Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Omer 15: Compassionate Harmony

I'm sorry I haven't been writing.  This work has turned into a really weird, deeply personal thing for me; a real "dark night of the soul".  But, at the least, I think I'm starting to figure out some of what's going on.  I think Shavuot is going to be a big one.  What follows is quite disorganized.  I decided to leave it as the stream of consciousness it began as.  A couple of times, I put some notes in [brackets] when I really thought it wasn't clear without them, but mostly I just linked in stuff to clarify.  I'll try to find some time to write a "facting up" post tomorrow.

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When I was first preparing for this work, just after my birthday, I had an email exchange with Reb. Zalman and I asked him why we count down. After all, I reasoned, we're moving TOWARD Sinai, so wouldn't you think we count up?  He said "Pessach is itaruta Daileda therefore the yotzey mitrayim just barely away from the 49 gates of defilement needed to be given grace."  Basically, "Passover is the root of birth and so those who came through the passage [out of Egypt]..."  I didn't understand what he meant, but I think I'm starting to.
Modern Judaism is, in almost every way, a reaction to the Holocaust.  The rise of "fringe" Judaism, both the sort of radical post-denominational, anti-rabbinic shit I do (or Reb Zalman does) and the radical fundamentalism of the haredi, both of these are about us trying to find our way as a people in the face of unimaginable horror.

Yesterday was Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day).  As we do every year, we took the kids to the local Holocaust memorial, where they did some cleaning and planted some flowers.  Then some survivors spoke to them.  This year, the city park services happened to be there mowing and raking just hours before we got there, so there wasn't enough for the kids to do.  We had them take guided tours, and some of the people who work at the memorial spoke, to kill some time.  One of them asked an interesting question: WHY did Israel choose this date (Nissan 27) to commemorate the holocaust?  I kind of spaced out while she was answering (I think maybe it's the date Aushwitz was liberated or something?), because I thought to myself "Is it because on that day we count 13?  Is it because it's Yesod of Gevorah?  The Foundation of Force?"

The most pressing issue for Jews of my generation, and much more so for the kids I teach, is to decide what Judaism looks like without the Holocaust.  Not that we're just going to "get over it", but kind of, that's what I'm saying.  People my mother's age, and even the parents of the kids at school, are children of survivors.  Some literally, but even those who aren't seem to have grown up perpetually in its shadow.  What does Judaism look like when we're not under siege?  What does it look like when on the other side of the desert?

As I was saying, the overwhelming majority of Jewish theology in the second half of the 20th century was an exercise is apologetics; an analysis of the "problem of evil".  The desperate "How" of lamentations. [The Book of Lamentations is called "Eikhah", "How" in Hebrew, but actually, it's not like that.  That's just the first word..."How deserted are the streets....")  As a people, we'd just come out of the gates of defilement.  The rabbis ask the same questions about Egypt that they asked about Aushwitz.  How could G-d have let such a thing happen?  Why did He wait so long to bring us out?  What the ACTUAL FUCK?!?!

And so, that's what Reb Zalman referenced, when he talked about the 49 Gates of Defilement.  A pretty mainstream Jewish answer to "the question of evil" runs like this:  In order to create, Ein Soph needed some empty space to build in.  But, Ein Soph is all-pervasive, omnipresent, panentheistic.  And so, for the sake of creation, She tzimtzum'ed. She pulled herself all up into HaMakom, and in the tohu wa bohu left over, She imagined the World; Ennoia/Sophia/Chokmah, the Name is the Mother of the Ten Thousand Things.  And then, fiat lux!  She exploded out into Being, into YHVH.  But, the thing is, Chokmah broke in that explosion, the vessels broke, and that's why everything is all fucked up here. (but don't forget, that was the actual plan; divided for the sake of union. And so, that's the point of us; we need to gather up all the sparks, unify the name, redeem Ennoia with love.  But, those shards of defilement are spread all over creation, and so, every time, when we're ready, we plunge back into the filth and depredation (deprivation?) to fetch them back up again.  There are 50 gates of defilement, and every time we go as far as we dare, we descend to the point of no return, and then we rise back up again.  It's like pumping your brakes, or priming a pump.  Like a gravitational slingshot game of chicken with the Abyss.

The thing is, there's no way out but through, from Tipheret to Keter there's only one road, and it runs through the Abyss.  I've never understood, before, why it's called Da'at.  Why call that place of ultimate uncertainty Knowledge?  But, I think I get it now.  It's the place where you know, for absolute sure, that you're wrong, that God is an awful and terrible lie, that life is meaningless and devoid of reason.  He's just not there.  Maybe He was once, but She's certainly not anymore.  It's a pointless sham.

I lost the Priestess card in my tarot deck recently.  I have two Sun cards, but no Priestess.  How can that have happened?  I mean, I get how I lost one, but how can I have two Suns?!?  Fucking magic.  Perhaps, I think, that's the point.  The letter of the Priestess card is gimmel.  It means camel.  She carries you through the desert.  I've been avoiding her for a REALLY long time.

So, the point is, when we count the omer, we wander through the desert.  Afraid.  Alone.  We lose faith and worship idols.  We beg to turn back.  We labor to give birth, cursing the one who filled us with life.  We knowingly walk out of the Supernals, we give up Sophia, cast out in the desert, Beloved Ennoia hides her face, and we weep.  Pointlessness! Everything is pointless! says Solomon (the spokesman, the hierophant).  The sun comes up and it goes down, life is an eternal circle, it's not just that I'm not getting anywhere but that THERES NO WHERE TO GET. Streams run into the ocean, mist rises up the clouds, the clouds rain down to the land.  The universe is vast and the cosmos so slow that I am like nothing, my whole life a worthless blip on a radar screen no one is watching.  Work gets you nowhere, nothing makes a real difference.  I've studied so hard, learning this and that, cramming for a final exam that's never going to come.  Wisdom, even wisdom, my only true love, the Beloved, the One Mind, is a myth.  An empty story for fools and children.

I tried hedonism, but even that grew old so fast.  Even in the lap of luxury, my mind swirled around the void.  The rish-rushing river of narcotics, the honey of a woman, the salt of man, all of it is ashes in my mouth now.
Will money make me happy?  Will good works melt my heart?  Everything is pointless; death is the only certainty.  The cold slow heat-death of an ever expanding universe; what's been shattered can't be put back together.  The gods give us a vision of eternity. Why?  A cruel joke; a tantalizing glimpse of something we'll never have, a faint harmony ringing in the ears, always and forever too far to really make out.

Why work?  Why care?  Even skill and competancy are ultimately pointless.  Who will ever care?  In a thousand years?  In a million?  Everything fades away into nothingness, from ashes we return to ashes, a brief flame in a vast and cold expanse.

Pointless, says Solomon, the spokesman, the hierophant.  Everything is pointless.

I've lost my priestess, and I can't be a spokesman anymore.

At the end of Ecclesiastes, which I seem to have just channeled, there's this coda where someone else explains "What Solomon meant was really confusing.  See, he picked his words very carefully, but it's probably too complicated for you.  Just be good, and do what you're told, and don't worry your pretty little head about wisdom and all that nonsense.  Probably you should just go have sex with your wife. Here's some porn to get you started..."