I live in a state of constant dissatisfaction. No matter what I achieve, I want more. I know I can go further because others before me have.
I’m not talking about money or recognition or even fingerboard dexterity on my guitar, although more of all of these things would be, superficially at least, nice, I guess (well, certainly improved guitar dexterity would be welcome). Rather, I’m talking as a God-seeking Jew.
Perhaps it’s growing up in an era of media-launched gurus of all stripes. It could also be an outcome of the obsession for complete and instant gratification on every level. Perhaps as a result of horrific oppression and the mistaken thought that by keeping a low profile we might, as a people, escape any future return of holocaust-like experiences, leading to “white-bread” Jewish communities across the denominational spectrum. Or it could be that we all took too much LSD in our youths and developed a stupid idea that drug-induced hallucinations are equivalent to spiritual ecstasy. Perhaps we’ve all been seduced to accept that self-satisfaction and a good pat-on-the-back is a true peak experience. But, whatever the reason or combination of reasons, it’s almost impossible to find rabbis and rebbes who will lead the way towards ever-greater and deeper devekut, attachment, with The Infinite. Perhaps those few who actually know the way have been, for the most part, discouraged with our general apathy when presented the “instruction manual”.
Certainly in America, and to a large degree in Israel as well, the theme of Judaism has degenerated to “don’t rock the boat”. Millennia of galut, exile among mostly hostile people, trained us to keep our heads down, to not call attention to ourselves as Jews and, most of all, never ever do anything to incur the wrath of the nations. Israel, a sovereign nation, fears applying sovereignty and civil law on almost half its landmass, it so fears annoying the western powers by offending the waqf and allowing Jews (and Christians too, I might add) to pray on the holiest spot on earth. Most modern orthodox synagogues I’ve visited in the US look like meetings of corporate executives and lawyers (an identity which is, perhaps, more important to many than their identity as Jews), and they, along with the other denominations offer continuous reruns of Judaism 101 and old-favorite singalongs, fearful of challenging anyone to rise above themselves.
I know there are a few leaders and teachers out there who really do instill a desire as well as provide guidance on navigating our path of Torah and Mitzvot to move higher and higher; many years ago I had the privilege of knowing one. But they are rarer than fine gold (and probably always were).
I started studying the Rebbe RaShab (Sholom Dovber Schneersohn 1860-1920, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe) and finally find someone who explicitly talks about the passion of our relationship with God as well as the passion with which we must seek Him. He describes a hyper-real consciousness which accompanies and defines our ultimate devekut. He doesn’t discuss fund-raising, the relationship of Lubavitch with other Chassidic groups or with other branches of Judaism. Allowing for no distractions or “issues”, he is single-focused on God and how we each can form our strongest bond with Him. Period.
Since his death in 1982, I’ve searched far and wide for someone to take up the voice of Rabbi Shloime Twerski zt”l who first showed me that our goal should be no lower than God Himself. Of course community building, the day-to-day needs of our families and ourselves, our relationship with the larger world Jewish community are all very important, but, on the one hand, I’m convinced that if we are able to achieve this Oneness, this devekut with The Creator those other needs will fall nicely into place. And, on the other hand, without this as our goal, what value at all do those other issues have?
Our tradition tells us we can fly to the greatest heights and it gives us the blueprint, our Holy Torah, to show us how. We can bring the world and everyone and everything we share it with to its highest state of perfection. There is literally no limit to what we can achieve. But we need to know that God expects our utmost, not just our barely-acceptable. And we need, ourselves, to also expect our utmost. We need, deserve and are obligated to create a modality of real passion, an inner and outer flame. Playing games and merely giving lip-service, substituting our own eg0-gratification in place of Divine Wisdom, becomes shameful in contrast.
Passion is one kind of love – and we should feel that kind of love for God. But there are quiet times in love too, tender moments, everyday moments. To feel dissatisfaction, if it is allowed to flourish, eats away at love, and it eats away at our love for ourselves. I think that the hardest task of all is not to love God, but to love ourselves in a healthy way – that is to say, not narcissistically, but with splendor and victory — or humility and perseverance — the attributes of Netzach and Hod. I think that we so often get caught up in the dance of Chesed and Gevurah, seeking Tiferet, but we don’t really know how to approach the concepts of Hod and Netzach. These are the legs that carry us everyday and yet we give them short shrift. The splendor of humility and the glory of perseverance. These are very difficult concepts to hold in balance. When is my ego getting in the way, when do I need my ego to move forward. And these are the sephirot that, quite literally, “ground us.”
I feel your dissatisfaction. Why did I wait so long to listen to the call? Why do I hesitate to step forward with big galumphing strides. There are time I feel that surfeit of passion that burns with desire. But I feel other aspects of love as well — and perhaps I should acknowledge nuances of “being” in love — the tender vulnerability, the laughing camaraderie, the guilt of failing to be my best self, even the shame of feeling unworthy — to arrive at the deep poignancy – a fullness of gratitude in coming home.
We have many teachers in this world. Some who impart a world to us in one fierce blazing moment. Others walk with us for much longer and teach us with kindness and patience.
Both kinds of love are needed to perfect this world.
May you feel refilled and renewed this Shabbos.
Perhaps when we say that Shabbat is 1/60th of Olam HaBa we also say that the rest of the week doesn’t yet have that taste. To my ear, what you talk about describes Shabbat. At this point, though, we’re still stumbling our way towards devekut, and it takes passion and momentum to run this gauntlet. But, as we, hopefully, approach God’s One-ness, we ourselves are transforming to a more energetic/less material state, thus better equipped to continue the climb.
Yes! I do think that — I like to think that we open up the spigots on Shabbat that we cannot run at full during the week, for a variety of reasons —