Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

Spiritual Gridlock

Posted on | January 18, 2008 | By Rabbi Yonason Goldson | 46 Comments

A proposed solution for New York traffic echoes the ancient wisdom of the Talmud

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to end traffic congestion in Manhattan. However, as sympathetic as New Yorkers may be to Mr. Bloomberg’s vision, his proposed method is most likely to produce madness.

To curb the number of vehicles entering downtown (which has grown annually by an average of 8000 per day since the 1920s, according to U. S. News and World Report), the proposed law would encourage (or coerce) commuters to rely on public transportation by imposing a daytime tax of $8 per car and $21 per truck traveling onto the island. City officials believe that this “congestion pricing” would reduce traffic by as much as 12 ½ percent.

Whether or not commuters can be persuaded to practice even occasional abstinence in their love affairs with their cars makes for interesting speculation. However, the concept itself is sound. In fact, it has been used for some time on a much larger scale, implemented throughout every borough of the world by the Mayor of the Universe.

EXPRESS LANES TO FREEDOM
The most the dramatic experiment in mass transit came 3320 years ago when the Almighty split the Sea of Reeds, allowing the Jews to pass through and escape their Egyptian pursuers. In contrast to Cecil B. DeMille’s famous recreation, the sages teach that the sea opened up into twelve distinct passageways, one for each of the Tribes of Israel. As they passed through, the water separating the passages turned clear like glass, so that each tribe could see its fellow tribesmen traveling alongside them.

The design of this miracle teaches three lessons. First, the division of the sea into separate passageways demonstrates that there is more than one way to have a relationship with G-d. The Almighty does not want us to be automatons or clones, sheepishly following whoever is in front of us. Each individual is unique, and his divine service should be tailored to the nature of his singular soul.

Second, the water turning clear like glass reveals the lengths to which we must go to master the human ego. Had the walls of each passageway remained opaque, each tribe would have thought that it alone had discovered the correct avenue to reach the other side, and that it alone was traveling in the right direction to serve G-d. When they saw the other tribes traveling along side them, the Jews of each tribe recognized that they were not the only ones who had discerned the proper path.

The final lesson can be learned from recognizing that there were a limited number of paths. Anyone who did not follow one of the twelve passageways was, literally and figuratively, under water. Every spiritual movement does not become legitimate simply because it declares itself so, no matter how sincere its leaders or followers may be. Every self-proclaimed “holy man” is not genuine simply because he hangs out his shingle or attracts parishioners. Natural laws govern the operation of the spiritual universe just as they govern the workings of the physical world. One cannot render those rules null and void simply by wishing them out of existence or declaring them defunct, any more than congress can annul the force of gravity.

THE PRICE OF PRIDE
There is yet one more insight to be gained from the illustration of the Jews’ passage through the sea, one that is echoed by the New York mayor’s effort to cure his city’s traffic woes.

Consider the car as an allegory for personal autonomy. In a very real sense, we are all control freaks. We want to control our destiny, to chart our own heading, to have our hands on the wheel. Often the greatest demonstration of inner strength comes through humbling ourselves, giving up control and placing our fate in the hands of another. Often this is a concession we are either unwilling or unable to make.

But do we consider the cost? For car owners, the cost is rolled up in the price of the vehicle itself, of gas, insurance, repairs, parking fees, tolls and, perhaps, congestion tax. Public transportation is far cheaper and often more efficient. But still we refuse to relinquish control.

In business, the most efficient workers are those who work as part of a team, who coordinate their efforts with the efforts of others and trust their coworkers to get their own jobs done. Those who try to do everything themselves, or to micromanage others at their work, create confusion, inefficiency, and frustration.

Our relationships, marriages, and families function best when the individuals within them tend to their own responsibilities and allow others to look after theirs. Hovering, ordering, or criticizing before a spouse or child has even had a chance to complete an assigned task breeds resentment and destroys trust.

Spirituality is much the same. We like to think that we are in control of defining our own relationship with the Almighty. We strike out in whatever direction seems right to us, often without any roadmap or compass to guide us in distinguishing good from bad, right from wrong, moral from immoral. We believe that intuition alone will get us to our goal, when we have only the faintest notion of where we are trying to get.

Worst of all, there is available transportation ready to take us to our final destination in the most efficient way. By keeping G-d’s laws and following in His ways, we guarantee ourselves the smoothest possible journey through this world until we arrive at the World to Come.

THE FAST TRACK
But still many of us won’t give up control. So the Almighty levies His “taxes,” creating obstacles that make the paths of personal autonomy increasingly difficult. We feel stifled in our jobs, unhappy with our families, and discontented with the direction of our lives. So we seek out “detours,” looking for fulfillment in the least likely places: alcohol, drugs, gambling, or extramarital affairs. We think change will make us feel better, but we usually find ourselves worse off than before.

