Published On: Thu, Oct 13th, 2016

Parshat Hashavua: Ha’azinu

THE HUMAN REACH: "He Measured the Seas in the Hollow of His Hand" (Rabbi Meshullam b. Kalonymus) Naomi Hecht, Toronto, Ontario

tora-haazinu

(This drash first appeared in Nishma.org)

There is a sacred, indefeasible, and a vast promise inside the breath the heartbeat of a single word a space a moment a whisper’d motion.

I am a witness. And I am a victim of its absence. We all are.

Classic. What is classic endures infinity in the very moment of its emittance.

It is the sanguine distinction between the holy and the secular.

The story is that Adam slept while a rib like a moan was removed from his salubrious skeleton and shaped into Eve.

Why did he sleep?

RASHI explains that Adam’s perception of Eve would have been slanted, disrespectful, if he had observed the operation. Either way — he was aware of the act, he knew from where Eve originated. So, why did it matter what he saw?

Because it is not necessarily true that the sense of vision can best apprehend the picture or that the sense of smell will master the scent or that a touch will inform you most powerfully of the physical form or that you can hear the hollow insides of eternity with perfect hearing or taste the satiation of hunger with your tongue.

Sometimes the perception is numbed, limited, verily removed by force, when matter is sensed and essence lost.

If Adam had watched the creation of Eve, he might have allowed his memory to define the act; separated from the mystery, the sparring partner, the imagination of that other sense which breeds hope and panic, salivates near truth: the very voice of the soul — Adam might never have stepped beyond memory, he would have missed holy he would have missed classic he would have missed us.

That is what classic is. It doesn’t miss anyone.

We are, all our lives, vermiculose. And we are, all our lives, kissed by heaven.

Out of this chaos, what?

I must see beyond before and around what I see.

And yet I know not

how conceit may rob the treasury of Life

when Life itself

yields to the theft.

(SHAKESPEARE, King Lear)

If life, if our reality, if all that is true and regal wills itself to face with fire the horror — if each of us discovers our selves in the miasmic arms of death, the fight seems futile and the partnership with hopelessness cries as the wisest man: then, still, even as life yields to the theft of its inestimable treasury, it is a mettlesome guard

because if we are aware of the surrender, and with all of our inviolate unbroken unprofaned pure prehensive tentacles we touch that truth and even yield to the theft with such awareness — we can not be robbed. Not of what we know. More than what is, without our consent, taken from us as breathing things umbilically alloyed to death — can not be snatched.

It is the eye to the eye of truth — however hypnotic or paralysing or incarcerating — that contracts us to holiness.

“It follows that if a person has deliberately and regularly chosen physical delights, has despised the truth and loved falsehood, he will be cut off from that high level of being and remain disconnected matter.”

(MAIMONIDES, Commentary to Chelek: Sanhedrin, chapter 10)

“Disconnected matter” — it is a condemnation, an indictment, that we force upon ourselves.

It is human weakness to want to frame every picture every fact and sensation, to cage them. It does not render reality more accessible. In fact, it is the endlessness of each speck that reaches us, allows us hope and possibility, creates us as eternal beings, makes us creative. If truth is small and we can tame it, what are we to do with bursting celebration? If the sky can be measured, where do we scream the surfeit anguish?

We are disconnected then from our energy-source, from the voice of our own souls; within the visible world we fill space, we are matter, but there is mayhem from our efforts. What are “physical delights?” — they are the frames encircling pleasure so that it cannot expand beyond time and space. What does it mean “to despise the truth and to love falsehood?” Why must these phrases be mentioned in-tandem? Because it is possible to crave and discover truth and then to abhor it; but if one has chosen to ignore the truth, it is the most violent treatment of truth because no-one will admit the embrace of falsehood — this is a falsehood so immense that it has destroyed the truth and assumed its identity.

“–‘That soul shall be utterly cut off’ (Bamidbar l5:31) — Utterly evil punishment consists in the cutting off of the soul so that it perishes and does not live eternally.”

(MAIMONIDES, Commentary to Chelek: Sanhedrin, chapter l0)

Why does Maimonides describe the steps of the punishment with such deliberate detail? If this is an act performed by Gd upon man, any one of the descriptions of the cessation of the soul would have sufficed.

Perhaps it is a punishment that is self-imposed. Would Maimonides have chosen the word “evil” to describe a punishment inflicted by Gd?

A man amputates the voice of his own soul, ignores the pleading of the soul for attention so that eventually the soul is silenced and dies within him and is buried with the body when the body dies. The soul has become part of the carnage, the spoils, of the battle that is existence spent.

It is not reward and punishment that comes like a biscuit to a dog performing tricks — but the reward and punishment inherent, breathing, within our own choices.

I suffer what I know, but how can I be punished for what I know? That I am being punished for my sins? That is too small a frame for a single grain of my dust. For the sins I know, I grieve I ache to go back and erase agrestial collisions with time and space I take the neck of my past in my hands and squeeze I pray with my heart pressing like a poor desperate bird trapped in my throat ashes in my eyes and in my mouth so I can’t swallow pleading that oblivion steals sins

If I know my sins, how can I be punished? Could there be a punishment more fierce than repentance?

I think I can only be punished if I ignore my sins.

There is nothing classic about evasion, it is not holy. To evade either the celebration or the tragedy, to separate them, is a conspiracy against truth.

Goodness is not necessarily holy. Goodness can be a significant evasion. There is a goodness that leans back and forward with eyes closed and hands out — if you put a mass of such goodness in a room with even a single evil spirit, it will be sucked like dust into the power of the malevolent sway. Easily. Without a fight. Such goodness is weak. It is disconnected matter. It is not determined toward the truth. It does not issue from the voice of the soul.

“We are accustomed to look upon the shackled form of a conquered monster, but there — there you could look at a thing monstrous and free…It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention…

You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us but simply because it appals me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies…”

(JOSEPH CONRAD, Heart of Darkness)

We make it small, neat. It is a paper theatre where the words can not be vessels — they can hold nothing; and nothing can grow or die or reach the soul of the world because there is no weight, there are no shoulders on which to climb or boots to lay our heads under with shame. There is no singing where the notes make a circle weave in and out of bones there are no bones nothing to break nothing to make. What have we done?

In the paper theatre we panic because it does not explain our struggle. If it is not classic, we must reject it because ultimately it rejects us.

It is the burden of shame, it is the absence of pride. It is the silence of our souls.

“And for the sin we committed against You by a confused heart.”

(Yom Kippur Al Chait)

Study Thought – We are, as human beings, constantly called upon to investigate the microcosm and the macrocosm. Our perception of the details, though, may hinder our ability to see the essence of the whole. In turn, our viewing of the whole may prevent our inspection of the details. Our goal must be to see both but, at times, we must choose. G-d declared at the creation of Eve that the detail should be sacrificed for the entirety, yet is this always the case? Is there not also the possibility of times when we must sacrifice a vision of the whole for the sake of the particular? How do we clearly know when to sacrifice a vision and what vision to sacrifice?

Naomi Hecht is the wife of Rabbi Benjamin Hecht, the director of Nishma.

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