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Home > OP-ED > Machanayim - Two Camps

Title: Machanayim - Two Camps
Date: January 25, 2001

"And Ya'akov (1) went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Ya'akov saw them, he said: "This is God's camp." And he called the name of that place Machanayim (two camps)." (Genesis 32:1-2). (2)

Drawn into the vortex of their self-deception and fooled by their painstakingly crafted outward appearances, we, in Israel, believe that the Charedim (ultra-Orthodox) and the Chiloniim (ultra-secular) are the polar extremes of Jewish self-expression. They desperately want to believe this about themselves and can be most convincing when vociferously proclaiming themselves to be diametrically opposed one to the other and essentially irreconcilable. They reject one another's authority figures entirely, calling them illegitimate heirs to Jewish tradition. They reject one another's authenticity as Jews completely as well. Each wishes the other would vanish from the face of history, as each causes the other endless shame. They are equally convinced that the other poses a threat and that their true expression and development is hampered by the very existence of the other. Self-realization in rendered impossible by the other, so each claims. They belittle one another at any given opportunity. One can hardly attend a 'hillulah' (festive gathering of Orthodox Jews, on the anniversary of the death of a sage for the purpose of elevating his soul ever higher in heaven) without hearing long-winded tirades against the secular onslaught. Neither can one participate in a secular political forum or attend a lecture on social issues sponsored by secular Jews which doesn't degenerate into a Charedim bashing session. One might think that denigration of the ultra-Orthodox is synonymous with serious Jewish intellectual analysis in secular academic circles. The media, controlled by the ultra-secular minority, use these venues to portray the ultra-Orthodox as a menace to Israeli society. Both the ultra-secular and ultra-Orthodox radio stations broadcast hate epithets between every song and jingle. Each is convinced that the other has no future and is doomed to extinction - the sooner the better. Worst of all: each thinks the other is responsible for the Holocaust, and this naturally obliges each to try to eradicate the other in order to preclude the occurrence of another episode of an attempt to annihilate the entire Jewish people, as defined by anti-Semites. Each, then, is convinced that in order to prevent a belligerent non-Jewish group from intervening in Jewish life and describing "Who is a Jew?", the other must be done away with.

As is commonly known, the opposite of love is indifference, not hate. Hatred is an obsession, an inability to forget or ignore the object of one's hatred. Hatred is a tortured, never-ending preoccupation of the heart of the hater by the hated. Hate is actually a frustrated desire to be like, to be with, to be near, to be loved by the hated. Hate poses as the desire to obliterate, but it is actually a desire to consume the other into ones own being, and the concomitant desire to lose one's own being in the hated. The hatred of the Charedim and the Chiloniim is this very mutual hatred. They are locked into an interminable struggle, precisely because they, at root share similar characteristics, need one another, and need to meld so very desperately.

The Charedim and the Chiloniim in our time are the two most extreme expressions of the Jewish peoples' historical malady: the inability to cope emotionally with our Torah. Talmud Torah (the learning of the Bible and attendant interpretations thereof) is not an intellectual exercise as is commonly believed, and commonly preferred. Learning Torah is a moral undertaking and is the process by which one becomes ever more moral. Talmud Torah engages not only the intellect, but every human faculty. To be moral requires, in addition to a passionate desire to be moral, a passionate desire to increase morality in the world. Talmud Torah, then, is the would-be moral Human being [Jews and B'nei Noach (righteous Gentiles as defined by Jewish tradition) alike] asking God: "How?" The passion, which is the driving force, required to become moral despite the seemingly insurmountable objects in one's way originates in the emotions, not in the intellect. It is a need which springs from the heart. In tribute to Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, author of The Kuzari, Leo Strauss writes in his article entitled "The Law of Reason in the Kuzari":