Rabbi Elyahu Dessler explains that we find ourselves in emotional or spiritual darkness at those times when we have cut ourselves off from the source of spirituality in the world. But when we “look into the darkness,” when we recognize that we have created the darkness for ourselves by distancing ourselves from the ways of the Creator, then and only then will we begin to find our way back to the light. By giving up control over our destiny, we regain mastery over our soul.

Whether taxing drivers will solve New York’s traffic problems remains a mystery. But it is in our hands to solve the mysteries of the spirit by following the well-trodden path of the generations that have gone before us. By retracing their steps, we can have confidence that we are not solely dependent upon our own devices to chart our way out of the darkness of confusion, but that we have a clearly marked path to follow toward the light of true meaning.

This article first appeared in the Jewish World Review.

Comments

46 Responses to “Spiritual Gridlock”

  1. KM
    January 18th, 2008 @ 3:09 pm

    Rabbi, thanks for writing a great and inspiring article.

  2. R' Bar-Chaiim
    January 20th, 2008 @ 3:50 am

    Another lucid and deeply encouraging piece by Rabbi Goldson. You’ve spelled out a few crucial principles for setting our souls on the path of HEALTHY Divine Service.

    Using your metaphor of krias HaYam, however, you’ve opened up a Pandora’s box re. why this powerful lesson was not heeded AFTERwards! If ever we were “control freaks” it was right after this, in our demands for knowing where the food was coming from, etc. So how come we don’t get it??

    Also, if I may correct you a tad, you write “Each individual is unique, and his divine service should be tailored to the nature of his singular soul” – but then go on to say the number of paths were limited. So let’s be honest: They were not limited to 600,000 +, but merely 12. That is, the idea of “singular soul” does not apply; only TRIBAL soul.

  3. Neil Harris
    January 20th, 2008 @ 12:53 pm

    “By giving up control over our destiny, we regain mastery over our soul.” This sentence alone was worth my dsl payment for the month!! :)

  4. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    January 20th, 2008 @ 1:59 pm

    R’ Bar-Chaiim:

    The sad, simple answer to your question is tautological: we’re in galus because we still DON’T get it. As Chazal say, every generation that doesn’t rebuild the Beis HaMikdash is considered as if they destroyted it. The same small minded senseless hatred that turned Jew against Jew back then still characterizes too much of the Jewish community today. When we apply these lessons without the suffering of galus, then we can bring Moshiach.

    As for your second point, there is still plenty of room for individual expression within the 12 tribal passageways. The limits are set by the boundaries of halacha.

    Neil:

    If you’re really enthusiastic, I can forward you my dsl bill as well. (-;

  5. Bob Miller
    January 20th, 2008 @ 5:19 pm

    This article contrasts the individual Jew following his own path with Klal Yisrael following its set of traditional paths.

    In looking at our situation, we also need to consider the social fragmentation that has now created umpty competing versions of “designer Orthodox Judaism”. If the factions were willing and able to work together for the common good, their multiplicity could even become a positive force. However, under present conditions, that is becoming ever more difficult to arrange. Rabbi Goldson, what are your thoughts on dealing with this?

  6. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    January 20th, 2008 @ 9:51 pm

    Bob, I think you just said it all.

    This was the point I was trying to make in my earlier “in the middle” series, which was mistaken by some to be a call for homogenization, but which was really calling for a recognition that diversity within the bounds of the halachic and hashkofic main stream is the potential source of incaluclable spiritual strength.

  7. DK
    January 20th, 2008 @ 10:52 pm

    Your “in the middle” post made the same mistake you are doing here. You are taking a group of people who HAVE to go through the DESIGNATED tunnel because they are BORN INTO A TRIBE, and trying to say this allows for “individualism.” This is an egregious misuse of the word “individualism..

    “Each individual is unique, and his divine service should be tailored to the nature of his singular soul.”

    This you determine from a midrash that says there was one tunnel per tribe? For everyone in the tribe…period? That’s “individual” tailoring?

  8. R' Bar-Chaiim
    January 21st, 2008 @ 1:35 am

    As one who wrote a recent post on “Orthodox Individualism”, I cannot take DK’s outrage sitting down. While I also challenged the author to make it clear that we’re talking about intra-tribal individualism, his point remains valid. Surely H’ didn’t “need” to have them cross in such a complicated way unless He wanted to teach a crucial lesson about Geula being far from a robotic, one size fits all experience.

