Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Fundamental Flaw

It seems I've been picking on the Cross Currents gang a lot recently.  Oh well.
This piece by Rav Adlerstein seems to prove an unintended point: a good rebbe can make a drasha out of anything and just because he did doesn't mean there's an actual deep Jewish point there.
Specifically the drasha in this article on the Jewish mystical meanings of chess:
The Chess Game

There is one king. All of the other pieces revolve around him and their entire mission is to protect and serve him. G-d is the King, all else was created by Him, given the opportunity to connect to His truth and to serve Him.
The queen represents the feminine manifestation of the divine, known as the “shechinah,” intimately involved with every aspect of creation, granting vitality and substance to every existence. The queen is the most practically affective piece, often sent into the lines of fire, even placed in danger. Likewise, G-d risks His own dignity, as it were, by investing Himself in every creature and existence, subjecting Himself to the vicissitudes of the human condition.
Then there are bishops, rooks, and knights. They are swift, free, not limited by the squares immediately surrounding them; they can “fly” around freely, without constraints. These are symbolic of the angels-in their three mystical categories we discuss in the daily morning services, “seraphim,” “chayos” and “ofanim,” represented by the bishops, rooks, and knights.
In order for there to be free choice in the world, there are two teams, the white and the black. One team representing G-dliness and holiness; the other team representing everything antithetical to G-dliness and holiness. The teams are engaged in fierce battle. And for the confrontation to be meaningful each team contains, at least on the surface, all the properties contained in the opposite team. Both teams pretend to have a king, queen, bishops, rooks and knights.
Finally, there are the pawns. They are very limited in their travel, moving only one step at a time, only in a singular direction, and they constantly get “knocked off.” But… when they fight through the “board,” arriving at their destination, they can be promoted even to the rank of the queen, something that the bishop, rook or knight can never achieve.
The Pawn represents the human being living down here on earth. We humans take very small steps, and we are so limited in every aspect of our journey and our growth. We also constantly make mistakes and get “knocked down.” But when man perseveres, and overcomes the angst and despair of his or her own failings and mortality, when we fight the fight to subdue darkness and to reveal the presence of the “king” within our own bodies, our own psyches and the world around us-the human being surpasses even angels; the pawn is transformed into a queen! The human life reunites with its source above, the queen, the Shechinah, experiencing the deepest intimacy with the King Himself.
The bishops, rooks, and knights, though spiritually powerful and angelic, are predictable, and limited by their role. There is no room for real promotion, no substantive growth, no radical progression. Yes, they fly around, but only within their own orbit. The angels on high, as well as the soul alone on high, before entering the body, are powerful yet confined by their own spiritual standing. It is the limitations of the human person that stimulate his or her deepest growth. The limits of our existence create friction, causing us to strain against the trials and disappointments of life.
Quite a nice piece and I'm sure there are even Lubavitchers out there who, having read this, will begin telling folks that Chazal, or at least Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, invented chess to prove all these hidden mystical secrets.
There's only one problem.  The Lubavitcher Rebbe says that the king represents God.  Fine, except in chess there are two kings.  Did I miss something?


Rye said...

a) There are FOUR lights!!!

b) There is only one king in chess. Each team is a manifestation of the player's will. People have different ways of playing the game, but there is still only one king in each set of players.

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

Maybe, but according to this analogy, the two teams are very much interacting within the individual. Therefore there are two kings.

Bob Miller said...

Does the dualistic aspect of chess (two sets of pieces, one king each) derive from the ancient Persian religion (Zoroastrianism) that was dualistic? If so, would that make chess a derivative of Avoda Zara?

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

From the little I've read about chess history, the game originates in India/South Asia but was used as a way to teach war strategy to generals, not as a representation of worship

Bob Miller said...

I found some more background: