Monday, January 26, 2009

Emotions which have not been internalized

Today, my car battery died. I found someone willing to give me a jump, but because my car was in the driveway, I had to shift to neutral and push it onto the road, so that the other car’s hood could come close to mine.

This made me think about some objections raised against Chabad “suprematism”. More about that further down.

* * *

One of my rabbis likes to tell this story:
One time, a man had to have a part of his body amputated. He came to a doctor and said that he feels uncomfortable in the mikve and asked for a prosthesis. The doctor could only offer him a prosthesis made of wood. The patient agreed.

After a week or so, he came back and said: “Doctor, I have feelings in my prosthesis.” The doctor said that it was impossible. “No, I really have feelings there.”

“Fine, let me take a look.” The doctor examined the prosthesis and said: “It’s not feelings. It’s termites.”
The moral of the story is that not every feeling is genuine.

The insistence of the teachings of Baal Shem Tov is that Hashem has be served with joy — simcha. In fact, there is a strong statement of Baal Shem Tov that you cannot serve Hashem without joy, because without joy one cannot fully attach himself to G-d (let alone have emunah in Hashem) and fight yetzer ha’rah. For explanation of this concept in Tanya, see this shiur.

It is a very strong and central opinion of Alter Rebbe that for an emotion to be real, it has to be internalized. When a husband does all his duties in the family and to his wife, but experiences no emotion towards her, this is not a marriage but a social contract. When a husband experiences emotion towards the wife but doesn’t know anything about the wife herself, this emotion is not about the wife — it’s about himself, his own experiences regarding the wife. It’s termites.

Likewise, one can experience an emotion about some aspect of Jewish culture — and not about Judaism itself. It is possible to do all the mitzvos — and technically fulfill one’s obligation in the realm of action — but still not fulfill the mitzvos completely (Arizal comments that Torah doesn’t say “all mitzvos”, but “the whole mitzva”, which includes fulfilling a mitzva with feeling, conscious intent and understanding the essence of the mitzva). Meaning, still fulfill the mitzvos and study Torah not for Hashem, but for oneself.

Finally, it is possible to fulfill the mitzvos (and pray to Hashem) with emotion — with this emotion being fake. How does one know it’s fake? It’s not about G-d. Why not? Because you don’t know anything about G-d.

Now, some may object that it is impossible to know anything about G-d. That’s true to a degree. One cannot know anything about G-d’s Essence — one can still learn about His revelation of Himself. Lehavdil, one cannot truly know anything about his wife’s essence (and the longer one is married, the more he realizes this), but this doesn’t mean one should give up trying to understand and learn about his wife, her personality, her views, thoughts and specific desires.

One cannot know anything about G-d’s Essence. But, thank G-d, we don’t have to. Our relationship with Hashem starts much lower — in the relationship He established with us and with this world; the interface He created for us to relate to Him. And one can learn about this interface.

One can learn those aspects about Hashem that are perceivable and important for us (His Oneness, His simplicity, uniqueness, lack of change; how He fills and encompases all the worlds — and what this means); those that Torah itself discusses and stresses. One can learn about the purpose for which Hashem created this world, and how we are capable of fulfilling it. At the very least, one can learn about the aspects of G-d that have to do very closely and personally with our everyday lives — His revelation of Himself as our King and Creator and as our Father.

Some may object that these concepts may be too difficult for a simple person to learn. That is why Chabad Chassidus explains these ideas in a way easy enough for everyone to understand. And I don’t hear too many people saying that Gemara should not be studied, because it’s too difficult. Is Chassidus too difficult? Fine, find a teacher. One should learn Torah with teacher anyway. And nowadays, one can even find someone able and willing to explain Chabad Chassidus online. [Update: see the next post for more detail on the supposed difficulty of learning esoteric concepts.]

But what if thinking about Hashem cannot produce emotion? That’s impossible, says Alter Rebbe, because mind rules naturally over the heart.

Now, of course, there is such a problem as “narrowness of the neck” (when understanding and knowledge of intellectual concepts does not penetrate into emotion and action). To rectify this problem, one must increase his learning of Chassidus (for me, Chassidus stopped being purely philosophical when I started learning about the most philosophical, mystical and intellectual concepts of it — for “the beginning is wedged in the end”).

One can also learn things that have to do more with his everyday reality. One can find a mashpia, or try to be surrounded by warm Jewish community — not so that the mashpia or the community create emotiona about Hashem and Torah (those emotions would be fake again), but so that they can pave the way for the real emotions, influenced by intellect, to arise.

At the end of the day, it is absolutely necessary for one’s emotion to be internalized and both it and one’s actions come from intellectual understanding.

