Tuesday, November 23, 2010

אַדְמַת קֹדֶשׁ טְבָרְיָה

I was just thinking about Tiberius (again!) recently (as a result of me absetmindedly singing "אוחיל יום" to myself, which is a piyut praising the holiness of that city).

I posted not long ago on Facebook how it's funny that not only did a huge amount of Jews live in places like Tiberius and Sepphoris (Teveria and Tzipori), and not only did a lot of Rabbis live there, but the Mishna and the Palestinian Talmud were both written there. Why is it funny? Because these cities were built by the Romans and were centers of commerce and commercialism. Jesus himself speaks of how he always found those distant Roman cities to be daunting in their corruption. My message on Facebook was that Jews really are, as the Nazis said, incorrigible Capitalists and mercantile and bourgeois etc.

But then again, we call Teveria "holy land" and a "holy city", even while the Romans were still there. It seems to give credence to something I once heard from Avigdor Miller: he was kind of anti-Zionist and didn't even believe in Aliyah. He said that, in a sense, every Jewish community was "holy land". Even my native Borough Park or Flatbush. I didn't like that view of things when I heard it, but how is different than Teveria? OK, Teveria is in the Holy Land, as has the Kedushah of Eretz Yisrael like any other part of Eretz Yisrael, but so are places like Tel Aviv. OK, Tel Aviv has Yeshivot and Batei Kneset, but who among us would venture to say that Teveria is a holy city? But we see, again, that because of the presence of people like Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, these cities were in fact seen as holy places...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Du Bist Ein Gott, Und Nie Hörte Ich Göttlicheres

I've been exposed recently, here and there, to something I know of through Nietzsche (GS 341) and popular culture, known as the phenomenon of Eternal Return, in which ones reality repeats itself an infinite number of times.

My first recent exposure to the concept has been when I watched (the entire television series of) Battlestar Galactica; a line that is constantly repeated by both Cylons and Humans is, quite similar to the line from Peter Pan, "All of this has happened before, and all of this shall happen again". And, more recently, I saw the 1993 Harold Ramis film, Groundhog Day, in which Mr. William Murray is forced to relive Feburay 2nd in an eternal loop (I had seen the film as a child, but recalled very little from it). Aside from being a feel-good Hollywood romantic comedy, it also brings up some core Nietzschean existential issues: for Bill Murray can only escape the loop when he has completed his mission of living the perfect day--of course, there are moralistic problems with the premise, for example that he improves himself only in order to impress the woman he desires--but otherwise it's thoroughly moralistic.

The only question is, what place does Eternal Return have in religion, and for that matter, Judaism? It is clear that it's origins are in what is known as the "Eastern Religions". Pre-Monotheistic peoples from the ancient Egyptians to the Hindus to the Greeks and even their philosophers believed in certain forms of Eternal Return and of course, reincarnation. And we also know that essentially, Judaism frowns upon reincarnation, or "גלגול" (as an aside, I came to the conclusion a couple of years ago that "גלגול\גלגל", cycle, wheel, is obviously a construct of the word "גל", wave, twice. In other words, a wave that would turn into itself would be a natural cylinder). According to the Torah we only live once, and it's our job to perfect ourselves in order to live out a possible eternal existence in perfection. Not that we'll just return again to this world, to live life over again. Luria and others have devised a form of reincarnation that fits in with the Talmudic conceptualization of Reward and Punishment, but it's not "essential Judaism".

I myself though, ever since I was fourteen years old, envisioned a helpful meditation based on a Groundhog Day-like treatment of Eternal Return (I wonder if that's where I got it from?) that is helpful in a Devotional way. It's also based partly on Luzzatto, who says (in MY) that one should only do something, or indulge in some halakhic leniency, if one is certain that he is doing it because it's permissible, not because his Evil Incantation is prompting him. My idea was that if you wish to do something that you know isn't right, but want to at least indulge in a little, you should think "How intrinsically correct and right is this act? Is this something I'd be ok with doing for a couple of years? Ten years? A hundred years? A thousand? Ad infinitum? If not, then that proves that it's not something you should be doing even for a short time.

May God have mercy on us and return us quickly to His Torah, Amen.

עבד, ס"ט