"One has not to be naturally pious, he has merely to have a passionate interest in genuine morality in order to long with all his heart for revelation: moral man as such is the potential believer. HaLevi could find a sign for the necessity of the connection between morality and revelation in the fact that the same philosophers who denied the Divine law-giver, denied the obligatory character of what we would call moral law. In defending Judaism, which, according to him, is the only true revealed religion, against the philosophers, he was conscious of defending morality itself and therewith the cause, not only of Judaism, but of mankind at large. His basic objection to philosophy was then, not particularly Jewish nor even particularly religious, but moral. He has spoken on this subject with remarkable restraint: not being a fanatic, he did not wish to supply the unscrupulous and the fanatic with weapons which, they certainly would have misused. But this restraint cannot deceive the reader about the singleness of his primary purpose." (3)

Certainly, the application of the morality learned in the process of Talmud Torah requires keen intellectual analysis of the human condition, and hair-splitting 'pilpul' (discussion, debate, argumentation) in order to know how to apply what one has learned and how to act and interact on a minute-to-minute, situation-to-situation basis. But, the origin of this activity is in the emotional realm. The acid test of whether a Jew has successfully learned a Jewish concept is a softening of the character; a deepening of his/her ability to experience, and willingness to express, subtle feelings. We know we have internalized an 'inyan' (subject, matter) in Torah when we feel greater love and an increased desire to express that love, together with the knowledge of how to do so constructively. What drives a person to become a Torah scholar is an unrelenting desire to better the lot of Humankind and a searching for the knowledge of how to do so in specific situations, as is required of a Jew. The explication of the essentially emotional motivation to attain intellectual knowledge finds very clear expression in the writing of Rabbi Avraham Yizchak HaCohen Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the pre-state 'yishuv' (settlement) of Israel. In the compilation of his personal letters to students and friends we find the following:

"Do not suspect me of following my emotions without the illumination of intellect. I always maintain, however, that emotions are more intellectual when they reach their most perfect degree than that same psychic phenomenon we call intellect, since even our tendency to love intellect is based on emotion, and were it not for this emotion, great intellects would not be able to prevail with their intelligence, and all the more would men of great deeds not be able to prevail with their good deeds, since the intellect brings its authority from a different world, while emotion's wealth is hidden within itself, and does not have to bring sustenance from afar - but it can achieve its purpose only according to the amount of the light of reason shed upon it."(4)

The Jewish people's flight from the discomfort and huge responsibility of approaching the Torah with emotional intelligence is ancient. The classical defense mechanism against having to confront the Torah as such is to assign emotion to the feminine, and then prevent the feminine form of Humanity from engaging in serious Torah study. The emotional realm, then, is declared "lower" than the intellectual realm, even as women are, in general, smaller in physical stature than men. The emotional realm is likewise considered of lesser stature, i.e. "lower", than the intellectual realm. Children are unable to control their emotions and are not fully developed intellectually. Women, whose faces are unadorned with beards, and whose voices are high pitched, like those of youths, are therefore considered underdeveloped humanity, unbridled emotionality and unable to grasp intellectual matters, which requires one to be emotionless - so the traditional Jewish claptrap goes.

For their part, the vast majority of the women of Israel were all-too-willing to allow themselves to be divested of their responsibility to undertake intensive, prolonged Torah study. One may well ask, if the women of Israel, like the men, were unwilling to allow themselves to experience the intense emotions necessary to learn Torah, or, if they were deterred by the intellectual rigors of Torah study. It is very difficult to believe that without their compliance, and perhaps even alliance with the men, Jewish women could have been prevented from learning Torah. During the entire period in which the Talmud was redacted (circa 200 CE to 700 CE) only the name of one great Torah scholars who was a women is mentioned: Bruria [notorious for having kicked a student who dared to doze off during his studies is the beit midrash (study hall)]. The Talmud goes quickly on to mention that she was the daughter of the illustrious Rabbi Chanina ben Tardion and the wife of the illustrious Rabbi Meir. It is very interesting, and to the credit of the redactors of the Talmud to record, that when the two sons of Bruria and Rabbi Meir died she remained calm in her faith in God, he became hysterical. (Midrash Mishleh 31; Yalkut Shimoni, Mishlei 31)

