awhyzip: (aleph)

So Reish Lakish wins the argument, and R. Yochanan knows it.
"Fuck you, you brigand!" says R. Yochanan.
"Funny, that's just what your sister said last night..." sez Reish Lakish.


Tonight I went to a Hebrew College lecture that included some study of the famous story of Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish. (They tell me it was famous... I never heard it before, but then again I've never studied talmud more than the tiniest smattering.) Later, I'll try to write up the passage or find a link to it for all of you without the handy class handout.

The text-study was the most interesting part of the evening for me. My hevruta-partner & I worked out an interpretation of the two men's final argument that illuminated so much in the rest of the story for me. I love it when that happens!

The key point in our interpretation was that the argument over the manufacture of blades should be read as an argument about Reish Lakish's identity-formation. He is symbolized by the forged weapons, because they undergo transformation and the story was just telling us about Reish Lakish's transformation, from highwayman to scholar. Tal had this insight. Once he said that, it became clear why this arguement became so "personal". They are talking about when did Reish Lakish become the new man he (maybe) is now.

Good, so if arguers recognize that they are debating about each other, where is R. Yochanan symbolized? Is he equally a blade? In the section just before we was that he was instrumental in re-shaping and re-forming Reish Lakish's life. So I think it is better to see him as the furnace. In other words, R. Yochanan is saying "You were made [into who you are now] when I was done with you."

Reish Lakish disagrees. R Yochanan can't take full credit for him! "The manufacture of the blade is finished when it is tempered in the water."

So, who is "the water"?

Who came after Yochanan began teaching Lakish Torah? Remember Yochanan's (outrageous to my eyes) proposal: "If you can change your ways, I'll give you my sister to marry." The sister/wife is the water! (This is very appropriate, because after all, water is so often feminine symbolism.)

This neatly doubles the amount of concept-time the sister has in this story, and also puts some nice symmetry into the themes of the 4 thematic sections we identified.

I think there is a very defensible subtext of whether or not Reish Lakish has become a worthy man, in the men's arguement. And his marriage was predicated on becoming that man, so the debate strikes very home. Could go into that more. Also some great byplay, because I certainly think that the sexual connotations of Reish's response are not accidental. It's a real answer to the question "When is the manufacture of a blade finished", but Reish would make it lewd, too. (Our translation said "finished in the water", although the Aramaic was something like "scrubbed in the water" judging by a cognate in Hebrew.) Imagining that, Yochanan's retort about that a "brigand knows his brigandry" is a condemnation of Reish's sexual past and still-dirty mind -- and thus his relationship w/ his wife -- as much or more than a comment on his knowledge of weapons.

(Certainly sex is part of the image of "brigandry" as much as daggers are, oh tell me no?)

That's the key part of what we came up with. Several other ideas can be built from that base. Might note them later; they were mostly interpolating emotions and expanding terse scenes. Also reflected on why it might be that the marriage with the sister finalized what the life-changing study with the Rabbi did not.

One last note, several people hooked on to Reish Lakish's ripost (that he is called "master/rabbi" as a rabbi same as he was as a chief highwayman) as a condemnation of the Talmudic/scholarly cohort for failing to provide the promised non-heirarchical "free exchange between equals" non-distructive idealized Eros[?] companionship.
This boggled me. Where did they get the idea that the academy promised any sort of interpersonal democratic utopia? "Non-heirarchical"??? Whose campaign-promise was that?
There are egos on the line to be threatened, there is power that can be wielded --- oh try to pretend to me that there is no power-structure to be wielded between master and student even though the student may be a teacher himself now, when all ranks are based on the acclaim of peers. Attacks on "social capital" are very real. "Structural Violence", may be the term I'm trying to bring to mind.

And our big open question was: Who won the debate over the purity of forged blades? Who won the debate of veiled allusions? Who won the open ad hominem round?
I think the answer is Reish Lakish.
awhyzip: (notext)
Interesting discussion at the Torah study group last Saturday, as always. Reading the part of the Joseph story where he reveals his identity to his brothers after Judah challenges him. We got onto themes that I would *not* have previously thought connected to the story.

