Friday, November 23, 2007

Vayishlah (Mitzvot)

For further teachings on this parasha, see the archives of this blog at December 2005.

“Therefore the children of Israel do not eat hams”

Jews don’t eat ham. Everybody knows that. But in this week’s parasha one may use the term is used in its original, root meaning—that Jews may not the hams, or more properly the hamstring, the tendon at the back of the hock, of any animal, even kosher ones.

Clever wordplay aside, this is an interesting prohibition. It is one of the few food prohibitions of the Torah that applies neither to a class of animals or living things, nor to a vital fluid like the blood, nor to specific organs or fats associated with the sacred service in the Temple. Rather, it is a prohibition of a particular place on the body for a commemorative reason: to remember Jacob’s struggle with the angel (Gen 32:24-32)—a struggle which ended in an interesting sort of draw: Jacob was injured, he came out of it limping, but still on his feet; moreover, he was able to detain the angel until the latter gave him a blessing, incorporating his new name, Yisrael.

Interestingly, here, in the very middle of Genesis, which we have tended to interpret in universal human term, we suddenly find ourselves in the very heart of Jewish particularity. The traditional midrashic interpretation of this event is that the “man” or angel was the “Prince of Esau,” and the night struggle was a foreshadowing of future struggles between Israel and Esau or Edom—taken as a paradigm for just about every powerful adversary encountered by the Jewish people over the centuries—the Roman Empire, the Christian Church, Europe, the Nazis, or “Goyim” generally. Thus, Sefer ha-Hinukh (Mitzvah §3) says that the root of this mitzvah is to serve as a reminder that, despite all the troubles and persecutions we may suffer at the hand of Esau, in the hand this will end at “sunrise,” with the coming of the “sun” of Messiah.

But another interpretation is possible: the struggle with this mysterious figure (half-man and half-angel?) may be read as the struggle of every person with the dark, “night” forces within him/herself. The daylight hours are a time for labor and initiative, for control and discipline, for deliberate action. With nightfall, the subconscious forces come to the fore: with sleep, we surrender our deliberate control, and dream. Dreams can be frightening, a descent into chaos; or they may be a window to our deeper, more authentic selves, or even a prophetic message from the Source of Life (thus Maimonides, who said that all prophecies save that of Moses took the form of dreams). The forces that emerge at night—and these include objective dangers, of wild animals, thieves and brigands, or simple stumbling blocks, as well as demons and uncanny spirits, or our own evil thoughts—may be frightening. Thus, night time is associated with prayer for protection; our Evening liturgy includes the blessing Hashkivenu, concerned with protection from dark and negative forces that emerge at night. (On another level, this is also a reason why night is considered the fitting time for sex: it too involves and requires a certain surrender of the conscious, controlling self.)

Rembrandt’s painting, Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, shows this encounter as both struggle and embrace. As if to say: one needs to somehow embrace, come to terms with, the dark forces within oneself. One needs to subdue them in a certain way, keep them in control, but not wholly destroy or negate them, for they are the source of all that is most vital and creative within ourselves. Too much discipline, too much suppression or denial of the unconscious world, can lead to an overly severe, strict, unloving approach to life—or, alternatively, to sudden outbursts of the dark forces in negative, explosive, truly destructive ways. True holiness means unifying all of the forces of one’s personality.

Interestingly, Jacob in general is a man of the night. Yaakov is portrayed by our tradition as instituting the Evening Prayer. His first visionary experience, that at Beth-el with which last week’s parasha opened, occurred at night. And, as a night vision, it came upon him suddenly, as a surprise: “Indeed, there is God in this place, and I did not know it” (Gen 28:16). “This is naught but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Was Beth-el in fact a uniquely numinous place, one of immanent holiness, or may it be that every place is potentially a “gate” to heaven for he whose eyes are suddenly opened, who knows how to relax his daytime, controlling consciousness? Is this not the way of the subconscious: to sneak up on us when we least expect it and to make its presence known?

Twenty-two years later, at the “ford of Yabok”—a name which became synonymous in medieval Jewish lore with the darkest night of all that every person must eventually confront, the blackness of our own death—he had his night struggle with the angel. Whether the embodiment of Esau, or of our own hidden, darker self, this struggle is a central one in the life of every person.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Vayetze (Mitzvot)

For further teachings on this parasha, see the blog archives for December 2005. For new teachings on Toldot and Vayera, scroll down to the appropriate section below.

The First Wedding Feast and Gemillut Hesed as a Universal Act

In this weeks parasha we encounter the first wedding feast in the Tanakh. After working for his uncle for seven years, Yaakov asks to marry his daughter Rahel, as promised. Straightaway, in Genesis 29:22, Lavan gathers the people of his place and makes a feast. While this scene is mostly important as providing the setting for Lavan’s notorious trickery, switching the intended bride with her sister, it nevertheless shows that a public feast was the accepted, common way to mark a wedding.

It is common among certain kinds of Jews to always stress the uniqueness, the specifically Jewish facet, of every mitzvah. Nevertheless, certain social institutions, even if given particular shape by the halakhah, are basic, universal human institutions. This is, as we noted earlier, one of the special functions of the Book of Bereshit—to teach of those norms that are, so to speak, implanted within the human heart, that precede the revealed commandments. Weddings, and partying and feasting around nuptials, exist in just about every human society I can think of; it is a natural human impulse to celebrate the union of man and woman. (In this context, it is particularly fitting to wish Mazal Tov to our friends Akiva and Deena Garber on the marriage last night of their youngest son, Hayyim, to Ephrat Aren.)

Within the halakhah, the obligation to “rejoice bridegroom and bride” is subsumed under the broader rubric of acts of gemillut hesed, of kindness towards others. This includes: escorting the dead to his final resting place, comforting the mourners, visiting the sick, and helping those in need: clothing the naked, giving alms to the needy, feeding the hungry. This last item includes, not only those who are literally hungry and have no food to put on their table, but also those who are alone, strangers in a community who seek the company of fellow Jews for a Shabbat or festival meal. The Rambam places gemillut hesed in turn under the more general category of ואהבת לרעך כמוך, loving one’s fellow as oneself (Hil. Eivel 14.1); while the Mekhilta relates it to הלכת בדרכיו , imitatio dei, “walking in the ways of God.” Either way, it is one of the fundaments of the Torah.

