Connecting the Dots: Integrating Reality by Embracing the Maidservant

In the daily liturgy of the Morning Blessings, we ask Hashem to rescue us "from brazen men and from brazenness, from an evil man, an evil inclination, an evil companion, an evil neighbor, an evil mishap, an evil eye, evil speech, informers, false witnesses, the hatred of others, libel, unnatural death, harmful illnesses, unfavorable occurrences, the destructive spiritual impediment, a harsh trial and a harsh opponent….and from the judgment of Gehinnom.."

In this lengthy liturgy of the negative, we are really defining the negative space - what we are not. We are saying, "save me from a part of myself - a motivational structure - in which my motivation comes from the 'other side'." We all know when we are drawing motivation from a negative place. This is a way of looking at ourselves as positive and negative space. What we need to do is to integrate the two.

In the last chapter we began to study a passage from the Gemara (Sanhedrin 75a) in which a group of doctors and a group of rabbis debate the case of a man smitten with passion for a woman. The rabbis insist it would be preferable to let the man die, rather than allow any contact with the woman, even if she is unmarried.

Why wouldn't marriage solve the problem?

Because, say the rabbis, the man is attracted to the secret and the forbidden, and so marriage would not bring him peace of mind. The Gemara concludes with the statement, "Since the destruction of the Temple, the tam-taste/reason for sexual pleasure has been taken [from those who practice it lawfully] and given to sinners, as it is written, Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant'. (Proverbs 9:17)

The rabbis contend that if the doctors expose the woman to this process, they would be promoting an obsessive and addictive approach to sexuality. It would be demeaning to the family involved, it would be demeaning to the woman, and even if they were married, it wouldn't help, because this attitude towards sexuality can persist even after marriage. For the man, the obsession is the focus, not the true essence of the woman.

Rashi focuses on the Gemara's use of the word tam, which means both 'taste' and 'reason', when describing sexuality after the destruction of the Temple. He explains that people at the time of the destruction were overly worried, implying that worry and depression kills healthy sexual desire. If depression and worry have killed healthy sex, we are left with dissociative sex.

The Gemara relates healthy sexuality with the Temple because in Temple times women would come with a sacrifice in order to renounce vows they had made, during the pain of childbirth, not to ever have sexual relations again. The Temple in this context is much more than just a building. The place of the Temple is a place of awareness, a place of being awake. The times of the Pilgrimage Festivals were times of awakening of the subconscious.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin says that since the destruction of the Temple, the worry and distress prevalent among the people means that sexual desire no longer comes from a healthy place - that there is no longer any ta'am- - taste for healthy sex. Rashi says to redress this problem we must make the laws tasty as delectable dishes on the table. (According to Rashi, we call book of Jewish law the Shulchan Aruch-- - 'Set Table' because we must make the laws 'tasty').

The Temple is a place where the pain of labor and birth are connected the pleasure of sexual interaction. This is an integrated model of sexuality. When the Temple is destroyed and this model is lost, all that is left is a dissociated sexual model, in which sexuality comes from "stolen waters" and "bread eaten in secret". In this non-integrated model, the motivation for sex is found only in fantasies of the forbidden.

Motivation can either come from a healthy, integrated place, described by Rashi as a delectable feast, or it can come from the attraction of forbidden fantasies. In this non-integrated model, a person can disconnect sex, even from the person they are with, by fantasizing about someone else simply in order to stimulate their ability to have sex. The key word is ta'am- - which means 'reason' as well as 'taste', because the dilemma of the non-integrated model is the choice between tasty but undesired food, and food that is desired, but has no taste. When food is bland and tasteless, we have not option but to create artificial attraction.

If, however, we embrace and integrate the entire process, positive and negative, the taste is intrinsic. When we only embrace the pleasurable 'positive' aspects, and dissociate them from the negative, they inevitably start to become bland, and so we artificially pump up the experience. Instead of coming from a solid place, interest can only come from a manufactured, conjured place. And so, what seems to be the 'wet blanket' of negativity and pain in childbirth is really the spice that makes sex tasty.

The Talmudic passage summarized above is a very ambitious piece. The debate between the rabbis and the doctors is very dramatic, and covers a lot of ground. It starts out as a discussion about the dilemma of the suffering man, and then moves through the issue of whether the woman is single or married, to the destruction of the Temple, and concludes with a one line summary of the meaning of negative motivation.

