Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Yofi Lekha Mizbe'ah

Last Night, I participated in a Tiqqun Layl Hoshana Rabbah that was sponsored, inter alia, by Ma'ale and Bar Ilan's Makhon Ha-Gavoha le-Torah and held at Hekhal Shlomo. My topic was: A Vision for Our Times: Rav Soloveitchik on Zionism, Torah and the Redemption of Man's Soul (in Hebrew). I was gratified that over 250 people attended the session, which went from Midnight to 1AM. I am sure that most of the people there had never been exposed to the Rav's thinking on the relationship between Law and Spirituality and the place of a broad education in that context. Given the audience, using על אהבת התורה וגאולת נפש הדור as my text, I made a point of highlighting the problems that inhere both in religious subjectivism and in pan-Halakhism. (Unfortunately, I never got to Zionism. Maybe, next time.)

The leitmotif of the talk was the Rav's assertion that Judaism does not accept the Law of the Excluded Middle. We live our lives as Jews on a spectrum that vacillates between obedience and surrender, and individual striving and spirituo-intellectual self-realization and self-expression. There is no necessary resolution to the dynamic tension between these two poles. On the contrary, it allows us to best develop ourselves as servants of God and as those created in Imago Dei. There are no instant resolutions, and it's time we gave up waiting for them.

In a shiur he gave on Erev Hoshanah Rabbah in 1969, the Rav noted that it is highly significant that the aravot with which the Temple altar was circled were then set up around the altar, and the people would exclaim(Sukkah 45a): Yofi lekha Mizbe'ah! You are beautiful, O Altar! The Rav observed that the emphasis on the altar is indicative of the sacrificial nature of Jewish existence, of the struggle to offer our lives and desires to Him, and to thereby realize ourselves most fully.

I expanded upon this by saying that the aravot are placed upright around the altar. Each stands on its own. However, it also bends over toward the altar. Thus, each individual must strive to develop his own individual relationship with God, striving to climb ever higher. At the same time, however, he must be ready to surrender to God, to admit the limits of his ability and comprehension. The dialectical movement of individual striving and acceptance of God's ultimate Truth, even if we do not understand that Truth, is at the heart of Judaism's inner beauty.

יופי לך מזבח!
Gut Kvitl! פתקא טבא.

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