The mitzvah of gemillut hesed does not require that we go against “human nature” but, quite simply, that we cultivate the generous, expansive, outward-turning impulse within our natures, as opposed to the stingy, self-involved, more inward-turning impulse (both of which exist, to greater or lesser extent, in all of us). Indeed, the halakhah both assumes and structures a healthy society, not overly privatized, in which people are involved in the lives of others and feel a sense of responsibility toward others, particularly toward their fellow Jew. כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה.

Traditional Jewish society was organized around mutual help. Each town had its hevrot, associations dedicated to the performance of social mitzvot or for various kinds of group study. A popular book about Eastern European Jewish life, by anthropologists Mark Zborowski & Elizabeth Herzog, is entitled, Life is With People. The title says it all: for Jews, life is synonymous with life in community, with others; our greatest saints were not sequestered monastics who withdrew from the world to avoid contamination and temptation, but tzaddikim who lived among the common people and gave their all to help others—often, in anonymity and modesty. (Albeit, this is only half the picture: Zborowski & Herzog’s title is nicely complemented by that of A. J. Heschel’s memoir of the shteitl, The Earth is the Lord’s.)

Mountain, Field and House

“How awesome is this place! This is naught but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven …” (Gen 28:17)

The opening section of this week’s parasha describes Yaakov’s unexpected and numinous encounter with God, en route from his home to the unknown land of his ancestors—a meeting that was to be both a turning point in his own life, and a paradigm for future generations. “Indeed, there is God in this place, and I did not know it” (28:16). In several Talmudic passages, the Sages discuss this passage in relation to events in the lives of the other two patriarchs. I discussed one of these, that in Berakhot 26b which portrays the Fathers introducing each of the three daily prayers, a few weeks ago (HY IX: Hayyei Sarah). Another (Pesahim 88a) speaks of the three patriarchs relating to God in different kinds of locii:

Rabbi Eleazar said: What is meant by the verse, “And many nations will come and say: Come, let us go up to the mountain of God, to the House of the God of Jacob” (Isa 2:3)? Why do they not say, “the God of Abraham and Yitzhak”? Not like Abraham, who called it a mountain, as is written “on the mount of the Lord shall He be seen” (Gen 22:14). Not like Isaac, who called it a field, as is said, “And Isaac went out to meditate in the field” (Gen 24:63). Rather, like Jacob, who called it a house, as is written, “And he called the name of that place Beth–El [the House of God]” (Gen 28:19).

At first reading, this passage is rather baffling. However, it seems to me that it may be read as a typology of different kinds of religious experience. “Mountain” conjures up images of transcendence: a high, lofty, mysterious place, remote from the centers of human civilization, midway between heaven and earth—a fitting place to meet the God who is “Wholly Other,” utterly beyond the ken of human comprehension. To know God, man must first and foremost ascend beyond himself, to the rarefied air of the mountain tops. And indeed, such mountain symbolism is rife in other traditions, from ancient Greece to Tibetan monasticism, through post-Christian thinkers like Nietzsche or Gurdjieff—not to mention the image of Moses on Sinai. This is the quintessence of the primal, foundational experience of Abraham: the high and lofty, unique God who is Creator of All, “the master of the palace.” Such an approach is diametrically approached to the pagan approach of Terah and his world, who saw numerous divine forces—generally speaking, nature gods—at play within the familiar, everyday world.

By contrast, the field in which Yitzhak walked to commune with God suggests God’s immanence, His omnipresence. He “fills all worlds”; He is “the Life of Life,” found in in every flower and every blade of grass, if one but knows how to look. This aspect somehow seems particularly accessible in open, natural settings, far from the noise and tumult of human society. I read Yitzhak’s experience as a mystical one, of the type known as “panentheism”—i.e., of Nature identified as being within, and part of God, while He is not encompassed by nature, but transcends it: “He is the place of the world, but the world is not His place” (Genesis Rabbah 68.9). This somewhat circuitous, dialectical formulation is important so as to distinguish the Judaic concept of immanence from the pantheism so beloved of 19th century romantics and Transcendentalists, which veers dangerously close to paganism.

What is the significance of the “house,” the name that Jacob associated with calling upon God? “House” suggests a place analogous to a human habitation, a space that is well–defined, set aside for a specific purpose. Not like a mountain, which awakens feelings of awe, suggesting the Infinite; nor a field, open in every direction, as far as the eye can see; but something more modest, human, limited, homey (“heimish”). Like the home of a particular family, so too is the “house” of God—the Temple in Jerusalem, the synagogue, the Study House—somehow God’s “place” in this world (notwithstanding that this is an inherently paradoxical concept, as the Rabbis were well aware). Jacob’s “house” was a house of prayer for all: not only for unique personalities possessing extraordinary religious sensibilities, but also for amkha—for ordinary folk and great alike, “together, all the tribes of Israel.” This is perhaps the reason why our gemara gave preference, in the end, to the “house” of Jacob, rather than to the high mountain of Abraham, or the immanent Presence felt in the field by Yitzhak.

Another, related interpretation also seems plausible. The “house”—well-defined, and a very human sort of habitation—may be seen as symbol for the halakhah itself. “After the Temple was destroyed, the Holy One blessed be He has naught in His world but the four ells of halakhah.” The law, with its categories and practices rooted in and shaping ordinary mundane life, is a kind of “dwelling place” through which the Infinite God somehow makes Himself accessible to ordinary people.

Toldot (Mitzvot)

For further teachings on this parasha, see thr archives at November 2005.

“In all Your Ways Know Him”

This week’s parasha is a particularly difficult one in which to find any mitzvot; indeed, the central moral drama of the parasha—the conflict between Yaakov and Esau, and the measures taken in that conflict—are, to put it mildly, rather problematic. Nevertheless, this is as good a time as any to mention the insight the Natziv of Volozhin (Rav Zvi Yehudah Berlin) in his work, He’emak Davar, that Bereshit is called Sefer ha-Yesharim, “The Book of the Upright,” because the patriarchs are a kind of model for proper living—and that this, ultimately, is what the Torah is all about. Torat ha-Avot, the teaching of the fathers, is not about specific laws, but about how to live in the world with decency, uprightness, etc., without formal mitzvot.

