Sunday, November 01, 2009

Does a Non-philosophical Person Gain Rights to the World To Come (Olam Haba)? Obsessive Love (Part 2 in a series)

I ended the previous and first post in this series asking what worshipping for the sake of love means. Rambam in Sefer Hamitzvot Asseh 3 lists a specific Mitzvah, a commandment, to love God. How can one be commanded to love? Love is a natural emotion? How can love be induced?

המצווה השלישית
היא הציווי שנצטווינו על אהבתו יתעלה
שנתבונן ונסתכל במצוותיו ופעולתיו, כדי שנשיגהו ונתענג בהשגתו תכלית התענוג - וזוהי האהבה המצווה [עלינו].

The third Mitzvah is that we were commanded to love Him. [Meaning] that we should contemplate and look into His commandments and His actions so that we apprehend Him, thus experiencing [lit: enjoying] the ultimate enjoyment through that apprehension of him. That is the love that we were commanded.

And to clarify, Rambam, after citing a series of verses, continues,
הנה ביארנו לך, שבהשתכלות תבוא לידי השגה, וימצא לך תענוג ותבוא האהבה בהכרח.

We have thus clarified to you that apprehension comes through contemplation which in turn affords pleasure which brings about love inevitably.

This Mitzvah requires a systematic process, starting with contemplating God’s commandments and his actions. The apprehension that results from that first step gives one so much pleasure that it inevitably triggers a feeling of love for the source of that pleasure. Once a person experiences the pleasure brought about by the quest for and apprehension of that knowledge, he wants to repeat the experience constantly and becomes obsessed with the quest. This addictive quality of a human being is thus used in a positive way. That resulting obsessive love is described at the end of Hilchot Teshuvah 10:3

ה [ג] וכיצד היא האהבה הראויה: הוא שיאהב את ה' אהבה גדולה יתרה רבה, עזה עד מאוד, עד שתהא נפשו קשורה באהבת ה', ונמצא שוגה בה תמיד--כאלו חולי האהבה, שאין דעתם פנויה מאהבת אותה אישה שהוא שוגה בה תמיד, בין בשוכבו בין בקומו, בין בשעה שהוא אוכל ושותה

And what is the proper love? One should love God with such a very great and extremely intense love to the point that his mind [soul] is bound with the love of God becoming immersed in it at all times. It is like one of those who are lovesick, whose mind cannot free itself from the love of the woman he is immersed in at all times, while at rest and awake, while eating and drinking.

The emotional feeling of love in this process is triggered by a rational experience. The experience of learning and apprehending a difficult and elusive matter produces such intense pleasure that the person wants to continuously experience it and therefore cannot stop thinking about God and the quest for Him. That knowledge however is elusive in our physical existence and becomes a constant quest. At its extreme level, the level of Moshe Rabbeinu, that obsessive quest reaches a point where the mind [soul] wants to free itself from its physical shackles. The Rabbis metaphorically describe this state as “death by kissing” based on Shir Hashirim 1:2, which [Shir Hashirim] is seen as a metaphor for this intense obsessive love of God.

ב יִשָּׁקֵנִי מִנְּשִׁיקוֹת פִּיהוּ, כִּי-טוֹבִים דֹּדֶיךָ מִיָּיִן. 2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth--for thy love is better than wine.

Rambam in MN 3:51 describes this experience by Moshe, Aharon and Miriam.

The more the forces of his body are weakened, and the fire of passion quenched, in the same measure does man's intellect increase in strength and light; his knowledge becomes purer, and he is happy with his knowledge. When this perfect man is stricken in age and is near death, his knowledge mightily increases, his joy in that knowledge grows greater, and his love for the object of his knowledge more intense, and it is in this great delight that the soul separates from the body…. The meaning of this saying is that these three died in the midst of the pleasure derived from the knowledge of God and their great love for Him. When our Sages figuratively call the knowledge of God united with intense love for Him a kiss, they follow the well-known poetical diction, "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth" (Song 1:2). This kind of death, which in truth is deliverance from death, has been ascribed by our Sages to none but to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. The other prophets and pious men are beneath that degree: but their knowledge of God is strengthened when death approaches.”

The same pleasure that was so necessary while the person is in his physical state to trigger this obsessive love becomes eternal at death. Of course, we cannot fathom what that experience means, just as we cannot apprehend anything about God’s essence while in this physical existence. This pleasurable experience therefore has two components to it. While in physical existence, it is a necessary tool to help induce this intense and obsessive love of God and the quest for Him. As that experience of intense pleasure becomes eternal at death, it is now no longer a tool but an eternal reward.

In a comment on the earlier post, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks questioned my understanding of what it means to perform a Mitzvah in a “proper and satisfactory” manner. Our goal in our physical existence is to apprehend to the best of our ability as much as we can in our quest for God and His ways. That can only be accomplished through the systematic approach described above which includes the pleasurable experience that comes with apprehension. Our addictive attachment to that pleasurable experience is a necessary step in developing the obsessive love for God and the quest for Him. That same pleasurable experience, once it becomes eternal, is no longer a tool but a resulting reward. Worship that has that eternal pleasurable experience as a goal is not “proper and satisfactory”. That I believe is how one must understand Rambam quoted earlier which is to me, the essence of Judaism.

העובד מאהבה, עוסק בתורה ובמצוות והולך בנתיבות החכמה--לא מפני דבר בעולם, לא מפני
יראת הרעה, ולא כדי לירש הטובה: אלא עושה האמת, מפני שהוא אמת; וסוף הטובה לבוא
A person that worships [God] for the sake of love, is not involved in Torah and Mitzvot nor following the paths of wisdom, because of anything else in the world, not fear of bad things happening nor to gain good things. The only reason he does Truth is that it is Truth. The good things will generally come at the end.

In upcoming posts, I would like to explore the meaning of Mitzvot as Truth.


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  2. David

    It was worth the wait- thank you for this beautiful post. I very much like your idea of "addiction" as a metaphor for both חטא and Teshuva, that only change being the object of "good" we are addicted to, not the fact that we are addicts.

    For me and people like me, Galut Jews steeped in false materialistic good, could you elaborate on this systematic path to transformation of which you speak.

    I find myself wondering - how exactly is Rambam's educational method of the Mishne Torah the best curriculum for this path? How exactly is one such as myself to take concrete healing steps with the Mishne Torah as my guide?

    I think of myself as being so many steps away from the healthy addiction of which you speak. Please clarify the Mishne Torah metadone program first as it relates to my world of reading Mikrah and the Rambam's work in a developmentally realistic way!

  3. Rabbi Sacks, thank you for your kind words. It is comments like yours that impel me to work on an idea and devlop it. As I write these posts things clarify in my mind and the pieces come together.

    I have been writing about and learning Rambam's thinking for a few years. I see MT as the Mishna and MN as the gemara. (BTW that was coined by Prof Zeev Harvey several years ago in an illuminating article). As I deal with Mitzvot - which BTW is still very murky in my mind - I think I will address this. After all MT is the ultimate legal document on how to do the Mitzvot.

  4. Thank you David. I enjoy Prof Harvey's comment. For me the identity of the Moreh is implicit in TT

    והעניינות הנקראין פרדס, בכלל התלמוד.

    טו במה דברים אמורים, בתחילת תלמודו של אדם; אבל כשיגדיל בחכמה ולא יהיה צריך לא ללמוד תורה שבכתב, ולא לעסוק תמיד בתורה שבעל פה--יקרא בעיתים מזומנים תורה שבכתב ודברי השמועה, כדי שלא ישכח דבר מדברי דיני תורה, וייפנה כל ימיו לתלמוד בלבד, לפי רוחב ליבו ויישוב דעתו.

    For me though, as a Galut Jew immersed in the Materialistic way of קרי,
    the issue is not the end point of Mitzva-ie Baal peh and Gemara - but rather Breisheet.

    I beg you further elaborate on the very first steps of teshuva in the good we pursue.

    א כל המצוות שניתנו לו למשה בסיניי--בפירושן ניתנו, שנאמר "ואתנה לך את לוחות האבן, והתורה והמצוה" (שמות כד,יב): "תורה", זו תורה שבכתב; ו"מצוה", זה פירושה. וציוונו לעשות התורה, על פי המצוה. ומצוה זו, היא הנקראת תורה שבעל פה.

    ב כל התורה--כתבה משה רבנו קודם שימות, בכתב ידו. ונתן ספר לכל שבט ושבט; וספר אחד--נתנהו בארון לעד, שנאמר "לקוח, את ספר התורה הזה, ושמתם אותו, מצד ארון ברית ה' אלוהיכם; והיה שם בך, לעד" (דברים לא,כו).

    How do we, as Jews in Galut, access the Edut to the Good embedded in the pre-mitzvot of Bichtav?

