האיש שהודיע לאלוהים שהוא עומד לפטר אותו (הארץ, 27.11.15)

הפחד להיות ישראל
יאיר כספי

את שמנו קיבלנו כשלא היינו מנומסים. לא שמרנו על המצוות אלא התמודדנו עמן. ולפעמים נאבקנו במי שכופה עלינו אותן. יעקב נהיה ישראל לא בעקבות שמירה קפדנית על כבוד האל, אלא להפך, כשהיה מוכן להתמודד עם שליחו ולתבוע את ברכתו:
"ויותר יעקב לבדו ויאבק איש עמו עד עלות השחר. וירא כי לא יכל לו ויגע בכף ירכו ותקע כף ירך יעקב בהאבקו עמו. ויאמר שלחני כי עלה השחר ויאמר לא אשלחך כי אם ברכתני. ויאמר אליו מה שמך ויאמר יעקב. ויאמר לא יעקב יאמר עוד שמך כי אם ישראל כי שרית עם אלהים ועם אנשים ותוכל" (בראשית לב, כה-כט).
המפגש פנים אל פנים עם האמת גדול לפעמים מיכולת ההכלה האנושית. מי שמעז, או נאלץ לפגוש את מייעד האדם, עשוי לצאת מן הפגישה עם טראומה ארוכת שנים. יעקב המתגושש לילה ארוך עם עליונים יוצא מן המפגש עם שם וזהות חדשים: "ויקרא יעקב שם המקום פניאל כי ראיתי אלהים פנים אל פנים ותנצל נפשי" (שם, לא). ישראל סוחב רגל מהמפגש המזעזע עם האל: "והוא צלע על ירכו" (שם, לב). ישראל סגולת האל הוא גם נכה צבאות השם.
האנשים שפחדו להיות ישראל המירו אותו בדתי זהיר שהקטין את אלוהיו. בובת חרסינה שצריך לשמור מאחורי ויטרינה מפני מגע אנושי שאולי לא תשרוד בו. האפשרות להתעמת עם אלוהים, אינה עולה על הדעת הדתית כבר הרבה מאד שנים. שומרי אלוהים קטן חרדים שאם לא יהיו מאד מנומסים כלפיו, אלוהיהם לא יתקיים. מקפידים להודות לו ללא הפסקה, כאילו היה ילד דחוי הזקוק לאישורים בלתי פוסקים. ישראל הלך לאיבוד. נותר יהודי מנומס מאד. בורח ממגע. מרצה את אלוהיו ומגונן עליו.
האנשים שהיו צריכים לשווק אלוהים דרך ניפוח רחמיו ונדיבותו, הוציאו את "אל נורא עלילה" מתוך דמותו. הפחד לעמוד מול האקראיות הבלתי נסבלת של אסונות העולם, ידיעת הניסיונות שאדם לא יכול לעמוד בהם, והעדר האל מזיכרון הרגעים הפוסט טראומטיים, שבהם נזקקנו לו ביותר, הביאו לעיקור דמותו האל מחלקיו הנחווים על ידינו כ"רעים". את אליהו הנביא, איש האמת חסרת הפשרות, עשו באגדה למין צדיק כפרי המחזיר הביתה ילדים שאבדו. אלוהיו של ישעיהו הנביא, "יוצר אור, ובורא חושך, עושה שלום ובורא רע, אני ה' עושה כל אלה" (ישעיהו מה, ז) הומר בתפילה בייצור יותר מזמין: "יוצר אור ובורא חושך, עושה שלום ובורא את הכול" (קריאת שמע של שחרית).
בגלות הארוכה נמשך תהליך ההקטנה. בסופה זכה אלוהים במיתוג חדש: משגיח כשרות. גבאי של בית כנסת ובלן מקוואות. סידור נוח יותר מן האל המקראי שאוסר את השוחד אפילו למען תמיכות ממשלתיות לתלמידי ישיבות. שומריו נזהרים מאד מפני מפגש שלא דרך שולחן ערוך עמו שבו עשוי להתברר, למשל, שמצוותיו כוללות להוציא היום, בכל עסקה, חשבוניות.
לימודי הגמרא, מספרים לי עמיתים המלמדים אותה בחינוך הדתי לאומי, שנואים על התלמידים. אולי משום שאסור בהם לבטא את תרעומת הלומדים על דברי תנאים ואמוראים, ואסור להשמיע צעקה לאלוהים. אלו שהפסיקו להתגושש עם המלאך, קוראים את סיפור התנ"ך דרך שכבות כל כך מרובות של פרשנים מאד מנומסים, עד שהסיפור אובד בין הדפים. פרשת השבוע נעשתה לפינה משעממת המיועדת לדתיים הקוראים אותה כי הם חייבים.
לשעה אחת, בתחילת דרכה של התנועה הציונית, חזרנו להיות ישראל, לאחר הרבה שנים. יורשי האבות המקראיים היו מוכנים שוב להתגושש עם מלאכים, ולהודיע לשולחם שאי אפשר להמשיך לקיים את הקשר אתו בזמן ששוחטים אותנו:
"אם יש צדק – יופע מייד!
אך אם-אחרי השמדי מתחת רקיע הצדק יופיע –
ימוגר-נא כסאו לעד" (ח.נ.ביאליק, "על השחיטה").
לאיש המתריע בפני אלוהים שהוא עומד לפטר אותו, היה אלוהים. הישראלים שביאליק קיווה בשבילם שיהיו "הַשּׁוֹמְרִים הַנֶּאֱמָנִים לְצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּעוֹלָם" (יהי חלקי עמכם) עברו מן העולם. את החלוצים, פרשני התורה החופשיים, החליפו אלו התובעים מחוק את ההבדל בין אזרח עולם וישראל. מצד אחד הם מעקשים לעמוד על שונותם ומקדשים את השונות של זולתם. אך בסתירה גמורה לערכיהם הם תובעים לבטל את שונותנו כעם. נאבקים על זכותם להיות מיוחדים בצרכיהם, בנטיותיהם, במלבושם ובמנהגם, ואוסרים עלינו להיות בעלי יעוד נבדל. לגלות ישראל מיוחד בין אומות עולם.
ההשתמטות מן השיחה הישירה, שאפשר כי רק לחילוניים יש רשות פנימית לעשותה היום, מותירה את היהדות בידי חנפני אל מתקתק: "צדיק", קורא מוכר הפלאפל השכונתי החובש כיפה שחורה גדולה לקונה גלוי הראש, "צדיק שלי שאני אשים לך טחינה?"

