Halacha, Like Every Created Thing, Is, Necessarily, Imperfect (Corrected 21/7/17)

It seems so obvious to me that it should go without saying, but experience both historical and contemporary requires me to emphasize and re-emphasize this. Exploiting Halacha and the halachic process in order to manipulate power, political, social, economic or any other is beyond obscene and should never occur. Unfortunately, all too often it does. It’s going on right now and deserves nothing but contempt.

The Maharal of Prague (16th Century) remarked in his Introduction to his own book which explores Pesach and our Redemption from Egypt, Gevurat HaShem, God’s Power, that since only God is perfect, God being unique in the universe, everything else is, of necessity, imperfect. That within the realm of the imperfect are Man and all of our creations which we take for granted. However, we seem to want to declare the Torah, so closely identified with The Creator as also perfect, which generates the hopeless expectation that Halacha is also “perfect”. But we need to keep in mind that holy, complex and multidimensional as halacha is, it’s not identical with God and is, there, also imperfect.

One definition of  “perfect” is invariable and never-changing, in other words,  literally performed by Yehuda in biblical days exactly as Levi is obligated today. That position instantly reveals itself as absurd.

For example, even something as straightforward as kashering a kitchen depends on so many factors including, of all things, the wealth of the person taking on these mitzvot. (There are a number of leniencies one can make in order to avoid devastating financial damage, but at the end of the day, whichever path, the strictest or the most lenient, the food produced in the kitchens is EXACTLY  as kosher as the other.

One can charitably see an idealistic, God-devoted motive to the recent drift (post Emancipation/Enlightenment, end of 19th Century), where the possibilities of action and association opened as no other time for Europe’s Jews, leading many to stray, leading many more to double down and adopt severe inflexibility, to build, from the inside, higher and higher ghetto walls, no longer merely to contain the Jews, but also to hold modern thought at bay.

The trouble is, however, neither of those objectives are the reasons for Halacha. Rather, and we must always keep this in mind, the only purpose of Halacha is to guide us to respond to the eternal question, “What does God want me to do at this moment?” Of all the choices facing each of us at every instant, what will create the greatest positive value, not necessarily in our human calculations, but in terms of Ratzon HaShem, the Divine Will.

Although the phrase Tikkun Olam has become very popular in recent years, the current definition looks very different that what we’ve always meant by the phrase. We’ve always worked on the principle that God, not we, can “pre-visualize” a perfect world, so our goal is to constantly search for how God’s Will is manifesting Itself in this ever-changing, imperfect, world, lurching from our collective attempt to refine and hone in closer to the ideal.

Since the very definition of imperfect is needing change, and our goal is reaching, or approaching sufficiently close, this ever-changing target, Halacha, like all life, is, at any one frozen point in time, imperfect. But the search is, by necessity, a dynamic one, requiring radical courage to evaluate our past efforts and if we see they fall short, then to reject them, or at least reject their utility in the future.

Somewhere, between our Jewish People and The Creator and His goals for us, is this imperfect but, hopefully, evolving Halacha, casting the weave that ties us ever more intimately with the only unchanging, perfection that exists, HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

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Halacha, Like Every Created Thing, Is, Necessarily, Imperfect

The Maharal of Prague (16th Century) remarked in his Introduction to his own book which explores Pesach and our Redemption from Egypt, Gevurat HaShem, God’s Power, that since only God is perfect, God being unique in the universe, everything else is, of necessity, imperfect. That within the realm of the imperfect are Man and all of our creations which we take for granted. However, we seem to want to declare the Torah, so closely identified with The Creator as also perfect, which generates the hopeless expectation that Halacha is also “perfect”. But we need to keep in mind that holy, complex and multidimensional as halacha is, it’s not identical with God and is, there, also imperfect.

One definition of  “perfect” is invariable and never-changing, in other words,  literally performed by Yehuda in biblical days exactly as Levi is obligated today. That position instantly reveals itself as absurd.

For example, even something as straightforward as kashering a kitchen depends on so many factors including, of all things, the wealth of the person taking on these mitzvot. (There are a number of leniencies one can make in order to avoid devastating financial damage, but at the end of the day, whichever path, the strictest or the most lenient, the food produced in the kitchens is EXACTLY  as kosher as the other.

One can charitably see an idealistic, God-devoted motive to the recent drift (post Emancipation/Enlightenment, end of 19th Century), where the possibilities of action and association opened as no other time for Europe’s Jews, leading many to stray, leading many more to double down and adopt severe inflexibility, to build, from the inside, higher and higher ghetto walls, no longer merely to contain the Jews, but also to hold modern thought at bay.

