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Monthly Archives: March 2012
Human beings revel in beauty, sensual and erotic pleasures, many would argue that is what makes life worth living. The media and popular culture and the adult film industry exists to bring entertainment/pleasure to its viewers, that is a reality. If Judaism would be able to “photoshop” the world, would all these things be removed? What is our vision for the rest of mankind in regard to these matters?
Beauty has much less significance to Judaism than holiness. As the old saw goes, to the Greeks, the beautiful was holy, to the Jews, the holy was beautiful.
Beauty is like all the other pleasures of this world, fine in their place but never a reason to disregard God’s instructions.. You can’t trample on the Torah to indulge in your natural desires.
Torah has little to say about the importance of aesthetic beauty except as a vehicle to God. We should beautify our mitzvos.
Do you think religion, Orthodox Judaism in particular has unrealistic/cruel/stifling expectations in regards to pleasure and sexuality?
I think religion in general and Orthodox Judaism in particular are very realistic about beauty.They know that men in particular will give up everything to attain a beautiful woman. Beauty is powerful and like the desire for power or fame or pleasure, the desire for beauty must be constrained. Unconstrained pursuit of any of these things will ruin your life. This seems to be the theme of most movies and TV shows I watch. People pursue some temporal end like beauty or power to absurd ends.
What do you think G-d thinks of people who perform in the adult film industry? Do you feel pornography has any redeeming qualities, is there a place for it in existence?
Every religion in the world condemns porn. Judaism is no different in that regard. Any redeeming quality in porn is dwarfed by its damaging qualities. I think God hates people who deliberately and needlessly damage society and destroy the family unit. Some such people are pornographers, others are respected Hollywood types, others are bloggers and talk show hosts and lawyers and politicians.
Every civilization depends upon stigmatizing sexual expression outside of monogamous heterosexual marriage. Do away with this stigmatizing and men will increasingly act naturally (pursuing their lusts and not sticking around their spouse and kids).
More to come… stay turned for more insight from Luke.
I apologize for the delayed response. Thank you for your honest letter. They say a wise question is half an answer. Your question is no doubt wise and within its wisdom, I believe, lies the answer. I have taken the liberty of quoting your words in order to respond to your question:
The problem is both intellectual and the same time emotional.
To respond to an emotional question with an intellectual answer, or an intellectual question with an emotional answer, is obviously inadequate. As your question is both intellectual and emotional, I will address it both from the mind and the heart. Starting with intellectually:
Why is there the double standard? Why is contemporary Judaism so prudish, trying to create an artificially sanitized world disconnected from the experiences of the rest of mankind?
Very well put. The only correction I would make to your statement, is to change “contemporary Judaism” to “many contemporary Jews” who in their misunderstanding of core Judaism are so prudish…” Since its beginning, Judaism and its blueprint, the Torah, aims to refine the world so that it can be the best it can be. Rather than try to disconnect one from the experiences of the rest of mankind, the Torah actually focuses on connecting one’s experiences with the rest of mankind, in a pure and holy way. This is the Torah’s one and only standard. Every Mitzvah (translated as ‘connection’) we perform is meant to unite us with the world around us, humanity, and G-d. This is the reason we humans were sent to this earth (and do not remain in the lofty spiritual realms), to transform the material universe into a Divine home.
Why does it have to be such absolutes, why is there no room for grey, subtlety, balance?
You can ask the same question about music, and indeed about nature itself: Why are there only 7 notes or 12 half notes on the musical scale? Why do the laws of nature dictate deterministic and precisely defined rules? When played right, the absolutely defined musical notes allows to play music and lift the spirit to undefined places. And again, we are talking here not about how people interpret/distort Torah, but how Torah is in its original form: We live in a world of structure, and Torah’s goal is to help us elevate the structure to a state of spirit which transcends structure. Torah teaches us how to create connections, harmony and unity in a fragmented universe. As such it must be absolute in its principles and concrete in its foundations, lest the connections be flaky and weak. And these unwavering absolutes are subtle and balanced to the core. Think of it like the solid and unwavering roots of a tree, that then allow the tree to blossom in many directions, branching out, with leaves and fruits etc. Take away or weaken the solid foundation and the tree will not be able to “fly.”
Why are television/movies and literature out of bounds, but yet the Torah is free to delve and describe the full extent of existence?
We all have Free Will. If we choose to watch a movie, it is our choice alone. And the Torah’s purpose is not to remove our G-d-given Free Will. As stated above, the Torah wishes to provide a deeper option, a soul perspective, a unity amongst all things: Where the world at large says we “must” watch this film or follow this TV show, the Torah says one does not need a scripted show or pop experience to be the best they can be (at times, it may even detract). Sure movies are enjoyable but, from the Torah’s perspective, one’s soul descends into this world for a much deeper purpose: To create genuine connections with the people and world it comes in contact with. Technology, literature and the arts are tools to help us grow spiritually. When seen and used as such, they become part of the higher purpose. But so often they — the tools — become an end in itself, and then technology can enslave instead of emancipate us.
Of course, all of the above is dependent on one’s axioms: My axiom (borne out of skepticism, research, study) is that the Torah is a Divine blueprint for life and, thus, everything therein is meant to provide us with ways to better ourselves and help us fulfill the full potential of our lives. Therefore, every story in the Torah, no matter how it may seem to our finite minds, contains within it infinite wisdom and practical lessons how to live our lives to the fullest — emotionally, intellectually, psychologically and spiritually.