During the Second Temple period we find that, as today, the Jews were divided into various socio-religious groups, but united in their general preference for approaching the Torah intellectually, while minimizing the importance of the emotional faculties which are so necessary for correct and deep revelatory Torah study. Certainly during all of Jewish history there was a minority who leaned toward the emotional in their studies. They usually found themselves in ongoing conflict with their cool-headed colleagues. An example of this struggle is poignantly demonstrated in the following conversation attributed to Rabban Gamliel, President of the Great Sanhedrin (5) in Yavneh (6)after the destruction of the Second Temple, and Rabbi Yehoshua (Joshua), Head of the Rabbinical Court. Many arguments between the two are recorded in the Talmud. As can safely be inferred from the conversation between the two which follows, Rabban Gamliel was able to draft the emotional element of his being into his interpretation of the Torah, whereas, Rabbi Yehoshua was not. T'vi was Rabban Gamliel's beloved slave, and Rabban Gamliel wanted to set him free, despite the fact that the halacha (body of Jewish law) does not provide for the release of non-Jewish slaves except in extenuating circumstances. Rabban Gamliel searched for such mitigation. According to Jewish law, if the master of a slave causes the slave bodily injury he must set him free. (This, by the way, is related to the true meaning of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth". The correct meaning of this oft cited, and usually completely misunderstood law, is that if someone puts out another's eye, or even a tooth, he is liable to that injured person for damages. The amount of the damages one must pay is determined as the difference of the value of a slave without and with the given injury.) We read in the Talmud, Tractate Baba Kama (74:5):

An occurrence concerning Rabban Gamliel who blinded the eye of T'vi, his slave and rejoiced with a great rejoicing: He (Rabban Gamliel) set out to and found Rabbi Yehoshua and said to him: "Don't you know that T'vi, my slave, has been set free?" He (Rabbi Yehoshua) said to him: "Why?" He answered: "I blinded his eye." He said to him: "There is nothing in your words, since he doesn't have witnesses anymore." (my translation).

Rabban Gamliel searches for a way of interpreting Jewish Law such that he remains true to the law, but the interpretation allows for the maximum of what we would call 'humanism' today. Rabban Gamliel is rising to the challenge set before the Jew: to interpret the Law with love. Even though the letter of the Law reads as being harsh, we are enjoined to search for the meekness and compassion which reside potentially in the Law. The repeated practice of doing this causes us to find the depths of meekness and compassion in ourselves despite the harshness in our personalities. Rabbi Yehoshua is not less knowledgeable of the letter of the Law than Rabban Gamliel, but he is not disturbed by the suffering of a human being who is a slave to another human being. He remains true to the letter of the Law, but his interpretation is heartless and purely analytical. He demonstrates no ability to ameliorate the human condition - because he does not feel a need to do so. Rabban Gamliel seeks the heart and soul of the Law. To our sorrow, and often disgrace in the eyes of the Gentiles, Rabbi Yehoshua's approach to Talmud Torah is considered the more brilliant and desirable and is, and has been since the time that prophecy ceased in Israel, by far the most prevalent.

In a milieu in which the purely analytical approach to learning is preferred and prevalent, the status of women is reduced as a matter of course, as an unavoidable outcome. Women's brains are structured to allow us the automatic engaging of the emotions in the thinking process. The rejection of the fact that intelligence is essentially emotional in its origins leads to the rejection of the bearers of emotional/intellectual aptitude. Those whose approach is womanlike and women themselves are considered irrational, not superrational. In all fairness to the men of Israel, however, the fact that so few women demanded to learn Torah leads us to ask: Is the experience of having the emotions continuously engaged with the thinking process too much to bear for many women?