I took from the discussion the idea that the story can be understood in the framework of illusion. There are illusions, and worldviews, and false stories. Illusion is also a conceptual key for thinking about "exile". That's in this story too, metaphorically and actually. One of the most significant aftershocks of revealing a truth from behind an illusion is the realization that there are *other illusions that you cannot see past yet*. Sometimes you might be aware that there is an illusion or a block in some area, but most of them are fully invisible beforehand, right?

When you possess a veiling illusion but you know that there's something beyond your limitation, somthing that others are aware of, I would call that state beyond a "Mystery." Yes, the kind with a capital "M" but no levity in the tone-of-voice. And no matter how much you are told about it or read or whatever or think on it, you cannot understand the Mystery with your illusion in place. You can know a lot, but there is a level of understanding at which you are not operating.

I was not expecting the discussion to move to conception and the experience of birth. It did. The connections that interested and drew the other talkers to the subject weren't salient for me. I would never have taken the discussion in that direction, but it was clear that for several or most of the people in the group, the act and experience of birth were very connected to this story. I listened and I followed the lines of the conversation, but to me this was Mystery.

It used to be this way to me when our havurah or books or poems would discuss personal spirituality. Connection to God, or to other sources beyond yourself. I knew there was such a thing as a spiritual life, and I could say words to talk about it, but I knew I didn't understand it. This was a source of sorrow to me until Valerie Gorbulov taught me yearing for spirituality is also a stage of spiritual awareness. You recognize a lack. Or in other terms, you are aware of the presence of an exiling illusion.

I've been reaching past this spiritual illusion, and making this connection more and more this year. More fulfillment from rituals. Thinking of ways to bring that to more practices. Overwhelming images that come to me occasionally when I pray. Often, a sense that someone/thing is there when I direct words to God. The many names of God in my siddur (Kol Haneshamah) no longer seem silly.
I'm just beginning, but at last I know that I'm not merely a-spiritual.

Another example of an illusion/Mystery is sexuality. I've been past that veil for much longer, but I remember, from before, a time of a-sexuality. Developing spirituality from aspirituality reminds me of developing sexuality from asexuality. Someday I imagine I will develop whatever aspect connects life & birth & deliverance to the Joseph story for the other men and women in the torah study.

The E. Ch. community is deeper than I yet am. I greatly value what I can learn from being a part of that.
awhyzip: (Default)
I am sitting here at home in Northampton. I am accidentally here; I was meant to be in Cambridge teaching right now, or else still at the Retreat, doing I don't know what with my Havurah. But, I am at home and I just finished reading a book by Jonathan Rosen: The Talmud and the Internet. The book is about 130 pages long. It is light in the hand and small sized. The cover illustration has as a backdrop a reproduced page of talmud, smudged just enough that you can see the words but don't read them. In the book, the author muses about his place as inheritor of two cultures, both Jewish, one American, and one Holocaust European. He reflects on the stories of his grandparents, of his literary heros, and of Talmudic sages. Rosen writes that this book began as an elegy for his grandmother. As I read the book, I could listen to him explore issues that are important to him, issues that are also important to me and on my mind. There was no sense of a finalized argument being put forth; this was not a monograph. There were some passages, where the voice I was reading on the page could easily have been mine, rolling forth from my mind as if I had thought the words directly to paper for the next paragraph.

