Monday, September 18, 2006

He Who Shakes

A famous vort, attributed to the Kotzker Rebbe, goes like this:

The Kotzker once emerged from his inner sanctum to find his Hassidim swaying while praying (aka shoklin'). Angry (but wasn't he always), he cried out: וינועו ויעמדו מרחוק , דער וואס שאקעלט זיך, שטייט פון וויטענס. Loosely translated, and sacrificing the sharp homiletic, the Kotzker was saying that one must tremble 'inside' (אינערווייניג) and not merely outside.

I was reminded of that comment during the last two recitations of Selihot. They were technically fine. The pronunciation was exact, the cantillation impeccable. What was missing? Soul, awe, dread, fear, apprehension and elation at the opportunity for Teshuvah. What did I see? More of the same, 'It's 1233AM (sic!). Let's get this over with quick. I'll do exactly what I'm supposed to. If the Shliah Tzibbur misses a note or uses the wrong nusah, I'll be the first to send him to Golgotha. However, don't you dare make me devote more time to this than I need to.'

This is the tragedy of much of Orthodoxy. Halakhic punctilliousness has conquered the field, but spirituality has been banished. As Professor Haym Soloveitchik concludes in his magisterial essay, 'Rupture and Reconstruction,': 'Having lost the touch of His presence, they seek now solace in the pressure of His yoke.'

That, however, is not sufficient. It leaves observance anemic, at best, and totally stale(at worst). The massive search for spiritual expression that presently characterizes contemporary Orthodoxy of every stripe is a loud protest not against Halakhah, but of the legitimate need to infuse mitzvot with feeling and with God's Presence. The Rov זצ"ל already foresaw this need in the late 1950's, when he complained of having failed (כביכול) at developing a sensitized spiritual awareness among many of the same disciples who had mastered the Brisker Method. (See, e.g., על אהבת התורה וגאולת נפש הדור). Is there any wonder that so many of our children and youth take off their kippot?

There is, however, even more to this. Ladies and Gentleman, we are presently in very serious trouble, both as a people and a religion. Assimilation is an aggressive cancer eating away at the body politic of our nation, both here and abroad. The forces of evil are really planning to destroy us, around the world. As the Psalmist said (Ps. 85, 5): They have said: 'Come, and let us exterminate them as a nation; that the name of Israel may be remembered no more.' Isn't that enough reason to cry out from the depths of our souls to God to save us? Is it such an imposition to move ourselves to feel? How long will we sophisticate ourselves to death?

Self-satisfaction is the pepetual malady of the Jew. It is also quite lethal, as we will read on Shabbat Shuvah (Deut. 32, 15): 'Jeshurun thus became fat and rebelled. You grew fat, thick and gross. [The nation] abandoned the God who made it and spurned the Mighty One who was its support.' This ailment comes in all shapes and sizes, visiting both ostensibly observant Jews as well as the non-observant.

There are a few days left to prepare for Rosh Hashanah. We should search our souls, unleash our souls, and not just check the size of the shofar.

Our Lives, and our souls, depend upon it.

[N.B. I appreciate the positive reasponse to this posting. A longer version thereof is now available at Torah Currents.]


Ben Bayit said...

I think that this is the best post you have ever written (or at least since I started reading the blog).

Yasher Koach!

Anonymous said...

I agree.
Kol Hakovod

You are a better Rabbi than politician.

Pintele Yid said...

Excellent post.

I don't mean to use the comments section of this blog as my personal diary, but from my own experience I think I can understand at least part of the problem. The basic duties of a Jew - raising a family, which obviously necessitates full-time work, and everyday halacha observance, is daunting enough of a challenge that I find it leaves me with very little mental and emotional (and even physical) energy for the type of exprience you are describing. It's sometimes amazing to me that I can just make it to minyan on time 3 times a day (which I do, pretty much wuthout fail) given life's pressures, that davening with intensity and focus seems beyond the realm of the realistic, almost as a "spiritual luxury" of sorts. It's draining enough just getting down the basics, the halachic bare minimum, that there's nothing left for fervor and emotion.

I'm speaking for myself, but it could be that this is a significant factor contributing to this general phenomenon, of halachic punctiliousness bereft of emotion and spirituality.

dilbert said...

Amen to your post. (a heartfelt amen, with kavannah)

daat y said...

The Rav would express it in halachic terminology.The difference between the maaeh hamitzvah and the kiyum hamitzvah.That is also why we have a specific time of year for teshuva(too tough) ,though the chiyuv is all year.But at least now.Great post and hisorerut leteshuvah.

ajw said...

Go to the 20th minute of this MP3 file for a counter example of
selichot being said with the proper awe and fear

Anonymous said...

Re. the slichot - next year try the exprience at Migdal Oz women's yeshiva. If this could be one of the contributions of women's torah learning, it would be a blessing!