This same idea is expressed in the Hasidic notion that Yitzhak, through digging the wells (in this parasha, Gen 26:15-22), and Yaakov, in his various acts with the water trough and the sticks (with Lavan’s flock, in next week’s portion, 30:35-43) performed yihudim, united God’s name is the same way as latter-day Jews do through such mitzvah as tefillin, Shabbat and so on. This may be understood in two ways: one way, that the patriarchs were mystics, maintaining an elevated, sublime consciousness on the inner plane while engaged in mundane work-a-day activities; or, that their everyday activity in the world was itself somehow an act of worship of God; that simply being present in the world with a sense of holiness, of it being the place where God resides, in itself makes every act holy, an act of unifying God’s world. Or, in the words of Proverbs,בכל דרכיך דעה ו —“in all your ways you shall know Him” (Prov 3:9). That is, that everyday, mundane life is a field to be sanctified, not by any special ceremonies or rituals, or by transcending it through higher consciousness, but by living in it with a sense of reverence for self and others, of dignity towards one’s task as a human. (For a study of the motif of the “patriarchs keeping Torah before it was given” [Yoma 28b], through a broad sweep of the history of Jewish thought, see Arthur Green’s Devotion and Commandment)

What, then, is the religious message of Jacob’s “stealing” the birthright, and the blessing? This pertains in part to another mitzvah—the special privileges of the first born, which is a major principle of the Torah. The first of just about everything is holy: first fruits of the trees, first growth of the field, first sheering of sheep, first born of animals, of people, first year’s growth of fruit trees, etc.—all as a way of reminding of, at the crucial point of “firstness,” that everything is ultimately from God. Yet throughout the Tanakh we find the first-born rights honored more in the breach than in the fulfillment: Yitzhak, Moses, David, Levi, etc.—as if to say: what really counts in human life is character. Perhaps the reason why Yaakov’s behavior, which seems sneaky, unfair, tantamount to theft, is in fact described by the Torah, is in the putting limits on this principle.

Some Afterthoughts

1. The opening section of Toldot exemplifies a central literary characteristic of the Tanakh—namely, its generally terse and compact in it’s way of telling a story. In just 16 verses (Gen 25:19-34), we read of the transition from the history of Avraham to that of Yitzhak and his family, of Rivka’s problematic pregnancy and the events surrounding it, the birth and naming of the children, their emerging characters and the parents’ respective attitudes towards the two, and the scene of the “selling” of the birthright. This aspect is paradigmatic of the difference between the Bible and Western literature. In his study Mimesis, Erich Auerbach contrasts the narrative of the Akedah with the scene in Book 19 of Homer’s Odyssey (which is roughly contemporary to the Bible) in which Ulysses returns home and is recognized by his old nurse through a distinctive scar on his thigh. This simple event is described in leisurely fashion over hundreds of verses, with vivid descriptions of realia, flashbacks to events in the past, portrayal of emotions and thoughts of the principles, etc.—in brief, all those techniques familiar from the later tradition of European fiction. Indeed, these biblical verses themselves, retold by a modern author such as Thomas Mann in his Joseph and His Brothers, extend over dozens of pages, while the quadrilogy as whole, in covering ground that occupies a dozen or so columns in the Torah scroll, runs to over 1000 pages.

The Bible by and large relates its story in sparing language, telling what is necessary, with much understood by implication, hints, and allusions. Indeed, this is the stuff of midrash, which fills in the spaces and “lacuna” left by the scriptural text—the untold story. The Sages in fact comment about the loquacious and repetitive account in Hayyei Sarah of Eliezer’s journey to find a wife for Yitzhak, that “The mundane talk of the servants of the fathers is more precious than the laws of the children.” As if to say: the prolix style of that chapter is the “exception that proves the rule,” and demands explanation.

2. Verse 27 paints a picture of the two brothers using two descriptive phrases for each (“a man who knew the hunt, a man of the field” vs. “a simple man, who dwelt in tents”), which suffice to paint a vivid picture of the two. The next verse describes the special love (should we call it favoritism?) each parent showed to one or another: “And Yitzhak loved Esav because there was game in his mouth, but Rivkah loved Yaakov” (v. 28). Why is the symmetry broken? We are told that Yitzhak had a specific reason for loving Esau (an ulterior, material motive, that he fed him well? An admiration of his rough-hewn masculinity? A kind of yearning for that which he himself never had?), but we are not told why Rivkah specifically loved Yaakov. Was this simple mother love, or something else? A question to think about. More generally, what makes parents love some children more than others—an excessive love that they usually know to be unwise, and that often makes for trouble, sowing poisons that may bear seed even decades after their own deaths (s.v. Joseph and his brothers)?

3. Another question that just struck me this year: Why was Yaakov doing the cooking? Why did Esav come to him when he was hungry, and not to his mother? What kind of a household was this anyway?

4. The word נזיד, nazid, translated “pottage.” One of our hobbies is to check out etymologies and parallels to unusual words that we encounter in the Torah or Nakh, usually by searching BDB’s Lexicon. Aside from here, the only place where nazid appears in the story of Elisha and the band of itinerant prophets in 2 Kgs 4:38-41, who suddenly cried out “there is death in the pot” after one of them put poisonous wild gourds into the stew—until Elisha saved the day.

The root of this word is זיד, whose basic meaning as verb is “to boil, to seethe, to boil up a mess of cooked stuff.” But from this concrete usage, one also has emotional and value meanings: to behave arrogantly, to seethe with anger, to plot against others (להזיד), to act [wrongly] in deliberate, defiant fashion (בזדון). The interesting thing here is that, in general, almost every biblical Hebrew root can be traced back to a concrete image, from which more abstract ideas, emotions, attitudes, etc., are extrapolated.

5. This chapter is the first full scale, well-developed story of interpersonal conflict in an intimate family setting in the Bible. I find it interesting that, apart from the first scene, in which Yaakov “buys” the birthright for a bowl of lentil stew, the two brothers are not shown confronting one another or even meeting until two decades later! Yaakov flees post haste to Haran. The conflict is thus repressed, sublimated, exists beneath the surface (almost like a contemporary neurotic Jewish family, in which no one talks about anything dangerous or threatening!). Esav “hated Yaakov in his heart” and waited for his father to die. (But Rivka still gets wind of this wish, as we are told in 27:42. How did she find out?)

Friday, November 02, 2007

Hayyei Sarah (Mitzvot)

For more teachings on this parasha, see the archives to my blog for November 2005.