    As for HOW to find one’s individuality within the constraints of your tribe, I refer you to that passuk I brought in the beginning of my piece, based on the Nesivos Shalom, re. “You (each individual) should do what is good and honest in the eyes of G-d.” This is the TACHLIS of Av’ H’ that becomes only possible re. the ego-refinement process of limiting yourself to the particular holy boundaries of your tribe.

    Or in the words of the Aleinu: “To repair the world in the Kingship of the Alm-ghty.” NOT to get everyone to SUBMIT to the Alm-ghty (cf. Islam) but to REPAIR the world. Such “Tikkun” is ultimately a positive, individual experience of applying what you’ve learned from the discipline of a Torah life.

  9. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    January 21st, 2008 @ 9:04 am

    I wonder what DK would want HaShem to have done: create 600,000 separate passageways through the sea? Or twice that many to offer a separate choice to each individual? Or 3,000,000, so that every woman and child could choose separately as well.

    R’ Bar-Chaiim articulates well the point that HaShem does not want spiritual or moral anarchy. He wants each of us to find his own path, together with those who share his distinct inclinations, within the boundaries and limitations of the Torah.

  10. DK
    January 21st, 2008 @ 9:42 am

    Rabbi Goldson,

    I would say that this midrash does not teach anything about individualism. Rather, it teaches about different groups. Allowing for different though limited schools of thought and allowing for individualism are simply not the same lesson, and perhaps cannot be learned from the same midrash.

    Certainly not this one.

    Individualism is about the INDIVIDUAL.

    That is,

    “1. a single human being, as distinguished from a group.”

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/individual

    This midrash simply is not speaking about “individualism” in any way shape or form. Stop referencing it as having to do with individualism. That is not the point of this midrash. It is about different TRIBES. Both you and R’ Bar-Chaiim are abusing the English language utterly by conflating these two very different ideas. R. Bar-Chaiim is going so far as to claim this midrash denies individualism. I don’t think it is at all. It is SILENT on this issue. It is about different tribes…not individuals.

  11. Ron Coleman
    January 21st, 2008 @ 10:45 am

    I knew this was sounding familiar!

    On November 8th of last year we had, among more or less the same people, more or less the same discussion. I wrote this in these very pages, and I will reiterate it:

    Is “individualism” a Jewish value at all? I doubt it. I believe that Judaism does indeed recognize individuality as a fact and perhaps even something to be embraced. But individualism is primarily defined thus: “Belief in the primary importance of the individual and in the virtues of self-reliance and personal independence.” The first clause is key. I don’t believe traditional Judaism shares this concept of “primacy” of the individual. I believe that concept is, in fact, anathema to Judaism!

    Now, having said this, I have no doubt whatsoever of the value of individuality, and embracing individuality, for one’s Avodas Hashem. In fact it may be the case that many of our present challenges as a community are the result of an excessive de-emphasis of individuality.

  12. Bob Miller
    January 21st, 2008 @ 12:26 pm

    Someone could publish a very nice statistical paper on the periodicity of discussions in blogs. This could analyze things like:

    1. Overall, how long does it take for an issue to come up again on a Jewish blog?
    2. Does there have to be a new “trigger” to set off the repetition?
    3. Do different topics have a different periodicity?
    4. Are the rerun discussions longer or shorter than the preceding ones on the same topic?
    5. Are any minds changed during the hiatus?
    6. Does repetition influence reader interest (such as: are they too bored to read it the second or third time around)?
    7. From one manifestation until the next, do people forget how terms were defined?

  13. Jaded Topaz
    January 21st, 2008 @ 9:21 pm

    DK, good point on the paths being designated for each of the specific 12 tribes….

    I think that point blatantly proves that the paths had nothing to do with “choosing” a personal path that resonates with one’s inner sense of escape/dislike of the desert and or personal freedom.
    And everything to do with being told what to do /where to go and what roads to take to get there.
    Its not clear though how the paths were different.
    Also I think the paths were much more simple /user friendly and structured back then at the red sea crossing. not that much room for distraction and scenic route spin-offs.

    So were all the paths pre-determined,Or did the elders of the tribes get together and do a weekend tribal conference desert retreat, replete with full disclosure displays in booths emphasizing the pros/cons and mission statements of each of the 12 paths in a handy 12 page pamphlet.
    And concurrent sessions of chanoch hanar al pi darcho presentations in the sand given by smiling aspiring leaders.
    Thus allowing all individual tribe men women and children the ability to decide for themselves what route across the red sea best resonates with their sense of individual escape/freedom and free will.

    Were each of the paths a whole different manner of traveling across the sea ?
    How were each of the paths different .
    Could you switch paths midway, did any tribe not allow members of another tribe to join ?
    Were there actually different sea routes taken ?