The trouble is, however, neither of those objectives are the reasons for Halacha. Rather, and we must always keep this in mind, the only purpose of Halacha is to guide us to respond to the eternal question, “What does God want me to do at this moment?” Of all the choices facing each of us at every instant, what will create the greatest positive value, not necessarily in our human calculations, but in terms of Ratzon HaShem, the Divine Will.

Although the phrase Tikkun Olam has become very popular in recent years, the current definition looks very different that what we’ve always meant by the phrase. We’ve always worked on the principle that God, not we, can “pre-visualize” a perfect world, so our goal is to constantly search for how God’s Will is manifesting Itself in this ever-changing, imperfect, world, lurching from our collective attempt to refine and hone in closer to the ideal.

Since the very definition of imperfect is needing change, and our goal is reaching, or approaching sufficiently close, this ever-changing target, Halacha, like all life, is, at any one frozen point in time, imperfect. But the search is, by necessity, a dynamic one, requiring radical courage to evaluate our past efforts and if we see they fall short, then to reject them, or at least reject their utility in the future.

Somewhere, between our Jewish People and The Creator and His goals for us, is this imperfect but, hopefully, evolving Halacha, casting the weave that ties us ever more intimately with the only unchanging, perfection that exists, HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

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Before The Window Closes

Having been given the greatest opportunity in many generations, we’ve surely made a big mess of it. However close we once might have been to the millennia-longed-for ultimate Redemption (Geula), we now have a tremendous amount of work to do, cleaning up the damage and getting back on track before this chance expires.

We have de facto possession of the Land and Jewish sovereignty, as well (if only we take the courage to declare it on lands we control)! We’re at, or at least approaching the point of Kibbutz Galiyot (the ingathering of the exiles, defined by more than half the world’s Jews living on the Land, under Jewish sovereignty), a state-change/new-consciousness for the entire universe!

And we’re just about ready to blow the whole thing out of the water by presuming we know better than God. The frum are convinced that all the non-haredim are, at best, challenges to make frum and much of the non-haredi population are half-way out the door, saying that if Judaism is limited to the haredi, backwards-facing definition we want nothing to do with it.

Of course, we could entertain the thought that He created us in all our diverse uniquenesses, because each of us, just as we are (which, and this is vital, includes within each of us the capability to grown, to learn, to self-correct, in other words, Tshuvah) are absolutely necessary partners in the enterprise–meaning that the universe cannot achieve perfection; “tikkun olam” is not possible to achieve, absent the contribution that only each of our unique neshamot can offer. We, of course, in our monumentally “superior knowledge” are sure that there is only a single, narrow, restrictive and restricted Way that we each must, in perfect clockwork conformity, proceed. Of course, that means the way I’m already doing it, so get on board and do it my way….

Dogmatism is not the exclusive turf of the Left or the Right, the Orthodox, the Ultra-Orthodox, the Secular, the Ashkenazi, the Sephardi, the New Age or the Reform. Every formulation of this dogma, that only my way is kosher and all others treif, is based on and perpetuates one of the saddest and most corrosive heresies there is. We proclaim, even though we profess to believe that The Creator is Omniscient and Omnipotent, that He isn’t a very clever fellow at all, creating myriad upon myriad of misdirected Jews. Why oh why didn’t he make us identical (which usually means “just like me”?0

Of course, it’s human nature to feel that each generation, each subset of each generation (those of us who “got it”), building on the knowledge of the past, mixed with our superior insight and brilliance, is the true Crown of Creation. All other opinions are, at best, worthless.

The only escape from total breakdown and disaster, it seems to me, if for each of us to realize, or try to teach ourselves, each of us, as we are (meaning the Haredim, as Haredim, the Chilonim, remaining as Chilonim, Zionist, Secular, Baseball fans, soccer fans, men, women, children and adults….but in every case retaining the capacity and the desire to change/grow/learn

As each of us, with increasing fervor, rejects everyone else (as they, simultaneously, reject us), we’re faced with a fundamental theological challenge. Why did God create more than just one Adam? If there is only the one true path, it seems that the Infallible Creator was an overwhelming failure, with billions of mistakes and only one Adam created who knows exactly what he (and by extension, everyone) must do at every moment.

On top of this, the system of Reality that He created to operate the world in general terms, dictates that you can never stand still–either you’re moving forward or falling behind!

