Faith vs. Trust

Faith is to stand in relation with the creator, and know my sins require punishment. Trust is to stand beyond relation with the creator, and therefore have an unreckoned future of goodness.

Foolishness is not to know Him, wisdom is to relate to Him through intermediaries, and faith is to relate to Him directly through your self. Trust is the self deciding there is no self.

The fool thinks a video on the Internet cannot separate Him from G-d. The wise know it can. The faithful know they can repent. The trusting know they cannot be separate from Him again. They are repentance.

Faith is to accept an infinite G-d beyond my understanding runs the world. Trust is to so deeply associate with G-d as to know that what’s best from my perspective is what will happen.

Faith is the fire unstoppable; vinegar will burn, ice will burn. Trust is never arriving at the need for the fire unstoppable.

Faith is to pray for the miracle. Trust is to perform the miracle.

Faith is to know that sometimes, for my own good, G-d must cover His face. Trust is to know that this cannot happen.

Faith is to never lose sight of the light. Trust is to know one is as totally helpless at the dawn as at midnight.

Faith is to know that everything in the past was ultimately for the good. Trust is to know that everything in the future will be for the immediate good.

 

Faith is to believe with perfect faith that the redeemer will come, and to await it every day. Faith is that Moshiach is certain as sunrise. Faith is that, regarding your certainty at least, Moshiach has come.

But trust is to know with perfect trust that this morning the chickens will lay their eggs and the traffic will clear on I-75, whether Moshiach comes or not. Trust is that everything simply reveals the good of G-d. So why do we need Moshiach?

If a single individual knew that Moshiach, rather than the chickens or the traffic, was their own personal greatest good, and that individual trusted in G-d, Moshiach would already be here.

 

Faith is to know the Rebbe.

Trust is to be the Rebbe.

If Antiochus Was My Rebbe

If Antiochus was my Rebbe (and such a thing is thoroughly impossible) he’d tell me how beautiful Judaism is.

Antiochus looks at his men, at his enemies, at his deities, and sees a sublime order. Each of them is part of a story, which is another way of saying they each want something that they do not have. Once the harmful and contradictory desires and false wants are recognized through self-reflection, they may be swept aside, and ordered wants true to the essence of every being will remain. This is called purpose. This is called vitality. This is called perfection.

Some view the whole story, the victory of the Maccabees and the long-burning oil, as miracles performed by the will of an omnipotent G-d. To Antiochus, all such tales are inelegant to the point of cruelty. In a world where four must be the sum of two and two, what beauty, what joy lies in such arbitrary whims?

If Antiochus was my Rebbe (a nightmare) I might ask him why G-d created the universe. He would gently, with his large hands made for twisting Jewish necks, waggle a knurled and scolding finger. “Only a madman could ask such a question expecting an answer,” he’d say. He is not an atheist. He simply wishes to teach you that G-d has a place in the story.

Antiochus rejects the weakness of transcendence. He has no patience for uncertainty, for the illusion of unlimited personal freedom. Antiochus tells his Chassidim (?!) to embrace their limitations, the obvious ends to which they have been created and set aside from beasts. Antiochus preaches restraint, clarity of thought, the conquering of emotions, and the courage to face the truth of our own limitations.

Why should every question be permitted and every answer sought? Can a bird ask whether to fly? Can a fish question the water? Man is the being who sees how things fit together, who has the unique ability to recognize the patterns of the story and find the soul of a thing. The soul of man is made to discover souls. We are built for self-discovery. And our highest selves and deepest motivations, our loftiest aspirations and our unifying dreams—these are G-d.

This is our Creator, Antiochus would teach: Our deepest truth, highest pleasure, and most basic cause. This is what we can know; it is whom the human mind is meant to find. It is infinitely greater than inhuman specters looming beyond the edge of space or the beginning of time. Such large propositions are redolent with the stink of the unknowable, and the unknowable is tantamount to torture. A man who does not know his set place in the world, who does not recognize his G-d, will face the terror of freedom even in victory. A man who knows his place as inferior and subservient can be happy even with Antiochus’s boot on his throat. So dream not of free-floating deities who may choose any course of action. G-d the Creator is merely the largest, oldest, and greatest actor playing his role in a script. And to a human being, the story is truer than anything.

And what is Judaism, says Antiochus, beyond a beautiful story, perhaps even the most beautiful?

G-d is in His place, man in his. There is a Torah which serves the role of G-d’s wisdom, explaining like an instruction manual where everything goes. Then there are the commandments, which serve to bring out the potential of every body and every soul.

“What potential do the laws of purity and impurity help us actualize, Antiochus?” we might ask.

“Fool!” he would comment. “Do not suppose a human being is simple. We have many hidden needs and subtle accomplishments. Sometimes the thing a human being needs most is a ‘meaningless’ ritual, something unquestionable or unchangeable to tie a community together, to add stabilizing ballast to a life, to distinguish us from our heathen enemies. G-d was wise not to convey the reasons for these commandments. They make the most sense as ‘senseless’ decrees.”

