The Jewish Courage

First the truth, then the lie.

The act of truth is the act of love, since it’s only in the truth that we share the same space. When people think of obsessive pursuit of truth, however,  they think of a certain coldness, an eggheaded intentional forsaking of the human for something austere and impersonal. But these cold folk are not in truth the truthseekers, and those that mock them do not love.

The eggheads don’t seek the truth because the “dispassionate” pursuit of truth is an effort in gnosticism, a search to assimilate the underlying causes and bring them to heel. The cold pursuit of the truth had the universe right where we ant it, to to speak. Have you ever wondered about  the strange paradox of the Pale Blue Dot? Man, (we are told) before he pursued the truth, thought that the earth was the center of the universe, but now knows that we are just a pale blue dot in a vast and indifferent multiverse and humans are accidents of chemistry. The paradox: We don’t seem to be getting more humble as this truth sinks in. On the contrary, as we have lost our metaphysical centrality we have become more and more the center of our own attention. It is almost as if those who know better and better the nature of our cosmic irrelevance insist more and more that all secrets lie bare before them. It is this sort of lecturing that earns scientists the same veneration/distrust we give politicians. It seems to many that the scientists are willing to make concessions on nature as long as they can still aspire to knowledge of it. Man is a strutting ape, but the apes in lab coats can still know stuff; that’s the rule. No, the eggheaded cold pursuit of the truth starts with the egghead making rules for what’s allowed so he always remains in control, and ends when something really shocking happens.

None of which is to excuse the egghead mockers, the spiritualists with big hearts. At least the eggheads seek some outside reality; the lover without truth is caught up in a completely unilateral motion, a sentimental turning to the objects of imaginations rather than the external world. They have their own paradox, which we might call the paradox of universal compassion. Once upon a time (we are told), the world was a crueller place, for everyone loved only those like them, separated from everyone else by race, sex, etc. Then we came to realize that those separations are lies, that the universe is one and we are part of nature and only our preconceptions hold us back, and we are now free to love everyone so much as we rid ourselves of these illusions. The paradox: Many who aim to love everyone become caught up in their own compassion and righteousness, surrounded in a glowing holy haze that obscures those who may actually need help. On the other hand, many who cared first for their family, then for their nation, then for the world often ended up doing selfless things. It is almost as if the abandonment of all structure in humanity allows one to cling only to a single blunt emotion lacking opposable thumbs, unable to latch onto others but shining alone like a furious but stranded star. Love without truth begins with the decision which way our hearts must turn and ends when someone truly shocking (in either direction) comes along.

Truth and love need each other. This we have known since the earliest of days, when Moses and Aaron led the people together, with unified purpose. But ultimately, the Torah tells us how the brothers were separated, sinned alone, ascended to heaven at different times, were mourned differently. In the book of the Torah, love and truth were not overtly one. This is expected; there was no room for lies in the Torah of truth, and lies are the place where love meets truth.

Lie: G-d has forsaken us.

Hard to pull that one off in the clouds of glory eating manna every day. Easier when the temple is defiled by an idol of Zeus or Jews eat mud and poverty in the shtetl. Those were hard facts that easily supported the theory that G-d forgot his people. They were times of darkness.

And so the Maccabees came with their rallying cry against the Greek oppression and the Baal Shem Tov proposed, on his wanderings disguised as a simple man, that perhaps Judaism is more about Jews than it is about rules or knowledge. They were similar acts of love. The former could no longer bear to see the Jewish god dragged through the dirt and abandoned, and their response was not to argue verbally. The latter fought against a staid way of things which said knowledge — the truth — was all-important. The Baal Shem Tov was excommunicated and the acts of Matisyahu and sons were only approved by Rabbinic authority retroactively and with controversy.

These were seeds planted in the dark, in exile, to fight the lie. But revolutions for the people tend to turn sour; it is hard to fight the lie without becoming it, at least in part.

And the revolutions seemed to abandon their original formulations. The Maccabees’ story of rebellion has become caught up with the menorah, the religious miracle. holiness. The Baal Shem Tov’s simple idea got entangled in kabbalistic esotericism.

These revolutions, too, became adulterated, amalgams, admixtures of love and truth, people and principle, passion and limitation, spear and steady light, hear and histalshelus. Nothing was gained over Moses and Aaron.

Except…

These were born in the dark.

In the light, Moses is what he appears to be, and so is Aaron, and we must pick between love and truth, between heart and head. In the dark, nothing is as it seems, and we do not know which lies are true when each pebble and screw cries out, “I created myself, there is no G-d over me,” a bold claim that none in the Sinai would make since there G-d was so miraculously present. On the other hand, a claim that only G-d can speak truthfully. And so in the times of Moses and Aaron the truth was clear but G-d’s words could not sound.

In the dark of exile, however, when our knowledge of G-d is weak and our hearts are tempted to stray, the words He wishes to speak (“I am! I am!”) sound in the mouths of each creature. In exile, it is the lies that tell the truth, and “I am” is the united love/truth that we hear in the dark.

The purpose of chassidic esotericism, the study of the supernal worlds, is to establish a common realm with the creator; “Meet me in those halls, my beloved.” The lie of cold chassidic truth conveys His desire to be with us; his desire to be with us expresses as objective truths; at the place where we grasp his “I am,” love is truth and truth is love and neither is the ultimate but to reach Him we need them, all of them. This the Baal Shem Tov told the arrogant learned men: G-d dwells beyond your understanding. This the Baal Shem Tov told the kabbalists: G-d dwells beyond even this.

The Maccabees fought for freedom but this freedom was to find the cruze of oil and light the flames that burned but did not consume, an unnecessary miracle (they could have made oil!). The truth said they did not need a miracle; G-d’s love and their love demanded the veil of nature be removed; they were both lies, for burning without consumption is both a miracle and nature, neither, true burning but true persistence, like the ark taking up space because it did not take up space because it did take up space, a causal loop, because He is the truth and can be found in lies. This the Maccabees told the Greeks: Our G-d is beyond your minds. This the Maccabees told the Rabbis: Our G-d is beyond even this.

This is the Jewish courage. It is not choosing the cause over my personal needs, it is not choosing what is right over what is easy, it is not choosing the miracle over nature. It is choosing G-d over the cause, doing the wrong thing for G-d rather than the right thing for our image of Him, it is realizing that neither miracle nor nature, neither love nor truth, can claim him.

No, the Jewish courage, the same bravery that compelled Abraham to sacrifice his son and thus G-d’s future on earth, is not our stand against the scoffers, nor our faith in the selflessness of G-d or man. Our courage is the leap into the unknown, the millenia-long letting-go, the decision to never settle for a lie, to push for the “I am.”

The Jewish courage, the courage that let them sing “Ani Maamin,” is the dedication to nothing except Him, nothing except our truest selves, the courage to not be if it means being without Him and to be if nothingness cannot contain him.

I could be wrong, because it’s not about me (I try to remember), but —

Our courage is to accept only G-d as an answer.

 

Originally posted on Hevria.