This seems to explain the tragic and, frankly, sickening phenomenon  of  just about every denomination (as well as every “non-denomination” to lash out at all the other. Each jockeys for more political power, predicated on their way being not merely accepted but approved by all the others.

Eventually, it seems to me, we’ll have to come to terms that The Creator Knew/Knows exactly what he’s doing. אמת, Truth, requires the insights of our Chassidic masters, the discipline and analytics of our Halachacists, the wild poetry of our Kabbalists, the morality of our Mussar teachers, the simple empathy and mutual care of everyday Jews, the secular insights into science and technology which come, as often or not, from the completely non-observant. It doesn’t matter what comes before the hyphen, we’re all Jews together.

And, remember, just like God is a living God and Judaism is eternally evolving and changing, as the situations we face often bear no resemblance to those of our fathers, our Halachot, laws, our Minhagim, customs and our rituals need to constantly evolve to answer each new moment that God has created. Zeh HaYom Asa HaShem, Nagila v’Nism’cha Bo, “This is the day God created, Let us shout with joy and celebrate it!” (Tehillim 118:24, included in Hallel). Each and every day, each an every minute, God requires our newest, most positive and joy-creating response.

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Past, Present and Future

Ki Ani HaShem Lo Shaniti (Malachi 3:6), “Because I am God, I do not change”. Among the very final words of the official prophetic era, a close reading (diyyuk) implies that absolutely everything except The Creator is subject to change.

Judaism and the Jewish People have lived and evolved in several distinct periods and modalities (often with transitions where two or more modes existed concurrently). Traditionally, we trace the transition from a close family/clan (the age of Avraham/Yitzchak/Yaakov), through Egyptian slavery, to a nation as we left Egypt. From a wandering band in the desert to a sovereign nation in our own land, culminating in the era of Prophets, Kings and the First Temple. From the Babylonian Captivity to the Return and the Second Temple to the almost-two-millennia Diaspora. And now, today, from the seeming-endless exile to Jewish sovereignty, with approaching a majority of the world’s Jews, in our indigenous and eternal land.

Although The Creator, and by extension, the Torah, are unchanging, our ways of attaching ourselves to Him, by means of our relationship with the complex, yet eternal Mitzvot (“commandments” is a barely minimal translation which obscures much of the true essence of mitzvot, but is a convenient one-word designation in English) has, quite obviously, demonstrably, and uncontroversially, been expressed by a number of modalities, some gradual developments from an earlier form, but some quite abrupt phase changes. Although the stock example is the switch from Karbanot, the ritual animal sacrifices in the Holy Temple to the rabbinic study of same once the Temple was destroyed, that was not a singularity.

Although Judaism does, indeed, exist today both in the diaspora and in Eretz Yisrael (and might well for a long time into the future), these two forms of Jewish practice/observance/life are, relatively in an historical sense, rapidly diverging. Although both modes are the means for the people as a whole and individual Jews to forge and reinforce our intimate relationships with God, they differ in more than mere custom (such as one-day/two-day holiday observance), but in goal and purpose.

Throughout the long centuries of exile, our unique survival as an intact people, something unknown to the rest of humanity, depended (in an empirical sense–obviously in a deeper sense our survival, along with everything else in the universe, depends only on The Creator) entirely on our religious observance and our stubborn adherence to it. As the cliché goes, “more than the Jewish People kept the Shabbat (v’Shamru Bnei Yisrael et HaShabbat (Shemot 31:16), the Shabbat kept the Jewish People”. Many of our laws and rituals could be described as “defensive”, as a “circle the wagons” relationship with the surrounding, non-Jewish cultures we lived among. One could say that Jewish Survival in frequently hostile environments was the first, and not infrequently only, priority. There is no Torah observance if there are no Jews to follow its paths.

While we were minimally, at best of times, equipped to combat physical threats, our leaders clearly saw that the greater danger to our future was run-away assimilation. Therefore, the emphasis was placed on rules and rituals which forcibly separated us from our neighbors. Discouraged by kashrut laws to eat and drink with them, social interactions were minimized. Isolating ourselves within our own communities once-a-week, Shabbat, also forced us to keep to ourselves. Obviously, all our mitzvot also contained paths towards individual and communal spiritual development and intimate attachment to God, I submit that these were almost luxuries in determining halacha.

Today, in Eretz Yisrael, we have not only an historic opportunity, but a transcendent responsibility. As longed for over countless generations, as mandated from our earliest days, as a theme repeating throughout our Prophetic period, rabbinic teachings beginning with the Talmud, the vast literatures of halacha (observance and ritual law), machshava (philosophy), kabbalah (mystical/spiritual exercise), chassidut and mussar (morality), perhaps culminating in the relatively recent writings of Rav Kook (Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, first Chief Rabbi of The Mandate of Palestine (which has evolved to The State of Israel) and our most recent, perhaps last, visionary leader), we are to be not merely Or L’Goyim, a Light to the Nations, but to, again via Torah and Mitzvot, albeit in necessarily re-calibrated forms, usher in the ultimate Geula, Redemption, with all humanity, the world in all its many aspects, the entire Creation, reaching it’s highest potential.

Even though the previous paragraph risks the illusion of pretentiousness, this is only the case for those of us who have lost the dream, the vision of what our destiny is and what our potential for good in the world can be. However, to begin work towards that goal, we in Israel need to recognize that our change is not merely geographical. Even though the details have yet to be understood/revealed, our relationship with Torah and our participation in Mitzvot need to be re-calibrated towards this goal of Geula. While of course, not every Jew in Eretz Yisrael is “religious”, not to mention that not every person in Eretz Yisrael is Jewish, but the gradual self-destruction of radical assimilation is no longer a threat here, and combatting that is no longer the primary goal of our religious/spiritual lives as Jews.

Mitzvot are the only path we have to reach this goal, but, just as halacha has adapted throughout our history to respond to changes in our situations, the way we perform many mitzvot will no be the way we have in our most recent places of exile. Of course, this requires letting go of the past mode of fighting assimilation and the courage to discover/develop how we can perform our mitzvot, perhaps in entirely new ways, to power our journey from here to that reality that we’ve yet to experience. We also need the courage to believe that all of the talk of Redemption wasn’t merely placebos to help us endure and survive the millennia of pain and torture, but that they describe an actual reality and they promise us that we will achieve it.

While the array of minhagim (customs), nusachot (liturgies), niggunim (melodies), cuisines and more which make up the cultural fabric of our people add beauty and richness, if we are to move forward they must yield normative authority and power-of-obligation to make room for what is to come.

Here, of course, is another great challenge. Since we don’t know yet the forms Torat/Mitzvot/Minhag Eretz Yisrael will take, can we find the courage to let go of the security blankets of our past, successful as they were in their times and places to bring us, thriving and burgeoning with yet-to-be-formed energy and creativity, to our miraculous existence in sovereign Eretz Yisrael, before we’ve found something to to grasp hold of? While it’s true that the ladder that has brought us so far has, all too often and in too many cases, now turned into an anchor, stranding us here and blocking our striving to fulfill God’s ultimate goal for us, we only have faith, emunah, and trust, bitachon, that a truly bright, infinitely suffused with light future really is inevitably awaiting us? Without certainty that there will be “smooth sailing”, in fact with certainty that there will be difficult, unknown and terrifying challenges between our imperfect present and the promise of Olam M’Taken, Olam Shalem, a finally complete, rectified and perfect world, yet to even be empirically describable, must we, can we depend on the emergence of a new generation of leaders, scholars, teachers, visionaries to blaze the trail?

Although there are limitless lessons to learn from our past leaders, from Avraham Avinu, from Yitzchak and Ya’akov, from Moshe and Yehoshua, from out Prophets, Kings and Sages, from our prodigies and geonim (geniuses) and visionaries like Rambam, Ramban, Ramak, Ari,  Karo, Ramchal, Baal Shem Tov, Vilna Gaon, our Rebbes and Ravs, through Rav Kook, insightful and inspiring, but all in our collective pasts, pointing to the future but no longer here to lead us, perhaps even without a new leader, but, rather, following Rav Kook’s observation that we, Am Yisrael, The People of Israel in all our diversity, must rise to the challenge of bringing the ultimate Geuala not only to our people, but to the universe as a whole.

Can we rise to this challenge? Can we not?

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Timelessness Throughout Endless Change

Ani HaShem Lo Shaniti”  (I am God, I do not change) Malachi 3:6. Not only is God eternal, we don’t add to or detract from Him by our mitzvah observance or lack of it.

Nonetheless, each of us is called to perform all of the mitzvot available to us in any given time or place. However, we’re never told how, beyond merely fulfilling our obligations, any benefits (remember God does not benefit) that accrue.

