Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Super Bowl Thoughts

A little late, I know.
Throughout the ages there have been many critics of pure Halakhic Judaism, yet among them the complaints that are attributed in the Gospels to Jesus stand alone. He is famous for having (been described as) spoken harshly against our relentless emphasis on unusually minute and meticulous details of the law, while we overlook more important, general principles. On מעשר: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith; these things ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel!". There are many, many more examples: "For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders..".

Yet these notions have not been expressed in the Gospels alone, for greater people have voiced similar concerns. Luzzatto (רמח"ל), for example, in the preface of מסילת ישרים says: "There are those who go more deeply into sacred studies, into the study of the holy Torah, some occupying themselves with Halachic discussions, others with...legal decisions. There are few, however, who devote thought and study to perfection of Divine service - to love, fear, communion and all of the other aspects of saintliness. It is not that they consider this knowledge unessential; if questioned each one will maintain that it is of paramount importance and that one who is not clearly versed in it cannot be deemed truly wise. Their failure to devote more attention to it stems rather from its being so manifest and so obvious to them that they see no need for spending much time upon it.. ...Is it fitting that our intelligence exert itself and labor in speculations which are not binding upon us, in fruitless argumentation, in laws which have no application to us, while we leave to habit and abandon to mechanical observance our great debt to our Creator?!".

So what, therefore, is the Pharisaic response to this? What logic is there to spend so much of our tax dollars to support people in Lakewood who discuss the intricacies of פיגול and נותר, according to the רב עקיבא איגר, רשב"א and רב שמעון שקופ? A profound response is given to this question in the beginning of ספר ליקוטי אמרים, by רבי שניאור זלמן מליאדי. In Chapter 5 he explains that since even obscure Halakhot are directly representative of the Divine will and wisdom in regards to our earthly lives, by thoroughly engaging our minds in such topics we are, in essence, receiving a direct emanation from G_d himself into our being; G_d, who otherwise would remain incomprehensible to us (a similar idea was expressed more concisely in רמח"ל's דרך ה; part 4:2).

Yet my own feelings about the subject have always been much more simplistic. On Sunday evening, in America's national yearly football competition (the Super Bowl), during the first few minutes (which is all I watched!), one of the players from the Pennsylvania teem, after a record run, accomplished crossing the ball itself into Arizona's goal line, but not before falling down (perhaps his arms and the ball were in the goal before he fell). There was a discussion by the judges, and that touchdown was not counted.

It would be illogical to suggest that the ruling for such a situation should be determined for the first time while millions of Americans are eagerly awaiting the results. To me it is obvious that rules were set down a long time ago about just such an event which might occur. Now, if Football has exact rules about the most minute details, and how they might affect the reality of the game, then קל וחומר, בן בנו של קל וחומר, אבי גיסו ואחותו הקטנה של קל וחומר in regards to life and religion! Of course the minutest details need attention! How could they not?!
Is loving thy neighbor, having a nice tree for Christmas and dressing up like the guy from the "Friday the 13th" film on Halloween all there is to religion?! Even praying daily, giving charity and other good deeds, how can they be part of a true law without rules and regulations? Even the most minute? This has been the argument for the very existence of the oral law by many of the Spanish Rabbis. It seems in the Torah itself that the author made references to laws which the reader should seemingly be otherwise aware of. And as was mentioned, having our minds engulf these ideas of G_d's will on earth in all it's details is, in essence, the best way to fulfil the biblical precept of "becoming nearer" to G_d.
עבדא דמרא-

1 comment:

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

By the way, Rachel, if you're reading this, I started thinking of this because my mind (at that time) was diverted to the sixth chapter in the Tanya from your blog.