“To recognize your capacity to affect life is to know yourself most intimately and deeply, to recognize your real value and power, independent of any role that you may have been given to play or expertise you may have acquired.” Rachel Naomi Remen
“To recognize your capacity to affect life is to know yourself most intimately and deeply, to recognize your real value and power, independent of any role that you may have been given to play or expertise you may have acquired.” Rachel Naomi Remen
Why ask this question? Does it even matter? I’m asking the question because I’m going to attempt to answer it. I’m also asking it because I have heard “God hates divorce” more times than I can count at this point, and I think that there is some confusion around divorce because of this statement–or rather the interpretation of this statement. Also, this statement has perpetuated long-term suffering upon people in terrible and often abusive marriages, and I would like to explore the meaning behind it.
So, God hates divorce. Really? I’m not a big fan of divorce myself. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who, upon hearing that a couple is divorcing, says, “Oh, you go get that divorce. I love divorce!” Where does the idea of God hating divorce even come from anyway? It originated in the Tanakh (Old Testament) in the book of Malachi:
“For I hate divorce!” says the Lord.
Why? What is the context of this statement? When you read strong, declarative statements like this in any text, it is vital to attempt to understand what it means in the historical setting, to whom the statement is being directed, and the purpose of it. So, what is going on here?
The prophet Malachi is speaking to the Levitical priests (the Levites) of Israel in this chapter. He begins his prophetic speech by reminding them of the covenant that God made with them. To do this, he tells them who they are and how God sees them:
“Listen, you priests—this command is for you…The purpose of my covenant with the Levites was to bring life and peace, and that is what I gave them. This required reverence from them, and they greatly revered me and stood in awe of my name. 6 They passed on to the people the truth of the instructions they received from me. They did not lie or cheat; they walked with me, living good and righteous lives, and they turned many from lives of sin…The words of a priest’s lips should preserve knowledge of God, and people should go to him for instruction, for the priest is the messenger of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” (Malachi 2: 1-7)
That seems clear enough and easy to understand. What went wrong with the Levites?
“But you priests have left God’s paths. Your instructions have caused many to stumble into sin. You have corrupted the covenant I made with the Levites,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. 9 “So I have made you despised and humiliated in the eyes of all the people. For you have not obeyed me but have shown favoritism in the way you carry out my instructions.” (Malachi 2: 8-9)
Ah yes, corruption. This is not a new story. We hear about corruption all the time. How does divorce enter the narrative?
“Here is another thing you do. You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, weeping and groaning because he pays no attention to your offerings and doesn’t accept them with pleasure. 14 You cry out, “Why doesn’t the Lord accept my worship?” I’ll tell you why! Because the Lord witnessed the vows you and your wife made when you were young. But you have been unfaithful to her, though she remained your faithful partner, the wife of your marriage vows. Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard your heart; remain loyal to the wife of your youth.” (Malachi 2: 13-15)
For clarification, the priests in Israel were one of the tribes of Israel–descendants of the Israelite tribe of Levi who was the third son of Jacob and Leah. This tribe had certain temple and political duties, and today in Orthodox Judaism those Jews descended from the Levites still hold certain responsibilities in synagogues. It might seem confusing, however, to read the term ‘priest’ because of the religious affiliation with celibacy in other religious practices such as Catholicism. That is not the case in Judaism. Priests married and had children.
What does Malachi go on to say to the priests?
“For I hate divorce!”says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “So guard your heart; do not be unfaithful to your wife.” (Malachi 2:16)
In this context, God hates divorce because it is cruel. Malachi ends his prophetic rant with this:
“You have wearied the Lord with your words.
“How have we wearied him?” you ask.
You have wearied him by saying that all who do evil are good in the Lord’s sight, and he is pleased with them. You have wearied him by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” (Malachi 2: 17)
He ends this on a note concerning justice. God does not hate divorce because divorce is by nature a detestable thing. It isn’t some abomination. If it were, then it would not have been historically permitted among the Israelites, and we know that divorce was a permissible social action. What God hated, in this context, was the cruelty and injustice behind the priests’ actions towards their wives.
