Objective Reality Is For Meeting G-d

“Facts don’t care about your feelings,” some Jews say. I do wonder, though. If facts don’t care about your feelings, why is Rosh Hashana called the “day of the beginning of your action”?

In many other words: Once upon a time, centuries ago, few would have recognized a real facts/feelings distinction, if “facts” mean shared objective reality in the world and “feelings” refer to the private subjective experience of each conscious being. Like other forms of innocence, the unity between the person and the world (through mind) was considered close and true. When I thought well about furniture, the form of the wood and the form of my mind were the very same thing; if they weren’t, I was simply imagining, or my senses were faulty, or I was somehow otherwise malfunctioning. There was no notion of thinking ideas. I was not considered to think of the idea of furniture, but about the furniture itself. There was no idea of a table, produced in my mind and separate from the world, intervening between the facts and my soul.

More recently, men such as John Locke introduced the idea of the idea, and with it, the fact/feeling distinction. The facts may be one way, but my thinking about the facts could be different. Everyone has their own point of view, since everyone conjures their own ideas even about objective, shared reality. As modernity progresses, the mind is found to be ever-more limited by the imperfect body, to be vulnerable to deception and influence on the most basic of levels. At some point, some of us even began to suspect the mind is just a part of the body, anyway.

Nowadays, fans of truth are stuck between a rock and a soft place. The rock is the near-impossibility of returning to our ancient innocence. The challenge is to recapture our confidence in our own understanding, to reverse modern skepticism and believe once more that our minds grasp reality directly. We would need to return to a conception of the world being partially made of mind itself, to reconcile ourselves to an actually intelligible universe (our narrative role as evolved apes on a spinning rock notwithstanding). Perhaps most painful to the modern mind, we would have to undo our sunny skeptical pluralism and commit ourselves to pursuing the single, correct, capital-T Truth, to the exclusion of the many mistaken notions of those who cannot see it. We must forfeit the individual’s freedom to navigate around the truth, for the sake of finding any truth at all.

In contrast is the soft place, the attempt to maintain the fact/feeling shared/private objective/subjective distinctions without falling into relativism and ultimately the annihilation of all meaning. To do this, we must arbitrarily assign some fact/feeling amalgam the status of pure fact, and pretend it is solid ground, when in fact the entire edifice of our reason is built on quicksand.

Take, for example, those who wish to draw the line at science and empiricism, to say these are fact while all else is feeling. The problem is that there is no such statement of fact, not even “the sky is blue,” which is truly devoid of faith-based justification from the realm of “feelings.” Who is seeing the sky in this scenario, and with what tools? How do these tools bring about the subjective experience of this “fact” such that we should believe it to be true? If ultimately we do experience this fact privately, why is the “fact” that the sky is blue really different from the hypothetical “fact” that it’s purple?

Further discourse upon wavelengths or photons just add more such questions, the theory demanding even further justification in subjective experience; throwing more “facts” at the situation does not negate the interpretive frame that allows those facts to exist. All this is before we even get to the question of how we can define the sky as a thing, how we can share our observations with others, how we are so sure these facts “work” at a pragmatic level when we cannot even explain how we know the facts themselves, etc.

Given the rock of reversing five hundred years of history and the soft place of arbitrarily declaring certain feelings to be fact, most people simply don’t think (too hard) about these questions and generally live their lives as if the truth doesn’t matter.

They ignore Rosh Hashana, a day with a solution.

On the 1st of Tishrei, man is created. It is the sixth day, but it’s called the beginning of his work. The previous five days of creation certainly occur; G-d knows of them, and records them in His Torah. But when is it solidified into “action,” work, actuality, objective external reality as we (want to) know it? Only when Adam’s subjective and solitudinous soul is blown into his nostrils.

In other words, there were no facts until there were feelings.

Before creating man, there was no need for objective reality. Man, once created, is a creature full of feeling, an imperfect fact finder, commanded in G-d’s own Torah to assess even narrow legal truths under only the strictest limited conditions. The Torah’s standards for judges are exceptional. The average man on the street is not able to assess the objective truth of things even enough to provide a ruling, never mind to delve their depths.

But if G-d is a subjective being without objective action until Rosh Hashana, and human beings have been subjective since Rosh Hashana, then why is there an objective reality at all?

It can only be to bring subjectivities together.