Rosen is clearly an educated Jew, familiar with Jewish sources as well as modern liberal higher education. The respect he expresses for the traditional texts of our people parallels mine. Neither of us live in the halakic, traditionalist, world, nor do we want to, but our modern lives naturally are and must be informed by Jewish as much as by the "Western" canon. To contextualize our lives, we draw on a collection of stories, value statements, and associations, such that I believe we share, of course enriched by family experiences.
Rosen describes his first trip to Europe. In one passage he half-jokingly explains that the symmetrical layout of a page of Talmud exists that if you should, God forbid, drop your Talmud in a puddle, Rashi would at least be farthest from the mud. As Rosen describes several sections earlier, a page of Talmud has a special and distinctive, almost mandala-like, layout. I recall walking in to a friend's house not seven nights ago, and recognizing instantly the wide, black volume spread on her coffee table atop a small pile of books. The content of our evening had nothing to do with the strictly Judaic, being filled with performance art on queer marriage rights, shoulder rubs, and Indian spices (just as Rosen's trip was filled with pilgimages to Chartres Cathedral and a dissertation on Milton). Nevertheless, there is for me a... a... an indwelling presence of Judaism then. I describe it as this, making the association to the Shechina, "in-dwelling presence" of God. For me, this is the awareness is at the heart of my spiritual life.
The indwelling presence is elusive. It is also flexible and wide-ranging. Everywhere? I could riff on each topic's Jewish connection; they would range from joking to quiet moral imperative. Judaism covers all my moods. Nowhere? Everything had some other sufficient reason for which it was done. I live a modern life. I struggle to describe what contemporary Judaism is.
In my Hebrew School class, I am yearning to pass this on. I want to give as assignments non-particularist books like The Giving Tree and Amos and Boris and Could be Worse! so that the families can learn to read all books with Jewish eyes, even if the protagonist is not named Moishe!

Yesterday evening, I discussed with my mother the plans I am passionate about implementing at E. Ch. Lower School. She knew that a curriculum has been written that approximates my idea of the books. I am lucky and grateful to have such a perfectly-tailored professional resource in my own mother. And my father, too. In fact, it was from his bedside stack of books that I took this Talmud and Internet book. And surmounting the 15-book stack, a wide, black volume. (If this were a short story, I would say it was a Talmud, for the parallelism, but as this is Livejournal and real life: it was a Tikkun, whose two-column bold-and-pale layout was just as distinctive at a quick peek.)
awhyzip: (Default)
leora advises on spiritual crisis.
damn damn damn

(more later)
awhyzip: (Default)
Yesterday, I moved back in. Wanted to call back Andrew, and decided to use cellphone as it was a weekend and my dorm phone was acting obstinate. Probably because it hadn't been plugged in for a month. We'll see how well my 500 weekend minutes cover that sort of long-distance! Andrew says it's going to be wildly expensive, and he's probably right.
Also spoke with my parents, which was good. Their trip sounded even better in description than it had in anticipation. mmmm

Today, got up at 8, went to work. I discovered that my sub last week had been competent and even had left me the notes I'd requested -- for which I am mightily grateful. She actually was there again this week subbing for another class; I chatted with her, and got a good feeling for what had happened.
This week's class went very well, and I was happy. I even managed to get them to like another Hebrew review game. We'd been playing the same game every single week because they loved it so much, which is great and all, but I was starting to get tired of Ultimate BlackBoard TicTacToe...

Staff meeting after class, then I set up our room for the play they'll do Jan 26, drove home and got into bed for my nap by 5:30 after an hour of email-reading and mailbox-cleaning. Here's a moderately funny thing that happened: I was debating calling Mira about dinner Wednesday, but decided I was too tired to invite her yet. Just as I was drifting off, the phone rang, turning out to be Mira inviting me to dinner!
So I got to make happy plans with my friend, then slept until the phone woke me again around 8:30. This time it was my mother, calling for tech support. After that, I got in another hour of half-assed sleep. Sundays make me so tired! I've got plans to go home this weekend.

Things are looking good. I'm feeling decently pleased to go to classes tomorrow.