The Patriarchs Instituted Prayer”

“And Isaac went out to meditate in the field in the evening…” (Gen 24:63)

The above verse from this week’s parasha, set at the moment before Yitzhak’s encounter with the woman destined to be his bride, shows us a man accustomed to solitude, to long, quiet, meditative walks in the field. The Sages portray Yitzhak as engaged in intimate communion with God, as one of the first figures shown as praying to God. And indeed, a well-known Talmudic sugya (Berakhot 26b) presents two contrasting views of the origin of our daily prayers [see note 1, below]: one view, that of R. Yossi b. R. Hanina, sees the three daily prayer as having been introduced, respectively, by the three patriarchs, while R Yehoshua b. Levi says that they were instituted to correspond to the daily sacrifices (Shaharit and Minhah against the two temidin, and the burning of the flesh on the altar during the nighttime corresponding to Arvit).

It seems to me that the central idea underlying the approach that “the Patriarchs introduced prayer” is that prayer is essentially a personal, inward experience; one that occurred within the life of each of the Fathers within a specific context, at a particular time of day, reflecting in one way or another the unique personality and life-approach of each one. Abraham began the day with prayer, rising early to stand before God as the first significant act of the day, thereby expressing perhaps the centrality of the relationship with God as taking priority to the numerous tasks of his active day. Yitzhak was a more inward-turning, passive, contemplative person, somewhat mystically oriented, who found the waning light of dusk ideal for deep, meditative communion with his Creator. Yaakov was a highly active, complex person, who came upon the sacred site of Beth-el almost by chance, sensed the presence of the numinous there, received a dream vision, and prayed. Here we have prayer in the dark of night, a time of vision, of perceptions of that which transcends the ordinary world.

The second view expressed in the Talmudic discussion, that prayers correspond to the sacrificial offerings in the Temple, emphasizes more strongly the fixed and ritualistic aspect of prayer, as a service that man is required to perform before his Creator, in much the same way as our ancestors offered daily offerings in the Temple at fixed times. This dispute thus represents the two poles of prayer: on the one hand, the personal, inner, spontaneous aspect, which is of the very essence of prayer—that part known as kavanah, “intention” or “focusing”; the other pole that of fixity, of prayer as a mitzvah, an externally imposed obligation.

Here, one might well ask: if kavanah is the essence of prayer, why does it need to be a mitzvah at all? Personal prayer stems from human need, whether concrete needs pertaining to one’s everyday life, or from the desire and yearning for closeness with God. In either case, how can it be commanded? The answer, it seems to me, is that prayer is part of what it means to be a religious human being—prayer means, fundamentally, to stand before God. Existentially, man is always standing before God—but he doesn’t always know this. Statutory prayer as a mitzvah, as an obligation that must be fulfilled every day in some minimum way, comes to accustom us to stand before God in practice.

In the end, the poskim fixed the halakhah according to the view of R. Yehoshua b. Levi—namely, that prayer is essentially a fixed act, a mitzvah to be performed at set times, and that even when kavvanah does not come, one ought not to postpone prayer for that reason. [see note 2] Yeshayahu Leibowitz once remarked that the saying of R. Shimon in Pirkei Avot (2.18), “When you pray, do not make your prayer a fixed thing, but [asking] compassion and supplication before the Omnipresent,” was in practice rejected as a halakhic statement.

I would like to offer see a second interpretation of this dispute: namely, as applying to the tension between private prayer and public prayer. The prayer of the fathers was a personal act, performed in solitude; if this is our model, than whether we worship at home or in the synagogue, the essential element of prayer is the inner, personal experience: kavannah, as Rambam puts it, is part of its very definition. If, on the other hand, prayer is modeled after the korbanot, it is primarily a public act of worship. The minyan of ten required for tefillah betzibbur, anywhere in the world, is a microcosm of the entire Community of Israel; each individual is a participant, but Klal Yisrael as a whole is somehow the actor. The fixity of prayer—specifically, of public worship—thus symbolizes the constancy of the Jewish people in its worshipful standing before God, as a regular part of their life routine.

Today, when there is a certain renewal of what is called “spirituality” (defined by some as referring to the actual experience of devotion, of religious feeling, while “religion” refers to its institutional setting), many people find a tension between these two approaches. Some opt out of public prayer, because davening in many synagogues seems rote and mechanical, and simply too fast-paced to facilitate prayer with anything approaching kavannah.

Various solutions have been found to this problem. One is to simply pray at home, and bypass the public dimension of tefillah. Another is to establish an alternative minyan with like-minded people—but not everyone has such people in immediate proximity, and even when one does, such groups typically meet only on Shabbat, or even less frequently. Habad Hasidism, which teaches an approach of deeply meditative prayer (tefillah be-arikhut), advocates that those who choose this path attend shul to hear and respond to all public parts of the liturgy (Barkhu, Kedushah, Kaddish, Torah reading) and afterwards pray privately, undisturbed. Some find other avenues for personal devotion: reciting Tehillim (Psalms); going into the woods or the desert and speaking to God in the vernacular (Bretslav). Finally, the classical solution, but one that can be very difficult: to somehow learn how to pray with kavvanah while in the synagogue, with the minyan, somehow synchronized with the rest of the community.

Note 1 The text of this passage is as follows: R. Yossi b. R. Hanina said: prayers were introduced by the patriarchs. R Yehoshua b. Levi said: prayers were instituted to correspond to the daily sacrifices… R. Yossi b. Hanina said: Abraham introduced the Morning Prayer (Shaharit), as is said: “And Abraham rose early in the morning, to the place where he had stood” [Gen 19:27]…. Yitzhak introduced the Afternoon Prayer (Minhah), as is said, “And Yitzhak went out to commune in the field before evening” [Gen 24:63], and sihah refers to prayer, as is said, “The prayer of a poor man, when he enwraps himself and pours out his siah before the Lord” [Ps 102: 1]. Yaakov introduced the Evening Prayer (Arvit), as is said, “and he came upon (vayifga) the place and slept there” [Gen 28:11]. …

Note 2 There is an interesting tension in the halakhah surrounding this issue. What happens if one does not have kavannah? Should one pray or not? Or if, after reciting the prayer, one realizes that he didn’t have any kavannah, but let one’s thoughts drift? Should one go back and recite it a second time? The original halakhah, following the logic of the Talmudic conception of prayer, says that if one cannot “direct his heart” he ought not to pray—and indeed, Rambam defines kavannah as one of the five indispensable conditions for prayer. See Rambam, Tefillah 4.16; Tur & Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 101.1. But the Ram”a, in his gloss ad loc., notes that so many Jews pray by rote, that were they required to repeat the prayer they would likely again do so without kavannah!