The Mei Hashiloach picks up on this concept of ta'am in his commentary on the verse "Justice, justice you shall pursue" (Deuteronomy 16:20) from Parshat Shoftim.

Quoting Proverbs 21:20 - "Precious treasure and oil are in the shelter of wisdom, and a fool of a man will be consumed " - the Mei Hashiloach defines a "fool" as a person who does not understand the ta'am- reasons for the Mitzvot.

Hassidus generally contends that Gevurah can never be only for its own sake, because Gevurah for its own sake shuts things down. In this context, Rashi's 'delectable table' is a symbol of an integrated motivational system, as opposed to an addictive or a dissociative one. A dissociative system is one in which a person deliberately refrains from connecting the dots. This behavior is characterized by a complacent numbness or denial.

As Rashi intimates in his comment on the passage from the Gemara in Sanhedrin, we need to face our depression and our worry, and this is symbolized by connecting the pain of childbirth with the pleasure of sexual release, because they are both part of a single package. If a person chooses not to think of them as one, he is refusing to commit to reality, and he changes the whole structure of things. Even though a woman may not want to think of labor pain while having sexual relations, the reality is that they are connected.

When, in the Shema, we say, 'you shall love the Lord your God b'chol levavcha' - this is understood as "with both your hearts", meaning with your evil inclination as well as with your good inclination. We can do this by addressing our own negative space - as explained in the last chapter with reference to the morning blessings. Asking God to save us from the evil inclination is not a rejection of the evil inclination, but an incorporation of it. In the integrated model, we can worship God with both sides of ourselves - b'chol levavcha - with both your hearts.

This is a very difficult idea, and it is easier said than done. The Mei Hashiloach quotes the Gemara (Eruvin 6b): Of he who adopts the restrictions of Beit Shammai and the restrictions of Beit Hillel, it is written, 'And the fool in darkness walks'. (Kohelet 2:14). The Mei Hashiloach describes a 'fool walking in the dark' as someone who adopts a severe approach to Torah restrictions on himself without understanding the reasons for them.

This represents a radical departure from the concept of 'blind obedience'. The underlying assumption is that all mitzvot have reasons, and those least accessible to us are the deepest, albeit less linear. The Ishbitzer in Mei Hashiloach calls one who does not seek to understand the ta'am-reason for an observance a fool. Even though, says the Isbitzer, in the depth of his heart the person fears God and does not want to do the wrong thing, nonetheless, he is strictly observant over things for which he does not know the reason. In this place - in the place where he observes yet does not understand the depth of the law he is observing - he is called a fool.

When we encounter people who are machmir-strictly observant of a practice they don't understand, it strikes us as ignorant. The Ishbitzer expresses the hope that people will recognize and admit to areas they do not understand. In a situation such as this, being machmir is not a case of transcending reason and logic, but merely a cover-up for lack of understanding. This kind of cover-up is often the basis of fundamentalism.

Once a person recognizes that he doesn't understand, once he is willing to admit it and say it out loud, then, says the Ishbitzer, he can be thirsty to hear the reason, and he will search it out, perceive it and "integrate it into his bones". If, however, he hides behind blind obedience, he is destroying his own motivation.

This, says the Ishbitzer, is the meaning of the biblical verse 'Justice, justice you shall pursue': "Even when a person has no understanding of a mitzvah, his heart must not pause from searching for it. He should open up the gates of Binah- Intuition, to understand the reasons for the Torah and the Mitzvot, for he who does this is called a yoresh-inheritor of the Land of Israel, as is written in the Gemara (Baba Batra 129): 'Inheritance has no point of cessation'.

The person who walks in a straight path comes to a stop when he reaches the limits of his understanding, and yet, between his perception and the essence of good in the Mitzvah, there is there is an inheritance that never stops." In this understanding of the Land of Israel we can find the significance of the forty years the Jews spent wandering and falling and making mistakes in the wilderness. They represent forty years of traveling from the mind to the heart. Although the Jewish people heard the Torah at Sinai intellectually with their minds, it took them forty years of failures to integrate it, to understand the reason for it. It is the failures, the 'negativity' that makes the process healthy, integrated and 'tasty', whereas the dissociative model, which focuses only on results, leads to blandness that can only then be removed by fantasies.

In the integrated model, the lower, physical world is raised to kedusha/holiness and thus made special, while in the dissociative model things are made less special and more generic. The ultimate manifestation of this is pornography, which makes sex totally generic. Kedusha-Holiness is about making things more and more specific, while the dissociate process makes them more and more general.