* * *

To someone who has learned Chabad Chassidus, all of the above is as obvious as a statement that a car’s motion needs to come from the engine’s rotations. “Well,” one could say, “it’s also possible to shift the car to neutral and push it. Or tie it to a horse and have the latter pull it.” Yes, but for how long — and most importantly, that is not what the car is about, is it? The whole chiddush of the automobile was internal combustion engine. The whole chiddush of Chassidus is serving Hashem with pnimiyus.

Aye, sometimes the battery dies, and the engine cannot be turned on, or the transmission is messed up, and the engine is working, but the wheels are not turning — fine, so fix the car. Don’t tell me it’s the problem with the car’s design. This particular car is broken, and before the internal combustion engine can be utilized, all the parts connecting it to the wheel need to be in place.

* * *

This reminds me of something I read in Likkutei Diburim from Frierdiker Rebbe:
In our times, Chassidus is used not for what it was intended.

Fixing of middos does not have anything to do with Chassidus. The correction of middos has to happen earlier. For fixing of middos, and certainly for sur mei’roh and correction of bad moral qualities — for this Chassidus should not be used for sure. Even for asei toiv — the good moral qualities and ahavas Yisroel — even for this, the path of the service of Chassidus should not be used. [...]

The ultimate purpose of Chassidus is haskolo and hasogo [learning and understanding], even in the service of the heart. [...]

It used to be that people prayed with hishtapchus ha’nefesh — today one cannot see this at all. And to “think Chassidus”, to hold one’s though on some idea for several hours — people don’t even know the taste of this.

50 comments:

The Real Shliach said...

Long post. Good points.

Crawling Axe said...

Is that good or bad? :)

The Real Shliach said...

It just means that I read your post but I'm too lazy to say anything intelligent about it.

Crawling Axe said...

Then say something only about FR’s quote. I feel like it can be seen as a bit extreme even acc. to modern standards.

The Real Shliach said...

The Friediker Rebbe was a fundamentalist, and I mean that in the positive sense of the word. He didn't beat around the bush. If he thought something was wrong he said so. You can look through a lot of his writings and find things which to us are extreme. Probably for those times they were also extreme. But a Rebbe's job is not to make his Chassidim feel good about themselves. It's to bring them closer to their father in heaven.

Crawling Axe said...

When I just “entered” Chassidus, FR was the one I most associated with (≡ felt close to). Then it was Rebbe Rashab, Mittler Rebbe, Alter Rebbe — and finally, after I have been brainwashed enough, I started seeing the Rebbe as Nosi HaDor. (In fact, it all started from one of the Bosi LeGani’s. Possibly also the Purim ma’amor.)

But what I am saying is: FR is still the one I feel intuitive connection with. Learning Tanya is avoida. Learning Mittler Rebbe is haskala. Learning Rebbe Rashab’s ma’amorim is avoida and haskala. Learning the Rebbe’s ma’amorim is an absolutely mind-blowing and uplifting experience, beyond even avoida or haskala. But reading anything written by Frierdiker Rebbe for me personally is just geshmak.

LE7 said...

Hey, so keep posting this sort of stuff through mid-May (or forever), so there is some sort of purpose to be checking blogger obsessively.

Crawling Axe said...

What happens mid-May?

LE7 said...

I mean just to carry me through exams. That's all. My life is divided into three eras. Pre-Spring 2009, Spring 2009, Post Mid-May.

Crawling Axe said...

Capre diem, huh?

Well, if Mashiach doesn’t come until late Feb. (cv"sh), we’ll see what happens.

LE7 said...

Exactly.

What is late February?

And what makes you think that the coming of the messianic era is going to stop your blogging?

Crawling Axe said...

A qualifying exam. I have to defend my project.

When Mashiach comes, I’ll probably be too busy to blog — at least for a while.

LE7 said...

Ah good luck. Keep us posted. Say, what exactly is your project?

Hmmmmmmmmmm. Okay, fine. Approved.

The Real Shliach said...

Aderabe-when moshiach comes the true potential of blogging will be revealed.

Crawling Axe said...

This sort of thing (not this lab and not this project, but close):

take this,

multiply to this,

and add this,

and you sort of get my project.

Crawling Axe said...

Won’t we have to… make ourselves available… for tchias ha’meisim?

The Real Shliach said...

You're planning on being dead?

Crawling Axe said...

I am asking a shaila. Won’t we have to do a quick… you know… caput… in order to be resurrected?

The Real Shliach said...

Who knows? Who cares? What difference would it make?

Crawling Axe said...

Anyway, I feel like there will be some sort of busy period right after Mashiach comes.