Vayera (Mitzvot)

For more teachings on the parasha, see the blog archives at November 2005. For teachings on Shlomo, see at October 2004, November 2005, and November 2006 (Lekh Lekha).

Kiddush Ha-Shem: “Love is Fiercer than Death”

Parshat Vayera contains no formal mitzvot as such. However, the climactic event described therein, Akedat Yitzhak, the Binding of Isaac, may be read as the central paradigm for the Jewish relation to God, whose ultimate experience is Kiddush Hashem, the “sanctification of the Name.” In the narrow sense, this mitzvah (traditionally inferred from Lev 22:32) implies the willingness to die in order to sanctify God’s name; in the broader sense, it encompasses the spirit of self-sacrifice, of dedication and devotion, rooted in love of God, that outweighs and overcomes all worldly considerations. As such, it includes ordinary, everyday behavior: Yoma 86a states that a sage who speaks kindly and gently, who is honest in his business dealings, and thereby inspires others to emulate him and see the model of piety that he represents in a positive light, thereby sanctifies God’s Name; on the other hand, the sage who is seen as somehow corrupt, hypocritical, self-righteous, and not meeting the standards he sets for others (and there are such people in the world, unfortunately), is seen as desecrating the Name.

The Akedah is a very strange and puzzling story, difficult for many modern people to accept. It poses profound philosophical question: what kind of God could expect this of someone? In the course of posing total, unquestioning dedication to God as the ultimate goal, it seems to fly in the face of basic morality, seeming to affirm the legitimacy of human sacrifice, which is defined elsewhere as an abomination.

But more than what it says about God, what does it teach about the mentality demanded and expected of the human servant and lover of God? Søren Kierkegaard saw Abraham of the Akedah as a central paradigm for what he called the “knight of faith.” Not only was he prepared to forego his own personal dreams for the future, as embodied in the son born to him in old age; he was prepared to accept the “theological suspension of the ethical.” But is not the autonomous human moral conscience also a reality? Isn’t there a point at which man is entitled to question issues of right and wrong even of God, when he demands the absurd? (Shades of “do not turn either right or left from what they tell you”—even if they say that right is left and left is right, or only when they say that right is right and left is left?; see my teachings on Shoftim, esp. on Torah and Rambam, at my blog archives for August 2006) The model of total, implicit obedience is widely embraced today by many Orthodox leaders and thinkers, who contrast Torah autonomy with secular-humanist autonomy. But is the matter so unequivocal? Is there in fact room for moral considerations within the halakhah? And is there such a thing as meta-halakhah, as over-arching values, as a positive value attached to “nay-saying” in certain situations? This is a vast issue, and I can only mention here the issues which the Akedah places on the table, not the answers.

What is clear is the mythical role played by Kiddush Hashem in Jewish life and in Jewish memory: Hannah and her seven sons; the martyrs of the Rhineland communities during the First Crusade; all those, throughout the millennia, in various places and circumstances, who were prepared to die rather than to bow, even pro forma, to an alien god. What does it ultimately mean? On the bottom line, Kiddush Hashem means love of God: love that conquers and outweighs all human loves—of parents for children, of lovers for one another, even of the elemental desire to live—and overcomes the fear of death. Indeed, in Kiddush Hashem, the verse from Song of Songs, “love is fiercer than death” (8:6), acquires an unexpected, powerful meaning.

Akedah Postscripts

A central tension in Vayera is that between devotion to God and concern for one’s fellow human being. This is illustrated in the opening verses, in which Avraham breaks off from receiving an “appearance” or vision of God, running to care for three strangers. It is expressed again when he argues with God on behalf of the people of Sodom—a passage introduced by God Himself, who defines Avraham’s task in the world as ושמרו דרך ה' לעשות צדקה ומשפט (18:19; “to guard the way of God, to do justice and righteousness”). It reaches its culmination in the contrast between these passages and the Akedah, where Abraham is called upon to do an act motivated by purely theocentric reason, denying all that is human in him—parental love, ethical conscience—to do God’s will.

Interestingly, Maimonides ends his Guide for the Perplexed (III.54) by saying that the ultimate goal of “knowing God” is accomplished, not through mystical-intellectual cognition of the Godhead, but through imitating God’s ethical qualities in the real world of human activity. He invokes Jeremiah 9:23, a verse quite similar to the above-mentioned verse from Genesis: כי אני ה' עשה חסד משפט וצדקה בארץ, כי באלה חפצתי נאם ה'—“for I am the Lord, who does loving-kindness, justice and righteousness in the world, for these I desire, says the Lord.” This is particularly significant, and not a little surprising, in light of the prevalent image of Rambam as one who saw the purely intellectual cognition of God, knowledge of metaphysical truths finely honed by philosophical reasoning, as the highest goal of mankind.

William James writes of two basic religious attitudes, which he calls “world affirming” and “world rejecting.” One might say that the one is that of Abraham in the opening chapter of Vayera, and the latter that of the Akedah chapter. Read thus, the Akedah is at one extreme of the continuum, while the drawing back from slaughtering Yitzhak signifies a kind of compromise.

This discussion is reminiscent of Martin Buber’s famous “Conversion.” In his essay, “Dialogue,” he describes the central transformative experience in his life. At the time, he was deeply involved in ecstatic, mystical practices and the cultivation of an elevated inner consciousness. As a result, it once happened that he failed to be wholly present (“to hear the unasked question”) when a troubled young man came to him for life advice—with dire consequences. This human insensitivity, brought about by his pursuit of mystical ecstasy, led him to abandon what he saw as the mystical path; henceforth, he saw the proper focus of religious life as involvement in human community, in the most concrete sense, in a godly way—his famous “dialogical philosophy.” (But see Israel Koren’s new book Mystery of the Earth [Hebrew: Haifa University Press, 2005; English version in preparation], which offers a new, rather different interpretation of Buber’s approach to mysticism and to Hasidism). In any event, I find Buber’s exclusive emphasis on dialogue in the world as assuming too sharp a dichotomy between the two. Jewish teaching seems to find it possible to strike a harmonious balance between the two—although this is not always simple.