"הארץ תרבות וספרות", 27.11.2015.

The face-to-face encounter with the truth sometimes exceeds the human capacity for containment.

Parashat Vayishlach

Yair Caspi

We received our name, “Israel,” after we were impolite: Instead of observing the commandments, we grappled with them, sometimes wrestling with the one who imposed them on us.
Jacob became Israel not because he fervently respected God, but rather because he was prepared to wrestle with God’s messenger and even demand a blessing from him: “And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was strained, as he wrestled with him. And he said: ‘Let me go, for the day breaketh.’ And he said: ‘I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.’ And he said unto him: ‘What is thy name?’ And he said: ‘Jacob.’ And he said: ‘Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for thou hast striven with God and with men, and hast prevailed’” (Genesis 32:25-29).
The face-to-face encounter with the truth sometimes exceeds the human capacity for containment. Whoever dares, or is forced, to meet the Creator could emerge with a trauma. After his night-long wrestling bout with a superior rival, as described in this week’s portion, Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43), Jacob has both a new name and a new identity: “And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: ‘for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved’” (Gen. 32:31). However, after his frightening encounter with God, Israel “limped upon his thigh” (32:32). Israel, God’s chosen one, is also a wounded veteran of God’s army.

Those who feared to be Israel turned him into a cautious and pious individual who diminished God to a sort of china doll preserved behind glass lest human contact endanger its survival. The possibility of confronting God has not entered the mind of religious Jews for centuries. The preservers of a miniaturized God fear that, if they are not polite enough toward him, he will cease to exist. They thank him endlessly as if he were a rejected child in need of constant reinforcement. Israel vanished, and what remained was an extremely polite Jew, afraid of contact and determined to please, and protect, his Creator.
Those who needed to “market” God by inflating his compassion and generosity removed from his image the “terrible in his doing” (Psalms 66:5).
The fear of facing the intolerable haphazardness of the world’s disasters, the knowledge of the trials human beings cannot surmount, and God’s absence from those post-traumatic moments when he is most needed – all this led to the discarding of elements we considered “evil” from God’s image.

Legend turned the prophet Elijah, the uncompromising truth-seeker, into a village saint who returns lost children to their homes. Isaiah’s God – “I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am the Lord, that doeth all these things” (Isaiah 45:7) – is transformed in Jewish liturgy into a palatable figure, who “forms the light, and creates darkness; who makes peace, and creates everything” (from the morning service).
During the Jewish people’s long exile from its homeland, God ultimately was given a new label: kashrut supervisor, synagogue official and ritual-bath attendant. This was much more convenient than the conception of a biblical god who forbids bribes even for the sake of public support for yeshivahs. God’s guardians take pains to meet him only through the Shulhan Arukh codex of Jewish law lest they discover, for example, that his commandments also oblige one to work with receipts.
Talmud classes, as I am told by colleagues who teach them in state-religious schools, are detested by their students – perhaps because the students cannot express their anger over the declarations of tanaim and amoraim (sages), and cannot scream in protest to the high heavens.
Those who have stopped wrestling with the angel read the biblical story through so many layers of commentary by very polite exegetists that the story gets lost.
For one moment in time, in the Zionist movement’s initial stages, we again became Israel – after so long. The heirs of the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs were again prepared to wrestle with angels and to inform the one who sent them that it is impossible to maintain contact with him when we are being slaughtered:
If there’s justice – let it come now!
But if it should come after I’ve been
blotted out beneath the sky,
let its throne be cast down.
– Haim Nahman Bialik, “On the Slaughter” (as translated by Peter Cole)
Those who warned God that they were going to fire him had a god. The Israelis whom Bialik hoped would be “faithful servants of God’s image in the world” (“That I Could Be One of You,” as translated by Atar Hadari) are gone.
The Zionist pioneers have been replaced by those post-modern Jews who want to relinquish the distinction between a citizen of the world and a citizen of Israel . On one hand, the post-modern Jew insists on the Other’s uniqueness and sanctifies his otherness; on the other, in contravention of his own values, he demands the nullification of Israel’s uniqueness as a nation. While struggling for the Other’s right to be unique in his needs, inclinations, attire and customs – he forbids us to have a mission and to reveal an Israel that is unique among the nations.
Judaism is now in the hands of the flatterers of a saccharin-sweet God. “Tzadik” (“righteous one”), cries out the neighborhood falafel seller, his head covered with a large black kippah, to the buyer who does not wear one: “Do you want tahini with that?”

