardi kabbalah the Rashash has typically been known for his re-codification of Lurianic intentions (kavaanot) and as such the lot of only the most erudite mystic. This is understandable in that the few authentic writings that we have (Nahar Shalom and its condensed introduction Rechovot ha-Nahar; Siddur ha-Rashash in all of its various manifestations; and his short glosses on R. Hayyim Vital’s Eitz Chayyim printed as Haggaot ha-Shemesh) seem to complicate the texts that they are coming to clarify. What appears relatively simple within the general depiction of Lurianic Kabbalah undergoes a process of complication in his brief comments. What seemed unified is separated, and what seemed whole is shown to be deficient. Universals are broken down into particulars and imaginative concepts are codified into technical symbols where, at first glance, they seem to lose their evocative power.

Part of this is due to the his writing style, short hints that beckon the expert as they discourage the novice. One gets the sense that for the Rashash, writing was a painful necessity whose sting is mitigated in the decision to write as minimally as possible. While this stylistic decision seems to be rooted in his unique hermeneutics of secrecy- a model influenced by both internal beliefs about the dissemination of secrets as well as external threats of misinterpretation- the way in which the Rashash’s ideas have been conveyed frustrate the hope for easy understanding.

This has all changed in recent years with the proliferation of teachings from the Jerusalem Kabbalist R. Yitzhak Meir Morgenstern, whose voluminous works that are astonishing in both their clarity as well as their depth. What R. Morgenstern has done to the teachings of the Rashash is simply unprecedented. Generally speaking, his elucidation on the Rashash’s system has two parts: A. Clarifying the simple intention explicit within the highly specific language of the Rashash and B. Bringing the profound conceptual ideas implicit within his teachings into communication with alternative models of Lurianic Kabbalah, namely the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and his students. What is most profound about R. Morgenstern’s project, however, is that the distillation of Kabbalat ha-Rashash into a more evocative indium does not minimize the complex particularity inherent within but rather highlights the necessity of this “mathematical language”, or what R. Morgenstern refers to as “omek ha-pratiyut“, the depths-of-particularity.

R. Morgenstern- and as of late his student R. Shmuel Ehrenfeld- are by no means the only explicators of Kabbalat ha-Rashash. R. Yaakov Moshe Hillel; R. Moshe Schatz; R. Itamar Schwartz; R. Benyahu Shmueli to name a few have been working on “translating” the ideas inherent within the Rashash into a more explicit and expressive system.

To end this brief, and mostly directionless thought, what the Rashash has done is deepen the simply unity of the Infinite (ein sof) to the point where even the most particularized aspect of being is shown to contain within it the light of the universal. Not only does the light of unity illuminate and subsume the universals-of-being, but it descends and transcends the very particularity that comes to darken it. If Eitz Hayyim describes the universal and historical process of being- from the tzimtzum of the Infinite light down to the evil that exists within the recesses of Asiyah- the Rashash shows us how this process is inherent within each and every action, each and every moment.

When unity is forced to confront the particularity of separation, the particulars are revealed to be part of the very unity they come to deny. As R. Hayyim de la Rossa- main student of the Rashash and author Torat Chocham- writes “I have seen from behind the creases of my master’s eyes…that the general (klal) and the particular (prat) are always equal”.

 

 

 

Being-at-Home I

The world is full of light. The darkness that swells is but a shadow that scatters in the face of the light.

When the world gets dark, the lightness of being retreats inside. The doorway- the threshold between the outside and the inside- beckons us, calls us inwards. The cold, the noise, it stops at the doorway.

Inside, enveloped by the warmth of being-at-home. Of family, of connection. To arrive back at home, the days end embedded in its beginning. To return. Having turned outwards towards the world, we re/turn, roundabout, backwards now. Turning inwards we shut the door on the cold noise of exile.

In the absence of the “Home”, the Beit ha-Mikdash, we build a “home”, a miniature, the Mikdash Me’at, a copy of some unimaginable original whose memory is nothing but the endless hope towards its future restoration.

The kitchen, the pleasure of sustenance, where the exterior becomes the interior. Warmth and cold working in unison, cold sterile utensils turned vessels of the holy. The promise of satiation, and the murmuring of a future hunger. The table, elevating that which was degraded.

The playroom, the faithful ignorance of innocence. Meaningful meaninglessness. The space of imagination.

The hallway, transitional space, running-and-returning between the mindlessness of play, the doubling sha’a’shua and the seriousness of the study.

Each room with its own sense, the mood of the room…

Sukkot and the Seven Beggars

תִּיבוּ תִּיבוּ אוּשְׁפִּיזִין עִילָאִין, תִּיבוּ תִּיבוּ אוּשְׁפִּיזִין קַדִּישִׁין, תִּיבוּ תִּיבוּ אוּשְׁפִּיזִין דִמְהֵימְנוּתָא

Before beginning his thirteenth and final tale “The Seven Beggars”, R. Nachman asked his students to bring him the news of the world. Listening, silent, he sighed and opened, “let me share with you how once there was joy from within despair”.