What does this mean then for our present discussion and understanding?
The reason that divorce exists as an option is to prevent further injustice and cruelty. My interpretation of the statement “God hates divorce!” by means of the transitive property is that God hates cruelty: “For I hate divorce!”says the Lord, the God of Israel. “To divorce your wife is to overwhelm her with cruelty.” If divorce will prevent further cruelty and injustice, then divorce is a perfectly viable path to take. It is in no way wrong, and God does not hate divorce for the sake of hating divorce as so many people have come to believe. To maintain that view is essentially cherry-picking. It is to pick one sentence out of an entire chapter of the Old Testament that provides the meaning for the statement.
This entire passage is actually a strong correction regarding keeping your word and getting your act together particularly with your partners and families. They got married, so act like it. They made promises, so keep them. Treat their partners as they said they would. Stop acting like assholes at home, serving at temple and asking God to come through for them while, at the same time, wondering why he’s not. Have some integrity for God’s sake! Literally! And this applies to both men and women today.
So, if I could reframe this in the positive, then what would it be? Love justice and kindness in your relationships. Be an integrated person in private and public. Keep your promises. Value compassion. Never take your partners for granted.
Why? How you behave in private with those closest to you influences how you will behave in the public spheres. The more integrated you are in your life, the more integrated your character will become, and this matters because as we get older pressures increase. There are more responsibilities. Valuing people, justice, goodness, and compassion enable us to grow, stand up to pressure, and maintain our integrity. When we live double lives, we eventually fail in both our private and public lives. There are a plethora of reasons to avoid this.
So, does God hate divorce in and of itself? No. Does God hate divorce if it is used as a mechanism to promote cruelty and injustice? Yes.
Divorce. No one loves it, but it’s an option if you need it. And, that’s how it’s always been. Even in 2nd century BCE when Malachi was prophesying to Israel.
I went out to lunch yesterday with three of my daughters (I have four). We went to our favorite Asian restaurant which happens to be just a few blocks from my house. How many people live within walking distance from one of their favorite restaurants? I can get just about anything I want made vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free. It is a dream come true for the dietarily restricted diner. Plus, it’s a family owned business which means that one gets to know the proprietors after a bit. It’s like walking onto the set of Cheers–everyone knows your name.
Our family has witnessed their family’s births, deaths, and marriages. I did not, however, know anything about a divorce in the family. One of the women who more visibly runs the restaurant (and whom I just adore) divorced two years ago. I had no idea. That’s when I separated from my ex-husband, too. A few months ago, I emerged from my chrysalis of recovery and decided to go back to my favorite spot. Karen was there, of course, with a ready proclamation: “I haven’t seen you in forever! How are you? How are the girls?” We hugged. She seated me. I didn’t say much. As is her way, she would subtly insinuate herself next to me to refill my water glass and ask, “Really, how are you? What’s going on?” I quietly answered, “I’m getting a divorce. It’s been a rough year.” She paused and looked at me. “I’m getting a divorce, too.” Our eyes met. I thought I might cry. She looked like she might cry. “Okay, okay, we’ll talk later,” she said.
It was the mutual recognition of familiar suffering that evoked that response, I think.
Back to yesterday…
There was a moment when business slowed, and Karen talked to me. She asked how my current life looked. How is post-married life? How are the girls? She fears that she will be alone forever, and she’s not sure how she feels about it. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Why is it so hard to meet quality people? How does one go about building a better life when you never expected to be in this position?
I talked to my boyfriend about this last night. I shared with him all the questions Karen had. Those were my questions as well when I was still married, and I suspect that questions of that nature are what keep people stuck. The Great Unknown is scarier than what is known. No one wants to be alone. So, they choose the lesser of the two perceived evils–staying in something dysfunctional, abusive, or just plain wrong for them vs. entering into something potentially better but completely foreign.