Facts are not, contra the ancient view, an absolute standard inexorably governing existence. Facts are not, contra modernity, an illusion, nor are they feelings-based propositions chosen for arbitrary promotion. Facts are a place for subjectivities to touch, for man and G-d, and man and man, to find each other.

There is not direct joining of two private souls, which would necessitate becoming only one self. One self is what G-d had before He created the universe, after all. What He seeks from the world is an opportunity to find Himself in other selves. To do this, we must perceive ourselves as separate, and arrive at each other through some sort of external communication. Every detail of His work is tailored toward this end. He creates facts.

Every year on Rosh Hashana, we spend two days trying to awaken ourselves to this reality, that all we perceive as real is merely divine communication, the Creator seeking us out. On Rosh Hashana, we crown G-d king, which is another way of saying, “The world is not here for itself, and we are not here for it. The world is here for us and G-d to rendezvous.”

We choose, on the day when all truth was created from the one truth that we are meant to be together, to become his subjective subjects once more. This year, nothing will stop us. This year, we will find Him, fact and feeling, in Jerusalem, rebuilt.

 

Originally posted on Hevria.

Stuck Inside of Elul with the Tishrei Blues Again

Here we are again.

We made it. Congratulations. Last year’s Rosh Hashana can’t have been a total disaster.

Now what?

Look, I know you’re busy, and honestly, one more discussion about how profoundly meaningful it all is and I’d be spitting nails myself.

“Meaning” is overrated, seven pale splintering letters holding up the levy, preventing the flood of the world from obliterating the way of G-d and summing up what makes “having” “Him” “in” your “life” so special after all.

Might as well admit it – “Meaning” just means that the room has a sunlight, that the stupid system (all systems, including intelligence itself, are stupid) is not the end but only the beginning of a reality, a metaphor, a symbol, shadows on the cave wall.

So yes, Elul is “meaningful,” it’s not just a month but the time that we blah blah blah.

Elul is nice. it makes us happy, productive, it’s healthy and helpful and really good for getting where we’re going and doing deep things along the way with the people we love and even with our Creator. There are scales, a king, a judge, memory, music, honey, apples, joy, a field, guilt, a desert, sin. It hurts but in a good way, and we’re definitely going to change.

Okay?

Okay.

I know, I cling to my cynicism as a crutch because I’m really afraid of the bright light of God’s salvation. I don’t change because I don’t believe I can change, which I can change, by believing I can change. I’m being overly dramatic or not dramatic enough. I’m whirling in epistemological circles. I need to just get over it. I need to farbreng. I need to study. I need to daven. There are solutions.

The problem is too much I; it’s too little I. It’s not enough learning. It’s too much learning. It’s idealism, it’s pragmatism. I need to spend more time outside; I need to stop thinking I need to. The answer is street performance or street violence or street sweeping. Real men are busy making money. This is not how a business runs. Get it together. It’s insulting not to have it together. It’s insulting to have it together. Read my book. Five simple steps to fixing everything. Acquire something, lose something, follow the steps, fit the form.

I know.

I’ll figure it all out in the morning, with a structure, with a calculus. I’ll cobble something together at the last minute, find the cruse of sincerity in some un-excavated corner, make some dumb resolutions, keep half of one.

It will be drenched in meaning. Meaning will suffuse it like a fine chai. It will be so soaked in meaning I’ll need to use three Clean & Clear cloths.

It’s probably part of the plan, one of those dastardly Jewish plots to crash the stock market or end apartheid or circumcise the lizard people.

For weeks they trot out all the lectures and the books and the explanations and the alcohol and the heartfelt sincerity, intentionally trying to goad and annoy us.

So what? So what?

The only relief from all the meaning, from the too-familiar face, is G-d, arbitrary, non-existent, the chooser.

He wants it all for no reason at all; he wants it for what it is; it means nothing.

Either clean up your pathetic act and do the damn Mitzvos, Tzvi, or don’t. If you choose the former, you just have Him. If you choose the latter, you have nothing.

There are no stories about Him, there are no words that capture Him, nothing compares in individual or species.

How do you even know it’s Him you’ve met?

You’re just going to have to trust Him.

If He is indescribable, what’s so good about Him?

Answer the question before you show up here.

We find Him either in the brute manipulation of stuff into the correct configurations, or not at all.