The tale tells of a carnivalesque celebration. As all the villagers return to their homes, two young orphans, a young boy and girl, are left behind in the vacant forest. Bereft and lost they are visited by seven enigmatic beggars who open with advice and close with blessings.

With each beggars departure the desire of the orphans grows, mourning the loss and anticipating their re/turn. The beggars of the neighboring villages, the “community of those without community” take the children under their care, initiating them into the ways of the impoverished.

Eventually the community decides that the orphaned children should get married. A royal feast was set in a neighboring village. The beggars descend on the feast collecting the leftovers and the surplus for the marriage of the lost children.

The beggars dig a four-walled pit into the mud of the forest. The orphans descend into the pit. The pit is covered with branches and dirt.

The seven enigmatic beggars, the blind, the deaf, the stuttering, the hunchbacked, the crooked and the arm-less visit the muddy pit covered with branches to offer their gifts.

Lower Waters/ Part I

Originally, the water(s) were unified. Only after they were separated did they realize that they were different. Whether their original unity or their actual division was their essential state doesn’t matter much. What matters is that they are now separate.

The ‘higher’ waters were allowed to remain in their original state, the state of presence, of fullness and an awareness of their original purpose. 

The ‘lower’ waters, however, were cast out and away from their original space. Thrown into the nothingness of the outside, these waters gather and form into the abyss. Banished and lost, the ‘lower’ waters confront the absence of the depths, murmuring, trying to remember their forgotten origins.
Within the depths of forgetting, there is an awakening. A movement from within when the ‘lower’ waters gaze at their own distance, a self-reflection that opens unto the rootlessness of the self. The ‘lower’ waters of the abyss begin to rumble. Murmuring, depth calling unto depth, seeking out their barred origin, they cry out. The inaudible cry of distance, the sigh born in the shadows of the abyss rises above, silenced by the same depths that give birth to the cry.
The separation of the water(s), the primordial split that separates above from below, presence from absence, enables the functioning of being. Without the division of the ‘lower’ waters from within the ‘higher’ waters, the potential of being would be foreclosed on in the inundation of water, the oceanic sense of unity that prevents the possibility of duplicity. 
Once awakened, the desire of the ‘lower’ waters to ascend from her depths, the cry for the return to the never-present presence threatens to return the world to “water in water”, a return back to the beginning before the beginning where the saturation of presence denied even the whispers of absence. 
For the sake of being, the ‘lower’ waters are held in abeyance, never overcoming the boundary placed between her and her source. Perpetually assaulting the border, the ‘lower’ waters surge forth from their abysmal depth only to retreat back into themselves in the face of the impenetrable limit. 
Chained to their depth, the ‘lower’ waters seek out a crack, a fissure, a moment to burst free…

On Being the Other (Zohar 1:148)


R. Yitzchak was walking alone at night. He came upon a father and his two sons speaking about the sun. Uninvited, he followed behind them listening from a distance. They spoke about gods invitation towards man and mans invitation towards god. They spoke about the holy madness of King David, the reversal of laughter and grace, and the ways in which god must behave while in the house of his faithful. R. Yitzchak revealed himself to them, kissed them, and exclaimed, “had I only embarked upon this path to hear this, it would have, could have been enough.” A fleeting sense of fulfillment, a sense of totality lost as quickly as it was grasped. 

The mans son opens and speaks, interpreting Jacob’s descent from Beer-Sheva into Haran. Previously interpreted as the descent from faith into doubt, day into night, serenity into rage; the son reads Jacobs descent as the quest towards relation, towards the other. 

The son continues: what does it mean that Jacob stumbled upon the place? He opens with an analogy, a story within a story, a meandering tale amongst those that wander on the way…

When the king descends to the dwelling of his queen, a dwelling removed in time and space from the trappings of royalty, removed from the beds of gold and the images of open spaces . A distant place, devoid of externality. A space that is sparse and impoverished, a bed of stone and a blanket of wheat. He must cast off the burdens of his certainty, the edifices of the known, he must descend into the unknown invitation.  He must leave what was once his, he must let himself be invited, he must descend into the pit with flames of desire. For even the stones of her floor are enrapturing. 

Jacob was surprised. Caught off guard. Invited by the beckoning call of that place. In the depths of night, Jacob descended into the dreamscape of the host. 

Wandering on the way (אורחא), stumbling upon strangers, R. Yitzchak becomes the guest (אורח), humbling himself in the face of the other, being welcomed. Giving space.

R. Yitzchak heard the words of the mans son, and R. Yitzchak cried.