Haaretz, portion-of-the-week, November 27, 2015

מודעות פרסומת

המהדורה האנגלית של "הארץ" – איך מזהים מלאכי אלוהים

A Paucity of Angels
Parashat Vayetze
Yair Caspi
Who will bring me the angels who know supreme intentions and who can free us from our obsession with meaningless ‘religious’ acts, or from the judgment of people who will never disclose to you what your social responsibility is?
Our ancestors knew how hard – sometimes even impossible – it is for one to decipher, alone, the signs of hidden intentions. Loyal messengers are needed. Our forefather saw angels – both in dreams and in reality – who appeared at the crossroads, who guided them in the right direction.
The angels appear so as to offer hope and a vision. Sometimes they appear before a woman, hearing her outcry, and alert her of a difficult challenge she will face. Sometimes they deliver an urgent message, such as “Leave Sodom.” Sometimes they inform a person of his responsibility to lead. They often announce the Master’s entry. It is just as difficult to perceive angels as it is to grasp who dispatched them: “And the angel of the Lord said unto him: ‘Wherefore askest thou after my name, seeing it is hidden?’” (Judges 13:18).
Jacob has a special connection to both heaven and earth: a ladder on which representatives of the universe’s CEO ascend and descend. At its top stands God, who identifies himself at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Vayetze (Genesis 28:10-32:3), and explains to Jacob, in effect: Your father and grandfather conversed with me. You will succeed. You will have many descendants and will reveal to humanity its blessing. I shall watch over you wherever you go.
Identifying the messengers can be complicated – not just because they lack external signs, but principally because it is can be hard to hear their message. The encounter with them can be frightening; they have the power to undermine what we think we know about ourselves: “And he was afraid, and said: ‘How full of awe is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven’” (Gen. 28:17).
Angels surprise us with their generosity; they smile forgivingly at actions we tend to judge harshly when performed by us or others. Sometimes they help us return to what we once were. When the order of things seems irrecoverably disrupted, they promise its restoration. If they appear in a dream, they will also bear its interpretation. Sometimes they will allude to a role we must assume. They always bear tidings for us. They are momentary representatives of a supreme, other-worldly authority.
They have no wings nor do they dwell in heaven. Sometimes they are momentary visitors in our lives. For example, the mechanic who was about to check my car after it was damaged in an accident and who revealed to me how upset I was. Or the woman who told me that my failure at a particular task might be a sign that I need a vacation. Or the late Yeshayahu Leibowitz, who informed me that I would attain freedom by facing a truth that assigned a special role to me.
In secular society, where people are instructed to rely chiefly on themselves, angels have been replaced by experts and consultants who lack the training to show us our role in the Master Plan.
The prohibition on seeing angels leaves us without signposts. We wander around in circles, our fate determined by social conventions, our family’s lot in life or genetics.
Those who have dismissed God suffer from a lack of angels. Their world is bereft of someone who not only has valuable knowledge to impart to them, but also the authority to tell them what their obligation to humanity is. Those who lack angels do not know how to ask directions from the people they meet along the way. They do not know where to find a good teacher. They cannot identify the spokespersons of a higher authority. They have no master plan and thus cannot find the one who can tell them what their role is in the Plan. If a leader inadvertently emerges to spearhead the movement to which they belong, they will help topple that leader, to prevent him or her from challenging them to fulfill a role they may not want to assume.
In 1929, a 13-year-old, ultra-Orthodox yeshiva student went to Jerusalem’s open-air market, Mahane Yehuda, to do some little shopping. He saw a crowd gathered around a short man who had climbed onto an overturned orange crate to give himself a little height. The speaker told his audience that Jerusalem was the past and that the future was Tel Aviv and the Zionist pioneering rural settlements. At age 14, that yeshiva student, my father, left Jerusalem to make his home on Tel Aviv’s coastline. Two years later, guided by the marketplace messenger, he joined a group of idealists who established a kibbutz in the Beit She’an Valley. The angel that my father met was David Ben-Gurion.
Who will bring me the angels who know supreme intentions and who can free us from our obsession with meaningless “religious” acts, or from the judgment of people who repeatedly use the word “perfection” when all they really mean is that the gravy is just right for the beef, and who will never disclose to you what your social responsibility is?
Who will bring me the angels who ascend and descend from the ladder, who bear a message from concealed worlds, who – like the little man in Mahane Yehuda – can stand on an overturned orange crate, who can tell me what the next stage is, whom I will encounter by chance at a crossroads, who will point the way with a nod of their head, who will smile forgivingly at my errors in navigation?