The Mei Hashiloach makes this point very powerfully in the following commentary on Parshat Re'eh (Mei Hashiloach Part B):

"You shall eat there before God your Lord, and you shall rejoice in all that descends from your hand, you and your households, through which God your Lord has blessed you." (Deuteronomy 12:7) This refers to Shiloh. Later, (Ibid 9) is written "If you have not yet come to your resting place and to your inheritance…"

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 20) says this refers to Jerusaleem.

On Shiloh 'maidservant' is not mentioned; only with reference to Jerusalem is it written, "And you shall rejoice with your maidservant and your manservant (Ibid 12). The concept 'maidservant and manservant' refers to physicality - that this should also be raised to a state of holiness, because even at this lowest level a person can experience wondrous sanctity. The only way to achieve this is through King David, for by way of his actions even the lowest physical level of 'maidservant and manservant' was purified.

Thus it is written (II Samuel 6:20-22) "And Michal daughter of Saul came out to greet David and said, 'How does the king of Israel honor himself - exposing himself today in the eyes of the maidservants and the manservants!" David said to Michal "Before Hashem who has chosen me instead of your father and his entire house, to command me to rule… With those maidservants of whom you spoke I will be honoredd. So to her dying day Michal daughter of Saul had no children."

What is the Mei Hashiloach saying with this text? This is the subtext, as I understand it. David says to his wife Michal, 'Your father Saul, who saved Agag the Amalekite, was ultimately a victim of the Amalekite process. He would never be caught dead taking his shirt off and dancing with the servants. He saved Agag, his worst enemy, and he tried to kill me, his best friend.' Saul is the prototype of depression in the Torah.

Amalek's world is a dissociative world - a world in which up is up, and down is down. Saul saves his worst enemy and tries to kill the only one who can save him from his depression. He is trying to destroy his own Prozac. He lives in a dichotomized world of self-sabotage. Saul - the Torah's main suicide - dies from depression. Earlier in this chapter (II Samuel 6:1-19) David had seen Uzzah struck down while bringing the Ark to Jerusalem. The Ark was carried on a cart drawn by oxen, and when Uzzah had reached out for the Ark as it slipped when the oxen stumbled, Hashem struck him down on the spot.

After seeing this, David concludes that he needs to 'go down' - that unless he takes off his shirt and dances with the maidservants he will not succeed in bringing the Ark to Jerusalem. So he takes off his shirt and does some crazy dancing, and, sacrificing an animal every seven steps, he manages to bring the Ark to Jerusalem.

In order to succeed in his mission, he needs to totally abandon all pretence, and now he is saying to his wife Michal; 'Pretence didn't work. Where did it get your father? It got him nowhere, and he sunk into depression, and total self-destruction.' King David realized that Saul's way does not work, and that he had to do the opposite - in order to go up, he had to go down to the lowest level.

At the end of the chapter, Michal asks her husband, 'What kind of king are you? Do you call this dignified behavior?' David responds that he will no longer sleep with her, and this last verse links the whole episode with the Gemara we studied above, as well as giving it added depth. David is not being vindictive. This is not a story of petty marital relations. Through the Ishbitzer's interpretation we see it as a story of profound philosophy and viewpoint.

In general, we are trying to promote a process we may call 'the Power of Negative Thinking'. We want to raise the lowest level - the level called 'maidservants' - as was done in the Temple when women re-integrated the pain of childbirth with the sexual experience.

The Temple in Jerusalem is the place where we can raise sexuality, thanks to King David and his crazy dancing. By going down and dancing with his shirt off, David is doing something critical. This is called 'the Mashiach's Torah', because the Mashiach can only come from Lot and from Tamar - from our lowest places.

Redemption cannot be fragmented and dissociated. Redemption can only be integrated, as this teaching from the holy Ari of Safed illustrates: According to his scribe and disciple Rabbi Chaim Vital, the Arizal, Rabbi Yitzhak Luria of Safed, once told his followers on Succot that all the Ushpizin (the seven shepherds of Israel -- Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and King David - who traditionally visit the Succah as guests) will enter their Succah on Shabbat and read the Torah, and that if no one present laughs during the aliyot, the Mashiach will arrive immediately.

When the Ushpizin enteedr, Aaron receives the first aliya, followed by Moshe, and then Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. Finally, King David entered shirtless, doing his crazy dance, and someone laughed. Immediately, all the Ushpizin disappeared, and the one who laughed died the same year.

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