He responded, “Yeah, we all have criteria defining what we want. We might want someone with tempered wisdom and humor, but do we actually think about the life experiences and effort one has to endure and take to acquire those characteristics? We have to actually put in the work in our lives and character to become the people we ourselves would want to partner with.”
He is right. To attract the people and circumstances that you most desire, you have to become that which you want. If you want a patient partner, then you yourself must become patient. If you want a good humored partner, then you yourself must become good humored. If you want a tolerant partner who doesn’t criticize others, then you yourself must become that kind of person. Why is this true? Well, a patient, tolerant person will not find a critical, impatient, intolerant person attractive nor want to partner with them. So, if we desire positive attributes in a potential partner or friend but lack those very qualities in ourselves and lives, then how likely are we to actually get what we want? This is why that cliché “Become the change you want” works. There is truth within it.
There is nothing easy about any of this. Change is hard. Our bodies are not wired for change. Our bodies are wired for homeostasis. We are designed to maintain the status quo whatever that is, but, in my experience, you cannot achieve a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment without changing. Change is required.
Okay, okay, you might say, but how do you start? What if too much has to change? What if you are generally unhappy, lonely, sick, and confused? It’s one thing to say that you need to change, but what does that look like in real life?
I’ll leave abuse out of this discussion, but I will make this comment. If you are being abused, then make that your priority. You absolutely must leave any circumstance or relationship that is abusive. People who abuse are not likely to stop. Abusive people most often tend to have feelings of entitlement and feel as if they have a right to their behaviors. There is no cure for entitlement and rarely is it curbed in a therapeutic setting. It is symptomatic of much larger personality and character issues (Entitlement and Domestic Abuse).
Abuse aside, how can you begin to get traction in life and make real changes that stick? Here is an example from my life.
One small change at a time sticks far better than many changes made too quickly. Two years ago, I realized that I was consuming far too much sugar daily simply due to putting sugar in my coffee. It might sound ridiculous, but you don’t know how much coffee I drink. The caffeine aside, I had to deal with the sugar first. So, on January 1, 2015 I decided to develop a taste for coffee with no sugar. By mid-2015, I could drink my coffee sans sugar. I am very sensitive to bitter tastes which is why it took me so long to grow accustomed to coffee with no sweetener. I overcompensated for the lack of sugar, however, with half-and-half, but I could drink any coffee without sugar. In fact, I could no longer drink any kind of fancy coffee drink. They were all too sweet for my new palate although I still required some kind of milk be it coconut, almond, soy, or dairy.
At the beginning of 2016, I decided to learn to like coffee black. Blech. Alas, this was the change I was committed to making. By the end of 2016 I was drinking my coffee black. The unexpected side effect of cutting out sugar and milk? I lost 14 pounds in two years. Just from removing sugar and half-and-half from my coffee! Isn’t that somewhat alarming?
The reason I could sustain these changes were:
Once you witness a positive result from making a change, you will want to apply yourself to making another positive change. You begin to see that your efforts produce results. I started with diet and my social life, and my changes were small and manageable. Seeing positive results builds momentum and courage which is what enables you to start thinking bigger. This principle is exactly how you continue to keep making changes and also how you stay the course that you’ve set.
Now? My life is completely different, and it all started with very small, manageable changes that didn’t really seem that applicable to the bigger problems I had at the time. Cutting out sugar from my coffee in no way seemed to relate to my bad marriage, but it had a direct impact on my ability to view myself as effective in my life. Why?
As funny as it sounds, I had two friends that always teased me for putting heaps of sugar in my coffee. When I showed up for a coffee date and put no sugar in my coffee, one of them said, “Oh my gosh, hell has frozen over. You didn’t put sugar in your coffee! What has happened to you?” I was experiencing change.