    Also, I’m not sure I understand this metaphor in its entirety.
    When you compare mass transit options in NYC to the 12 simple ? straightforward ? linear paths each of the tribes used to cross the sea using the same origin for departure, its unclear how you are doing the actual comparison and what parts of mass transit your focusing on.
    There are different parts of what could be considered mass transit in that it helps the masses get into NYC, from buses/trains/subway/shuttle/path train/lightrail etc….
    Sitting on the A train to NYC is not the same as sitting on the Q34 bus and switching for the 2 .
    Sitting on the 2 train from Brooklyn, the J from Canal st, or the 7 from grand central you will probally make different travel friends than sitting on the New Jersey Transit Train or Bus or the little independent express jersey vans that scoot back and forth from the city to parts of Jersey.

    You can even chooses modes with the mode if your feeling indecisive or impulsive.For instance on Jersey Transit you can switch at Secaucus and take a regular train to Penn Station or you can ride to Hoboken and do the path train to different points within NYC.

    Or you can decide to take the day off and head to Journal Square or just drink the day away in cute little Hoboken pubs .
    You can even change your mind about work on Monday afternoon and catch the next train to New Orleans at Penn Station. Or Myrtle beach. Or Vermont if you’re in a cold mood.
    Lets not forget religious buses with material dividers/separate seating and minyans for your hareidi inclined convenience.

    Nothing is cast in stone or water.
    But the destinations that these modes of transportation promote are as clear as day.
    And many systems work with each other to allow for a more cost effective experience.

    Not only is mass transit not so simple as just a different paths running across the red sea in the same direction to the same destination from the same origin.Many of the different systems are working together to make end riders happier.
    Also, your decision on how you are going to get to your destination is also effected by your current location. If you live in Inwood or Park Slope you cant choose to travel using the New Jersey Transit system , same goes for Chelsea or the Bronx.

    Back in Egypt it was all the same origin, so that wasn’t a concern.
    So then the question becomes do you relocate so you can travel the way you feel most comfortable or do you travel any which way so you can live the life that makes you feel good.
    I have no idea what path you are referring to when you mention following in the footsteps …………
    Judaism’s paths/options/choices/ and directives is not a simple provable system with different tracks each complete with their own set of rules /current data and statistics to supporting choices and or assist in the choice making process.

    Its not clear what the smartest way would be to choose a path within Judaism.
    That’s after you’ve cleared up all those misunderstandings/ misnomers and non understandings within halacha.

    So not only are the paths within judaism barely defined clearly if at all, the fine print is hard to read /the rules and regulations are not as clear (change/ fluctuate often)and the different modes of transportation rarely complement and or interact with common destination goals or even a vague happines for the end user.
    I wouldnt count on transfers being valid either.

  14. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    January 21st, 2008 @ 9:43 pm

    Frankly, I would posit that there are ample sources in the Torah and Chazal to support the concept of individualism.

    Avos 2:6: In a place where there are no leaders, strive to be a leader.

    Avrohom was called HaIvri, because he stood on one ideological side when the whole world stood on the other.

    Lo holeich achrei rabim l’ra’os — don’t follow after a majority to do evil.

    Elkanah is described as ish echad, a singular man, since by resisting the spiritual apathy of his generation he generated the merit to save the world from destruction.

    Tziddkyahu, although righteous, is condemned as wicked for giving in to the poor counsel of his advisers.

    Navos HaYizr’eli was condemned for not using his uniquely beautiful voice to inspire pilgrims during the festivals in the Beis HaMikdash.

    And lets not forget Adam, the ultimate individual, or Noach, through whom all humanity and all life was saved.

    True, the context of individuality is confined to the kehillah and the nation, but within that framework there is plenty of room for individual expression.

    And Bob, I have a title for your statistical paper: Chazorah.

  15. Ron Coleman
    January 22nd, 2008 @ 12:45 am

    Rabbi Goldson, you gave examples of great figures who drew on their individual strengths in order to, or who were condemned for failing to, do great things for Hashem, for Klal Yisroel, for others. The values of the Torah you are conveying do not support a belief in “the primary importance of the individual and in the virtues of self-reliance and personal independence.”

    Jaded, extraordinary travelogue. Perhaps this gives us some insight into where you’ve been lately! The question might be, where haven’t you? Nonetheless I think you may be overstating the strength of DK’s criticism. The idea that there are 12 paths suggests not “only twelve” but rather, where you might well have assumed there would only be one, even here there was differentiation. Now, even how an individual traverses his path is still a matter of choice. But the fact that there is such choice offered at such a juncture is certainly, as we say, instructive.

    Ultimately, however, while there were 12 paths across the sea, there was not an infinite variety — if indeed you wanted to cross, you would have to rely on the pathways opened by Hashem, via his Prophet. Plus the public address system was a lot better than on the MTA.

