Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Thursday, 24 March 2016

One Objective First

There is an old story about Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev who was challenged to show God's power in this world.  To do so he asked his servant to bring something the local ruler had declared as contraband.  After insisting on it the servant went out and eventually returned with the item.  After that he asked the servant to bring him some bread from a Jewish home, the caveat being that this occurred during Pesach.  Again the servant needed some pushing but eventually went out.  This time he came back empty handed.  Reb Levi Yitzchak triumphantly pointed out that a human rule with police and courts couldn't get people to follow his laws but God in Heaven could count on his nation to be obedient without anything to enforce His law.
Nowadays, of course, the story wouldn't have ended the same.  The servant would easily have found bread, nebich, and returned with it to his master.  We therefore have to look at this story and draw a different conclusion.
Before we can demand obedience to the Creator, we have to restore His position as our ruler.  Despite how obvious that seems, it's not a simple task at all.  Both within the frum community and without, God takes a back seat when it comes to our priorities.  We mumble about Him in our prayers, say Baruch HaShem instinctively and all that but when was the last time most of us were moved to talk privately with Him, or to mention Him without it being in some official context.  We struggle with "Gadol worship" and chassidish venerations of their Rebbe as a conduit between them and the Creator.  The extra level dulls our connection.
Outside the Torah observant world the situation is no better.  There God is an impotent, all-approving figure whose job is to reward us for our good deeds (and we'll subjectively decide on what those are) and refrain from judging us when we fail to meet His standard. 
Is this any surprise though?  In a famous story in the Midrash similar to the one above, one of our Chachamim tries the same thing with a Roman emperor, this time the challenge being for the emperor to ban all fires in the city.  At the end of the day the two stand on the roof of the palace, survey the city and see a single pillar of smoke in the distance.  Nowadays there would be dozens of such pillars and everyone would have an excuse as to why the law doesn't apply to them.  We live in a society when the cardinal rule for lawfulness is "It's only illegal if you don't get caught".  We are not so isolated as to be immune from this attitude.  Outside the frum world you can find lots of bread on Pesach.  Inside the ranks of the pious you can find crimes just as bad, just as easily.
If there is therefore to be a change within the Jewish nation, especially within Israel itself, we must ask ourselves what one simple change we can make to turn ourselves towards God and His expectations for us.  Bullying people into keeping Shabbos whether they want to or not, telling them how to use the mikveh or not, isn't doing it.  What would?
Perhaps all parts of the Jewish community need to be reminded that God is our King.  Stop, period, nothing more.  Until now we have failed to do that because of the implications that come with it.  If God is King, then how dare any of us tolerate disobedience, either within ourselves or from our brethren? 
I would suggest that the same way we see infractions of law from our fellow citizens wherever we live, citizens who nevertheless recognize the legitimacy of the government they live under and who, if forced, will therefore obey its laws, we approach ourselves in the same manner.
You can't force a person to keep kosher without his accepting that there is an Authority who demands it of him yet that is precisely what so often happens.  You can't expect a person to abandon secret sins if he is convinces that the all-seeing Eye in the Sky isn't watching him at certain times.
Before we worry about the little things, or frankly even the big ones, we have to work on re-establishing His authority.  Once all Jews recognize that, despite their level of observance or non-observance, there is a God in Heaven that we are all governed by then we can talk about bringing people around to a more proper form of behaviour.  Accept the government, then push the laws.


Maoz said...

Excellent point! Glad I found your site!

Mr. Cohen said...

The word king [melech] is one of the most important words in Judaism.

But in our times, the full meaning of that word has been lost, because Jews alive today have never stood in the presence of a real live human king.

This problem afflicts even the most Orthodox Jews, not just the Reform or the Conservative or the unaffiliated.

If we were standing in the presence of a real live human king right now, we would all be trembling with fear. Also, we would be unable to think about anything other than the king. We would not speak even one unnecessary word in the presence of the king, for fear of provoking the wrath of the king.

And with good reason! A real king has the power to immediately sentence anyone who angers him to death, or other severe punishments, and nobody can overrule him. A real king has the power to immediately grant riches and rewards and honor to anyone who pleases him, and nobody can stop him. A real king also has the power to reward or punish deeds that happened many years ago.

When a real king commands you to do something, you must do it, even you do not want to do it. When a real king commands you to not do something, you must not do it, even you want to do it.

In a nation ruled by a real live human king, people avoid doing things that might cause the appearance of disloyalty.

In a nation ruled by a real live human king, people will not risk doing things that might be offensive to the king, even if there is only a small chance those things might be displeasing to the king.


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Tuv said...

we got rid of the king idea -- it was nonsense, undemocratic, ridiculous, silly -- we became equal, and vote for our leaders now. kings were pretty embarrassing, and had to go.

go trump..!

Garnel Ironheart said...

What's worse, a constitutional monarchy where the king's power is limited by the constitution (law) and balanced by the Supreme Court (Sanhedrin) or a popular democracy in which the electorate routinely chooses liars, incompetents and narcissists incapable of doing their job properly?
Besides, if you live in Canada or Britain you already have an unelected head of state and they're doing just fine.

RAM said...

In principle, the US is also governed under a Constitution, but the governing elites laugh at it among themselves and do what they want, and the same elites insure that no one learns civics properly as befits a citizen of a republic. The form is there but it's become a shell.

Mr. Cohen said...

Hear me now, believe me later:

If we Jews would internalize the true meaning of HASHEM MELECH, and allow that shining truth to guide all our actions and all our words and even our thoughts, then that would be the-beginning-of-the-end of all our troubles, both individually and collectively.

Tuv said...

monarchies are fun when they have no power. the queen of england is fun. they get to dress well, and have castles, and they are better than the rest of us, and they have a mesorah.

it's good fodder for hollywood, and it make some people feel good. like they are better than they are by association with the queen.

i don't find canadians that absorbed by the royal family, do you?

anyhow -- yes, real democracies have their issues. britain has issues. i imagine canada has some issues. the US picks up the bill for the world's work, its security. we are in many ways the engine, and our laws are evolving but amazing. and the bill of rights is amazing (and written by men...we don't have to even make sure everyone "believes" or "has faith" it is divine.)

the US has plenty of problems -- but what it really does? it lets ALL of its dirty laundry out. that's confidence, and that's the beginning of improvement. you can't improve if you fear revealing problems.

monarchies are the beginning of hiding problems. OJ likes to also hide problems. all movements do. that's why america works, and OJ takes a lot of welfare programs. that's why there is hidden scandal erupting daily.

I love OJers. but don't bulls&*t a bulls(*ter..!

kol tuv,

Tuv said...

revise my comment:

welfare programs are just tangentially related to the question of the problems of not wanting to address problems in "formal" societies: be they OJ, or monarchs. Monarchs are very image conscious, as is OJ society. It's very hard to look at problems plainly when control matters more than anything.

I apologize to poor people of any background who use welfare -- our country is hard on people.


ahg said...

"You can't force a person to keep kosher without his accepting that there is an Authority who demands it of him"

I've met many people who don't believe at all but keep Kosher.