So, he’s obsessed with oil.

It’s not that he happens to capture the temple’s oil supply. Things that just happen are an insult to the beauty of Antiochus’s Judaism. The temple oil is the goal of all his yearnings. It is his lowest place, the location where G-d must be revealed, precisely because it most opposes His Truth. The oil is carefully guarded from an impurity no one can see, use, or understand. Antiochus rescues it from this meaninglessness, from its lonely sacredness. He brings purity and impurity into the realm of understanding and into the fold of beauty. He renders the Temple meaningful and magnificent.

At his farbrengen, Antiochus teaches: Truth is what works, and what works is beautiful, and beauty is truth. Since there are many systems and paths that work, there are many truths. As long as they are all consistent with reason, as long as the stories make sense, there is no reason not to keep them. Do not wonder why this involves statues of Zeus or Dionysus. They are archetypes, metaphors, members of a pantheon that the Hebrew G-d may join. They weave together in their interlocking domains of authority, and in their net are caught the essential rhythms of the story. They are not unique deities, but facets of the story, signposts along the way.

Let the Judaeans join the Greeks, the Egyptians, and the Seleucids at the games, and let us learn from one another. What is sacred is not what separates us, but the pursuit of human perfection according to human reason that we share.

The only ugly thing in this whole plan is a Maccabee.

A Maccabee (Antiochus assures us with the confidence of a man who understands his enemy) wars against the very essence of Judaism. He has no respect for who is more powerful, who is greater, which story is more logical. A Maccabee does not consult the meaningful texts or the wise sages on whether he may pointlessly die for an illogical principle. These zealots do not seek their own perfection.

The Maccabees are like children throwing a tantrum, demanding they get their way without even understanding the necessity of what they reject.

The Maccabees, by their own choice, cannot fully define what they believe. They are for G-d as an individual, unique and unknowable, sacred and undefined. They have never heard of a single refined aesthetic principle. They do not sing in tune. They demand a knobbly, uneven Judaism, full of strange, hideous protuberances.

The Maccabees are the sort of people who, even possessing every excuse to use “impure” oil, even when lighting a false iron Menorah, even when they are already consigned to fulfilling the commandments in a compromised fashion, will wait for eight days to kindle the holy flames. They do not care that they are permitted to do less. They are not reasonable men. They cannot be convinced the Menorah is still wonderfully symbolic even with Greek oil.

The Maccabees, in their backward, exclusionary ways, in their condescension toward the stories that unite us all, and in their insistence that the ritual only means something if it means nothing, force Antiochus’s hand. The might of his armies cannot be turned aside; the conclusion is foreshadowed in the first moment of Matisyahu’s rashness.

I must, Antiochus tells his followers, eradicate them from the face of the earth.

It may not be pleasant.

But it is beautiful.

 

Originally posted on Hevria.

If God Had A Vegas Show

It’s hard to say what G-d would choose for His Vegas show. He has been known to favor the old and chintzy, faded feathers and flashing lights; pure and demented. He might paste on mutton chops and run a chapel made of plastic and marry elopers in Holy! MatriMOny! Some would even argue (and certainly they’d be right) that G-d works off the strip, where the lights fade away and the short buildings squat in shame against the mute emptiness of His dusty earth.

But I, for one, think G-d might throw in with the magicians.

Not just because I’ve been obsessed with magic videos of late and could watch Mac King’s rope trick ten times a day or repeatedly kick myself at the brashness of Juan Tamariz’s Three Clubs (he’s cheating, of course, but not in the way you expect). Not just because magic is a multi-dimensional art which puts every tool of physical and psychological deception and often thousands of hours of backbreaking practice into the most childish of endeavors, making an audience feel stupid, monk-like devotion and dozens of parts producing one simple effect that everyone already knows — the world is not explicable. Not just because, like religion, the answers to all the questions would both ruin and elevate the mystery, with both sides pulling at our hearts, the equal tension placing us in the stance of maturity.

No, G-d would have a magic show because His tricks aren’t tricks.

I don’t mean He does miracles. That is rather unimpressive, for G-d. G-d can’t cheat like Juan Tamariz because Juan Tamariz has all sorts of rules he can’t get around like mortality and logic and diminishing returns, death, taxes, gravity. G-d isn’t bound by any rules and so cannot cheat.

But I don’t mean He doesn’t do miracles. G-d follows the rules because he chooses to make them; he is locked up only because He chooses to be locked up; even Houdini could reasonably argue that the chains are solid and the shackles are real because the chains and shackles do not depend at every moment upon Houdini to cause them to exist. G-d putting on shackles would fool no one.

No, G-d’s stage show would be confined to a very small number of classic performances that are not performances, doing tricks that are not tricks. He would do them because He can do anything, but we would only understand them because He does not do anything but rather exactly what we expect. Better yet, the audience would only experience the trick to the extent they are certain they are not witnessing a trick; the more certain they are nothing is happening, the more they would know they were being entertained.

Are you watching closely?

Yankel stabs Hershel in a back alley (we can recreate in on stage with some dead-end backdrop work and low lighting) with a butterfly knife. Yankel is not compelled and chooses freely. Hershel is not compelled to be there; he chose freely as well. But Yankel cannot stab Hershel unless Hershel truly deserves it, and the moment was known to have happened since the beginning of time.

Did you catch it?

No?

Try again: Yankel stabs Hershel. This is inevitable; it has happened already, before either was born. It’s only because it is inevitable that they can choose it freely; Yankel cannot stab Hershel unless he has already done something to justly deserve it; Hershel cannot be stabbed by Yankel today unless he already was and always will be because it must happen.

Clearer?

Look, it only must happen because they choose it freely. If they could not choose freely, they would not exist; it’s their ability to choose that makes them interesting; that’s why G-d brings them on stage. It is only because they can freely choose that this inevitability arises, and it is only because it’s inevitable that they are able to choose it.

A magician never repeats the same trick twice, and if there is a G-d in Vegas (having happened in Vegas, would De stay there?) he never insults his audience with a second stabbing. Instead, he regales them with a classic, no assistants necessary.

For my next trick…

A box. Don’t saw it in half; didn’t you see Raiders? The box sits in the holy of holies, and, like most things that sit, indeed, most things that are, it takes up space. It has a measure; bring your tape, lay it down on the floor (don’t mind the rope around your waist; keep your eyes from wandering and you certainly won’t come out lightly toasted) next to the box. It has a measure, yes? Now look along the length of the tape and see the room has a measure. But pay attention to the space beyond the ark on either side and see that it is the entire length of the room. Somehow (this has been known to cause slight migraines), depending on where you’re looking, the ark takes up space and does not take up space, simultaneously.

Some wag says, “That’s mighty impressive, G-d, but Penn & Teller down at the Rio (who don’t believe in You, by the way) perform miracles every night. They shoot bullets into each others’ mouths; the quiet one cuts a plant by cutting its shadow and instills a rubber ball with a playful intelligence. What’s another miracle in Vegas?”

You missed it, you see. It’s not a miracle. If it were a miracle, it could happen. If it weren’t a miracle, it could happen. So this doesn’t happen.

What doesn’t? Well, a miracle doesn’t happen, because the only object that can possibly take up no space in the Holy of Holies is indeed the holy Ark. No other box would do it. They simply are not the right conditions for this event. They would take the ark out to war, and you never hear about any strange measuring problems there. No, it’s what happens when you take this specific item made to a particular measure in a certain way — in short, you take the actual, real, ark of the covenant — and place it in a room built to specifications, right in the center (which you must measure to find) that all of a sudden something strange happens. It can’t be a miracle; you just measured this to make sure it was the correct length for it to be considered “the ark in the holy of holies.” And only because it is made to that precise design it no longer seems to exist at all.

The other way? It can’t be natural, of course. It doesn’t take up space! Of course a miracle is taking place. But if a miracle is taking place, that in fact proves that the ark of the correct measure has been placed in the correct position; this is the most certain way of knowing it was made to specifications! You can imagine the building inspector being invited up to the stage with his clipboard, wiping his glasses, circling the holy of holies, making sure everything is up to specification. He measures to either side of the ark, sees that it takes up no space, and declares, “Ah, it must take up exactly the correct amount of space!”

And so, you have witnessed, here in the theater, tonight, neither a miracle nor the absence of one, a non-trick trick, something strange proving something normal and vice versa, and you are not quite sure if your tastes are refined enough to even be certain you have witnessed anything at all. It is almost as if that same niggling sense you’ve had since childhood that nothing must be the way it is, that there is no reason for anything to be this way, has been justified all along, but you find all it proves is that everything is precisely as it must be.

When they get that at the Rio, let me know.

One more?

For this time of year?

The king favors Esther, and Haman is hung from his own gallows.

The victory does not involve G-d. The Jews had the right people in place at the right time to fend off disaster. The victory only involves G-d; Haman’s rise to power is a direct effect of the Jews valuing the princes of men over the divine, and his destruction represents their choice of G-d over the world.

It is precisely because G-d is not involved, because His name is not printed in the megillah, that He saved the Jewish people at all; Esther chose to fast for three days in an act of faith before appearing before the king at her least radiant, and it was this real and natural danger that proved the key to our salvation. But it is precisely because G-d is involved that the salvations happened at all; Esther finds favor in the King’s eyes because it is so written; it has been written since before the earliest emanation, that Haman will fail and the Jews will succeed, and that is what allows for nature to take its course.

The miraculous salvation occurs because it is not miraculous.

The chosen people are chosen because there never really was a choice in the first place.

The curtains fall.

Tomorrow, you will not succeed in accurately describing the show you saw; or is it the show you didn’t see? You’ll only be able to say that it was G-d, on his own terms, and He wasn’t wearing a Prince Albert frock and a bow tie.

Go; it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen, and strangely like everything you’ve ever seen, and your applause both is and is not appreciated.

 

Originally posted on Hevria.