You know, building the Beis HaMikdosh. Fighting someone, or something to that end… Finding a proper suit for my grandfather. It just feels like the blogging won’t be the first thing on my mind.

The Real Shliach said...

And you think the blogosphere won't be playing a major part in it all? For shame!

Crawling Axe said...

You are right. After all, everything that Hashem created is for his glory. Just like we are using blogs (well, some of us at least) to bring Mashiach, we will be using them to finish the job.

The Real Shliach said...

The job will be finished. But I'll assume that was just a slip of the tongue.

LE7 said...

If I wasn't so lazy I'd read the journals you linked, so without reading I will say "sounds interesting."

The Real Shliach said...

If I wasn't so busy having no idea what taaruvos is saying I wouldn't have to say ditto.

Crawling Axe said...

Well, if you want a summary, studying cortical circuitry by stimulating specific sub-classes of neurons with laser light.

TRS — isn’t it going to be a process?

The Real Shliach said...

Isn't what going to be a process?

Crawling Axe said...

The geula -- it's the whole process. It's not like, Mashiach comes in to 770 -- boom! -- ein od milvado.

(And even then -- before Mashiach can come, people need to have some level of awareness, either happening like "lights on", or as a gradual process.)

The Real Shliach said...

It isn't? How do you know? Umala haarertz deah es Hashem kamayim liyam michasim. Beela hamaves lanetzach umicho Hashem deemo ma'al kol panim.

Crawling Axe said...

It will necessarily happen at once? Mashiach --> immediately Beis HaMikdosh built --> ein od milvadoi? There is a process, isn’t it? (Rambam etc.)

Regarding awareness too — I know it can be like lights on (and may it be like that), but it can also be a gradual process of increasing awarenes.

Anyway, what are we arguing about? Busy day and inbox full of stupid comments, which I have to delete.

What did your comment on Hesh’s blog mean, by the way?

The Real Shliach said...

A: we don't pasken like rambam
B: I have no idea what's going to happen. But yes, the Rebbe always said that we can see from the fact that a kohen isn't halachicly allowed to drink that we could go from golus to offering korbanos in the beis hamikdash in less than 18 minutes.

You don't have to deal with every stupid comment.

Read mark's comments, and then read mine. Basically, the guy is a kofer.

Crawling Axe said...

A: Regarding geula?
B: Cool. Where?

Yeah, but I still need to figure out where who what. And keep deleting them.

The Real Shliach said...

A: correct.
B: all over the place. Mostly by the later farbrengens. Check them out.

That's what I'm telling you, it's not necessary. Let it slide man.

Crawling Axe said...

A: what? what about the rebbe’s sicho about rambam vs. yerushalmi (which the anti’s always bring in the whole stupid argument)? Also, if not him, whom?

B: OK, I’ll look around. I meant specifically the kohen issue. What’s the deal with water and 18 min’s? A chazara?

Crawling Axe said...

Let what slide? Don’t delete them? My Inbox is already filled with unopened Tanya shiurim from Chabad.org

LE7 said...

Axel: I always just go through and mass select the frumsatire comments and go to the actual post to catch up.

The Real Shliach said...

A: we pasken like the ramban. But again, it's a complicated sugya. We won't know until it happens.
B: water?

Crawling Axe said...

Thank G-d for gmail.

TRS — this is why I say “I don’t know”.

Crawling Axe said...

Drinking. What was all that about?

LE7 said...

Funny enough my facebook updates, school stuff, and frum satire stuff all go to my yahoo which I frankly forget to check.

The Real Shliach said...

Who said there's a problem with drinking water? The issue is with alcohol.

Crawling Axe said...

Even worse.

What issue?

The Real Shliach said...

Kohanim are not allowed to drink because they might get drunk. If they can't get drunk then they won't be able to do the avodah. It takes the time it takes to walk a mil to stop being drunk. The minimum amount of time for that is 18 minutes. From the fact that we see that kohanim are bound by this law nowadays we can see that we could be offering korbanos in the rebuilt beis hamikdash, everyone purified and all, within 18 minutes of moshiach coming.

Crawling Axe said...

Thanks. I am sending this to a Cohen friend of mine who works in Radio Shack.

I’d still like to see it inside, but we can’t have everything we want.

Crawling Axe said...

Argh.

I need to hurry up with my research.

Crawling Axe said...

Actually, you can see his head.

The Real Shliach said...

Head?

Crawling Axe said...

My Cohen friend’s head. On the picture. Well, not anymore.

A Pseudo-Chossid said...

Damn, I wrote good (and long) posts back in the day. Hmm...

The Real Shliach said...

And LE7 used to comment too... ahh, those were the days.