Monday, July 30, 2007

What Happens in Hharan,
Has Wider Relevance

Today is T"u b’Av.

While there are many reasons given for the significance of this minor holiday, the one that stands out the most in the popular consciousnesss is the image of the daughters of Jerusalem dancing in the vineyards, and singing (according to some accounts)
שקר החן והבל היופי \ אשה יראת ה' היא תתהלל
grace is false, and beauty is fleeting —
the one who should truly be praised is a woman in awe of God

Grace and beauty, physical attraction — these are all good things. Very good things. It's hard to have a relationship with someone if you can't stand to look at them or hear their voice. But to build a truly deep and meaningful relationship, you need to go beyond them, to the qualities that really represent who the other person is. Beauty is important — but in the grand scheme of things, it can be a distraction.

Back in November 2006, the week of Parashat Vayeitzei’, I wrote about how What Happens in Hharan, Stays in Hharan.

I explained that a close reading of the story of Ya‘aqov's marriage to Lei’a reveals how Lavan was able to trick him into marrying Lei’a instead of Rahheil — Lavan first made a משתה, a drinking party, and only afterwards brought the wrong sister to Ya‘aqov. Unlike our weddings, where the ceremony occurs first and only then do you have the party/reception, Lavan, in his bid to out-trickster Ya‘aqov for the title of Greatest Human Trickster in the Tanakh, made the drinking first, in order to dull Ya‘aqov's senses enough so that he could spend his wedding night with the wrong woman and not even notice until it was too late.

Lavan took wine — which is supposed to be something good, something that enhances the experience, that turns a simple gathering into a celebration — and used it to distract Ya‘aqov from what was really important.

Just as in relationships with other people there are factors that should serve as enhancements to what's really important, but can become distracting if they are over-emphasized or misused, the same holds true when it comes to relationships with God.

Moments of religious ecstasy are important — I hope that everyone has some such experience at least once in their life. When we expand out of ourselves, and feel an enveloping sense of connection or unification with God, with the universe, with עם ישראל or with all of humanity —
or as Kim Stanley Robinson put it,
The divine is like rain striking the earth, and all our efforts at godliness are therefore muddy — all but those few seconds of complete inundation, the moments that mystics describe, when we are nothing but rain...
— we can re-energize our commitment and our sense of purpose, and take that spiritual high, and use it to shape the way we live our lives.

The danger, though, is when those peaks of connection, those instances of religious ecstasy, overshadow what's really important.

We're supposed to do God's work in this world — spreading compassion and building just, moral and kind societies. And we need to do this work with open eyes and a clear mind, because this is our job on Earth; it's the most weighty and serious job there is.

And everyone knows that you don't operate heavy machinery while under the influence.

(time of posting = time this devar tora was given over orally in RL)


Blogger ALG said...

Thanks, Steg! This is a great dvar Torah. Tu B'Av passed me right by this year, sadly. No dancing in the fields for me--I was packing.

8/01/2007 12:46 AM  
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