"Haaretz", November 19, 2015

פרשות השבוע במהדורה האנגלית של "הארץ" "בראשית" עד "תולדות"

Partners in the process of creation
Parashat Bereisheet
Yair Caspi
When people turn the Torah into something that is too holy, they lose the ability to read it: to distinguish be¬tween its high and low points, between its historical content and its wondrous timeless narratives; to see in it a practical guide to human conduct. The prohibitions of a tradition that tries too hard to preserve formative knowledge sometimes create defensive structures behind which the treasures get lost.
Another obstacle to our reading of the Torah is contained in secular culture, which makes human beings the source of authority in the world and no longer permits them to understand a narrative depicting an authority that is higher than the human one. If we assume the liberty and responsibility to read the Torah text on our own and to interpret it by our¬selves – if we dare to risk the constriction of human authority – then perhaps we can succeed to read what is written in the Torah.
The world, according to what we know today, was created in a “big bang” some 13.25 billion years ago. Human beings and apes evolved from a common ancestor that evolved from a creature that emerged from the sea to continue its existence on land. Life began in a single cell that divided into two. The first chapters of Genesis are among humanity’s formative narratives not because of the scientific knowledge they contain but rather because of the answer they provide to the question, “What is a human being?”
At a critical point preceding the actual writing of Genesis, the author rebels against the conventional thinking of the ancients who believed the world has always existed, that reality is a permanent given and that we must learn how to live with that reality (contemporary biological psychiatry is bringing us back to that same line of thinking). The iconoclastic, independent-minded biblical author shatters the shackles of what the ancients believed, what the author’s own tribe believed, what people advise regarding the best way to succeed in life. This marks the origin of independent researchers who have the capacity for liberating themselves from the fetters of accepted conventions in their respective fields, for being willing to take the risk that their findings will not be recognized by society, for creating something that is ahead of its time, and for attaining the most prestigious prize of all: truth.
The core of the Genesis narrative is surprisingly similar to what the world of science will discover thousands of years after the writing of the text: The world is creation in process.
The gift bestowed upon human beings, which distinguishes them from the animal world, is this knowledge, which invites them to join the process of the world’s creation: to be the apprentices of the world’s engine; to develop those parts of creation that are vital for human beings’ nutrition and health, for control of their environment, and for enjoyment of beauty, which alludes to what exists beyond human means of expression.
The story of creation in Genesis reveals love for human beings, who, alone among the members of the animal world, were chosen to know their creator and to be partners in completing the process of their own development.
A mysterious creator gives Adam something from his own concealed image. The first to receive this gift of divine grace and recognize the gift’s value, Adam is exempt from the exhausting postmodern effort to find love or to discover a unique mission that could cure him of his worst fear: the fear that his life is meaningless.
When human beings make the choice to conduct themselves as if they are in God’s presence, they rise above them¬selves – above their homeland, their parents’ home, their genetics, their impulses, their fears – and attain a certain freedom. The free human being is born.
Humanity’s formative insight contains incurable pain. Human beings who are privileged to know their maker will fall in love with, and seek to emulate, him. But they are doomed to forever carry this longing in their heart without ever being able to realize it. The knowledge required for complete dominion over the world and eternal life are God’s sole province: “but of the tree of … knowledge … thou shalt not eat of it” (Genesis 2:17).
Contemporary developmental psychology recognizes a universal human conflict between dependence and independence in the child’s relationship with his or her parents. At the heart of all human action is the conflict between the desire to belong to a group and the desire to leave that group. This internal conflict is depicted in Genesis, where we witness both dependence on God and the desire to rebel against him.
The story of the world’s creation in Genesis proposes a diagnosis for two recurrent disorders in human culture. Those who dismiss their maker want to become God (“and ye shall be as God” [Gen. 3:5]), but lose their feeling of being chosen, being special, having a unique mission. Those who forsake the concept of the creative, constantly growing human being live with God’s angels and compete with them; they replace responsible action with manipulative liturgy through which they try to “activate” God to provide for human needs. Religiously observant people tend to create a God who works for them; some secular individuals seek to turn themselves into God. Both sides lose the Genesis narrative’s chief protagonist.
This narrative threatens to take from us what human culture grants us: the promise that we can do everything, that we are the center of the universe, that our chief function is to fulfill our desires and be happy, that we are entitled to every¬thing, and that nobody can tell us that we have sinned.
The sin of the first human beings on earth repeats itself throughout history. During periods of rapid technological development, people begin to think that they can close the gap between them¬selves and God. In the modern age, human beings return to the self-improvement workshop given by the heir of the serpent in the Genesis narrative, where participants are sold techniques and materials that purportedly will enable them to attain control over their lives – in other words, to become God.
The punishment meted out to human beings who believe that, with the technology they possess, their story will be different from that of preceding generations, parallels the one meted out to Adam and Eve: a constant anxiety springing from the knowledge of the failure they are doomed to endure in attempting to be¬come perfect beings, and the depression arising from failure to fulfill the mission they should never have undertaken in the first place. The Torah proposes a type of medication not found today in Israel’s basket of state-subsidized drugs but which requires collaboration in the quest to rediscover humanity’s role.
Dr. Yair Caspi is the director of the Psychology in Judaism Institute in Tel Aviv and author of two Hebrew bestsellers, “Inquiring of God,” and “Challenged.
Friday, October 9, 2015 | Haaretz