Talmud Torah, in its highest expression, is the bringing out of new insights - never before revealed understandings. The process and the results of Talmud Torah are the spiritual equivalent of the birth process on the physical plane. (It is interesting that the Hebrew word for brain (moach) and the Hebrew word for uterus (rechem) share two letters. In Hebrew whenever two words share two letters they are linguistically related. The additional letter that appears in the word rechem is the letter reish. Reish is related to the Hebrew word for head (rosh). The Hebrew word for uterus, then, is a combining of the words for head and brain. Truly, conception on the physical and the mental-emotional levels are two expressions of the self-same act of creation. In order to be able to understand the Torah correctly, one has to be able to experience ongoing birth pangs, to be completely vulnerable but also incredibly strong and longsuffering - as is a woman giving birth. One needs to be able to reach in and pull out the newborn when the labor is difficult and protracted (the greatest revelations of the Torah are ALWAYS difficult and protracted). The greatest power of all is the power to be able to choose to be vulnerable in order to bring forth new life, as is a woman who has attained control of her sexuality and fertility.

Most Jews are unwilling to be so "humiliated" in order to learn the Torah properly and profoundly. They are too squeamish to "bloody their hands" with the blood of birth - so they convince themselves that Talmud Torah is a "pure" and "ethereal" intellectual armchair process. The result of this mistaken notion is skewed, irrelevant and even uninteresting Torah interpretation. At worst, heartless interpretations form the bases of laws, customs and restrictions which inflict unspoken torments on the soul of the Jewish people. Pseudo-Torah scholars who interpret Torah without a heart wish to mimic the most extreme ultra-rational schools of philosophy, while calling it Talmud Torah. They convince themselves that only untainted radical rationalism can be genuine learning. Milling water, they busy themselves with obtuse concerns and their egos are inflated by the fact that they have thoroughly obfuscated the issues they are treating and confused their students. This, they take, to be a sign of their brilliance. Talmud Torah becomes a parody of the coldest schools of Gentile philosophy. But it feels 'safe' emotionally.

It would appear that the Text of the Written Torah itself discriminates against the female. This does not jibe with the roles attributed to the Matriarchs of Israel. There is clearly a conflict between:

"Because you have hearkened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree, of which I commanded you, saying you shall not eat of it: cursed is the ground for your sake, in sorrow shall you eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to you; and you shall eat the herb of the field; in the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, 'til you return to the ground; for out of it were you taken: for dust you are, and to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:17-19)

- and -

"And Sara saw the son of Hagar the Mizrian, who she had born to Avraham mocking. So she said to Avraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son…And G0D said to Avraham…in all that Sara has said to you, hearken to her voice…"(Genesis 21:9-12)

Is Sara not a daughter of Chava (Eve)? Everything that God says to and about Chava is understood in Jewish tradition to be incumbent upon all of her daughters (all of female humanity, of course) as well. According to this principle no man should ever hearken to the voice of his wife. Obviously Torah is demanding a deep interpretation of these passages and requiring us to examine the role of the female (approximately) half of the Human race.

The hiding of the female face of Torah [How old did Mrs. Metushalach (7) live to be?] stems from the very fact that one needs to approach Torah (which is a feminine word in Hebrew) with an emotionally sensitive and intelligent orientation. The apparent discrimination against the female is calculated to make us hunt for justice for the female. The predatory instinct is to be rarified into the hunt for justice:

"Justice, justice, pursue so that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God gave you." (Deutoronomy 16:20 my translation).

The doubling of the word justice in the above passage means that one cannot claim that the end justifies the means. One must pursue justice by just means.

The word ha'aretz (the land) in the above passage is a feminine word. We must dig deeply into the Text to find the celebration of female existence and in so doing we develop our ability to feel compassion and awe for that aspect of life which makes itself vulnerable for life's sake. The female face of Torah is veiled by its very pervasiveness; it is obscured by its very ubiquitousness.