If the correct configurations correspond to forms emanated both necessarily and willfully in a mode of infinitely detailed inter-inclusion as a web of meaning that captures all of the creation and neatly dices each being and all of their properties into a perfectly balanced framework whose very shapes convey the Truth unknowable and permeate reality with unlimited purpose, okay.

Whatever.

It’s only because He wanted it that way for no reason.

Or didn’t.

It means nothing.

Just do the damn Mitzvos.

 

Originally posted on Hevria.

Ten Ways To Stay Sane This Rosh Hashana

The high holidays are a stressful time for everyone. They demand a lot of thought and preparation, mental and physical. For some, the holidays mean spending time with family, which is annoying. For others, they involve not spending time with family, which is worse. A lot of people have tons of cooking and cleaning to do, a whole bunch of other people do a lot of learning, praying, and soul searching, and some suckers even do both.

It would be quite understandable, even expected, if this all generates a wee bit of tension, a little bit of aggravation, a tiny smidgen of anger. And this tiny smidgen, this smidgen’l of stress, might G-d-forbid totally ruin the perfect saint-like serenity of your yearly communion with the almighty. Then your Rosh Hashana will be like the plate of apple slices on the first night when everyone is still excited about honey. It will be a sticky, soggy, mess.

Thankfully, the way of Judaism, the tradition of our ancestors, like a rock in turbulent waters, can guide us through this special yet trying time of year. If we follow these ten straightforward steps (alternatively: realize these ten simple truths), we can easily transform our New Year from a time of tension to one of transcendence and clarity.

1. Remember That G-d Loves You Unconditionally, You Beautiful Soul

No one can deny, given the history of the Jewish people, that our G-d loves us unconditionally. Even in situations where we were sinners, G-d has brought us close and kept us from harm. This is even deeper according to the Chassidic understanding, which explains that G-d loves us so much that even in His infinitude, beyond all confines of logic, where all is equally nothing before His great light, He still chooses to love the Jewish people.

So when you’re standing there on Rosh Hashana and you’re wondering whether your relationship with the Almighty is severed, whether you can even approach Him from the depths of your strayings, you must know — you will be G-d’s chosen child forever, and no matter what you do, He will never cast you out. He needs you too much.

2. There Are No Free Passes, You Moron

It is certainly true that it is distasteful to approach Rosh Hashana as someone whose good relationship with G-d is assured. This is like someone who violates a good friendship, by, say, telling everyone about your My Little Pony bedsheets, and then comes over to drink juice boxes as if nothing has changed. You would be shocked at their lack of shame, dignity, honesty, loyalty, integrity, kindness, mercy, and things worth talking about other than your bed sheets.

So, too, is your relationship with G-d dependent on your actions! Don’t think you can just flounce in for shofar blowing, impatient to return to your daily debauchery, and pick your fingernails while everything is forgiven “because G-d needs you too much to throw you out.” This is self-centered, egotistical, and ridiculous. You are wilfully toying with the Creator. This will not end well for you. How about trying to actually change your relationship with your soul, and mending your broken life? Everything is not okay.

3. Rosh Hashana Is A Time Of Joy, Holy Brothers And Sisters

We know with utter veracity that anything worth doing, is worth doing with joy. It accomplishes nothing to approach the Days of Awe with a heavy heart and a mournful demeanor. We are going to meet the King; it’s time to celebrate! Think, as you put on your Yom Tov best, how you are preparing for an audience in the most opulent and powerful of kingly courts, where you will be welcomed back with open arms. “We’ve missed you since last year,” the attending angels will say. “Do come in and sample the special Rosh Hashana prayers, the lemon meringues of spirituality!”

“Don’t mind if I do,” you’ll say, as you close your eyes and look heavenward with the utmost spiritual bliss and fervor and thank G-d for having created you Jewish so that you might bask in His greatness this Rosh Hashana.

4. Rosh Hashana Is Actually Pretty Serious, You Damn Hippie

It is the unquestionable fact that if you spend the whole Rosh Hashana focused on your own ecstasy, you will have missed the entire point of the holiday. Joy and passion is nice and all, but isn’t your joy and passion for things other than your G-dly responsibility what got you mixed up in all the wrong things this year? Maybe, if you want a year with more lasting blessings than some heavenly desserts, if you want to actually bring the world more into alignment with G-d’s vision, you’ll stop publically writhing with pleasure and instead set your back to the enormous work that Rosh Hashana demands.