Also tonight, I finally cleared out the SouthPac card, the 2 Action bus passes (one student, one standard concession rate), the film soc pass, Medibank card, etc from my wallet. I hadn't realized I'd kept them in for so long --- no wonder the thing wasn't closing right! haha
I ate the last "Melting Moments" biscuit/cookie that I'd brought back from Australia. Here's what they taste like: it's a sandwich cookie, with lemon frosting, basically. The cookie parts are like shortbread, but not quite as grainy. The filling is mildly lemony and without the overwhelming sugar flavor that too many frostings have. Giving the last bite a few seconds in the microwave on half power helped a lot.
I would call it a goodbye-to-australiana evening, because I also sorted my Aust coins from the New Zealand ones, and now both kinds are no longer mixed in with my T-tokens where they don't belong.

For so many years I have based a significant part of my self-identity on my life in Jerusalem. Recently, by which I mean over the last month and a half, I've noticed that Australia is starting to fluff out into a somewhat-comparable mythic position in my thoughts. It's a bit unsettling. I am starting to wonder 'what did it all mean?' And what should it all mean to me?

This is reminding me of something I read the other day in a book that was about using guided imagery in education. It said that leading guided imagery sessions without providing a way for the participants to "ground" their experiences is a bad thing. That the participants may even end up feeling angry or frustrated, instead of the positive outcomes desired. The suggestions they gave for 'grounding' were so simple that the warning sounded hoaky. Examples: in pairs or triplets, tell groupmates what you saw. Draw a picture of what you visualized. Or, write it down. That was it. That's a profound pedagogical insight? Well maybe it is... that every activity has its siyuum.
Perhaps getting around to making some scrapbook of my photos would help. Only, I don't know how I want to be framing the stories. I've been putting off doing it until I get my alleged black-page scrapbook, the one that I've been requesting as a birthday present for about a year, but haven't yet managed to find for sale in a store. I'm making an effort this semester to plan in more scheduled personal-time and less unscheduled loafing, so perhaps I will get this done.
When I was getting ready to leave B&G, I passed around a notepad and had most of my friends give me their addresses, but within a week of getting back home, I lost it. The sadder fool I.

To wrap this up on a funnier note:
Following headlines on New York Times's online edition, I found this lovely quote
"Intelligent creative girls want to do larger-scale programs that actually do something. They don't want to look at a logarithm that deals with a math thing and how we're going to apply it."
from "Where the Girls Aren't". The joke of course is that Mr. Schleunes, head of the mathematics department an the all-girls high school -- or more likely, Karen Stabiner, writer for the New York Times -- must have mean "algorithm," but I think it is funny because I am an "intelligent girl" who has indeed been turned off to studying cosci in college and you see I dread logarithms! :-

Yom Kippur

Sep. 16th, 2002 02:22 pm
awhyzip: (aleph)
Today is Yom Kippur. I've stayed at school this year. One side-effect of not going home is that I realized I did not pack any white clothing. (Not even an all-white T-shirt!) I'm thinking of the white light dress I have at home, and wish it were here.

I want dress in the white, because I think it will help me to remember to take this more seriously. Ah well, it's only a custom after all.

My brother wrote in his livejournal that his favorite High Holiday prayer is the U'netane Tokef. Actually, he didn't say "favorite," he said that that one always gets to him. For me, it's the one that begins "Ki Hine Ka'Chomer." It's both my favorite and it always gets to me. I usually cry, but I try not to let people see. In the end, what difference has it made if I shed a tear or two? I try to enact a good life, when I think of it. But most of the time, to be honest, I am not really paying much attention to the decisons I make. I am acting on autopilot, or my focus is solely on the moment-by-moment details. Or I am scared. Autopilot means I act lazy; scared means I waffle back and forth vociferously over an issue and "think too much."

But you know what -- enough of this self-analysis! After all, this venue is a livejournal, not a diary! My purpose here is to possibly entertain, occasionally to expound, and mostly to allow those who wish it an update on my life.

And so, in conclusion, if you have forgiven me for my hurts against you, thank you. If you feel like you are still holding some that I should know about, you may tell me. More strength to you, if you are making your way through a process of repentance. And thanks to my friend who tells me that feeling a lack of spirituality is also a spiritual journey


awhyzip: (Default)

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