Without this axiomatic belief, the playing field changes…
The bottom line, and the question we should asking ourselves: Is what I’m doing right now the deepest, most soulful thing I can be doing?
Emotionally speaking: Do I love movies because they connect me to the world around me? Do I love Art, Entertainment, Science, Comedy, Philosophy because they make me a better, more refined person? Betterment, refinement, unity is all the Torah teaches, so clearly all the sciences, physical, social and political, including entertainment (if you call that a science), are mediums that can be used for spiritual development.
Sadly, Judaism has been hijacked by some who have rendered it into a lifeless, humorless, callous series of laws and ritual, with a vindictive G-d being an angry principal in heaven waiting to punish us, eliciting from us guilt, fear, demoralization and all the maladies that religion today is associated with. This is NOT the Judaism and Torah that I was taught. I share in your love of laughter and celebrating the zest and energy of life. G-d created us this way — and His Torah would never ask us to suppress that which makes us human — our free spirits. Indeed, the entire Torah came to free us from our material confines and the tentacles of social pressure. To discover our inner voices and to dance and sing our unique song. To allow is to become master of our fate and destiny — and instead of technology and modern cinema controlling us and our spirits, we control how to use it all for reaching the infinite and beyond.
I invite you to join me in this exhilarating journey, one ion which we can contribute to each other. Because after all, each of us is an indispensable musical note in one grand cosmic composition.
Of course, much more can be said on this topic and I look forward to continuing our dialogue.
As someone who seems to be inquisitive, I would like to take this opportunity to make you aware of our offerings: In addition to our weekly email thoughts and our comprehensives website (meaningfullife.com), we also broadcast a weekly online class on relevant and provocative issues. This week’s class, for example, was on Why We Hate Accountability, and can be viewed here. The classes are streamed live every Wednesday night, 8:15PM EST, and can be viewed anytime afterwards on our video page.
We are also in the process of developing a series of online workshops on various topics, and are looking for feedback from you on issues that would be of interest to you or anyone you know. After reading your note, perhaps it may be a good idea to do a workshop on the inner meaning of the Torah’s (sometimes cryptic) narrative. We are also beginning to offer one-on-one study via Skype (for a nominal fee). Please let me know if you are interested in any of this, or if you have any suggestions on what programs and content offerings you would be interested in seeing from us.
We are dedicated to developing programs that speak to people’s spiritual, psychological and emotional needs, offering resonating and empowering life skills that help us all lead more meaningful and fulfilling lives — and yes, lives filled with bubbling laughter and exuberance. As such your thoughts and feedback are absolutely vital to make this a success. As I said, we are partners in our cosmic journey, each of us contributing an indispensable musical note to the grand Divine composition.
Mendel Jacobson | Content Director
Meaningful Life Center
788 Eastern Parkway Suite 303
Brooklyn, NY 11213
718.774.6448 | www.meaningfullife.com
Vayikra: The Inner Light of Destruction
Flooding, wars, earthquakes – every day we are bombarded with news of catastrophe and disaster. Is this how God envisioned His world? How can we relate to the many destructive forces in the world?
The offering of a korban in the Temple culminated in the ritual of zerikat ha-dam, as the kohen sprinkled the animal’s blood – its life-force – around the altar.
“He will slaughter [the offering] near the altar’s base, on the north side before God. The kohanim, descendants of Aaron, will then dash its blood all around the altar.” (Lev. 1:11)
What is the significance of the offering being slaughtered on the northern side of the Temple compound?
Why does the verse note that the kohanim are ‘descendants of Aaron’ – is that not well-known?
And why does it say the blood was dashed all around the altar, when in fact it was just sprinkled twice, on the two opposite (diagonal) corners of the altar?
Concealed Before God
Slaughter is an act of punishment and judgment. When performed on an offering, it serves to connect all of the terrible judgments, calamitous havoc and destruction in the world, to the hidden Divine rule of the universe. Everything emanates from the secret ways of the merciful God. All is ultimately for good, for blessing, and for kindness.
From our limited perspective, the slaughter has a lowly standing. It is thus performed near the base of the altar. But a hidden light of kindness is concealed in this act. The offering was slaughtered “tzafonah lifnei Hashem.” Literally, this means “on the northern side, before God.” But it may also be translated as “concealed – before God alone.”
The task of revealing the inner light in the forces of destruction was given to the kohanim, the descendants of Aaron. Why the emphasis on Aaronic lineage? Aaron was renowned for his compassion and kindness. “Be a disciple of Aaron: Love peace and pursue peace; love people, and draw them to Torah” (Avot I:12). Aaron’s descendants inherited the special qualities necessary to uncover this hidden light.
The Temple service teaches us that destruction of life has a place even in the holiest service. It is precisely in terms of the highest level – the most all-encompassing perspective of reality – that phenomena which appear inexplicable and destructive from our limited outlook, may be seen as contributing to the world. Our physical perception can discern only a sliver of reality; it is severely limited in terms of time, space, and true understanding of events. We lack knowledge of the overall context, and are unable to see the entire picture.
The method of dashing the blood is a fitting metaphor for our superficial perception. The physical eye can only see a partial reality, broken and disconnected. It sees the kohen dashing blood on two opposite corners. But on a higher level, the vision is continuous and complete. The sprinkling encompasses the entire altar.
Thus, the compassionate children of Aaron, as they performed this inner sprinkling all around the altar, provided a glimpse of the hidden source of good and kindness in the universe.
(Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, p. 134)