" Thou comest to me with a sword and a spear and a shield, but I come to thee in the name of the L-rd of Hosts, the G-d of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast humiliated..." (I Samuel, 17:45-47)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Response to a Reader

Whether or not I agree with them, I appreciate the opportunity to engage in an intelligent discussion with a reader.  In response to my latest post, "The Amuqah Idolatry", I received a comment from a reader which prompted a dialogue. In the interest of elucidating my position for other readers, I decided to include his comments (in purple) and my responses (in blue), in the form of a post.

Jesterhead45: Out of interest what is your opinion of Hitbodedut, is that something which is foreign to Judaism? - 2/11/11 
Daniel Ben Shmuel: My opinion is that I am unaware of any normative Torah source that supports this "practice." What I am aware of is the fact that contemporary expressions of "hitbodedut" often encroach into the world of paganism and primitive worship that has more in common with eastern-idolatry than Judaism. Of course I could be wrong. Perhaps you could point out some classical Torah sources (other than chasidic writings)which refer to it. - 2/12/11 

Jesterhead45 : I see where you are coming from regarding the practice of hitbodedut, though I fail to see how laying one’s cards on the table (so to speak) and speaking to G-d with complete honesty, in order to gain a clearer understanding of one's personal motives and aspirations can be considered pagan or a form of primitive worship.

Especially since one is essentially praying to G-d, talking about his or her issues to G-d and expressing one’s gratitude to G-d.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any non-chasidic sources that refer to hitbodedut though for what it’s worth I have come across a book about the practise called “In Forest Fields” by Rabbi Shalom Arush, which claims to have approbations from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef amongst other people. It would be interesting to hear non-chasidic views on the practice of hitbodedut if they exist.

Thing is, I would of thought that all Orthodox rabbis agree, or at least should agree, that the Torah is not something academic and detached but rather, a means to come close to God. That is not to say I agree with stuff like “amuqah”, it is just I fear where an overly rational anti-emotive approach to Yahadut will lead. - 2/12/11
Daniel Ben Shmuel: I appreciate you intelligent points, and your desire to have an intellectual discussion. As a result I would like to address your points in a follow-up blog post entitled "Response To A Reader." Thank you once again for providing a forum to engage in these issues, whether or not we ultimately will agree with each other. 2/13/11

My latest response: I am not denying or denigrating the right of man to call out to Hakadosh Baruch Hu at any time, and in any tongue. There is a concept of halachic tefillah which is time based, and then there is man's individual right to call out to G-d in general. (Tehillim would certainly be an expression of this, albeit on a more elevated level.) The main problem with hitbodedut is that it presupposes a false relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu that is based upon primitive thinking. Hashem is not "our friend" as these practitioners are wont to believe. Such childish notions (while understandable for a child) are anathema to yahadut, along with other infantile notions such as those who conceptualize G-d as a bearded old man with a kipah sitting on a throne in heaven. At the very least, such beliefs are heresy. 

I do indeed refer to the idea and actual practice of hitbodedut as a primitive and spiritually dangerous behavior. I don't know about R' Shalom Arush nor do I care to. I'm not Breslov, and I oppose their ideology, so naturally he has nothing to say to me on any matter. (I don't know whether or not Rav Ovadyah Yosef actually gave his sefer an approbation, nor would it matter to me either. With genuine respect and kavod to the gadol, he is not my Rebbe.) Again, I don't think that you can find any non-chasidic source for this practice. It was created by chasidim. I am not a chasid. I see contemporary expressions of hitbodedut as deviations from Judaism that are laden with pagan notions.

Forget about hitbodedut and try to emulate the practice of David Hamelech who used the majesty of the creation and the natural world to reflect on The Almighty. This is indeed a Jewish endeavor, because it solidifies in the mind of any true thinking person that there is a G-d.  As such, even an overnight stay in the forest can be a throughly Jewish expression and an intellectual endeavor, albeit one without the constraints of "dry intellectualism." But to enter the forest for the purpose of screaming out "Aba" like an escaped lunatic from an asylum is an entirely different matter. 