Too many of us prefer to feel the way we see: to experience only a narrow range of emotion which we define as 'human' within a much wider range of possible emotion, which we prefer to suppress and deny. We don't want to experience the 'infra-red' range of emotion, which we find too painful, base and intense to experience or even admit to (shame, self-disgust, repulsion, outrage, feelings of inferiority - to name just a few). Certainly, we deny the really low 'radio-wave' end of the human emotional spectrum entirely. We define such emotions such as desire for perversion and sadism as being subhuman. Neither do we wish to exert ourselves in order to reach the 'ultra-violet' range of emotion (humility, reverent awe) which we consider to be to rarified to be possible in modern society. Few of us even consider ourselves capable of attaining the 'cosmic wave' end of the emotional spectrum (self-nullification and oneness with God). Here, at this range, the lack of intensity makes us feel unreal - a feeling associated with insanity. We tell ourselves that these emotions are the domain of saints and madmen.

The goal of Talmud Torah is attaining knowledge of God's will, which is identical with the attainment of direct experience of God-in-Itself. This experience is beyond the highest level that thought can attain. It is an ecstatic experience characterized by the ability to feel the most rarified emotions at the level of intensity that is characteristic of the most base. This requires emotional training and preparation. It is this training and preparation that Talmud Torah is all about. The attainment of the ability to span the entire spectrum of emotion SIMULTANEOUSLY is the goal of learning Torah.

The Torah elevates us to seemingly impossibly high levels of morality and compassion, requiring us to be innocently believing, even naive, and so trusting as to be childlike. Avraham says the following to God regarding the entirely perverse people of S'dom (Sodom:

"…wilt thou destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? Far be it from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, far be it from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:24-25)

Torah catapults us onto a veritable roller coaster of emotion and human experience. Shortly after reading the above passage we read about, and thus visualize, the abysmal depths of the debasement of the people of S'dom. Lot's answer to them is even more revolting than their request to "know" (in the Biblical sense of the word, sic.), en masse, Lot's guests. The contrast is all the more difficult to contend with emotionally and morally because the following comes so shortly, and abruptly, after the above passage:

"But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: and they called to Lot and said to him, Where are the men who came in to thee this night? Bring them out to us, that we may know them. And Lot went out at the door to them, and shut the door after him, and said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly. Behold now, I have two daughters who have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do to them as is good in your eyes: only to these men do nothing; seeing that they have come under the shadow of my roof. And they said, Stand back. (Genesis 19:4-9)

Torah requires from those who would plumb its depths to be emotionally capable of degradation and innocence, to be able to bear absolute purity and defilement - at once! One must become capable of being thoroughly disgusted with perversion and capable of pleading for God's mercy for the perverse for the sake preserving all of humanity, at once! We reach this level of emotional depth and breadth only by admitting to ourselves that the Torah is addressing all of that which resides within us.

The sublime and the debased have a quality in common: they are both riveting, fascinating. But Torah can suddenly become unbearably monotonous:

"…and he died. And Enosh lived ninety years, and begot Qenan:; and Enosh lived after he begot Qenan eight hundred and fifteen years, and begot sons and daughters: and all the days of Enosh were nine hundred and five years: and he died And Qenan lived seventy years, and begot Mahalal'el: and Qenan lived after he begot Mahalal'el eight hundred and forty years, and begot sons and daughters: and all the days of Qenan were nine hundred and ten years: and he died. And Mahalal'el lived sixty five years, and begot Yered: and Mahalal'el lived after he begot Yered eight hundred and thirty years, and he begot sons and daughters: and all the days of Mahalal'el were eight hundred and ninety five years: and he died…." (Genesis 5:8-17)

…zzzzzz…probably of boredom. We are required by Torah to die of boredom so that we may master both the exhilaration of feeling alive and the desolation of feeling dead. The toil required to learn Torah is that which gives us the self-discipline and self control necessary to reconcile diametrically opposed traits and integrate them into our personalities. The Torah tells us about itself: "This is the Book of Toldot (history, annals, chronology, generations) of Humanity" (Genesis 5:1). We are, each and every one of us, expected to integrate all of the collective knowledge and wisdom of Humanity, born of the collective experience of humanity into our consciousness. The mastery of the full range of the human potential to feel requires familiarity with the full, broad spectrum of experience, coupled with the honesty to admit to ourselves what our intellectual and emotional reactions to these experiences were and what we learned from them. We attain this level of understanding by living our lives and learning the Torah and trying to integrate the living and learning phases of experience.