“Perhaps I will create you again this year,” G-d says, as you sweat bullets and try to remember why the All-Powerful-Deprived-Of-Privations-Master-Creator thought to make you in the first place.

Stop with the self-centered joy, and get to work.

5. You Don’t Have To Stick To The Hebrew Machzor, My Dear Fellow Traveller

The Torah of unassailable truth tells us that G-d wants the heart. The holiest days of the year were never meant to be spent reading words you don’t understand at a breakneck pace. What does this accomplish? How are you to fix or change anything when you are forced to parrot words that mean nothing to you?

Don’t feel afraid to read the English translations of the prayers, or even to take some time to address the almighty in your own words. This is the only path to truly appreciating what the holiday is all about.

6. Your Personal Prayers Are Stupid, You Egotistical Hack

It is irrefutable that Rosh Hashana is far too important to leave up to your own feelings, understanding, and even (Lord help us) words. Sure, the rest of the year you need to feel, you need to connect to the essential nature of the day and the holiness of what’s taking place all around you. You have to bring it down to your level and yadda yadda yadda. But on the first day of the year, when your fate is decided, you don’t want to rely on what you think is right. You want to rely on the absolute, the words Jews have used for generations, the words that speak not for your conscious understanding but for the yearnings of your soul known not even to you.

Get out of yourself. Say the traditional words, and be happy about it.

7. Enjoy The Songs Of Our People, My Tiny Dancer

It is obvious to anyone that the songs and niggunim of Rosh Hashana are designed to move even a heart made of stone. These are the songs that we know even though we’re not sure where we learned them, the ones that seem to be hardwired into our circuitry, because we’re Jewish. They act as a key to the depths of feeling, even for those of us whose service of G-d is cold all year long. If you have trouble connecting to the teachings or the spoken prayers of Rosh Hashana, try enjoying the liturgical music and the songs sung together, which lift us from the mundane and set us on a spiritual footing.

8. This Isn’t Lollapalooza With Rams’ Horns, You Walking Desecration

It is beyond doubt that if personal prayer is bad, then personal songs are worse. Where one is an outpouring of how you feel, the other is usually an outpouring of how someone else feels, someone who did not have the power of prophecy and based his song off of an advertising jingle he heard in his village one midsummer’s morning after a night of drunken carousing. This is not the way you want to go. You think you’re connecting to G-d, but you may just be connecting to Ellie Goulding, or whatever. This is not a day about you enjoying yourself — that’s every other day of the year. This is a day where you explain to G-d why even though you spend most of your time enjoying yourself, he should spend his time allowing you to do so in good health. Stop singing and show some respect.

9. Remember – The Judge Is Also Our Father, Bro

The one utterly incontrovertible truth about our relationship with G-d is that He is our father. To paraphrase and shorten a famous Chassidic tale, we don’t need to worry about our court date, because the Judge is also our father, and he’ll give us a good judgement. There is absolutely no reason to stress about the coming year; G-d will give us a year of peace, prosperity, health, wealth, and jellybeans, because he loves us. After all, no amount of bad behavior will ever make us not Jewish, or make G-d take Rosh Hashana away. These things are permanent, always existed, always will, and there is nothing we can do about it, thankfully. The whole “Days of Awe” thing is, in a certain sense, just a dance with G-d, a stepping through the motions.

10. Remember – Our Father Is Also The Judge; ask Robert Downey Jr.

The evident reality of Rosh Hashana, called the Day of Judgement, is that we’re held to an objective standard. The person who is your father cannot always be expected to relate to you in a personal manner; what kind of cruel justice is nepotism, and what honor is there in succeeding because of connections? It is a sad relationship that needs all objectivity to be put aside for a personal love. So if you’re feeling a little complacent, remember — the Torah is true, its standards are real, and the whole Rosh Hashana thing is not just a charade.

 

And that wraps up my advice for a stress-free, straightforward Rosh Hashana executed according to the Jewish way. If none of the above advice works, just try the opposite. You’ll figure it out. 😉

Wishing you and yours a sweet New Year! May the holy days be ever in your favor.

 

Image depicting a total lack of stress, from Flickr.

 

 

Originally posted on Hevria.