(As an aside, I want to emphasize that there is a danger anytime man approaches nature without the intellect. As the Rambam teaches us, this was the mistake of the people in the days of Enosh, who started to worship the stars as an  expression of honoring The Almighty (l'havdil). Instead of learning from nature and reflecting on the source of all creation, they deified nature and became idolaters. The native Americans  were another example. They accumulated a tremendous amount of real knowledge about the earth. They mastered the science of the interconnectivity of ecosystems, the behaviors of animals, tracking skills, and even patterns of weather. Furthermore, they respected the earth and didn't waste natural resources. The problem? They deified nature.)

I made no reference at all to an academic or detached Judaism, which I course oppose. For the Torah committed Jew, there is no such thing as "academic Judaism." That kind of nonsense is what we see in universities where they make it a practice to tear down the knowledge of The Almighty under the framework of "scholarly research" and "biblical criticism." Nor does a concept of detached Judaism exist for the Jew who is bidden to live every single waking hour as a Torah Jew. 

Overly rational? Anti-emotive? Again you are making false generalizations. There is no such thing as being overly rational. I am calling for Jews to extricate superstition from the Jewish camp and cast it away. A Jew must always use seichal to understand Torah concepts. This is not the pursuit of a secular philosopher. Yahadut requires man's full intellectual involvement, along with a commitment to advancing his intellectual development. Of course at the end of the day, since there are concepts we can't possibly understand (along with notions that the Torah prohibits us to ponder about) we are obligated to follow the mesorah. Our best efforts are always limited. Even Moshe Rabbenu had limitations. 

It is true that a Jew must have emotions. Strong emotions, but ones which are always guided and tempered by Torah. Torah can only be understood with the intellect. There is no such thing as mysticism. Abandoning one's seichal is akin to idolatry. In Judaism, emotions follow knowledge, not the the other way around. The practitioners of hitbodedut and shrine-hopping do the exact opposite. They construct (or deconstruct) "knowledge" based on primitive needs and emotions. And they are particularly dangerous, because their teachings are so attractive to misguided Jews. This isn't Judaism. It is merely a modern manifestation of the pagan drive within ignorant man that has always drawn him to the profane.

I hope this clarifies my position. I don't see Jewish superstitions and abberant practices as harmless folklore. I see it them as genuine diseases to the Jewish soul that distance people from The Creator. As a religious Jew, I feel obligated within the reach of my arm to tear down these false altars and convey true Jewish ideas. I've had enough of this shamanistic garbage masquerading as Torah.  Hakadosh Baruch Hu is "available" (so to speak) to those who search for Him. 

Feel free to continue the discussion. Have a good night.

1 comment:

  1. I feel like practices like hitbodedut are born out of what I see as a growing disconnection between ourselves and HaKadosh Borachu that is a product of this prolonged galut, that has gone on far longer I think than even the compilers of the Talmud could have foreseen. I think that Rav Kahane, of blessed memory, understood this quite well and presented what seems like an obvious solution: to go back to the source of HaShem's teachings...the Tanach.

    I did not grow up in an Orthodox home. Though we observed Shabbat, kept kosher, etc. I did not go to yeshiva or delve deeply into Gemara. Now that I have engaged more in study, and am taking on more and more halachot, I find Gemara study almost tedious and distracting, feeling mired in the debating of minutia of the law. It was almost as if it was taking my focus from the halachot, and distancing myself from HaShem, though this study should have the opposite effect. My reaction to it was visceral and drove me to go back and delve more deeply into Tanach. Studying it, and the classic commentators like Rashi and Ramban, in conjunction with the Kitzur, has been very grounding and has brought my path to HaShem much greater focus. And I think every Jew should take the time to read Rav Kahane's Or Hara'ayon. I find it to be an indispensable companion to my studies.

    We live in a time when gadolim are few and far between. Our rabbinic leadership in America, and in many cases in Israel, is often floundering. It is as we say in tachanun: hitratzeh v'hitpayase l'dor ani, ki ayn ozer. We have no helper, save HaShem. It is no wonder that people are seeking avenues to reach out, even when those avenues border or cross the line. It is in Torah that we will find the connection and truth we seek. Hopefully more and more Jews will see that.


What do you think? I'm interested in your comments.