The cure for alienated Jews
Parashat Noach
Yair Caspi
The Bible does not believe in human beings, is not impressed by them. It even weighs the possibility that human culture is a mistake that might be irreparable and the possibility that humanity’s failure will spell the species’ demise.
Parashat Bereisheet ended with human beings refusing to accept their limitations. The mission of creating a human culture was assigned to mortals, forcing them to control their impulses. While learning to become civilized, they continue to desire sexual relations with anyone they wish and to kill anyone who angers them. In conflict with themselves, they seek to rise above their urges while emulating their maker, who has revealed himself to them. But at the same time, they plot to usurp him and control the world. In Parashat Noach, humans show that they are unable to fulfill their promises, that they have chosen the second option, and thus reality is posed to cast humanity out of this world.
Mortals have been given an immense opportunity to be partners in their own development, and they use it to plan how to shirk the responsibility such partnership entails: “And the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said: ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth’” (Genesis 6:5-7).
Humans use their advantage – their intelligence – to come up with a scheme that purports to solve the conflict that exists between their desire to serve God and their desire to be God. The first scientists, the ancient priests, conceive of beings that are half gods, half forces of nature or human: tamed gods one can touch and see, who elevate mortals without demanding their moral development. The worship of an empty object creates a false self, and people lose the ability to distinguish good from evil. These invented gods forgive those they love, allowing them to become corrupt.
The base instincts of humanity gives rise to mortals’ tendency to think the world cannot exist without them. How¬ever, the Flood proves that human beings are not indispensable and that, if they do not mend their ways, the world can manage without them.
The attempt to imitate God fuels human development, but the thought that we have become God is our downfall. Modern science’s successes have led us to believe that nothing can stop us and that we are immortal. We have again dismissed God, who now strikes us as an unnecessary relic of the days of a de¬pendent, primitive humanity; we have replaced him with the new human being.
Some in the 20th century claimed that the supreme being was the nation, or a specific method of organizing human society or science. Others argued that if human beings’ basic needs were fulfilled – if they were only given an education and offered acceptance without prejudice – they would prove themselves to be superior beings that one could believe in.
In modern Hebrew culture, we initially chose Haim Nahman Bialik, who tried to speak on our behalf with heaven, and we crowned Shaul Tchernichovsky, who believed in human beings and their proud spirit. The belief in human beings has led to the contemporary prohibition on educating children. “The child knows,” the post-modern preschool teacher tells parents who are instructed not to impose their values on their off¬spring because those values might not be their child’s “unique truth.” The child is now God.
The author of Parashat Noach does not seek to find favor in the reader’s eyes and is not impressed by children: “for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). The person who chooses to believe in human beings must disregard their weaknesses and indiscretions, and turn a blind eye to their repeated failures and to the wickedness of children.
Instead of the mythological he¬roes of ancient cultures who seemed to cross the boundary that separates gods from mortals, the Bible proposes Noah, a righteous, innocent individual who obeys a higher authority (Gen. 6:9) – a figure who is tough to digest for those raised to believe that salvation comes to those who believe in them¬selves and who fear the prospect of a meaningless life.
Instead of believing in himself, Noah is faithful to the mission he has been assigned and which he tries to decipher. The success of the faithful person is the success of the journey; his failure derives from the journey’s difficulties or his poor navigation. His success does not elevate him heavenward, but neither does it plunge him and the rest of humanity into the abyss.
Those who believe in them¬selves can muster their energies, and sometimes those of others, to undertake seemingly impossible tasks, but at a heavy price: The lives of such people become meaningless when they fail, because they have lost themselves, their God. Those who believe in themselves seduce us into falling in love with them; they satisfy our desire to encounter a living God, but they betray us when they cannot sustain an inflated self. Faithful human beings remain faithful even when the game is not worth playing. Their failure does not destroy their selfhood.
The Bible’s humane hero is not one of the popular or amazing guys, is not normative when the norm involves idol worship, and fulfills the hope once cherished by mothers that their child will be a mensch. The Bible’s hero is the Hebrew pioneer of Zionism, whose hero¬ism embodied manual labor – the cure for alienated Jews. He is the parking lot attendant who tells his story as a parable of the human condition.
Noah is first in a line of protagonists who will constantly reappear throughout Jewish literature: individuals who assume a duty which social norms would relieve them of, and who seek to follow the injunction in Pirkei Avot : “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.” These are individuals whose save their souls and who sometimes, by setting an example, manage to save the entire world.
Friday, October 16, 2015 | Haaretz

