Elul - Ezer C'negdo and Spiritual Longing

There are three psukim that serve as acronyms for Elul. One represents Tshuva - Ina l'ydo u'samti l'cha/ 'I will bring it to hand and place it there for you' (Exodus 21:13); another represents Tzeddakah - Ish L're'ehu u 'matanot l'evianim/ 'one to his friend, and gifts to the poor' (Esther 9:22); and the third, T'fillah, takes the Passuk - ani l'dodi ve l'dodi li/ 'I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine' (Shir Hashirim 2:16), because prayer is a form of love.

The Womb-Walls of Gevurah and the Art of Creating Appropriate Contexts

Even a black hole, which seems so dark, is really full of light. Undifferentiated light is experienced as darkness, which is why, according to the Midrash, the plague of darkness in Egypt was really bright light. In an integrated process, darkness and light, like pleasure and pain, are unified.

R. Kahana said on R. Akiba's authority: The only poor in Israel is the rasha arum/subtly wicked and he who delays marrying off his daughter, a bogereth/deceiver. But is not one who thus delays himself subtly wicked? - Abaye answered: This is its meaning: Which poor man is subtly wicked? He who delays marrying off his daughter, a bogereth/deceiver.

R. Kahana said on R. Akiba's authority: Beware of one who counsels you for his own benefit.

Rab Judah said in Rab's name: One who marries his daughter to an old man or takes a wife for his infant son, or returns a lost article to a Cuthean, - concerning him Scripture says, [that he bless himself in his heart saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart] to add drunkenness to thirst: The Lord will not spare him.[1] (Sanhedrin 76b)

The Gemara here describes in a most extraordinary way the relationship of Gevurah to Chessed. The Gemara puts its case very starkly, by saying that if a Jew finds the purse of a non-Jew, and returns it in order to be 'nice', he is really being cruel. The Gemara compares this cruelty to the cruelty of pairing an old man with a young woman, or an older woman with a small boy. In all three cases, the cruelty is in the creation of frustration. To illustrate this, the Gemara quotes the Torah (Deuteronomy 29:18): [I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of my heart] to add drunkenness to thirst: the Lord will not spare him.

In the scenarios described by the Gemara, the drunkenness refers to the older person, who does not want sex. The sexually active person is the thirsty one, who has been put, as it were, in a place where there is nothing to drink. Anyone who sets up a shidduch-union such as this is promoting bad instead of good, because the thirsty person is being pushed to seek sex outside of marriage. This may all be so, but what does it have to do with the purse of a non-Jew?

Another scenario included by the Gemara in this list of similar cases, is the instance of listening to the advice of someone who has an axe to grind. In this instance, says the Gemara, the person offering the advice will pull you into his bias.

These seemingly utterly disparate cases are in fact unified by the idea of creating appropriate contexts. If I find your wallet, I return it to you, because you are a member of the Covenant. Through the Covenant, we have a reciprocal arrangement, whereby I return your wallet if I find it, and I expect you to do the same for me. This is appropriate. This will build the trust between you and me, because we have a signed covenant - namely the Torah - that produces an evolving trust between us.

The first remarkable thing to become apparent here is just how realistic it is. There is no sense of people needing to be holy and above all earthly desires, to be able to handle the frustrations of mismatched relationships. The text is completely devoid of any moralizing, superior stance. It is creating a realistic framework in which we learn to be very careful in our own lives, and in the lives of others.

The Gemara wants to train people whose sense of obligation takes precedence over their desire to be nice. A person who returns a lost item to a non-Jew does so because he wants to be nice, but this does not take into consideration the sense of obligation which overrides everything.

This is a very complex idea. With reference to Tzeddakah/charity - do I give it out of a sense of obligation, because I am commanded to give away ten percent of my earnings, or because I am trying to be nice and sympathetic towards someone less fortunate than myself?

Judaism teaches "the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God". (Proverbs 1:7; Psalms 111:10). The whole premise of the Talmud is that we have to train people to first react out of Gevurah - out of a sense of obligation, a sense of fear, a sense of authority. The goal is to put Gevurah in the service of Chessed. The ultimate goal is to circumcise your heart - this is Teshuva, this is what makes you a better person. But the Torah's insight is that you can't get there, you can't start to change the world by making the United Nations.