We all have something idiosyncratic that others recognize as uniquely “us”. If we stop doing it, then something really has changed in our lives. It’s most likely little, and it may not be that beneficial. Maybe you smoke. Maybe you’re a social drinker. Maybe you emotionally eat. Maybe you watch too much TV or rely too heavily on retail therapy. Maybe you’re ill-tempered and angry too often, or perhaps you’re judgmental or not so secretly bigoted. No one is perfect. We all have areas in need of development. Pick one thing, reframe it, and decide that you will change it.
In my case, I didn’t say, “I will stop putting sugar in my coffee.” That would have put my focus on the sugar. I simply said, “I will learn to like coffee without a sweet taste.” In this way, my focus was on the coffee. So, for example, if you struggle with becoming angry too quickly, then you would not say, “I want to stop becoming angry so quickly.” That statement puts your focus on anger. You would say, “I will develop a more calm and serene character even under pressure.”
Why change the language? Well, people who are angry, for example, do not have “anger problems”. They have no problem feeling anger. They have no problem expressing anger. They do, however, have a lower capacity for peace, self-control, and calm. So, their focus should be on the latter rather than the former. I didn’t have a “sugar problem”. I had no problem consuming sugar. I had a poorly developed palate and sensitivity to bitter tastes. I needed to increase my capacity for consuming and enjoying bitter tastes, and I did. I now no longer enjoy milk chocolate as much as I did and even prefer very dark chocolate. I used to hate dark chocolate. Isn’t that funny?
Small, manageable changes and a change in focus.
That’s how you set your foot on the path of meaningful change.
“We live very close together. So, our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” H.H. The XIVth Dalai Lama
I think it’s not an easy idea to define oneself in relation to others. Before the Enlightenment, humans defined themselves in relation to God. After the Enlightenment, humans began defining themselves in relation to themselves and, thusly, began the fascinating rise of individualism. Don’t get me wrong. I grew up in the West, and I am highly influenced by individualism. I like it. Defining myself in relation to the idea of a collective or group feels quite foreign to me even as a Jew. I would probably get into trouble in that sort of environment as I have a tendency, as a contrarian, to do the opposite of what is asked of me in the midst of group activities. Public school in Texas was hell.
I don’t think that this is what the Dalai Lama is communicating. In fact, I experienced exactly what he is sharing here last night.
I am in grad school, and I missed classes last week due to an anaphylactic reaction that caused all sorts of delightful drama. Falling behind in any kind of medical school is nightmarish, and I have been studying for hours daily since last week in what feels like a feeble attempt to catch up because six tests are on the menu this week. It’s exhausting, and I go to sleep nightly dreaming of anatomy and wake up dreaming of anatomy….“The innervation of the coracobrachialis is…the axillary nerve runs through the deltoids…The supraspinatus stabilizes the head of the humerus…”
In the midst of all this fun we had a typical Midwestern summer thunderstorm complete with hail and straight line winds. Trees were downed. Property was destroyed. Internet was lost. I thought we were lucky to have experienced almost none of this until I was leaving the house very early yesterday morning and saw, upon gazing in my rearview mirror, what looked like half my tree lying in the front yard.
How did I not see that when I went outside, you ask? I lack a good explanation. I was lost in thought, or I blame the prednisone. Clearly, I was not mindful or present or anything else that I claim to practice. In any case, that massive limb came down in the night and was partially lying in my neighbor’s yard, and I couldn’t take care of it at that moment. I was already taking six tests in my head and spectacularly failing them all at once. Test anxiety was hunting me like the wraiths from Lord of the Rings.
I took two tests yesterday and returned home at 9 PM. I was exhausted. Oh yeah, half my tree. Lying in my yard. Only someone had chopped it up, and it was now entirely in my yard. When I went inside, my daughters bombarded me with the tale of The Tree Limb Gone Wrong. My neighbors had been less than kind about that limb, and three of my daughters went outside to try to move it entirely into our yard. They ended up sawing it into pieces while one of the neighbors stood outside passively looking on. It was no one’s fault that a storm caused a branch to fall. It was no one’s fault that I couldn’t move it exactly when they wanted it moved. Passive aggressively putting pressure on my daughters to do it when I’m not there because they don’t want to wait until the evening?
