Saturday, April 16, 2011

Because he says so

Friday nights, we each have our own rituals.
I go to shul.
He goes to bars.

I like going to shul.
I love ritual.
I'm not so sure...
I was raised a third generation Jewish atheist.
Joining a synagogue is a great way to rebel when your parents are atheists.

I love my synagogue.
They don't care how you were brought up.
They don't care if you keep kosher or not.
They don't care if you can't swear to believing in God.
And I find lots to think about.

The prayers, though... the psalms... the blessings and proclamations of devotion... are you surprised that instead of thinking of a god of uncertain existence I'm thinking of the sadist?

I learn a lot when I go to shul.
About Judaism.
About the world.
About what's important.
About our responsibility to make the world a better place.
And about my relationship with the sadist.

Sometimes, the things I learn seem particularly apt.
So I come home and tell him what I learned.
Like last Friday night.
Last night.
When it dealt with pure obedience.

Our rabbi spoke on the thoughts of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev about the week's Torah portion. There are two words for what God expects us to do. Chukim and mishpatim. The latter are commandments for which one can see the reason. Like not killing. But chukim are the ones you do just because God says so.

These get done first.

And why?

To get us in the right state of mind for doing the other ones.

As I wrote in my message to the sadist:

Kind or like putting us in that place, my Lord.
A place of obedience.
Of submission.
Of dedication.

I poked around the web and, not surprisingly, found lots of commentary on the matter. So here, for your further contemplation, is an excerpt from the The Velveteen Rabbi. It's worth going to the full article; you'll find much that relates to submission.

To pure obedience.

Think of Secretary.
And the four peas.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Levi Yitzchak writes:

In our world, it appears to us as if we were created to engage in the things of this world. But in truth, that is not the case. The primary reason that we were created was so that we might come to recognize the unity of the Holy Blessed One...

That is the sense of "This is the law of the Torah:" there are mitzvot that reason compels us to perform. When we do them, we do not sense so strongly that we are performing them because the Creator commanded these mitzvot. That is why the Blessed Creator gave us commandments that reason does not comprehend. When we do them, we more readily recognize that we do them only because of God's commandment.

It's easy to understand why ethical commandments are important. How we treat one another matters. But ritual commandments, especially ones (like the red heifer) which don't make much sense -- those can be harder to cherish. For Levi Yitzchak, the illogic of a chok (a commandment which can't be made to fit our sensible paradigm) is precisely what makes it important. In accepting the chukim, we accept the "yoke of heaven" and acknowledge God's sovereignty.

There's something beautiful about that. It affirms that there are things in this vast universe which are beyond our comprehension and beyond our control. That life isn't all about us. [...] All of our strivings and disagreements and philosophical ruminations are not the point. Performing chukim has an impact on our spiritual awareness. They're devotional practices, not intellectual exercises.
[ . . . ]

"Today we are all Jews by choice," writes Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. "The old understanding of being commanded was of commandments handed down the mountain, of an authority beaming down on us from above. Today any sense of commandment must come from within, from inside us. Can we feel commanded without feeling coerced?" [...]

Chukim [...] are the deepest level of mitzvah, and the hardest level to understand. The root of the word is one which denotes "engraved" -- these are the proverbial rules carved in stone. As Reb Zalman notes:

In order to reveal an engraved message, the medium of transmission must give up something of itself: this is what the chipping-out process of engraving entails. And the medium of transmission here is us. More than the other types of mitzvot, the chukim ask for a higher level of surrender to a will that is not our own.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A higher level of surrender to a will that is not our own.

Just obey.
As an act of devotion.
As an act of dedication.
And to remember that he rules you.


Malcolm said...

I like this post very much, there's a whole lot of very interesting stuff in it.

Obeying commandments without any logical reason to them is something not readily accepted in Western Society today. Nevertheless, we have to acknowledge that any Master we choose we only choose because his knowledge, wisdom or skill is greater than ours and of course that means we don't always understand why he gives those commands. It's only sensible to obey them - IF they really do come from him and not second-hand through others who may or may not have got it twisted.

How can we know if the commands really come from the Master? If he's a human Master, it's easy of course; but if not, it becomes a whole lot more tricky and uncertain. Those worshipping a human Master have the advantage in this respect.

oatmeal girl said...

But DO we choose our Master, Malcolm? Perhaps in deciding to follow a religious leader, or a mentor, or a philosopher, many of us might think it through and after careful consideration decide yes - this person knows and understands more than I do and can take me down a path to a light of understanding I wouldn't otherwise know.

But how many of us truly choose a dom?

How many of us address someone as Master who truly deserves that title?

Even when love doesn't insert its disruptive influence, there are things in bdsm, which lure us and cloud our judgment. Things that hold us, and may be satisfying yes. But it can also be seductive, and cause us to give greater credence to someone claiming to have greater knowledge or wisdom or skill. The commands may be from him (or her) - but are they really worthy of being followed?

I think it's luck as much as anything that determines whether we were fortunate enough to give ourselves to someone worthy of the title.

By the way, I don't think I've ever thanked you for coming here and commenting. Your words are always thoughtful, and I appreciate that a lot.