Further, our abilities in relationship to mitzvot in general, and any specific mitvah changes over time. Our learning skills (including Hebrew language skills–not taken for granted in any generation of the Jewish People) hopefully increase through our lives, but there are times that illness and injury can actually diminish them. Certain mitzvot can only be done in Eretz Yisrael, some only outside of it. Some are almost an accident of birth (are we a Cohain, Levi, Yisrael?) Some are only appropriate during certain age spans (counting in a minyan or participating in Temple Service, others from the moment we’re first able to manage them (reciting the Sh’ma, for example).

In each case, our attitude in approaching each mitzvah is supposed to be fresh, enthusiastic, simple and selfless.

Do we try to improve our performance each opportunity? That certainly seems worthwhile. What happens when a radically lesser perf0rmance is the best we can do?

If you look back at my previous essay, Praying From The Floor, you’ll see that right now that there are occasions I can barely recite the Shema and the Amida at all. Just a very few months ago I had, for any years, added new readings to each of the three daily services (most recently–a new psalm from Tehillim and one of the Ramchal’s deep prayers/meditations before beginning the standard fare in the siddur). Today I feel fortunate indeed if I can read the absolute minimum accepted for each of the tefillot and there are many days when even that is beyond my endurance. And, at the same time, many of my recent prayer experiences have seemed vastly deeper, more intimate and superior to any I’ve experienced in the past.

I doubt if there is a definitive answer or accepted viewpoint for any of these questions. But they are compelling, at least for me, to consider.

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Praying From The Floor

Asher natan l’sechvi bina l’havchin beyn yom u’veyn laylaw……” Who grants the rooster the faculty to distinguish between light and darkness… I try to say these first lines of the daily prayers from the floor to which I’d just fallen. Balatot, standard Israeli floor tiles are hard rock. My tefillin went flying again and I search around me to see if they landed safely or will need yet another trip to Mea Shearim (the ultra-orthodox center of Jerusalem) for yet another expensive repair.

I try to stand, even though a previous fall a couple nights ago badly sprained my ankle….

I have my tefillin back on–this time I must have had the wits to cushion the box with my arms. I’m about to let go of my tzitzit, the eight-string fringe on each of the four corners of my tallit, prayer shawl… The world starts to slide again to my left fifteen minutes later as I shout the words, “Shema Yisrael Adonay Eloheinu Adonay Echad), hoping to resist darkness and gravity pulling me once again to the floor.

This time I succeed to remain upright and push forward with the last of my strength to the Amida, the central eighteen-prayer focus of our thrice-daily prayers. Still in a haze, I wonder what tomorrow will bring my way.

I don’t have a lot of patience with attempts to “sell” tefilla (prayer) and mitzvot, (fulfilling commandments) as being psychologically uplifting, energizing or otherwise as primarily designed to benefit me. Rather, I try to see them as the Talmud does in so many places as an obligation I have to God. While my experiences over the years are overwhelmingly positive and I do often enjoy a “spiritual boost”, that fact really detracts  and distracts from my actual goal, to “do my job”. Tefilla is an opportunity to take myself out of the spotlight and rather, let it illuminate God. In other words, I pray as part of my commitment to fulfill my thrice-daily obligation, as designed by our sages to optimize the world for its eventual repair and redemption. A little step every day….

Fulfilling a long-held dream to return to Israel, I finally settled in Jerusalem a few months ago. You’d think I’d be so energized I’d daven like James Brown, chanting, spinning, dancing  and jumping and howling. Sorry, that’s never been my style and I don’t expect it will ever, but right now all I’m asking is to sit quietly, read the words printed on the page, get to the end of the service in one piece. These teffilot don’t have to get me high, nor make me feel like God’s Best Buddy; they won’t assure me that I’ve done my part to “bring the Moshiach”.

But what I hope to feel is that I met my obligation, that I paid my debt, that I did my part.

When even that suddenly became such a desperate challenge, I began to realize just how important it really is.

Until a couple weeks ago I spent the last four months in a medical nightmare roller-coaster. Switching daily medicines from what was available in the US to what’s sold here in Israel, there was a total breakdown in the system. I was suddenly taking a type of insulin that rather than protect my circulation almost killed me. Totally disoriented, I’d find myself sleepwalking every night–this in an apartment I had just moved into. All too often, I’d fall on the hard floor (and even harder furniture and appliances). One night I slammed into a wall mirror which shattered and just barely missed slashing me. When I call this a nightmare, I’m minimizing the pain and the terror, the discouraged wonder if that was just “the new normal” as I’d passed some invisible age milestone.