What is the neighborly thing to do?
There is a lot I could say about the situation, but, in the end, I think that there is something more important that my daughters learned and I was reminded of. This behavior is standard for most people. The majority of people are not concerned with their neighbors or anyone near them, and most people match energies with others. In other words, if someone is nice to them, then they might return a casual nicety. If someone is unkind or inconsiderate, then they will return the same energy with a negative attitude and write that person off. This is standard human behavior.
What I told my daughters last night (and not in that pedantic sort of way) was that how they behave in life or towards us should have no impact on how we choose to show up in our small sphere of influence or in our lives. If they choose not to be neighborly, then perhaps they are the impoverished ones in the scenarios. We can feel frustrated by interacting with that kind of energy because it’s negative, but how we show up in the world is still entirely our choice (and, yes, that sort of sucks). That is what the Dalai Lama is saying. Jesus said it, too. He illustrated it in the extreme with the story of the Good Samaritan. He also said, “Love your neighbor.” Confucius said, “Virtue is not left to stand alone. He who practices it will have neighbors.”
The idea of treating others in line with how you want to be treated, or don’t doing to others what you would not want done to you, is ancient. The ancient Zoroastrian text, the Shast-na-shayast from 600 BC says, “Whatever is disagreeable to yourself, do not do unto to others.” The ancient Hindu text, the Hitopadesa, written c. 3200 BC, says, “One should always treat others as they themselves wish to be treated.” According to the Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 45, the Muslim Book of Virtue, “None of you has faith until he loves for his brother or his neighbor what he loves for himself.” This is a universal concept. Within this concept then is the idea that one does not return unkindness for unkindness. We do not match energies with another person who is aiming something negative or unkind toward us because we ourselves would not want someone to do that to us. When we have a “selfish moment”, and we will, what would we want?
When I’m thoughtless, I hope for forgiveness and compassion. I hope that someone might believe the best about me. If that’s what I want, then that’s what I need to offer to my neighbors. The question arising then is: Who is my neighbor? Whoever is standing next to you at any given moment.
Should their behavior dictate how I show up in the world or the kind of person I choose to be? Well, no.
Is that hard? Yes. I am in no way describing an easy path, but there is such a deficiency of kindness in our world today. Nothing will change if I don’t change. Nothing will improve if I don’t set about to improve myself and my responses. Goodness will not grow if I don’t make compassion a priority. Protests don’t change the world. Compassion does. This, too, seems to be a universal concept.
“Genuine human friendship is on the basis of human affection, irrespective
of your position. Therefore, the more you show concern about the welfare
and rights of others, the more you are a genuine friend. The more you remain
open and sincere, then ultimately more benefits will come to you. If you forget
or do not bother about others, then eventually you will lose your own benefit.” H.H. The XIVth Dalai Lama
“When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Matthew 14
“Love of all creatures is also love of God, for whoever loves the One (God) loves all the works that He has made. When one loves God, it is impossible not to love His creatures. The opposite is also true. If one hates the creatures, it is impossible to love God Who created them.” Maharal of Prague, Nesivos Olam, Ahavas haRe’i, 1
“What sort of religion can it be without compassion? You need to show compassion to all living beings. Compassion is the root of all religious faiths.” Basavanna, Vacana 247
“Verily, God is compassionate and is fond of compassion, and He gives to the compassionate what He does not give to harsh.” The Prophet Muhammad
I learned something new this week. Well, I should say that I relearned something old, and it resonated as if it were new. It’s worth sharing.
There is a phenomenon that almost everyone seems to experience, at some point, after surviving something bad that I’ll call the I Should Have Known phenomenon. This phenomenon isn’t isolated to certain types of events. It can be generalized. When you listen to people verbally process a negative event that has left them in the wake of negative consequences and pain, you may hear them utter, “I should have known…”
You might hear someone say this in a shocked state after a car accident: “I should have known. I noticed the driver swerving a few miles back,” and, from what I have observed and personally experienced, many people often agree! Someone might query “Well, why didn’t you stay behind that suspicious driver on the road?” And, what do you say? “I don’t know. I just should have known.”