Hearing voices
Parashat Lech Lecha
Yair Caspi
The Bible bestowed the future to the world. Before the narrative we now read became known, most ancients believed that the world moved in a pattern that repeated itself cyclically: summer, fall, winter, spring; birth, childhood, adulthood, old age, death. Today, many people believe that one’s development is determined by genetic tendencies; believe there are traumas from the past that one can never get rid of; believe in an ancient tradition considered to be halakha, or Jewish law, that is unchanging.
“Get thee out of thy country” – the first words of Parashat Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27) – is a revolt against reality. Nothing is fixed, and no authority is permanent. The future is influenced, not controlled, by the past and present. The present moment does not determine the next. This is the essence of how the Bible views liberty: the possibility that at any time, I can do something that is not a necessary product of my environment, culture or genetic background.
The first Hebrew individual is not a product of the wounds of his childhood, the customs of his parents or the laws of his nation: “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy fa¬ther’s house, unto the land that I will show thee” (Genesis 12:1). Abraham’s future is not a product of his past. Nothing that Abraham saw, learned or heard in Haran prepares him for his new mission.
Judging from Abraham’s life up to that moment, nobody could have predict¬ed that he would simply get up one day and abandon everything he ever knew. Although he is certainly influenced by his environment and although there are times when he acts in conformity with it – he can at any moment choose to hear a voice that is not controlled by his familial, social or cultural context, to exercise his own free will and to abandon all the worlds he ever knew.
The Bible’s challenge, which we still find it hard to meet, proposes that this possibility for liberty is not the exclusive province of the prophet, but is rather given to each of us. Our past, which we use to hypothesize what we can expect in future, often foretells our actions in the present. One day, a man or woman who has been imprisoned for decades in an internal or external prison, will suddenly get up and leave it as if personal history, biology, perhaps even physics’ law of inertia, do not apply to him or her.
The commandment “lech lecha” (Get thee out) is the moment of the creation of the free man – a moment that no intelligence agency predicted, when, within only a few short years, an the Soviet empire liberated itself from the totalitarian ideology that controlled it for nearly a century.
In a unique turning point, Zionism underwent something that historians who study all the precedents insist on calling impossible: A nation condemned to perpetual wandering that had grown accustomed to being dependent on others chose to abandon its survival program and to reinvent itself. This is the moment that professors of political science know nothing about: A series of absolute failures in peace negotiations does not dictate that peace will not ever be attained, someday.
This is the exciting moment, when we leap to our feet as we see the divine center forward, freeing himself of those defending against him, suddenly turning around, in the middle of his run, as if he has discovered his own space in time, lifting the ball in the air with his feet, as if he is alone on the soccer field and is not subject to physics’ laws, and scoring the unbelievable goal.
The forward of this moment is not doing what his coaches trained him to do. All players know the tactics of all coaches. This forward does not do anything done by forwards who preceded him, because all defenders already know what all forwards can potentially do. This forward is the product of a new moment in whose creation he is a partner. Thus, we justifiably stand up and cheer him from our seats in the stadium: “There is a God!”
Future forwards will study his brilliant move and will try to copy it. Defenders will learn how to protect their team from such a move – until the emergence of the next genius who hears a voice others are deaf to and will create the moment that the books know nothing about. This is the moment that makes us, year after year, attend games where nothing happens. In this moment, all our suffering is shown not to have been in vain.
This is the moment that exhilarates us when we read a book or watch a movie about a man who for years has passed a particular woman in the corridors of an utterly boring office. Then one day, with¬out any warning, he expresses his longing for her, a longing that is completely illogical and which takes no account of the nature of things, of the rules of etiquette, or of the question as to whether they are compatible or even free of any other binding relationship.
The woman, loyal to her family’s values, has always conformed to her society’s conventions, has never done anything unpredictable in her life. Yet, without any warning, she responds passionately to his longing because she hears in that longing the same voice that spoke to Abraham.
Just as we cannot predict anything, we have no idea whether she will respond positively – or slap him in the face. Hearing voices can be dangerous.
This is the legacy of the founder of our method: Never do anything simply because others do it. Never trust anyone who imprisons the divine voice in never-changing customs. Never believe those who say they have seen God and have dis¬covered the secret of how to control one’s life. Never trust anyone who always acts logically. Request a conversation with a hidden authority that exists beyond the totality of things.
This is the reason Jews reread this story every year at the same season. They are hoping that they will suddenly hear the voice that spoke to Abraham, a voice that exists in space unheard by anyone.
This is the hidden hope that exhilarates the heart – the hope that we will also hear that voice and that we will suddenly know what we must do, what the next stage holds for us, what our role here is.
Friday, October 23, 2015 | Haaretz

A level above love
Parashat Vayera
Yair Caspi
In a world that has lost national, social and religious values once thought supreme, love remains the ultimate, whose worth none contest. Those who worship it believe everything must be done to find love and, if it is lost, that one must seek another love.
The Bible has another level above love. It did not invent the concept, but borrowed it from agreements monarchs in ancient times signed with one another or proposed to their subjects in return for loyalty. Typically, the Bible takes the covenant and raises it to a new context. The covenant is the proposal we received from the owner of reality and it includes our human role and obligations and their reward or punishment. If you accept your role, the human is told, you will receive the promise that reality will be protected.
“And I will make My covenant between Me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly,” we read at the end of last week’s Torah portion, “…. And I will establish My covenant between Me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant…. and I will be their God…. And as for thee, thou shalt keep My covenant, thou, and thy seed after thee throughout their generations” (Genesis 17:2-9).
Acceptance of the covenant is close to what we call acknowledging reality. However, biblical reality includes in¬sight into our role in the world and its limits, and the possibility that the Minister of Reality has special missions for various groups, such as creation of a model society.
The proposer of the covenant does not negotiate. Yet, although we cannot decide what the covenant contains, we can identify the proposal, choosing to accept or reject the covenant. Perhaps we will need to try other deals leading nowhere to discover that the biblical proposal for a covenant is the best we can hope for.
When weighing whether or not to enter into a significant human partner¬ship, such as a love relationship, we ask ourselves whether it will be pleasant, whether it is worthwhile. The Bible pro¬poses another question: Besides attraction and compatibility, will we have a possible ally for a shared role?
A relationships that become a covenant will survive. The covenant was drawn up in the presence of the one who holds eternity. When the covenant becomes part of human time, something of the eternal enters, and our capacity for becoming more skillful in dealing with time’s hardships increases. This is the meaning of Rabbi Yohanan the Sandler’s statement, “An organization or partnership created to serve heaven will ultimately last” (Pirkei Avot 4:11).
We maintain the covenants made in the presence of the Creator of the Universe even when some of the conditions for love no longer exist: Someone has become ill, has been fired, has lost some of his or her looks or has grown old. In love, we sign on with our human partner. There is another signatory to the covenant.
A covenant concerning a love relationship is not a private treaty but rather a chapter in our overall covenant with our world, our nation, the One who has assigned us our mission. When the covenant is violated, the method for canceling it is more complex.
Relationships focused solely on love collapse when the love has faded. Pulling out of a covenant requires us to ask additional questions: Has the covenant been violated? Is the violation fundamental? Did my partner in the relationship violate it, or is there in actuality a “force majeure” at play?: Am I still committed to the covenant? Do I have a partner who wants to mend and renew it and find the love that is lost? Covenants preserve long-standing marriages, where love waxes and wanes.
The covenant that Abraham, pioneer of the Hebrew journey, was the first to sign and that we imprint in our flesh, and undertake in our sanctification of our love relationship before our Maker, has not disappeared from our lives.
What we once reserved for the experience of the covenant, for the feeling of sanctification, we now seek in love. In order to find it there, we must upgrade our beloved. During moments of union, we sometimes imagine that we are privileged to be with a man or woman who is divine – in place of saying that the Shekhina (the divine presence) was present.
The unconscious covenant is the answer to one of the riddles truly puzzling us: Why does she stay with a man she has nothing in common with? Perhaps the experience of the original covenant has been preserved in her heart and gives hope that one can still mend the connection.
The concept of the covenant is absent from our daily speech and from professional discourse. Its absence prevents us from understanding various instances of human conduct, to which we then assign mistaken explanations. We say about people who remain in relationships in which their needs are not met that they are dependent, or that they fear independence or lack the courage to reveal what they want and to fulfill it. The reasons we have cited are some¬times correct – partially or completely. A piece of the covenant remains, and with it some of the hope.
The covenant we choose to enter into, based on the example of our ancestors in Genesis, presents an opportunity for new questions about human reality: With whom have I entered into a covenant? With whom do I still have a covenant to¬day and what are its obligations? Does the man who wants me as a companion want a partner to a covenant? Does the woman who looks at me admiringly need me to fill a passing need, or does she see me as a partner to a covenant?
Friday, October 30, 2015 | Haaretz