  16. Jaded Topaz
    January 22nd, 2008 @ 2:49 am

    Ron,

    I’m a little unclear on the facts concerning each of the 12 tribes and their tribe specific water treading & trudging across the sea.
    How were the 12 water routes different ? What about the fact that there were 12 separate routes are you finding so”instructive’ or even inspirational on a so many choices so little time level.
    Firstly , as DK pointed out,the 12 routes running across were tribe specific.
    So I don’t see how any of this can be interpreted as some kind of free will activity involving sentiments and messages suggesting variety and choice, forget about individualism.
    Do these 12 tribe specific “across the sea” journeys, represent 12 distinctly different ways of serving G-d ?
    What kind of ways ?
    Did all men women and children have the option of initially choosing which tribal water route to tag along and belong to ?
    This kind of thing would be considered a choice between 12 paths.
    And a hearwarming message concerning 12 path options across the sea could probally be understood if i listened hard enough.

    Or was it just 12 different tribes serving G-d the same way using the same water routes merely separated by tribe classification only as part of some kind of general intra water organizational system, for efficient traveling through troubled waters.

    Oh and were they allowed to switch tribes midway across the sea, if they outgrew the tribe they were traveling with ?

  17. Peleg
    January 22nd, 2008 @ 4:52 am

    And what are the paths to Hashem? Is it what is taught in all these fundamentalist yeshivas that are the norm, the acme of Yiddishkeit these days? I don’t see any such thing going on. I see small-mindedness, stifling of intellectualism, and just plain out-and-out torture of the kids (making young boys stay in school from dawn until almost bedtime).

    Is there any spirituality in Gemora?

    Do these black-hatters really know what spirituality is all about? I think they just afraid that their kids, if given time to think and ponder, may ask some really tough questions that the rebbeim are afraid to answer. If they allow them to think, they are going to have to resolve the problem that what they see with their own two eyes doesn’t jive with what they are being told. So, they jam a lot of trivia down their throats so that they don’t have time to think about what it all means. Thinking about what it means is what lead to spirituality but it also means you may start to question things that they just don’t what you to question. So, rather than teach, or foster spirituality, they have chosen to kill off any such tendencies in order not to look stupid and scared.

    It’s like the father, a lawyer (or doctor, business owner, etc.) who forces his son to be what he is, to follow the same career. G-d forbid the doctor’s son would rather be a racing car driver. This has killed more kids than any disease. Same in our community. If a kid comes from a Chasidishe family, the parent will often nearly sit shiva if the kids wants to go to YU and follow that derech. They will sit shiva if he decides that Orthodoxy doesn’t do it for him at all.

    I guess you are all 100% convinced that Orthodoxy is absolutely right. I’m not, even though I am. See, I can’t really make a good case for it, except that it just feels right to me and makes sense *to me*. Can’t say that everyone else will come to same conclusion, will feel the same way.

    But the implication is that to be spiritual you gotta be Ortho of some stripe. Sorry, but I can trot out any number of counter-examples.

    And is the point of all this to make sure we daven three times a day, as fast as we can, or to look at our lives, day-by-day, hour-by-hour and realize that there is a grand plan for us and the world and we have to try to understand that plan?

    Don’t you think that Hashem would rather you appreciate Shabbos rather than drive yourself crazy trying to adhere to the minutest of details? How can you spend any time trying to learn how to feel the will of Hashem, trying to learn to discern His finger in events if you are worried about which shoe you put on first?

    No, folks, most of them have got it all wrong. The 12 paths through the sea means that there is more than one way to skin this cat, and the cats are not Yeshivish, Modern Orthodox, Chasiddish, or pick your own. The paths are how you find out how to feel and understand Hashem and everyone finds their own path in their own way, in their own time, and there are an infinite number of ways to do it. It depends on your experiences and genes. And once you find it, once you learn to feel Hashem, then you’ve got it right. Daf Yomi doesn’t help in this, in fact, it kills it.

    Once I stopped looking to Orthodox rabbis for spirituality, who were either frightened by my question or had no clue what I was talking about, and started looking to those ‘other’ Rabbis, whose focus was more about one’s relationship with Hashem, rather than how to kasher a treifed spoon, I was directed to my path. It wasn’t her path, it was my path, but that Rabbi showed my how to look. I will be forever greatful to her.

    See, I don’t care much if my son remembers Father’s Day or my birthday. It shows me how mucb he cares for me when he just calls me up to tell me about his day, good and bad. That is what a good relationship is really about. He doesn’t call me when he is ‘supposed’ to according to some synthetic schedule, but when he is moved to, when he needs to, when it is most meaningful and sincere. That is spirituality. The rest is just going through the motions.