Most Jews would prefer to relinquish Jewish greatness if the price we must pay for this greatness is so difficult and exacting a personal trial. In our times our age-old refusal to struggle with our heart has expressed itself in the invention of two camps: the ultra-Orthodox and the ultra-secular. These two camps stand in seeming opposition to one another. But they exist for the same reason: to provide refuge, however flimsy, for Jewish souls fleeing from themselves. They provide ersatz asylum for those Jews who cannot or will not undergo the excruciating travail required to live an authentic Jewish life. This is not to say that the members of the more moderate Jewish groups in modern times: Modern Orthodox, Conservadox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform and Secular Humanistic Judaism are distinguished for their absolute honesty and religious integrity. Modern Orthodoxy does not attempt to grapple with the stickiest halachic issues, even as they do attempt to find a niche in modern society. The various Conservative schools of Judaism and Reform Judaism simply skirt around the halachot (religious rulings) which offend them esthetically or embarrass them in the presence of their gentile friends and relatives. Secular Humanistic Jews seek universalism without breaking completely with Jewish history. Yet, the Charedim (ultra-Orthodox) and Chiloniim (ultra-secular) remain the most extreme in the desperation of their flight from the emotional intensity of being authentically Jewish. These latter two groups are absolutely convinced that they are absolutely and exclusively right. They brook no doubt to enter their minds.

The Charedim, upon encountering the 'barbaric' stories and harsh commandments in the Torah simply accept them as they appear to the mind in a state of constricted consciousness, and/or ascribe to the laws a justice which is unfathomable to the mind on any level of consciousness [For instance, even King Sh'lomo (Solomon), the wisest of all, was unable to fathom the secrets of the laws concerning the red heifer). They don't begin to cry out against injustice, because they don't consider the agony of the social pariah in Torah to be unjust. They don't allow themselves to project themselves into the situations of those whom the Torah has apparently condemned to being outcast. They see no need to cry out for justice and compassion for abandoned wives (agunot) or products of forbidden relations (mamzerim and challalim) because they take their own state of being and the state of being of others as emanating from Divine Will, which they assume they cannot question, let alone understand. Strangely, it is known that there are roads to attaining the state of expanded consciousness which allow us to see the Torah in a much more penetrating light, but few undertake the moral discipline necessary to reach this level.(8) They do not scream out to heaven to explain or mitigate that which is written. According to the apparent text of the Writ, it is forbidden for a Cohen (descendant of Aharon, Moshe's elder brother and progenitor of the priestly section of the Tribe of Levi) to perform any specifically priestly functions if he has a physical deformity. In this case too, few attempt to delve into the inner meanings of these laws in order to find the hidden face of compassion within them. It is left to the Mashiach (Messiah) when he will come on his white donkey, through the alleys of Tzfat (Safed) into Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) to solve these problems. The Chiloniim, upon encountering these same troubling passages in Torah, alleviate their emotional discomfort by denial as well. However, their denial takes another form: discounting everything in the Torah as being context and culture specific. Anything that does not seem rational to them is disregarded as the sheer nonsense of an ancient, primitive culture. They contend that no rational, compassionate, Divine agency could possibly have instituted such harsh social conventions or demanded irrational practices be carried out by the Jewish Nation. But their emotional reaction to Torah is essentially the same as that of the Charedim: they refuse to identify with the Jewish outcast and flee from their responsibilities as Jews: to pursue and do justice and love their fellows as themselves which are the bases of the entire Torah and indeed the creation of humankind.(9) Both the Chiloniim and the Charedim, then, "free" themselves from the responsibility of assiduous study of the Text for the express purpose of aiding the social outcast as though s/he were their very selves. In the realm of action neither take upon themselves the vow to attain wisdom and create a just society based on that wisdom. Neither walk in the way of the holy people of Israel all of whom were personal examples of and promulgated the understanding that without truth and justice all human action is vain and for naught. Neither fulfill, or even attempt to fulfill the injunction: "Love your fellow as you love yourself." Neither group deigns to have "fellows" who are maimed, debased or otherwise afflicted. They certainly don't dare to go the next step and ask: Is this me who is being addressed on some level of my being that I am not yet acquainted with?