Made for each other?
Parashat Hayei Sara
Yair Caspi
Were we made for each other?” This is the question asked at the beginning of a relationship and at various times over the years. It alludes to the fact that, even after we have dismissed God as a supreme authority, we still assume there is some underlying plan in reality and wish to know whether the relationship is sheer coincidence, a mistake, or something that was meant to be.
In the absence of a supreme authority or of a method for deciphering its intentions, the question “Were we made for each other?” undergoes a process of reduction. In a culture lacking the willingness to undertake a mission that dictates certain actions, or to accept collective responsibility, people tend to privatize their mission. They will ask, “What is my professional mission? Tell me who was meant for me, but do not remind me of any mission to humanity, my social role or my role as an Israeli.”
Our personal mission is derived from our sense of that of humanity’s destiny, or that of the group we belong to. The privatization of a mission to the level of the needs of a one-on-one relationship or of a professional endeavor prevents us from discovering it. It is hard to answer the question “Were we meant for each other” without first knowing “What kind of person am I meant to be?” No amount of psychological treatment can answer this question, because science has nothing to do with destiny – that is, what kind of relationship we must have.
Those who attempt to clarify their common purpose without first identifying their own mission as human beings are doomed to an eternal struggle with the question “Am I with the right person?” Those who seek to fulfill their common purpose, but do not want to find God, search in their despair for fortune-tellers who will reveal their mission in the stars or in numbers. Those who do not worship God, writes Rabbi Bachaya Ibn Pakuda, 11th-century author of “Duties of the Heart” (“Hovot halevavot”), wor¬ship their partner. Out of these two possibilities, God is a better choice.
Isaac, Abraham’s son, seeks a woman from a similar background, in this week’s reading, “Hayei Sarah” (Genesis 23:1-25:18). A Canaanite woman, who worships Baal or Astarte, is unsuitable. Today, the functions of the bride’s father and his slave, and those of the bride’s broth¬er and family, are now delegated to Isaac and Rebecca, who must decipher the divine voices on their own (Genesis 24).
Isaac’s quest for a wife in Aram- Naharaim begins with the acceptance of the limits imposed upon him by his mission. If he finds a woman he can love and she refuses to go back with him to the Land of Israel, he is prepared to give her up: “And if the woman be not willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath; only thou shalt not bring my son back thither” (Gen. 24:8). Isaac knows who he is and what his life’s role is; he wants more than a mere relationship.
Like any young man, he seeks signs from heaven that the relation¬ship is meant to be. The rare beauty of a young woman beside a well might presage a sort of supernatural perfection, and her generosity might hint at a divine presence that is willing to be shared among its beloved followers.
Those who know their personal destiny go on a date not to mesmerize or captivate, but to find a kindred spirit with a common purpose. He shares with her the signs suggesting they may be intended for one another – “[She is] the woman whom the Lord hath appointed for my master’s son” (Gen. 24:44) – and waits to see if they share the same God, and if she will receive him as the interpreter of certain signs.
He does not speak only in his own name or in the name of the attraction he is feeling. Momentarily, at least, he is also feeling empowered by the one who gives all beings their proper designation.
At the same time, however, he is prepared for the eventuality that he has misinterpreted the signs: “And now if ye will deal kindly and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me; that I may turn to the right hand, or to the left” (Gen. 24:49). A purpose seeker can also see rejection as a sign.
The bride’s spokespersons reply: “The thing proceedeth from the Lord; we cannot speak unto thee bad or good. Behold, Rebecca is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master’s son’s wife, as the Lord hath spoken” (Gen. 24:50-51).
A willing spirit is not sufficient to sustain a relationship; there is still one more domain to be checked: “Wilt thou go with this man?” And she said: “I will go” (Gen. 24:58). The body also knows something about di¬vine intentions.
This is the moment of unconscious faith in the creation of a purpose-lad¬en relationship when those who are aware of their mission say to the potential partner, “I think we are meant for each other,” and the latter feels these are the words of a supreme being.
A couple who feel they have a shared mission become, in their first date, two interconnected scholars seeking signs of a presence that transcends them. Years later they will recall that when they first met, “We felt a click.”
Friday, November 6, 2015 | Haaretz