2. Another, intriguing reading of the Akedah is developed by Aviva Zornberg in her book on Genesis, The Beginning of Desire, pp. 97-98, 114 ff. She mentions a midrash in which the Akedah was precipitated through Satan’s challenge to God, in which he mocks Abraham’s devotion, claiming that he would fail to meet a true test of his unconditional commitment. (The situation is an almost exact parallel to the opening of Job, in which God boasts of Job’s sterling character and fear of God, which Satan challenges). In both these cases, Satan represents cynicism about human character: the belief that every person, if pushed far enough, will break, will compromise his most dearly held principles; or, as common parlance, that “every man has his price.” (This dilemma was dramatized, for example, in the novel-cum-film Indecent Proposal.) God, by contrast, represents the belief in human righteousness, in the capability of the truly righteous man to be good, decent and upright no matter what. One can extrapolate from this that an essential element of faith is trust, a belief in man, perhaps even a certain childlike naïvete. That is, to say, “I believe in God’s perfection, but I’m utterly cynical and skeptical about my fellow human beings” is ultimately sacrilegious.

3. A bit later in her discussion (p. 123 ff.), Zornberg poses yet a third alternative. She discusses the midrash in which Sarah dies of grief, or shock, upon hearing of the Akedah—even though she knew that Her beloved son had survived. She describes this reaction as a kind of vertigo, a sense of emptiness, of the impossibility of believing that such a thing could happen. There is a Hebrew idiom for this: הדעת לא סובלת את זה. As if to say, the human mind can’t put itself around the idea that such things are possible in our world. Moments in which the world ceases to make sense—or, at least, the notion of a God who cares about human beings in any ordinary sense of the word.

Or to put it slightly differently: pushing the Jamesian typology mentioned earlier one step further. The Akedah represents an extreme pole of religious consciousness, in which the negation of the world is so total as to allow for devotion to God to the point of absurdity, so much so that one must accept the negation of everything that is ordinary in life. This is the root of the monastic impulse, particularly in its extreme forms: the Simon of the Desert who stands on a pillar for twenty years; or the Hindu sudha who abandons all to walk half-naked, barefoot, with nothing, around the country; or, for that matter, Kierkegaard himself, whose peculiar religious consciousness somehow made him unfit to live in the ordinary world of marriage and family—and hence he had to reject Regina Olsen, not out of any glorification of celibacy, but out of the sense that he, Soren, didn’t fit into the world.)

Such things exist in Judaism, too. I have known intense mystics who spent four, five, six hours davening every day, eating a bare morsel of food once a day, who barely engaged in ordinary conversation—but this path seems exceedingly dangerous when not moderated by having two feet planted in the ground. In the Akedah, it is modified by the very fact of the angel staying Abraham’s hand—but the very fact of the demand leaves its mark.

4. Yet another reading: the fact that it was specifically Sarah who died of shock when she heard of Akedah suggests that the kind of thinking that allows for an Akedah is in some sense essentially masculine. My thinking is that no woman could imagine something like the Akedah. Women’s spirituality is somehow different than that of men, which can allow for unlimited flights of intellect, for living in worlds of concepts totally abstracted and removed from the concrete world. Women are more earth-bound, more loving and nurturing, and see these roles as part and parcel of their being in an essential way (like the harlot in Solomon’s judgment; 1 Kgs 3:16 ff.). They would do anything to spare their child’s life. Their piety is more like that mentioned above, “know Him in all your ways.” (As I write this, I think of the legend of Hannah and her seven sons, in IV Maccabees, but that is somehow different: that was real Kiddush Hashem in face of the demand to deny God; after all, it is part of human experience that one occasionally encounters tyrants and religious fanatics, and one must respond to them in a noble, non-submissive way. The idea here of God Himself making such a demand is somehow different, contradicting as it does His essential nature; it makes no sense, so much so as to drive a person crazy.)

LEKH LEKHA: Postscript

Sometimes one may overlook the obvious, even for years. Like many people, I was raised with the legend as to how Abraham, as a child, figured out that the idols, fashioned out of clay or wood or stone, were impotent—and, to prove it, smashed one of the idols in his father’s workshop. Again, there is a famous midrash about the “master of the palace,” in which Abraham thought and thought until he arrived at the conclusion that the world must have a master.

And yet in the biblical text itself, we are told that Abraham received instructions from God, conversed with Him, etc. , much as Adam and Noah did before him, and Yitzhak, Yaakov, Moses, Samuel, David, and innumerable others did after him. In short, he is depicted regarding the relationship with God as obvious and self-evident. What then is meant by the midrashic image of Abraham as “discovering” God? What does this imply about his faith, or the nature of faith in general? It seems to me that these stories convey a certain insight about the nature of conversion. As Abraham was born into the pagan world, he had to make a quantum leap, so to speak, to attain insight into the existence and reality of God.

Knowledge of God is not a given; it is not a simple, obvious fact, as self-evident as breathing or eating or talking to your next-door neighbor. Rather, it emerges from a person reflecting on the meaning of life, asking questions about the world and why why anything exists at all, and beginning to see contradictions between what he was taught as a child and what makes sense to his inner heart. Thus, this midrashic motif expresses an important philosophical move—that faith may be derived through reason, or through thinking. (Incidentally, many converts I’ve known say that their path to Judaism began by seeing the contradictions and illogical tenets in Christianity.)

To continue with a few very brief insights about the sequence which follows: Brit bein ha-Betarim, the “Covenant Between the Pieces” (Genesis 15), is one of the weirder and more puzzling passages in the Torah. The sacrifice described there seems necessary as a prelude to Abraham’s vision (a sequence that appears often enough); but more than that, it is an actual covenant, creating a permanent bond between God and Abraham (and his as-yet-unborn offspring). The torch passing between the pieces of the sacrificial animals symbolizes the covenant between the two sides; while the message given Avraham—about his descendant’s future subjugation, redemption, and inheritance of the land—is itself an integral part of the covenant.

Hence, Brit Milah could in turn only come after both these events: the initial contact with God in Chapter 12, and the establishing of the covenant in Ch. 15. Note: circumcision itself, presented in Ch. 17, is not the covenant itself, but the ”sign of the covenant.”

Finally, the Akedah must come at the end, as the climax of the sequence of Abraham stories. It is something else again: a test of total commitment, over and beyond “ordinary” covenantal expectation. Genesis 23-25:11 is then seen as a kind of coda to Abraham’s life, events that occur in old age: the death of his wife; the marrying off of his son to create a new family, who will from here on in be the focus of interest; his own second marriage, which is somehow not really important; and his death.