How is the Jew expected to react to the crass injustice which, if we are honest enough to admit to its presence, we do encounter in Torah? Two marvelous examples exist in Torah. They come from Moshe (Moses) and the prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) respectively, two personalities greatly beloved by God in the Bible. In both cases these two formidable prophets of God, are facing down God. In both cases they accept the existence of God and God's righteousness unquestioningly, but they are demanding that God make the way of Its justice clear and intelligible to human beings.

In the first instance, Moshe is addressing God after the men (not the women according to our oral tradition) committed the sin of the making of the golden calf. God is prepared to dispense wholesale with humanity, while sparing only Its beloved servant, Moshe. Despite Moshe's own profound disgust and disappointment with what has occurred, Moshe turns to God, with a plea:

"Moshe said to the people, You have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I shall make atonement for your sin. And Moshe returned to the LORD; and said, Oh, this people has sinned a great sin, and they have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin --; and if not, blot me, I pray thee out of thy book which thou hast written." (Exodus 32:30-32)

In the second cite the prophet Yirmiyahu addresses God thus:

"Righteous are You, Lord. Yet I will contend with You. Surely, I will speak judgements with You. Why is the way of the wicked successful? Why is there serenity for the most treacherous?" (Yirmiyahu 12:2, my translation)

The original Hebrew of this passage speaks in the strongest of terms. The root r-i-v means to quarrel, contend, to strive, even rebel. The word "mishpat" means judgement, seat of judgement, cause, case, suit, sentence, justice, right, ordinance, decision, due, privilege. The root b-g-d meaning betray, deceive, to act treacherously (10) is used in two forms one after the other in the original passage. In Hebrew using a word in two forms consecutively in a sentence multiplies the meaning of the term many times. Our prophets fought fiercely for the revelation of justice in the world in a way that would be comprehensible to the mind and comforting to the emotions. We are similarly required to wrest the hidden righteousness out of the Text, and thereby out of our own Selves. We are then enjoyed to apply this holy knowledge in our actions and the constructions of our societies.

We must ask: "Why are Avraham, Moshe, Yermiyahu and also Yov (Job) all of whom questioned God's revelation of justice so beloved by God? Are they, themselves, more just than God? This would seem unlikely. It is God Which created not only the just, but justice. No, these personifications are beloved of God because they intuited God's desire for the revelation of God's will -to preserve and not to destroy, to correct and not to blot out, even when enraged and thoroughly disgusted. THE MORAL PROBLEMS AND CONUNDRUMS POSED TO US BY TORAH ARE INTENDD AND DESIGNED TO FORCE OUR DEEPEST DESIRE FOR ABSOLUTE JUSTICE TEMPERED WITH ABSOLUTE COMPASSION TO THE FORE OF CONSCIOUSNESS. The desirable response to those passages in Torah which repulse us is to stand firm, not to turn away in disgust or utter disappointment with Humankind, but to believe that a higher justice than that which presents itself immediately to the consciousness is intended - and that we are expected to discover it. We are required to believe, then, in God's justice and in our own. We are required to DEMAND the revelation of justice from within the Text and from within Ourselves. The disturbing passages in Torah entice the need for justice lying dormant within us to awaken. Delving ever deeper into Torah we awaken the depths of our own heart.