Additionally, I was barely sleeping at night and could barely keep my eyes open in the morning when it was time to daven. All too often I’d doze only to awake on the floor. One would think/hope that these moments of total mitzvah involvement would bring some sort of invulnerability. They don’t.

As we sing in Hallel (Tehillim (Psalms) 115:17) “The dead cannot praise God, nor they who have fallen into irresistible sleep.”  It turned out that every night, as my massively improper dosage of insulin bleached every bit of glucose from my system, stripping me of energy and suspending me over the all-too-real threat of coma, the urgency with which I longed to pray, to praise The Creator, to deepen my relationship with The Infinite might well have been the operant life-saving mechanism.

As the old folk song goes, “You don’t miss the water ’till your well runs dry”. Having just moved (once again) to Israel, I didn’t expect to become so complacent so soon, expecting it as merely “my due”, to experience the intense closeness that is available here and so elusive in the diaspora, which come from merely giving voice to the eternal words of David HaMelech”.

You never know when and how your faith and commitment will be tested. And you never know if you passed.

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The Strongest, Most Dangerous Pharaoh

Perhaps the most enduring, certainly the cruelest and most evil False God we serve is ourself. I’m not referring to the trivial case of seeking full license to pursue our pleasures–a sober look from almost anyone self-doomed to indulgence quickly reveals the emptiness of that life. Rather, I’m talking about someone who makes himself his very own ultimate authority.

I recently read (I apologize that I can’t find the original citation, but if anyone is familiar with this, please let us all know in the comments section) that preceding the events in Sh’mot, including the ascension of a new Pharaoh who didn’t know Yosef and leading to Yisrael’s enslavement, was Yosef’s death and the death of his brothers, the first generation of leaders of the Jewish People. Not only were these people familiar with Yosef, the Tzaddik, Yosef the saintly, righteous man, a man who no matter how much secular power came into his hands always remembered that The Creator is, was and always will be our ultimate authority, they even more so lost the connection with Yaakov, whose relationship with God was even greater.

In the midst of a great famine, this nomad family, along with so many others, entered Egypt for relief. But, unlike all the others, acknowledging and following higher authority than merely themselves, they reached the top social positions in their new host country. They were given dominion over the lushest Egyptian district, Goshen (relate to Geshem materiality) and in contrast to neighboring refugee populations, lucky merely to be alive, they lived in luxury beyond the dreams of most Egyptians!

But with Yaakov’s, and then with Yosef’s deaths, the Jewish people all-too-quickly forgot their great message, that God, and not they (and certainly not the secular Egyptian authorities nor any other human agency) was in charge. We were no longer worthy of our elevated status since it was no longer based on a higher truth of our total dependence on The Creator, but, rather, on that most self-destructive illusion of our own  inherent superiority. Thus we rapidly fell to the very bottom of the social scale, abject slaves.

Whenever Man becomes the “measure of all things”, declares one of his own “Supreme Leader”, “Wisest Of All Men”, “The Perfect Human Being” “God Himself” and the like, unprecedented tyranny inevitably follows. Even when such a phenomenon starts off innocently and idealistically, it rapidly degenerates. It puts us at the very trailhead of the road to self-caused disaster.

Literally, not a day passes since I became a rabbi where the words of my rabbi/friend/mentor, Rabbi Daniel Goldberger z”l don’t reverberate in my head. When, in my mid-20’s I finally decided to become a rabbi, I made an appointment to see him. When I explained my plan, he looked me straight in eye and said, “Zeitlin, there is one thing I never allow myself, and that’s absolute certainty.” The moment we convince ourselves that we have complete knowledge of anything, we have left our humanity behind.

Not only on the global scale, but also much closer to home, whenever we usurp the mantle of God, we are immediately faced with challenges to which we know we will be inadequate. When we claim ultimate authority, we’re left breathless with the speed at which our knowledge retreated. This is the tragedy when one member tries to dominate the family.

The arrogance of one person or a very small group, usually self-appointed, to speak with full authority in proclaiming God’s way (all too often today in harkening back to a mythological past of “obedience”) always brings division, denominationalism and, inevitably, greater and greater distance from each individual to God. Each step towards making ourselves the final arbiter leaves us alone, isolated and increasingly less-effective.

We find that freedom this Pesach promises not merely by dethroning Pharaoh nor even by drowning him in the sea, but by bringing him, as well as his influence within each one of us, to the understanding that only God is the true Master of the Universe, relieving us of the responsibility we will always fail. It’s time to de-throne ourselves in favor of life itself.

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