The mountain has been found
Parashat Toldot
Yair Caspi
For a century, the Zionist movement was – in the eyes of many who belonged to it – Judaism’s senior spokesperson, which, lost in the Diaspora, was returning to its roots. In “Rome and Jerusalem,” Moses Hess began a process that went on until David Ben-Gurion, who believed “unique people” and “light unto the nations” were concepts calling for a model society.
The Zionist movement demanded the birthright be given to it, not to Diaspora rabbinical authorities. It returned to the Bible, which established a code of values transcending contemporary culture’s definitions: “Father” is not just my bio¬logical father or the tribal elders – “Father” is the Creator I try to emulate, or the earthly bearer of his knowledge.
The customs governing the identity of the father’s heir change. “Elder” is the child who is prepared to assume the role of heir in the revolution Abraham began. Jacob is no thief, but is guardian of the knowledge his father transmits to him, which would have been lost in Esau’s hands (Gen. 25-27). Rebecca, who seeks God, rectifies the actions of her husband, whose insight is impaired.
King Saul’s heir does not acquire that title through genetics, contrary to the local custom. The prophet Samuel, who knows how to decipher the divine voice – “for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7) – declares David, who will later be revealed as “king of Israel,” Saul’s heir.
The genuine heir does not compulsively follow his parents’ customs. The Hasidic revolution’s heir does not wear the Baal Shem Tov’s hat. Perhaps the true heir is the young boy who whistles in synagogue on Yom Kippur.
The heirs of the Zionist movement’s founders, tired of being responsible for the establishment of a model society, initially thought that rural settlements, agricultural work and an army could replace the Torah. The secular Zionists’ abandonment of the birthright restored to Orthodoxy’s hands the authority for determining what is Israel.
The world’s monotheistic religions have been in an ongoing crisis for the past century and a half. Many adherents have left the fold. Those who re¬main are gradually losing the ability to retain faith in the traditional precepts and rituals. Those who are slowly losing the connection that exists through the synagogue or mosque have despaired of ever finding a new channel for experiencing religious uplifting. As traditionalists, they are permitted to seek holiness only in those places where God was once found.
The Temple Mount Faithful and the “Al-Aqsa is in danger” faithful know something about each other. The “Al-Aqsa is in danger” faithful know that the Temple Mount Faith¬ful must continue to plan the Temple’s reestablishment because, without the Temple, they will lose the source of their religious vitality; the Temple Mount Faithful know that the struggle to banish from the mount those Jews who come to pray will continue to be waged by those who, without the mot¬to “Al-Aqsa is in danger,” would lose their faith.
Late Second Temple-era literature includes the tale of the four who attempt to ascend God’s mountain. They enter the orchard to have holy experiences; three of them are destroyed. Only Rabbi Akiva emerges unscathed; he does not know the location of the divine domicile but enters the orchard to receive lists of human responsibilities.
Something of the lethal, sacred urges experienced by the three harmed in the orchard can today be found in those who ascend the Temple Mount, who passionately thirst for a nearness to God, a nearness they cannot find in the yeshiva. The Temple Mount Faithful are prepared to violate religious laws prohibiting ascent to the mount. This is a regressive revolution that avoids the difficult task of mending the Torah of Life, and instead seeks a channel for extracting a modicum of holy energy.
Secular Jews feel no responsibility for religious insanity. However, those who restored to the hands of religious Jews authority for discovering Jewish history’s meaning should not be surprised if the latter want to build a Temple. Those who shirk responsibility for the birthright should not be surprised that the “Temple Mount is in danger” motto rules their lives.
The compulsive obsession with the Temple Mount hides the real mountain – the mountain that should be ascended and which is being neglected by secular and religious Jews. It is not the Mount of Ceremonies, the Mount of Festivals or the Mount of Sacrificial Offerings. It is higher than the Temple Mount. We once ascended it, or at least sent representatives to it. It gave us life. We almost saw God there.
At its foot, the Hebrew people received its mission, the foundations of its identity. Zionist pioneers of the first waves of Jewish immigration to Palestine ascended it; they changed the list of commandments, suggesting an audacious interpretation of classical Jewish sources, prioritizing it over synagogue and kashrut.
The formation of the Israeli identity began when we asked where the mountain was, how to ascend it and descend from it, how to receive signs and hear voices, how to know what the day’s role was. The mountain has already been found. The tablets are waiting. We just lack the one who will ascend and receive them.
Friday, November 13, 2015 | Haaretz