Monday, December 03, 2007

Shoshana…Don’t Take Your Love to Town


(Delivering a long awaited sequel and in honor of the rationality vs. faith Kulturkampf celebrated on Chanukah)

See here for your viewing pleasure before your eyes begin to bleed:

Defining the covenantal relationship between G-d and the Jewish people is a daunting task. But one valuable metaphor often repeated in the Torah is that it is a marriage with G-d playing the role of the husband and us Jews in the role of the wife. The bequest of Torah is recast as a kind of betrothal; idolatry is spoken of in terms of marital infidelity and G-ds “infamous” jealous vengeance evokes images of a cuckold catching his wife in the act.

It’s germane to contemplate the marriage metaphor when considering the problem of indiscriminate credulity in contemporary Judaism. Simply put, there is altogether far too much of it to be healthy.

When chai rotel mashkeh is believed to possess more salutary effects than kibud av v’em ( honoring parents) and shiluach haken (shooing away the mother bird) rolled into one, when every self-proclaimed mezuzah and forehead reader is unquestioningly endowed with the clairvoyant and miracle-working powers exceeding those of Moshe-Rabenu, when repetitions of mantras of very recent vintage are substituted for and considered the peers or superiors of genuine modes of Avodas HaShem, when those who voice guarded skepticism over e.g. “the Monsey talking fish” are treated like pariahs who had absolutely denied TMS or Techiyas hameisim then it’s time to say that the faith-leapers should have looked before leaping.

At the other end of the spectrum, when the basest, grossest Lashon Harah spoken about those presumably, and rightfully presumed, innocent is gleefully accepted, deeply felt and immediately editorialized/ blogged about, when every Wiki article is empiracally true or when the New York Times Op-Ed page is treated with the same reverence as Divine revelation, something is terribly awry.

Why do otherwise on-the-ball people who apply sharply honed critical faculties in fields ranging from Talmudic analysis to investment strategies rush to believe so indiscriminately?

I believe (pardon the expression) that the answer lies in the Rambam that I analyzed in
this guest post:

People have an instinctive awareness of the realm of Q’dusha, of a dimension that is beyond their ken. They reach for it but it eludes their minds grasp. While the human mind strives to understand the human heart yearns to believe and love. IMO the capacity for love and belief is the more exalted of the two and therein lays the danger. The absolute value of –100 is greater than the absolute value of +95. In the same vein the absolute value (i.e. the value when transformed into a positive) of credulity exceeds that of rational skepticism. If correctly directed credulity forms the basis for Emunah (faith) and Ahavas HaShem (loving G-d) then when misdirected it sows the seeds of Avodah Zarah (idolatry).

George Santayana wrote that “Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon or to the first comer:” Conversely I propose that “Naiveté is the promiscuity of the mind”. The willingness to allow our minds to “lie down” indiscriminately with any old idea is the mental equivalent of abusing our sexuality for never-ending one-night-stands and accepting this as an adequate surrogate for the risks and rewards of a long-term, deeply-felt, monogamous relationship. We proclaim as much twice every day in krias sh’ma when we say וְלֹא-תָתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם, וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם, אֲשֶׁר-אַתֶּם זֹנִים, אַחֲרֵיהֶם.
= and that ye go not about after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go astray (i.e. commit infidelity);

In that guest post I said that I would try to define this problematic Rambam: וִידִיעַת דָּבָר זֶה מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר "אָנֹכִי ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ" = “And the knowledge of this (i.e. G-d) is a positive commandments as it is written ‘I am the Lord thy G-d’ ”. I now read this Rambam through the prism of credulity vs. skepticism: As Adam “knew” his wife Eve, as the chaste Rivka was “unknown” so must G-d be known. But it is a knowledge that is metaphysical, not carnal. We do not conjugate with G-d physically but emotionally and spiritually. It requires the same exclusiveness, commitment and fidelity as marriage. Woe to us if we stray and start directing that kind of interaction to entities other than G-d. If we do so we will then, khalila, have begun the slide down the slippery slope that culminates in contemporary versions of idolatry.

How may we keep our marriage with G-d strong? How do we strike the right balance between loving, surrendering naïveté and exclusionary skepticism? Through Torah, G-d’s love letter to us. Toras HaShem temimah ...Edus HaShem ne'emanah machkimas pesi (ha’ma’amin l’khol dovor) = “the Torah of the L-rd is perfect….The testimony statutes of the Lord are faithful they wisen-up the naïve (who believe in everything).”

Kenny Rogers made a big hit out of Mel Tillis’s ballad of lost love Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town . It tells the story of a wounded veteran’s wife whose wandering eye and promiscuous heart seeks gratification “in-town” that is not forthcoming from her husband. The lyrics read in part:

Ruby are you contemplating going out somewhere?
The shadows on the wall tell me the sun is going down,
Oh Ruby, don't take your love to town…
And yes, it's true that I'm not the man I used to be,
oh Ruby, I still need some company.

The deeper we get into golus, The greater the Hester Panim ( concealment of

G-d’s “face”) the more that the question of theodicy makes G-d, kavayokhol appear impotent rather than omnipotent, the louder the loveless, absolute skeptics bray about the G-d myth, the harder it becomes to “know” G-d, to maintain perfect fidelity and not look for surrogates of G-d and sources of gratification by surrendering our rationality elsewhere.

But in Shir HaShirim G-d compares us to His beloved wife to His Shoshana bein Hakhokhim, His "rose among the thorns". And He sings to us still..

Shoshana are you beguiled by other powers and Lords?
Has our endless game of hide and seek left you lost and bored?
Shoshana, don't take your love to town…
And yes it sure seems that I’m not the G-d I used to be,
Shoshana I still demand monogamy (still need you to see the old me!)

Oh Shoshana, don't take your love to town…
Oh Shoshana, for G-d's sake, turn around


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