    It’s late and I’ve probably been a bit incoherent. Sorry.

  18. R' Bar-Chaiim
    January 22nd, 2008 @ 6:53 am

    Sorry for what may appear as self absorption, but I find it curious that noone refers to the argument I made in that “Orth. Ind” piece. The case we made there for the primacy of the individual was quite substantial, based on explicit words of a well known Tsaddik (Meor V’Shemesh).

    Thank you Rabbi G. for your additional slew of clear cut sources. I do indeed remember your comment, Ron, re. distinguishing between individualISM and ALITY. I think it’s a worthy challenge to those who might come accross,as DK unfortunately accuses with disdain,as being “abusive” of language. But ultimately I believe this is petty semantics. We daven every Sh. Esreh to the G-d of three, very distinct INDIVIDUALS. Surely this is the purpose of life, which Torah discipline (incl finding and submitting to our particualr “tribe”)is merely a means for getting there.

    Perhaps think of it as being a child in one large, Torah observant, G-d fearing family. To emerge from ths blessed framework in the healthiest of ways, noone in their right mind would say you should shirk your role as a “mere” member of the family. But embracing it and going BEYOND is the key to a healthy INDIVIDAL.

  19. Bob Miller
    January 22nd, 2008 @ 8:55 am

    There are different kinds of individuals, such as:
    1. Those who reject all authority in favor of doing whatever appeals to them.
    2. Those who expect authority to tell them precisely, by the numbers, each small step to do.
    3. Those who try to apply HaShem’s Mesorah to life by deploying their own unique qualities.

  20. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    January 22nd, 2008 @ 8:56 am

    I think we may be focusing too much on the technical details and not sufficiently on the meaning. HaShem does not do or design miracles arbitrarily, nor do Chazal record information simply to satisfy our intellectual curiousity.

    If the Midrash tells us there were 12 passageways, it means there is some reason we have to know this and some lesson or lessons we have to learn. The original point in the article was not individualism, but I believe that it is among the lessons to be learned.

    As a Jew in Jewish society, I cannot divorce myself from the collective, but I can (and should) define myself within the collective according to the qualities and inclinations that make me unique. I don’t see any contradiction here.

    And let’s remember that 80% of the Jews in Mitzrayim chose not to go out and forfeited their lives. HaShem lays out the path He wants us to follow. Whether we follow it, and how we follow it, is up to us.

  21. Ron Coleman
    January 22nd, 2008 @ 10:11 am

    The symbolism of these twelve paths — as well as the twelve gates to the Bais HaMikdash — has always seemed to me to be the idea that “there are many paths” to service of Hashem, but that there are not an infinite number of paths. I will grant you, Jaded, that there can always be an infinite number of questions, some more to the discussion and others less so.

    R’ Bar Chaim, you must not, even after damning it with faint praise, characterize my argument as “petty semantics”; this is the new, kinder gentler BBT, OK? In fact it is neither petty nor semantic. It is essential and I regret that my poor ability to express myself is retarding proper appreciation of this point: Individuality is unique to humans, and Hashem must expect us to utilize it in our lives — individuality, that is — but not to make individual expression the purpose of our lives, which is individualism and really a sort of narcissism.

    This distinction matters a lot, and is surely not petty nor semantic, because some people come to the table with a world of personality and ego — frequently, BT’s. They are then challenged to channel that personality into creating a new and, hopefully, great Jewish individual. If, in contrast, they insist on expression of personality being the alpha and omega of their existence, however — with the attendant ego gratification — they may have a world of trouble living in a universe that is too small for Hashem’s Torah, and them.

  22. Bob Miller
    January 22nd, 2008 @ 10:48 am

    Semantics have an undeserved reputation for pettiness. Without semantics, life as we know it could not exist. Even this comment would be two words shorter.

  23. DK
    January 22nd, 2008 @ 10:49 am

    “If the Midrash tells us there were 12 passageways, it means there is some reason we have to know this and some lesson or lessons we have to learn. The original point in the article was not individualism, but I believe that it is among the lessons to be learned.”

    You are not hearing the question.

    The question is, how does a midrash about passageways absolutely based on tribal birth have anything to do with individualism or individuals?

    This is not “semantics,” this is a basic respect for words and meanings, and either one has that, or one is satisfied with some so-called underlying message even if it does not fit into the actual proof given even an iota.

  24. Ron Coleman
    January 22nd, 2008 @ 12:54 pm

    It’s symbolic, DK. The ethical lesson is based on a symbolic understanding of the medrash.