Shlomo: “A person must receive the face of his master…”

Almost every year since starting Hitzei Yehonatan I’ve tried to write something about Reb Shlomo Carlebach ztz”l on his Yahrzeit (this year, on Sunday). On one level, his activity and the story of his life are well-known. But on another, there is something that remains wrapped in mystery, which each year I try to grasp and convey.

One of the basic questions I ask is: from whence did he get the powers of knowing how to communicate with these American hippie kids? If one thinks about his background—growing up in a distinguished, aristocratic Rabbinic family in Vienna; learning Talmud and poskim virtually every waking moment at Lakewood and other yeshivot; visiting, together with his twin brother, Lubavitch, Bobov and the other Hasidic courts being reconstituted in America—the contrast to the long-haired hippies of San Francisco of the 1960s in astounding. And yet, he succeeded, not only in communicating with them, but in creating a vital, exciting center in the House of Love and Prayer, and in winning over a significant number of people to living a Jewish religious life. There is a special kind of brilliance, an “understanding heart,” as the Tanakh says of the original Shlomo, required to translate an entire culture, an entire world of experience, into concepts, words, stories that not only make that world come alive, but exciting and attractive to people coming from an utterly different world.

I can see in my mind’s eye an image of Shlomo teaching: at Boston University Hillel in the winter of ‘72, at the House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco, in Gavriel and Monique’s home in Jerusalem, and elsewhere. He sits with a book, reads a paragraph or two, than places his hand over his eyes, shuckles back and forth gently for a minute or two, and then starts talking: “You know, friends, the holy [R. Nahman, R. Tzaddok, Sefas Emes, Izhbitzer, etc.] says……” He reads one or two lines in Hebrew, translates them, and then continues, perhaps for half-an-hour or more, weaving ideas, stories, examples from everyday life, into a beautiful fabric of Torah, that has every person in the room entranced. “This is mamash the deepest depths…” At some point he starts to sing a melody, stands up, starts to play his guitar, and after a while quickens the pace until the whole room is jumping up and down and dancing in joy.

Shlomo created a new type of Hasidism. A Hasidic vort or saying interprets the Rabbinic saying quoted at the beginning of this piece as follows: לקבל פני רבו, “to receive one’s master’s face…” doesn’t refer to kabbalat panim in the usual sense of going out to greet someone or to be with them, but to “receive,” take within oneself, his “face”—that is, something of his spiritual configuration, his being, his essence. It does not mean that one should become a clone of one’s teacher, as sometimes happens—each person is after all an individual, a world unto himself—but that one may be recognized as part of the same spiritual family, that there is a certain affinity between master and disciple.

Who, then, are Shlomo’s Hasidism? Can one create a group portrait? There is a Hasidic legend that, before the Messiah comes, the Baal Shem Tov will return but no one will recognize him. Sometimes I think that Shlomo’s Hasidim are the closest thing existing to the original mood and feel of early Hasidism, to the circle of the Baal Shem Tov—notwithstanding the profound differences between the 18th century Polish or Volhynian shteitl, and 20th century America.

His Hasidim are characterized, first and foremost, by ecstatic, enthusiastic prayer, filled with uninhibited shouts and gesticulation. If the conflict between Hasidism and Mitnaggedism was originally about prayer vs. Torah, emotion vs. intellect, avodah vs. halakhah—the former aspects are strongly felt, in pristine form, among Shlomo’s “khevre.” Over the generations, most if not all of the “main-stream” Hasidic groups have become established, following a certain fixed routine, which identifies them—from their prayer nusah, to the manner in which the Rebbe’s “tisch” is conducted, through to their dress, daily routine, study program, etc. Shlomo’s hasidim maintain a certain kind of anarchism, a spontaneous, non-conformist attitude.

Second, there is an attempt to emulate Shlomo’s warmth and love for all. There are lots of hugs in greeting; strangers are made welcome, and often invited to share communal and private meals; people may address one other with the honorific “heilige (holy) so-and-so.”

Third, there is a great emphasis on Shabbat—not merely as a routine, or as a halakhic construct with strict rules—but as an anticipation of “the Great Shabbes”—as a spiritual high point, as a time when prayer can break through the barriers of heaven, as a taste of the redeemed world.

(To be continued)

Noah (Supplement)

“Let us build a tower…”: A Short Essay on Hubris

Towards the end of Parashat Noah, following the lengthy account of the Flood, there is another incident, described in brief, almost laconic terms: the building of the Tower of Babel, the “confusion” of languages that God brings about in response, and the dispersion of the various nations.

Rather surprisingly, and in striking contrast to other sinful deeds described elsewhere in Genesis (the eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Cain killing Abel, the “sons of gods” snatching the daughters of men, the sin of the generation of the Flood, the sin of Sodom, etc.), the Bible does not tell us the exact nature of their transgression; indeed, we are not even explicitly told that this act was “evil in God’s eyes.” (This point is noted by the Midrash: “the sin of the Generation of the Division (dor ha-haflagah) was not made explicit”). All we are told is that God went down to see what they were doing, and thereupon jumbled their languages so they could no longer communicate with one another.

To understand this story, we must first return to the opening chapters of Genesis, where we find a certain ambivalence regarding the basic question: how powerful ought man be allowed to be? In the opening chapter of the Creation, Adam and Eve are blessed with dominion over the rest of creation: “fill the land and conquer it, and rule over the fish of the seas, the birds of the heavens, and every creature that swarms over the earth” (Gen 1:28)—a very considerable charge, that contrasts with the later, more modest mandate of being placed in the garden “to till it and protect it” (2:15). Later on, in the story of the Garden, this motif returns, with a disturbing twist: that man not only dominates the rest of nature, but may be a potential “rival” to God Himself! The serpent says as much in his persuasion of Eve: “For God knows, that on the day that you eat it your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be like gods (!) knowing good and evil” (3:5). Although, in point of fact, the first and only thing they knew after eating the fruit was that they were naked—a phrase prompting speculation about the interrelations among sexual knowledge, moral knowledge, and what might be called cosmic knowledge; but more on that another time.

