2005-06-20

RCB shiurim, the obligation to feel, and self-deceit

Since it's this week, I thought I should point folks to one of the most enjoyable shiurim that Rav Brovender gave during my time at HaMivtar: פרשת שלח. He gave this as his regular Thursday-night parsha shiur shortly before I left the Yeshiva. It is one of moments through which I recall Rav Brovender at his best: asking the questions that begged to be asked but often aren't, ranging across a range of sources to find clear פשט (in this case mostly the הפטרא from יהושע and גמרא סנהדרין), and hysterically funny for much of the way there. I think it's well worth a listen.

Just yesterday I also came across another RCB shiur, this one a version of a very powerful shiur he gave over seuda shlishit at the Yeshiva one shabbat. I was overjoyed to find that he had given it elsewhere when it could be recorded. It's titled "Lessons from an Ordeal, Reflections on Thanksgiving, and Thoughts on the Situation in Israel Today", and is described thusly on the Atid website:
In this recording, Rabbi Brovender tells the story of his ordeal, and shares with us the lessons he learned about chessed and hoda'ah (kindness and thanksgiving), as well as reflecting on the "matzav" (situation) in the State of Israel today.
(In passing, for those that don't know, Atid is an organization founded by Rav Brovender and dedicated to addressing problems in the philosophy of jewish education and educational leadership in the jewish community.) The quality of the recording isn't great, so you may want to fiddle with the EQ in RealPlayer, but it's worth it. Related material is available here on the Atid website.

Combining some of the themes from both of these shuirim is a talk Rav Brovender gave to the Yeshiva on his return to teaching after his attack. The text is available here.

A substantive remark: At one point in the second of these shuirim, Rav Brovender says that he can't understand how jews can discuss giving up control of הר הבית (the Temple Mount) without crying. This is very much a "him" thing to say: he doesn't take at stand on what political stance we should adopt on giving up control of territory —presumably there is room for debate on that question— and instead he concentrates on how Judaism demands that we feel as we contemplate what stance to adopt, which is in many ways the religiously more important question and one which is too often overlooked in the polarized and ideologically charged atmosphere in which they are usually taken up.

Over shabbat, I found out that someone I have only recently met —with whom I was very impressed and whom I would have liked to get to know better— is making aliyah to Israel, and this has been on my mind since. I feel that something like Rav Brovender's remark about הר הבית is appropriate here too: I do not understand how so many apparently committed jews are not bothered or torn, or feel sad, over not living in Israel. This is not to take a stand on whether anyone in particular should make aliyah, but it is to recognize what seems obvious to me, that Judaism tells us something about how we should feel when we consider the question. Speaking for myself, I feel there are things I need to do here, namely philosophy, but I recognized that this comes at a cost jewishly and that pains me. Someday I may get offered a job doing philosophy in Israel or, being the hopeless romantic that I am, falling for a girl who wants to make aliyah may get me there. (So might failing at philosophy, but that is a thought I cannot allow myself to think.) For now, though, I must live with commitments at variance. What I can't do —what it would be dishonest to do— is to imagine away this tension by deceiving myself about the costs and consequences of my choices, no matter how much easier that might make it to live with them. I think many jews in the diaspora, especially in North America, fall all to easily into this sort of self-deceit and, in doing so, they place themselves in a position of much greater tension, though they are unaware of it, for they have placed themselves at variance with יהדות itself. While I understand psychologically how this happens, I cannot understand the preponderant complacency about this phenomenon.

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