  5. אמר לוי בן גרשום, מבוארי למי שראה דעות האנשים אשר היו בימי משה רבנו עה, כי בימיו היתה הפילוסופיא חסרה מאד. עד שרובם לא היו מודים שיהיה שם נמצא, זולת הנמצא המוחש. ולא היו מרגישים בסבה הצורית כלל. אבל היו חושבים כי חמר אחד בעינו הוא נמצא בפיעל בנמצא, נמצא. ויראו קצתם שלא יתחלפו קצת הנמצאות מקצת, כי אם במצב חלקי החמר אשר ממנו היו ובתמונתם וברבוי החלקים ההם ומעוטם. וקצתם יראו שיהיה ההתחלפות באופן אחר, לפי הדעת שנתיחדו בו. ומה שנשתתפו בו רוב האנשים ההם בזמן ההוא, שהם לא יראו שתהיה בכאן סבה פועלת, אבל יאמרו שהוית כל הדברים ההם היא במקרה, בזולת סבה פועלת. וזה מבואר ממה שזכר הפילוסוף מדעות הקודמים בשני ממה שאחר הטבע. ובהיות הענין כן, והיתה כונת התורה להגיע המתנהגים בה אל השלמות האמתי כמו שזכרנו, היה מן הראוי שתיסד לנו תחלה זה השרש האמתי. והוא שיש בכאן סבה פועלת אלו הנמצאות ותעמידנו על מציאות הסבה הצורית. כי בזולת זה השרש לא יתכן לנו שום קנין [שלמות] נפשי. וזה מבואר למי שעיין בחכמת הנמצאות. וגם כן בעבור היות התורה מקפת בשלשה חלקים אשר זכרנו בפתיחתנו. והיה החלק המקיף ממנה בחכמת הנמצאות הולך מהלך השלמות והצורה לשאר החלקים היה ראוי שיונח קודם, כי הוא אשר אליו היתה הכונה בתורה.
    ואין ראוי שיסופק עלינו מה שבמצות התורה, מההאמנה בשם ית ובעבודתו וביראתו, שהם כל פרי התורה, ויחשב שראוי שיהיה קודם מפני זה אל החלק המקיף בחכמת הנמצאות. וזה כי לא יתכן שיאמר שנירא מה ונעבדהו טרם השיגנו שיש שם נמצא בזה התואר. וכאשר נדע חכמת הנמצאות, ונשכיל ונדע אותו מצד פעולותיו, הנה תגיע אותנו זאת ההשגה אל שנעבדהו ונירא ממנ

  6. Rabbis Sacks and Guttman,

    Has either of you ever witnessed a mitsvah being taught?


    P.S. In over 3 decades of intensive study under Orthodox teachers I have never witnessed a mitsvah being taught.

  7. I am not sure I understand your question. Could you expand?

  8. Anonymous

    I assume you mean a "Mitzva" in the sense of the means to the Good the Torah Shebichtav exhorts us to choose as our life path in its Sippurim ?

  9. With reference to the excerpt above from the רלב"ג, a מצווה is acquired coincident with experiencing the הרגשה of the סיבה הצורית.

  10. Sorry ... I neglected to mention that "Anonymous" is "hagyan".

  11. Hagyan, Again I am not sure what you are referring to. The way I read (fast read mind you)Ralbag he is saying that Mitzvot make you aware that you have to look for the One you worship by doing the Mitzvah. Acknowledging the One as the First Cause negates the old beliefs that everything exists by chance - Mikreh. The process of existence is therefore the Siba Hatzurit which ultimately will be traced to the First Cause, the original Siba Hatzurit that is not Mesubav.

    The fact that your rebbi has not taught you that way is the tragedy of our times where bright and capable students will leave Torah for lack of understanding what they are leaving.Mine has neither but I had the fortune to talk to some smart Jews whose words eventually came back to help me make sense of what upto then was a great superstition.

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  13. Experiencing the הרגשה of the סיבה הצורית.

    Consider a healthy mind reflecting on the Good of a Creation whose Craft maintains a system sustaining all things , let us say someone like Einstein. If such a one were in the circumstance described regarding Adam HaRishon-below.

    כי לא המטיר -
    ומה טעם לא המטיר?
    לפי שאדם אין לעבוד את האדמה ואין מכיר בטובתם של גשמים, וכשבא אדם וידע שהם צורך לעולם התפלל עליהם וירדו, וצמחו האילנות והדשאים:

    1. Would his self reflection on the justice of his situation be a result of the הרגשה of the סיבה הצורית?

    2. Would such a one be ready for instruction by God in the path to the true Good Rambam and Ralbag speaks of as the basis of Mitzvot?

  14. Rabbi Guttman,

    On a "content" level, you wrote:
    "... I am not sure what you are referring to."
    Sorry -- I'm not succeeding yet in usefully expressing
    "what I am
    referring to". I think you might sense it "between the lines" of my reply (upcoming) to Rabbi Sacks. Your intuition there
    might be more potent than my present power of expression.

    On a personal level, as a plain old Jewish human being, I am very
    grateful to you for the directness of your words in your second
    paragraph. This means much more to me than whether we completely
    agree about this or that particular idea. (And -- thank God -- I haven't
    "left Torah", or else I wouldn't be here commenting.)

  15. Rabbi Sacks,

    I've spent a few hours thinking about your question, but I wasn't able to resolve your expression into something unequivocal.

    Would you be willing to "concretize" your questions by building a metaphor using this photograph and its accompanying explanation? ...

    A Dark Sky Over Death Valley

  16. hagyan

    I would certainly be willing to try and build a metaphor of צריכות לו out of this picture, if David is ok with it.

  17. Rabbi Sacks, Please go ahead. Yagdil Torah Ve'ya'adir!

  18. Hagyan

    My response is in the next post.