  25. Bob Miller
    January 22nd, 2008 @ 1:28 pm

    The ideas expressed in this article provide much food for thought, but the midrash the article refers to does not relate to them, since no Jew had any leeway then to join a different tribe and follow its path—so the comment (23) of January 22nd, 2008 10:49 is correct in this respect.

    In fact, the midrash could be taken to imply that a Jew today is not to leave his family’s ancestral path for any reason, to join another family’s ancestral path. Such a view may have motivated Misnagdim (to this day!) to object to the changes of prayer nusach, etc., adopted by the Chassidim. It could even be used to justify barring marriages between Ashkenazim and Sephardim, for example, in which the resulting family unit would have to follow one custom or the other.

    Here’s an interesting question: The numerous members of the Erev Rav accompanied the Jewish camp across the seabed. Were they at liberty to choose among the 12 paths, or what?

    Also, was one of the 12 paths reserved for the Leviim, which would have made it necessary for Joseph’s tribes Ephraim and Menashe to travel as one unit? If not, how did the families of Leviim choose their paths?

  26. Jaded Topaz
    January 22nd, 2008 @ 1:45 pm

    Did each of the 12 tribes actually serve G-d and travel across the sea using different methods/beliefs /perspectives/opinions and outfits and colors? ( I think there is some kind of connection between tribes and certain gemstones)
    (I would personally go with the patchwork plaid theme if I had to design a tribe outfit theme and of course topaz).
    Was there any connection to between the “how/why the ten tribes were later lost” concept and their initial tribal way of journeying across the sea.
    Wouldn’t this information be kind of helpful nowadays, “hindsight is generally 20/20″.
    Or did all 12 tribes travel the same way in the same outfits and the same colors.
    In which case it would be unclear how ” different paths for different groups to serve G-d” would be the subliminal message and underlying theme on the 12 linear paths traveling alongside each other using the same methods/perspectives/outfits and philosophies.

    It would be important to know how they were different if they were.

  27. R. Coleman
    January 22nd, 2008 @ 3:36 pm

    SYMBOLISM, people! SYMBOLISM! Metaphor! Derush!

  28. Bob Miller
    January 22nd, 2008 @ 4:32 pm

    Not all attempts at symbolism work. Nobody is rejecting symbolism as such.

  29. Ron Coleman
    January 22nd, 2008 @ 5:13 pm

    I think this symbolism works. The facts are these: Twelve tracks. You would have thought one, but no, different strokes for different kinds of folks.

    It’s not a caste system. The different tribes stand for different ways, different sorts of avodah, because the Torah is clear that each one had a different spiritual “style” and mission — as expressed in the divergent symbols in the brochos of Yaakov to his children and later the brochos of Moshe.

  30. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    January 22nd, 2008 @ 11:53 pm

    I just ran across this quote from Mesillas Yesharim (Chpt 26):

    Each person, according to his situation, requires ways of saintliness. It is not that the essence of saintliness changes, for it is certainly identical for everyone, since it is nothing other than acting in a way that pleases the Creator. However, since the conditions are different, it is impossible that the means leading to the goal will not change FOR EACH PERSON according to his circumstances (emphasis added).

  31. R' Bar-Chaiim
    January 23rd, 2008 @ 6:36 am

    DK, let me try to understand you. As I review your comments, I wonder if you read mine. In NO way was I “denying individualism” but actually making a case, as I did more thoroughly in my post, for the FACT that developing a totally unique dimension in one’s relationship with H’ is the purpose of this life and that Torah and Mitzvos are the supreme MEANS for doing so. As per the Zohar: the 613 Mitzvos are eetin / “advice,” in the sense that their purpose is not to simply perform them but to perform and TRANSCEND them.

    Each individual via his unique way of applying them in the spirit of “You shall do what is good and honest…”

    Now about the tribal Midrash being a basis for learning that, I can only stress that I brought up this quandry first (#2). It IS a valid question. But if you go through the above discussion carefully, the conclusion is strikingly clear: While the metaphor must be stretched to teach this lesson, THAT’s what Judiasm is about! If the basic idea is valid, such lessons can be “learned out” of many varied if not obscure teachings.

    Finally, if I may try one more tiny bit to calm down our semantical watchdogs, I hear that using ALITY and not ISM resolves the problem of such a lesson becoming an excuse for mimicking the secular fixation on being an indiviual at all costs. Still, fixating on ALITY can cause the different problem that one never, fully seeks to TRANSCEND the Mitzvos; carve one’s absolutely unique place within the tribe.

  32. DK
    January 23rd, 2008 @ 12:41 pm

    R’ Bar-Chaiim wrote,

    “In NO way was I “denying individualism””

    I never said you were. This is exactly what I was worried you and Rabbi Goldson would pretend I was saying. Kudos to Rabbi Goldson for not doing so. I was tempted to write a post on my blog instead where I would not be misstated in this exact straw man way. One of the administrators can verify my fears. I knew this would happen. Again, I appreciate that R. Goldson did not stoop to that.

