Things Beyond Reason

In my first interview to become rabbi at Mosaic Law Congregation, I mentioned that I would like to unite a congregation behind a common goal. Rabbi Moses, who was at the interview, asked me to say more about that. I said that for my first year I would set a goal behind connecting a topic, be it Torah, Israel, Social Action or something else, to the congregation through 4 dimensions, or if you’re kabbalistically inclined, through the four worlds.

My Hevruta Mitchell Chefitz taught me about the 4 worlds. The way I found this most constructive is when someone asks me a question from which world is it coming? Is it Asiyah, about constructive action, Yetzirah, emotional or feelings, Beriah, idea focused, or Atzilut, spiritual emanation.

Using Torah as an example, through Asiyah, the dimension/world of action, we would engage in Torah through physical engagement with Torah, be it a Torah roll out, interactive activities with our illuminated Torah, or allowing B’nai Mitzvah families to bring a Torah home the weekend before their Bar/Bat Mitzvah (liability insurance permitting). Through Yetzirah, the dimension/world of emotions, we would explore having Torah connect with our hearts through guided meditation/reiki practice (I’ve actually done a reiki Torah guided meditation), small group discussions about Torah teachings have entered our heart or our relationship with Torah. Through Beriah, the dimension/world of ideas, we can explore resources for giving a D’var Torah (luckily MLC has plenty of excellent darshanim), compelling adult education classes including but not limited to Shabbat Torah Study and connecting Torah to current events. If all three of these are done well than the fourth dimension/world, Atzilut, or spiritual emanation, takes care of itself.

         Why go through this list of possibilities? Because different people relate to torah differently. Those of us who are concrete, centering ourselves in the world of action, or intellectual, focusing on the world of ideation, both would struggle with this week’s portion. What logical rationale is there for someone declared “impure” to take a three-year-old, unblemished and unyoked red heifer, and have it sacrificed on your behalf, its ashes sprinkled upon you? Furthermore, the one who sprinkles the ashes becomes impure through carrying out this ritual. This is the ultimate Hok, law for which there is no rational explanation, which is likely why it commences Parshat Hukkat.

The Piatzetzner Rebbe, Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, writes in his instruction manual Derekh HaMelekh, “We understand that a Hukkah is a law beyond reason/understanding (שכל/sekhel). Rashi explained the derivation of this word from the phrase (see Numbers Rabbah 19:1): “I have decreed this decree [and you are not permitted to trespass my decree]”. This, then, has the sense of “a decree that shall never be trespassed” (Psalms 147:6). In the end, these interpretations are actually one. The command [a parent gives] their child according to some reason (שכל/sekhel) can be investigated by the child, seeking some reason. If it is appropriate, they will do it; otherwise, they will ask its reason. But that command which is given because it is a decree (חוקה/chukkah), because this is what the parent desires beyond explanation/reason is a “decree that shall never be trespassed”.[1] Let’s make this concrete with an example. You tell your child, “Don’t touch the stove!” You have a reason-you don’t want your child’s hand to get burnt. Your child may not understand the reason but does understand from the tone and volume of your voice how serious this is. The Piatzetzner concludes “God has indicated to us that every innovative interpretation [in Torah] that we express (“say”) from our mind (שכל/sekhel) is not “new” from our mind alone, but instead from the innerness of our soul, which is beyond our mind.”[2]

Some things we feel in our gut, our kishke, but we don’t have a rationalization for it. Think about our feelings, especially in relationships. I remember during my year in Israel I fell for a girl at the Hartman Institute who (I didn’t know at the time) didn’t share those feelings for me. After a few dates she said we can’t be together because I’m leaving Israel in 3 months. I tried to reason, saying “We still have 3 months together. Let’s see how it goes. If it works out, I could even come back over Winter Break.” However, logic is no substitute for what she emotionally felt. It is no substitute for what any of us feel, even if we can’t intuit exactly why we feel that way. Thankfully I later met Karina and the rest, as they say is history.

As different people connect with Torah in different ways, I plan to explore this year our engagement with Torah in all of these dimensions. Having opportunities to physically interact with the Torah scroll, emotionally connect with the teachings of Torah and intellectually relate to Torah are all important. It is my goal that in the year 5783 MLC will be united in our engagement in Torah. The goal is not reason alone but rather connecting with Torah in all its complexity. Mind you there is risk involved: one might begin a rationalist and emerge a mystic or an initiative planned to the T might flop. Yet it is our responsibility to continually find new ways to connect with Torah for God is המחדש בטובו בכל יום תמיד מעשה בראשית-the one who renews the acts of creation each and every day.


[1] Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, Derech HaMelech, Parshat Hukkat.

[2] Ibid.

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