All these scenes revolve around one theme: what the Greeks called hubris—man’s desire to transcend his natural limits, to reach for the infinite, to become like God—and God’s response: that such a thing is intolerable. Adam is already shown saying, in at least one midrash: God rules in the upper region, and I am alone / unique in the lower regions, so let me be like God… As if to say: we have been given dominion below, so let’s make the most if it. This motif reappears in several of the midrashim about the Tower of Babylon: that the people wished to wage war against God and unseat Him from His throne in Heaven; that they challenged “the One of the Universe”; etc.

There is an interesting linguistic parallel between the scene of the expulsion from the Garden and that of the Tower:

Behold, man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; Now, lest he thrust his hand, and take from the Tree of Life, and eat, and live forever’ (3:22).

Behold, they are one people, and one language for all, And all this they have begun to do. Now, nothing that they scheme to do shall be withheld from them (11:6)

Note particularly the use of the sentence structure: "hen... atah..." “Behold…. ; now….” As if to say: they have already done thus-and-such; now, if we don’t take measures to prevent it, they will surely do much worse.

* * * * *

The question is: how are we to interpret all this? Cynics might say: aha, we see here a picture of a god who is a petty chieftain, a dictator who is ultimately concerned about his “turf” and power. And indeed, there is a secular humanist position that celebrates this impulse. Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods to give it to mankind, and may in certain ways be seen as a kind of Greek counterpart to the Dor haflagah, was a kind of hero for the European Romantics. They saw him as a prototype, representing the triumph of the human heart and intellect over tyrannical religion. He was the rebel who resisted all forms of institutional tyranny, as epitomized by Zeus—church, monarch, and patriarch. Comparisons were drawn between Prometheus and the spirit of the French Revolution, Christ, Milton’s Satan, and the divinely inspired poet or artist. In similar spirit, psychologist Erich Fromm (one of the Central European Jewish refugee intellectuals who helped shape post-War American culture), in his book You Shall be as Gods, interprets the “sin” in the Garden in a positive light. His thesis is that the real purpose of the “test” in the Garden was that Adam and Eve should eat, and thereby gain moral maturity, through a sense of autonomy and responsibility for their decisions. Had they never eaten, they would have in some sense remained infantile and dependent.

Judaism certainly affirms human responsibility and free will, but sees a subtle line separating valid use of autonomy, intelligence, and initiative, from hubris. An alternative reading of the Tower story would say: God’s moves to limit man’s powers is rooted in a moral position. Humankind has been blessed with awesome powers, with mental acuity unparalleled in the world of living beings, with the ability to plan, to anticipate the future, to organize society, as well as with a desire for knowledge and understanding of the world far beyond his immediate practical needs. But with this comes hubris: the desire to transcend limits. The moral life of humanity in fact revolves around the acceptance of limits, and the humility of knowing that we are not infinite, that we are not God, knowing that nothing is failsafe, that even the wisest of men cannot anticipate every last possibility.

That hubris, that the desire for infinite power and knowledge, is part of our makeup, is evident to anyone who has accumulated a bit of life experience. For example: the notion that the greatest achievement of mankind is the conquest of space, the probing of distant worlds. Or, in uncanny analogy to the desire to eat of the Tree of Life, there are people today who speak of “living forever,” of conquering death, of deep-freezing bodies to be thawed out once a cure is discovered to their final disease, or who speak seriously of human beings living for tens of thousands of years? There is something similar in religion itself: the fascination of esoteric knowledge, of popularized versions of Kabbalah, stems in large measure from the craving for the knowledge of the secrets of the universe—and the power believed to come with it. That is why Hazal placed fences around the study of Ma’aseh Merkavah and Ma’aseh Bereshit, of certain secret areas of Torah—because in the hands of non God-fearing people, it too could become a vehicle of hubris.

Without advocating a latter-day Luddism, many of the world’s problems today are the result of unforeseen consequences of technological progress. Thus, for example, the invention of the automobile reduced distances between people and made many aspects of life far simpler and easier; but it brought in its wake traffic fatalities, atmospheric pollution and, above all, the overall sense that “the party is over”—the specter of global warming caused in large part by the massive use of petroleum (in industry as well as for transportation), coupled with the threat of depletion of natural resources, which may in any event bring our current way of life to a dead halt. A second example: atomic energy. Is there any doubt today that “taking the genie out of the bottle,” without any change in mankind’s ability to control its own murderous impulses, has made the world a far more frightening and dangerous place to live? And a final example: reproductive technology has proven a blessing to childless couples, but it may yet bring about a nightmarish “Brave New World” of genetic engineering, and of ever sharper social division between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” based on genetic design. Moreover, there are signs that these new techniques, severing even further the relation between sexuality and reproduction, may change the nature of sexuality, weakening even further the bonds of couples and within families. So is humankind then wise, or foolish?

* * * * *

A brief comment about my way of reading the opening chapters of Genesis. Clearly, as literal accounts they either test our credulity or are hopelessly naïve. Rather, Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel and all the rest are best seen as archetypes of human experience, the basis for a “philosophical anthropology” couched, not in conceptual, but in mythic terms. Within these eleven chapters that precede the emergence on the scene of Abraham, we find a presentation of the major themes, paradoxes and problematics of human existence: sexuality, violence, the desire for knowledge and mastery.

I choose these three areas for particular emphasis, both because they are so problematic, and because they are unavoidable parts of our lives. They cannot be eliminated even if we would wish it and, used in proper manner and proper measure, they are essential to our world. A well-known midrash relates that once, some pious men wished to “solve” the problem of sin for once and for all by “slaughtering” the Evil Urge. No sooner had they done so, then a deathly stillness descended over world; no offspring were born to either human or animal, and no eggs were laid. This insight, which refers specifically to sexuality (Hazal’s “Yetzer ha-Ra”), may be applied fruitfully to aggression and hubris as well: they are vital to human existence, but misused, can lead to catastrophe.

Not coincidentally, these three areas are also those with which humankind is facing its greatest challenges in the 21st century: sexuality—the collapse of the traditional family in advanced West, numerous problems of sexual ethics, sexual ambiguity, widespread divorce, etc.; aggression—the existence of weaponry with unprecedented destructive power, that has raised the dangers of warfare to another dimension; and hubris—scientific progress that backfires, issues of ecology, globing warming, etc. In the present essay, I have presented a few initial thoughts on the issue of hubris and human intellect. In succeeding essays, I will address the issues of aggression and violence, and the knotty issues of sexuality.