    As for ALITY and ISM, I simply don’t know what that stands for.

    I also don’t understand what the Zohar’s take on the purpose of mitzvos has to do with the midrash in question.

    May I ask, who are you?

  33. Jaded Topaz
    January 23rd, 2008 @ 1:11 pm

    Ron Coleman ,

    So basically its safe to assume the 12 tribes represented 12 different ways of serving G-d on land, sand or water .
    Given the sketchy fact that 10 tribes seem to have lost their way over the years, combine that with the innate need for me to always take metaphor to the next level, I believe it would be safe to conclude that there are two paths left to run along on in 2008.

    I would subjectively conjecture in the most “symbolic” of ways that these two paths would have to be the well trodden and in no way sodden : My Way and or The Highway.
    (easily accessible via mass transit).

  34. M
    January 23rd, 2008 @ 1:45 pm

    “pretend I was saying”

    “stoop to that”

    Remember the recent post, “We Need to be a Little Kinder”?

    I think kindness is a pretty universally accepted value, don’t you?

  35. David Linn
    January 23rd, 2008 @ 2:00 pm

    DK,

    I think when R’ Bar-Chaim was talking about ALITY and ISM he meant the difference between Individuality and Individualism.

  36. Bob Miller
    January 23rd, 2008 @ 2:21 pm

    DK, if Rabbi Goldson had not referred to the midrash about the 12 paths at all, but had left the main philosophical points of his article as they are, would you then have been happy?

  37. DK
    January 23rd, 2008 @ 3:24 pm

    “DK, if Rabbi Goldson had not referred to the midrash about the 12 paths at all, but had left the main philosophical points of his article as they are, would you then have been happy?”

    It isn’t all about being happy, Bob Miller.

  38. R' bar-Chaiim
    January 23rd, 2008 @ 3:30 pm

    Dk – I’m truly sorry you’re getting so irritated. I suspect, like others are suggesting, that this whole topic is touching more than one raw nerve and I’d be grateful if you could figure out what you need from me to stop stepping on them.

    In the meantime, correcting the record:

    1)In comment # 10 you said, “R. Bar-Chaiim is going so far as to claim this midrash DENIES INDIVIDUALISM.” (capitals mine).

    2)I’m genuinely befuddled about what you think I “stooped” to do.

    3)David is correct about ality and ism.

    4)My name IS Bar-Chaiim. You want the first as well? Why is it important to you?

  39. R' bar-Chaiim
    January 23rd, 2008 @ 3:36 pm

    5) The Zohar’s statement, as per many other explicit sources within sifrei koidesh which both Rabbi G. and I brought in our posts and on this thread,was brought to underscore that the basic point we were making is a FULLY established one. For most authentic Jewish debators, knowing such info makes it much easier to enter an obscure Midrash and draw moral lessons. We’re not shooting in the dark but hearing a familiar echo from Above.

  40. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    January 23rd, 2008 @ 5:49 pm

    Gee, folks, I think we’ve found a thirteenth passageway. I never would have anticipated my article would lead us on this route.

    By the way, DK, I try never to stoop unless I’m going through a low doorway.

  41. Ron Coleman
    January 23rd, 2008 @ 6:29 pm

    Rabbi Goldson, please don’t show off about your height — sensitive topic!

  42. Bob Miller
    January 23rd, 2008 @ 8:28 pm

    DK, if Rabbi Goldson had not referred to the midrash about the 12 paths at all, but had left the main philosophical points of his article as they are, would you then have agreed with any of these points? If so, which ones?

  43. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    January 23rd, 2008 @ 9:25 pm

    Ron:

    The Chofetz Chaim was barely 5 feet tall. Not the sort of company anyone needs to be sensitive about. Besides, when I have to crawl under the sink to fix the drain, height is definately not an advantage.

  44. R' Bar-Chaiim
    January 24th, 2008 @ 7:23 am

    Nice attempts to lighten up the thread, Ron and R’G. But could someone please help pick up the pieces from that strange little outburst? I’m really baffled what’s driving Dk. And please correct me, someone, if my rendition of the record missed something.

  45. Ron Coleman
    January 24th, 2008 @ 10:00 am

    No sense in speaking about DK in the third person, R’B-C. He’s in the room and will choose to explain himself or not.

  46. Rabbi Yonason Goldson
    January 28th, 2008 @ 9:53 pm

    Anyone still interested in pursuing this thread might find this post worth a look:

    http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2008/01/27/reruns/

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