Cheshbon Nefesh–A Spiritual Accounting

Once we step into Purim, a few days from now, I’ll feel pulled into a whirlpool with Pesach arriving before I know it.  Yesterday, Shabbat Zachor, was a good day to reflect, to recalibrate goals and to examine strategies.  It’s necessary, and can be painful, to take an honest look at motivations, as well as to clarify, lest I fool myself and others and divert us from our journeys.

The goal of our Jewish tradition has always been to bring both the individual, עולם קטן, Olam Katan (miniaturized universe/microcosm) and the universal, אדם גדול, Adam Gadol (living universe/macrocosm), simultaneously, to a state of  as complete perfection and merging as possible for finite beings with the Infinite, with God.  As our world evolves, the Torah continuously self-updates to realistically guide us through each phase and how to bring ourselves and our world into alignment as we move closer and closer to the ultimate resolution.

Examining and sometimes challenging what has been is a delicate responsibility.  If the idea is merely to advance my own agenda, ego or power, my obligation is clear–to keep my mouth shut.  But when I see that some old paths are now counter-productive, that some new paths are necessary as ways to engage ourselves in the world as it is, I need to speak up.  I also need to speak with honest humility, with the realization that I could be 100% wrong, but with the honest intention of trying to be at least mostly correct.

When I complain about much of the observant world getting lost in the trivialities of ever stricter interpretations, I’m not challenging the logical/halachic process that can generate these ideas.  Rather, I worry that the larger goal, bringing ourselves, our fellows and the world into a state of devekut, merging with The One, is inadvertently  pushed aside.

When I call for innovations such as engaging and empowering women within the orthodox context, I’m not trying to win a popularity contest or to pander to various political agendas, nor to provocatively indulge in being some kind of enfant terrible.  Rather, it appears clear to me that in order to move forward, in order to fulfill  not only the empirical/halachic requirements, but also spiritual/mystical ones, we need to elevate the feminine to co-equality.

When I talk about shaking things up, letting go of last years’ lessons, I don’t intend to say that our former insights were wrong.  Merely that they, like our coming year’s, will be incomplete.  It’s the sense of feeling complete and complacent with what we’ve done that needs to be shattered.  The progress and insights we’ve reached, rather than final conclusions, need to be transformed into foundations upon which we’ll build in the future.

I don’t advocate lowering standards, but calibrating, as they have always been calibrated and re-calibrated, to be most effective.  We live in a world where most Jews are no longer consciously engaged in our endeavor.  I don’t think that marketing or patronizing will re-engage them any more than attempts at coercion will.  The Torah has always spoken in the language of man–of contemporary man in each age.  We need to rephrase, perhaps, as well as to inspire with our own actions, to make our tradition attractive for its self.  We need to lift up and inspire rather than dumb down, to lead from the front rather than, as is somehow reaching a sort of “respectability” “leading” from the rear.

In a discussing with a new friend about the idea of “peace of mind”, I was reminded of something Rabbi Twerski zt”l said, probably more than once.  “There is plenty of time for peace of mind once we reach one-hundred-and-twenty.”  I also remember, daily, what Rabbi Daniel Goldberger, z”l, told me when I first decided to become a rabbi (almost fifteen years before I fulfilled that goal).  “Zeitlin,” he said to me, looking me in the eye, “the one luxury I’ve never afforded myself is 100% certainty”.  I don’t claim to be right all, or even much of the time.  However, I do strive to approach doing and teaching the right things, those things which bring us closer to our goal.

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