The I Should Have Known phenomenon is so common that it’s almost mundane in cases of sexual abuse and domestic violence. If you’re not the one saying it, then someone else usually is via some form of, “How did you not know?”
What do all these statements have in common? The omniscience of hindsight. I have a saying that I often use with myself: “We are all gods when we look back through hindsight vision.” This is why people often say, “If I could go back in time to one moment, I’d choose X moment and tell myself not to make that choice. My life would be so different now.” Why do we say that? We say this because we know the outcomes of past scenarios–the outcomes that our past selves never could. We know now that our past selves never could have known what was going to happen to them, and there is pain in that. Why?
Why does not knowing the negative outcomes of past events hurt so badly in the present?
I have a theory, and I’m sure it’s not new. Based in my own personal experiences with this phenomenon, I suspect that it has to do with blame and control. Let me illustrate this.
I’ve established that I was abducted when I was much younger. It’s one of those crazy stories that people struggle to believe. It’s a Law & Order: SVU kind of story with many twists and turns. I rarely discuss it. There have been times in my life when I’ve wondered if it was worthwhile to survive it, and I know that I’m not the only one who has experienced this. Surviving was the easy part. Healing from it and learning to live with what happened have been the hard part. One of my bigger enemies in my journey to heal from this event has been my sense of personal complicity. For years, I couldn’t discuss what happened to me in any detail because I believed that I was at fault. I honestly believed that I should have known that the perpetrator who took me was ill-intentioned and evil. Had I known, I could have avoided him. Had I known, I could have protected myself better. Had I known, I could have…I could have…I could have…
But, I didn’t know.
Why didn’t I know?
Overlay this thought process onto my domestic abuse situation.
Had I known that my ex-husband wasn’t ever going to keep his promises and change, then I would not have stayed. Had I known that it was only going to escalate, then I could have protected myself and my children. Had I known that I didn’t have all the information for twenty years, then I could have made different choices. Had I known…
But, I didn’t know.
Currently, I am doing the deep dive into that past abduction experience in therapy, and, wouldn’t you know, one of the first things to arise was, “I should have known.” Feelings of complicity are extremely common. I know that, and yet I enter into it. I feel it. I admit it. Why?
My theory? If I were at fault or to blame in that event, then I can now presently figure out what I did wrong, correct it in the present, and guarantee that nothing so heinous ever happens to me again. I can experience a measure of control. If I’m the “bad” one in the tragic scenario, then the world is a predictable place. I’m the one who needs fixing. This is one of the primary reasons children believe that they are bad and blame themselves when they are abused. If you had to choose between an unpredictable world full of chaos and uncertainty with no true guarantee that anyone would look after you or love you or a reality in which you deserved your abuse, then which reality would be more acceptable? The scenario in which you deserve the abuse.
If you are inherently bad, worthy of mistreatment or hatred, or just plain stupid, then you’ve got a shot at fixing that, thusly, giving you a sense of control and hope. If you are not bad, deserving of hatred, or unintelligent in any way, then what can you control in terms of outside events? That is the magic question, isn’t it? Because that question is so hard to answer and uncertainty is so hard to deal with, it’s easier to blame oneself and other people for suffering and misfortune. Surely, that person did something to deserve or cause their predicament. I mean, if they did nothing and still got annihilated by life, then what does that say about you or me? Could something equally terrible happen to you, me, or someone we love?
Yes, it could. There are no guarantees, and that is an impossible thought for many people; hence, they blame, wag their fingers, and proclaim judgmentally, “You should have known.” That one sentence is the quickest way to distance themselves from unpredictable suffering and pain. This very belief is what fuels stigma and hatred. It is one of the many reasons people are alienated, marginalized, and mistreated. The victim of suffering becomes the symbol for that which is feared the most, and the quickest way to resolve and quench that fear is to blame the victim for their own suffering.
