Monday, June 2, 2014
Proceed with Care- Deconstructing Judaism
Someone once asked Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l the following question; If I stay up on Leil Shavuos to learn, I will be exhausted for the entire chag and it will prevent me from learning properly. Is it better for me to go to sleep as usual rather than stay awake?
How might you have answered the question? Perhaps, if you were into being totally rational and historical you could have said as follows. The 'custom” of staying awake on Leil Shavuos is only about 500 years old. None of the Rishonim practiced it. It's not found in the gemara. The story that lead to it, involving the Ari and Rav Yosef Karo is hard to understand and believe. Thus, if you will lose more learning than you will gain, go to sleep as usual. Rav Shlomo Zalman answered differently. He told the man that this is an important custom and that he should learn for part of the night before going to sleep. I'm not interested in analyzing his answer as much as I'm interested in thinking about what we can take away from it and why our initial answer was wrong, even while it is factually correct.
In the movie “Big Fish” we are told the story of Will Bloom, a son who is estranged from his father. For years, his father Edward has told stories, most of which are, at best, hard to believe, and are probably completely false. As his father lays dying, Will comes to visit him in the hospital. Here too, Edward tells more stories, none of which are any more believable than any of the others he has told. Will plays along, even going so far to finish off the story, as his father becomes to weak to finish. As he finishes the story, his father breathes his last breath. At Edward's funeral, Will meets a number of his father's friends. While he indeed learns that some of the stories were, at least exaggerations, he discovers that there was truth behind many of them, and that even the ones which were purely fictional, were not lies.
As I learned more Torah, I discovered that there is no obligation to kiss the mezzuzah, or a sefer that falls. I found out that Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai did not write the Zohar or die on Lag BaOmer. In short I cam to a more halachically valid and historically true approach to Judaism. What I discovered was that not only did this not make my observance more meaningful, it brought out the worst in me. I judged others for practicing a form of Judaism that was inferior to mine. I also discovered that the more I removed from Judaism, the less I was moved by Judaism. Then I came upon biblical criticism and modern scholarship and came to recognize that my “better” version of Judaism had detractors as well. Detractors who could also dissect it, and show how imperfect it is.
I am not suggesting ignorance, where we put our fingers in our ears, and close our eyes to not hear that which makes us uncomfortable. I am suggesting that we dissect, discard and demolish with extreme care. If we do not, we risk destroying the very thing we seek to save.