You first have to carefully build up an environment of trust, based on reciprocal obligation and law from the side of Gevurah, before you can get people in general to be kinder and gentler as a group. If I find the purse of a non-Jew, and I return it because I want to be nice, I am being na´ve. First of all, I have to know that the law here in Denver is that I have no legal obligation whatsoever to return the purse to its owner.

This is one of Rabbi Twerski's main teachings to me - that morality is the language of the Torah, and it takes two. It is a conversation. You cannot be moral alone. This is extremely important to understand. So the agreement of the conversation between me and a non-Jew is that I have no obligation. In his system of reciprocal rules I have no obligation to return the purse to him. The same applies to our legal responsibility towards someone who is drowning. According to Western law, we do not have to save them, but according to Torah, we do.

In the Western system, saving a drowning person and returning a lost item has to do with being nice. In the Jewish system, we create an environment of trust through rules, through Gevurah. Gevurah creates an environment, which has to do with the dark space and the fruitful womb. The fruitful womb of Torah is a space delineated by rules. I am a Pharisaic Jew, and a key part of Pharisaic philosophy is this idea of legal obligation.

Christianity rejects this, by saying that love must precede the rules - and in this sense, all the 613 Mitzvot were nailed up on the cross with Jesus. This is Christian theology. Therefore, in Webster's Dictionary, the word 'Pharisee' is defined as 'hypocrite'. In the Christian understanding, if you start out with a rule, instead of being nice, you are by definition a hypocrite. The process of rule and then love - Gevurah preceding Chessed - is rejected by the Christians. They say Chessed-Love must not only precede but also replace Gevurah.

According to Jewish theology, the Christian scenario, which precludes interaction between Chessed and Gevurah, cannot become a fruitful womb. In Judaism, Gevurah is creating an appropriate arena - appropriate boundaries - to match the thirsty with the thirsty, and this really is 'nice' - because then there is reciprocal thirst. If I try to play by my rules, and I go to talk to a Hamasnik about reciprocity, I'm an idiot. I'm not helping the world, I'm hurting the world. To help, I need to be aware of the whole context, and make it appropriate. If I don't do this, and instead naively proceed, I end up doing bad things. I need to recognize that my instinct towards niceness may not be ethically productive.

Morality isn't something I do with myself. As soon as I find that lost item, I am entering into conversation with someone else who has his own set of assumptions. If I do something to be nice, without any agreement of reciprocity, I'm creating a problem. I'm putting the thirsty together with the drunk. If I am honest I must accept that any transaction is a conversation, and I must take into consideration the rule or agreement or covenant that is the framework of that conversation.

None of this means that I can't have a conversation with a non-Jew, nor does it mean that I cannot give back the lost item, but it does mean that when I give it back I cannot harbor expectations of reciprocity. I can give it back in order to sanctify the Name of God, or I can give to publicize Darchei Shalom- the ways of peace, but I cannot expect reciprocity. Similarly, if a non-Jew has a car accident outside my house on Shabbes, I can take him to the hospital. If a Jew had an accident, I must get in my car and take him to the hospital. I can take the non-Jew to the hospital for Darchei Shalom - which is an ethical responsibility - but I can't take him as an observance of the Mitzvah of Pikuach Nefesh - the commandment to save a life, which overrides the laws of Shabbat.

Pikuach Nefesh is a reciprocal agreement between me and the other Jew, as part of our mutual covenantal agreement. The law represents the rules of the game - both parties have to be on the same playing field. If you don't take this into consideration, instead of building trust, you are tearing it down, because you will have people with contrary expectations - as is the case with the older woman and the young boy, or the old man and the young woman. The instance of the lost wallet is bound by very precise rules under Western law. This must be taken into consideration and respected. If you want to be a moral person, you must always size up the playing field in any given situation. The whole idea of introducing law and Gevurah as the first step is to create a more objective awareness of the playing field. The problem with Chessed in general is that even if it seems that a person is trying to be nice, this may not be the case.