Well, I can honestly say that there is no way you could have known then what you know now. I have gone over and over seemingly millions of times every detail that led up to my abduction, and the only conclusion that remains is this:
There was no way I could have possibly known that I was living next door to a villain.
Whatever you wonder about in your life be it a past experience, a failed relationship, past abuse, a situation gone terribly wrong, or anything else, I suggest now that there is no way that you could have or should have known what was going to happen. Were that the case, then you wouldn’t be wondering now how you didn’t. The time has come to accept that we did not know and do not know how events will unfold, but we can know ourselves. We can know our own hearts and minds. We can stop engaging blame once and for all, and we can begin to learn how to live with uncertainty in a way that doesn’t make us anxious or fearful. We can get on with the business of building out a life that makes us happy as well as making the world a better place even when we don’t know how anything will work out.
I’ll let Rabbi Sacks close:
“For each of us there are milestones on our spiritual journey that change the direction of our life and set us on a new path. For me one such moment came when I was a rabbinical student at Jews’ College and thus had the privilege of studying with one of the great rabbinic scholars of our time, Rabbi Dr Nachum Rabinovitch.
He was, and is, a giant: one the most profound Maimonidean scholars of the modern age, equally at home with virtually every secular discipline as with the entire rabbinic literature, and one of the boldest and independent of poskim, as his several published volumes of Responsa show. He also showed what it was to have spiritual and intellectual courage, and that in our time has proved, sadly, all too rare.
The occasion was not special. He was merely giving us one of his regular divrei Torah. The week was parshat Noach. But the Midrash he quoted to us was extraordinary. In fact it is quite hard to find. It appears in the book known as Buber’s Tanhuma, published in 1885 by Martin Buber’s grandfather Shlomo from ancient manuscripts. It is a very early text – some say as early as the fifth century – and it has some overlap with an ancient Midrash of which we no longer have the full text known as Midrash Yelamdenu.
The text is in two parts, and it is a commentary on God’s words to Noah: “ Then God said to Noah, ‘Come out of the ark’” (Gen. 8:16). On this the Midrash says: “Noah said to himself, Since I only entered the ark with permission (from God), shall I leave without permission? The Holy One blessed be He said, to him: Are you looking for permission? In that case I give you permission, as it says, ‘Then God said to Noah, Come out of the ark.’”
The Midrash then adds: “Said Rabbi Judah bar Ilai, If I had been there I would have smashed down [the doors of] the ark and taken myself out of it.”
The moral Rabbi Rabinovitch drew – indeed the only one possible – was that when it comes to rebuilding a shattered world, you do not wait for permission. God gives us permission. He expects us to go on ahead.”
You have to be prepared to be lonely, at best misunderstood, at worst vilified and defamed. As Einstein said, “If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare me a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German, and Germany will declare that I am a Jew.” To be a pioneer – as Jews know from our history – you have to be prepared to spend a long time in the wilderness…Faith is not certainty, but the courage to live with uncertainty. (The Courage to Live with Uncertainty)
I just came across this article this morning–Neuroscientists and the Dalai Lama Swap Insights on Meditation. This is a fascinating article on the neuroscience behind meditation and mindfulness. You do not need to practice Buddhism to benefit from reading this. This is a worthwhile read simply because it lets you step into the science behind how your brain functions when you practice focusing…and when you don’t. Why do we suffer from the whims and follies of our reckless “neurowanderings”? Can we do something about it? Well, yes, it seems that we can. Okay, but can we do something about it short of joining a Buddhist monastery? Read on.
Any article that I post on my blog will be “archived” under the Enrichment section of my blog for easy access.
I’ve written a lot about mindfulness. I would love to introduce you to an artist who has created some beautiful mandalas. His art might enhance your own mindfulness practice and environment, too!
You can find him and his gorgeous art at Mandela Effect Art.