Monday, April 2, 2012

Holy People

It’s been few weeks since I posted last time and this kind of neglect of my blog doesn’t happen too often. From the blog statistics I see that people are visiting this blog even more than before and they are reading my old essays as they are not finding anything new since Purim. I apologize to all of my regular readers and the only excuse that I can provide is that some of my last essays were so long that they may last for a couple of weeks. So… this week I’ll post something different than the previous topics of bashing unfaithful, unorthodox and confused.

Holy People 

Saints of the nations - especially devoted individuals who according to their beliefs undertake steps and actions that are supposed to appease their deities.

For example those religious folks who make a yearly pilgrimage to their holy sanctuaries, their version of “Bumois” – high places, who sometimes walk for miles on their knees or even crawl or roll on the ground toward their temples and chapels. Exhausted and bleeding, they believe they are committing the highest possible service to their god thus assuring them good fortune or even a place in heaven.

Or the others, who as a commemoration of the death of their god, allow themselves to be nailed through their palms to a tree. They understand this to be the way they can participate to a certain extent in this human sacrifice, which as they were taught by their priests, happened two thousand years ago in the Holy Land.

Yet others sit for hours and days in the same position while waiting for enlightenment.  They deny their bodies its basic needs, causing themselves pain, they call it meditation. They believe that their corporeal bodies are hampering them on their way to nirvana.

There are also those who take it to the other extreme. In their desire for higher reality, they commit suicide. But it is not plain primitive self killing. The kind of death which they choose, gives them glory in this world as well.

This kind of devotion is extremely difficult and sometimes it can take even years of effort to achieve this single goal – their spirit departing from their body. After denying themselves food and liquids, they starve to death in one of the yoga positions, later to be hung under the ceiling of the temple. Yes! Their dried corpses can be admired by every visitor who can reflect on the holiness of these holiest of people!

Some of these and others, less extreme people, have on their mind such simple transactions which in relations between humans would be called a - bribe. “Hello! god! I will show you my devotion and then you will give me what I want.” This is what many of them really have in their consciousness or sub consciousness. In other words a penitent in his religious action is trying to purchase the favor of god or sometimes even G-d by doing something which he, the penitent, considers as fulfilling the will of his deity. A person doing this act believes that he can manipulate heaven by his actions, by pushing certain so to say buttons of the heavenly machine and this action will result with heaven fulfilling his will or desire.  Yet for others, these kind of acts have a sacrificial character, supposedly to show the deity that the subjects of such atonement are punishing themselves for their sins, as they understand the meaning of sin.

Can we admire such devotion? Can we comprehend the dedication of these saints of the nations to their beliefs, to what they consider holy? Is there anything that we, Jews can learn from such religious acts, something what we can apply in our service to Hashem?

No! Chas VaChalila! G-d forbid! There is nothing here which we can emulate.
I purposely didn’t use quotation marks to describe these people as saints and their acts as holy, I wanted you to believe for a moment that in reality there may be something to consider, something to pursue, and something to learn and perhaps even to follow. But No, No and one more time No!  Such or similar behavior was never known within the main stream of our spiritual path, our Derech Hatorah.

If you look at the translation of the words Korban and Kapura from the Holy Tongue to English, you will see that Korban and Kapura translate to Sacrifice and Atonement. However this translation has no correlation to the original Hebrew meaning. They are used because English has no words to express those specific concepts of Torah.

Our bodies were given to us in order to engage them in truthful service of Almighty. Not by damaging them but the opposite, as Jewish Law requires, giving them all the necessary care. Food, sleep, garb, shelter, marriage, exercise, social life and all other necessities that support the body for the highest of services.

This is not a place to discuss this topic in detail and for the same reason I will not dwell on the story of Akeidas Yitzchok – the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. Volumes were written already on this subject and it is impossible to expound on this topic in a short essay like this one. Nevertheless, I will write B-H a few words, as Akeidas Yitzchok is one of the most known accounts of dedication in the history of mankind.
Yes, it showed to us that in certain circumstances without hesitation we should be ready to give back what is in essence a gift! - Our lives. And yes, G-d considered what Avraham and his son did as if this ultimate act of devotion really happened, as the Machzor for Yom Kippur says – Hashem is taking under consideration the ashes of Yitzchok. But no, it was never intended to make our service harmful in any way or destructive to our bodies.

There is however great difficulty in all of the elements listed above of earthly life which constitutes the essence of this service of G-d. What is this difficulty with performing all of these earthly, mundane actions? Our creator requires us to use and achieve all those means in a moral and ethical way. Ethics and morals are not created by man but are the revealed regulations and laws of the Torah, and this causes a double dose of complexity.
The first difficulty is that these requirements of Torah are specifically designed as a counter balance against the nature of man or corporeality which we also received from the same Creator. The Creator created us with our natural and corporeal desires but later in the Torah He asks us to put restrictions on our nature and corporeal desires. This is one of the difficulties. The second difficulty is that our service is based solely on our faith in His Torah. It is Torah and only Torah which decides what is good and what is evil for us. There are no other criteria of good and evil besides what He revealed to the Jewish nation - the Torah.
Only the children of Abraham, Yitzchok and Yaacov are able to express such faith and prove by their daily devoted lives that they are worthy to carry this most difficult task and test.  It is much easer to undertake from time to time some self-destructive act or even die for G-d. What is really difficult is for a man to live for G-d!, to work on self-control over our thoughts, speech and body for 70, 80 or 120 years, in this unfriendly environment. It is a most thorny task to submit the corporeal to the spiritual as corporeal seems to be so close and spiritual is invisible and remote. The Torah is asking nothing more than to work on, to change but to change ourselves and not to try to manipulate the Heaven with our actions! To subordinate us to the Creator’s will and not the other way around. Then and only than, we may find favor in His eyes and our requests for what is good and helpful can be answered.

I will conclude this essay; like the saying goes to add sweet raisins to the dough, with a sweet morsel from my beloved Rabbi Hirsch, Parshas Vaigash 46:1 “Yaacov’s life up till now had really been little else but an Akeida being realized concretely in actual every-day life.”  To paraphrase, one long Akeida lasting for the whole of Yaackov’s life.

Matys Weiser

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