Talmud Torah is called "amal" (toil). Indeed, extracting the beauty out of the Torah's superficially ugly passages is like digging in a cavernous, dark, noxious pit for precious jewels. The mine is the Heart of the Jewish People and we are required to dig into our own Being and that of one another. The work is excruciatingly beautiful. Most flee from this work. The result of this flight is living with an unceasing sense of nihilism and surreality, for we cannot feel grounded and real if we deny the very purpose of our existence. It is very, very hard to compel our heart to experience shame, invasion, barrenness. It is, likewise, difficult to identify ourselves with the debauched and downtrodden, the socially outcast. It is most difficult to contemplate the weight of the responsibility of being righteous, and to imagine ourselves in an ongoing state of ecstatic awe. To imagine this occurring within us continuously, in never-ending simultaneity, is beyond what most of us would dare allow ourselves to consider. Yet, we Jews are required to attain this level of awareness in order to fulfill our peculiar mission: the circumcision of the Heart of Being Itself.

Keeping the above discussion in mind: it becomes clear why the Charedim and the Chiloniim are obsessed with one another. Just as in learning Torah we are compelled to confront, internalize and identify with that which repels us the most precisely because it is that which demands to be brought under our conscious control so that we may make it Holy, so the Charedim and the Chiloniim must confront one another and recognize their essential identity in order to attain spiritual stereoscopy.


(1) Ya'akov = Jacob. In the course of this paper I will use the names of Biblical figures as they are written in THE JERUSALEM BIBLE where direct quotations from this translation are cited. These names are good transliterations into English of the names as they are pronounced in the original Hebrew. Where the transliteration differs significantly from the name as it is familiar to English speakers I will add a footnote as is done above in the case of Ya'akov. In a number of cases I will use a close transliteration into English of the original Hebrew name. If the context permits I will write the name as it is known in English in parentheses next to the transliterated name. In those cases where parentheses would disturb the fluent reading of the text or come in the middle of a translated quote, I will designate the name with a number and give its English counterpart in a footnote.

(2) I have used THE JERUSALEM BIBLE English translation of the Hebrew scriptures published by Koren Publishers Ltd., Jereusalem, printed in 1988. The English text of THE JERUSALEM BIBLE is revised and edited by Harold Fisch.

(3) "The Law of Reason in the Kuzari" by Leo Strauss was reprinted a number of times from the Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, Vol. XIII, 1943. It can be found in Leo Strauss' book Persecution and the Art of Writing, printed in 1952, 1976 and 1988.

(4) Igrot HaRayah (Selected Letters, letter 110) Rav A.Y. Kook Translated in part by Tzvi Feldman. Ma'alot Publications of Yeshivat Birkat Moshe, Ma'ale Adumim, Israel 1986

(5) The Great Sanhedrin: the supreme legislative council and highest ecclesiastical and secular tribunal of the Jews, consisting of seventy-one members and exercising its greatest authority from the 5th Century B.C.E. to 70 C.E.

(6) Yavneh: Seat of the Sanhedrin after the destruction of the Second Temple. Rabbi Yochanah ben Zakai requested that the Jews be allowed to readjourn the Sanhedrin, with limited authority, outside of Yerushalayim. The Sanhedrin was relocated to Yavneh at the behest of Emporer Vespasian.


(8) The Palm Tree of Devorah by Rabbi Moshe ben Ya'akov Cordovero (1522-1577) -and- The Path of the Just and The Way of God by Rabbi Moshe Cham Luzzato (1707-1746) are classic texts written for the purpose of elevating one morally in order to elevate one's consciousness and thus ability to learn Torah.

(9) "…and love your fellow as you love yourself, I Am The Lord." (Leviticus 19:18, my translation). See also the following commentaries: a) Rashi's commentary on the above passage.
b) B'reishit Rabba, Chapter 24
c) Yalkut Shimoni, Allusion #40 to Chapter B'reishit
d) Yalkut Shimoni, Allusion #613 to Chapter Kedoshim

(10) A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English by Rabbi Dr. Ernest Klein. Published by Carta, Jerusalem . Copyright 1987 by the Beatrice and Arthur Minden Foundation & The University of Chaifa.


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