Maybe the person is just trying to please people, which is self-interested behavior. Reciprocal agreements, on the other hand, have a sense of justice and merit. The Gevurah womb-walls are trying to build an environment of objective reciprocity and obligation that has the potential to improve the moral quality of human relationships. If Chessed - love and niceness - is the precedent step, we run the danger of winding up in a very cruel world of confused kindness, which doesn't please anyone.

If we look back to the earlier part of the text, we see the line, 'The only poor in Israel is the rasha arum/subtly wicked and he who delays marrying off his daughter, a bogereth/deceiver.' Rasha arum cannot be called 'nakedly wicked', because the word arum - which takes us back to Adam and Eve and the snake - means 'deceitful' as well as 'naked', just as beged means both 'clothing' and 'treachery'. This is a no-win situation. If 'naked' is also 'deceitful', and 'clothing' is also 'treachery', where is the honest position? What is honesty? In the following paragraph, the Gemara warns, 'Beware of one who counsels you for his own benefit.' This Gemara is intimately tied with the Torah of returning a lost item, and with the Tshuva theme of Elul, because the essence of Tshuva is the concept of the soul lost in the body - the soul lost in the physical world.

The Ishbitzer expresses this beautifully in his commentary on Parshat Ki Tetze (Mei Hashiloach, Part A) 'When you wage war against your enemies, God will give you victory over them, so that you will take captives. If you see a beautiful woman among the prisoners and desire her, you may take her as a wife.' (Deuteronomy 21:10-11) The Ishbitzer interprets these verses as referring to the 'power of good' that is found in every nation. The beautiful woman found in battle symbolizes the good that a Jew will find in America, or any other country in the Diaspora.

According to the Kabbalah, these sparks of goodness were sent out into the nations of the world by Adam who, after his divorce, masturbated for 130 years. The whole journey in Jewish exile is this path of sterile, lonely masturbation that Adam took for 130 years. The goal of the Jew is to turn that dark space into light. This is done through Gevurah, by creating an environment where the sparks can give birth, and grow into children. The Jewish people are the agents of birth in the world. We have to go into a country and find and distil the best of that country, and bring it to kedusha/holiness. This is called 'giving birth'.

If I wanted to, I could make a case for Freud and psychoanalysis and Einstein and relativity as part of the process I am describing. The irony here, of course, is that these were both very assimilated Jews. But the birth process takes place along a whole continuum going from the most assimilated Jews all the way to the most observant Jews. In order to carry out the process, everyone is needed. The assumption here is that the achievements of secular Jews are drawn from the foundations of the great Torah scholars. Einstein could not have done his work, if the great sage Rav Aharon Kotler had not done his. Although it appears that Einstein was way beyond Rav Kotler, actually the reverse is true.

What the eye sees is not what I am calling 'birth'. 'Birth' happens in the Torah mind, and then it becomes evident in the more assimilated people. The birth process depends on the Torah minds, not on the secular minds. The Ishbitzer, drawing on the metaphor of the woman captive, says that while the 'good power' is in the midst of the nations, she is in captivity, and she only becomes complete when she is brought into the nation of Israel. This good power, says the Ishbitzer, is tshuka/longing.

The Gemara similarly speaks of longing as the gift of converts. The Jewish people are admonished to bring converts into Judaism, because the task of converts is to constantly long to be a Jew, and the Jewish people need this longing, to remind them not to be complacent - to remind them that a key part of being a Jew is longing to be a Jew. Regarding the captive woman that a Jewish man wishes to take as a wife, the Torah says, "when you bring her home, she must shave off her head and let her fingernails grow. She must take off her captive's garb and remain in your house a full month, mourning for her father and mother. Only then may you be intimate with her and possess her, making her your own." (Deuteronomy 21:12-13).

The Ishbitzer describes this as a "process of clarification" to distinguish between superficiality and true beauty. In terms of our discussion, we are creating a whole framework of expectation, of law, of Gevurah in order to clarify an attraction.

To avoid simply acting out of passion, we need to discern our biases, and this involves the process of clarification. It may turn out that the initial gut feeling is right, but we can only know if we go through the process, starting out with Gevurah, and then moving on to Chessed and passion.

If we bypass this process, we end up with a whole series of mistakes and tragedies and negative, painful outcomes - characterized in the Talmud by the rebellious son - the quintessential addict.

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