Friday 5 September 2014

040) Soulless Scholars and Spitting Mystics

It’s amazing how, even a very small number of religious people behaving badly, can have a direct impact on our view of religion. Oh yes, our sophisticated spiritual leaders tell us to look at the system and not at the people who represent the system – but we are still social creatures, very much influenced by our immediate society. When we are confronted by individuals who are visibly extraordinarily religious, with flowing robes and the like, especially when out of geographical context, they do draw very much attention. They may not realize it, but they should.

If they want to stick out against their immediate surroundings and lose their societal camouflage they must behave, or expect to be fair game. Otherwise they bring mine and your religion into disrepute, and I don't see why we have to sit by idly while allowing that to happen.

When an ordinary person does something wrong in public view – that’s bad. When a Jew does something wrong - that’s embarrassing. When a religious Jew does something wrong – that’s inexcusable. When a highly decorated religious Jew does something wrong, it’s time to educate them. If they spit in the streets, push or assault others, send their children out to beg, and then still expect to be entitled to be provided for – something has gone horribly wrong. To find oneself in need, is unimaginably traumatic. To put oneself in need and then fall upon the mercy of a caring community, is criminal. To not educate one’s own children so that they can at least try support themselves when they get older, is child abuse.

I believe that this type of antisocial behavior may sometimes be cultural. But it may even be a result of an exploitation of our mystical tradition.  Mysticism was popularized at a time when the average person never travelled more than 30 kilometers from his birthplace, married someone from his own village, rarely saw beyond the horizon, and felt extremely disempowered. Suddenly there was a system that created wings which could transcend time and space, providing global reach which extended to eternity. Mundane actions and words could bridge the practitioner to Forever. The here and now was no longer real. Reality was always somewhere else and illusive. A beautiful brilliant system when used as prescribed. But a pernicious one when abused.

If my actions are imbued with a type of messianic magic, if my leader’s every actions are world changing and world saving – then why do I need manners?  Why must I prepare for tomorrow, if tomorrow the reality of the world may change? Why should I care about how you perceive me, if I am cemented to something infinitely bigger than you?

Historically countering the mystic, was the scholar. The scholar was either only concerned about acquiring further knowledge, or about becoming a better person and creating a better social environment. In the latter sense, he had to be in touch and interact with his environment in order to affect positive change. This type of scholar followed the rationalist\moralist approach where every action had to create a better here and now. A brilliant system when used as prescribed. But a soulless one when abused.

If my actions are only to create a better society, and if I understand and control the full extent of my reach, then why do I need a spirit or a soul?

The Kotzker Rebbe spoke about Emet Ve Emunah, truth AND faith, rationalism AND mysticism. Good mysticism allows you to become inspired and to be inspiring. Good rationalism allows you build institutions like Hatzollah.

In the politics of the 1970’s you were either right wing or left wing. In today’s politics, aligning oneself to one or the other may be considered a little extreme.  The world is currently so complicated that a thinking person finds himself sometimes leaning a little to the left and sometimes a little to the right. Perhaps we need to do the same with our theology. Those of us locked too tightly into one or the other religious systems exclusively, may find ourselves becoming soulless scholars or spitting mystics.

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