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SPIRITUALLY CORROSIVE, BUT NOT SPECIFICALLY PROHIBITED - "The Best of Parashat HaShavuah" Articles taken from list...

SPIRITUALLY CORROSIVE, BUT NOT SPECIFICALLY PROHIBITED



Let us examine the Rambam’s examples.

ANGER: The Rambam considered anger an extremely bad trait. When he formulated his golden mean, the median route a person should follow in his character traits, he specifically excluded anger: it is always proscribed (Hilkhot De’ot 2:3). As support, he cites the gemara (Shabbat 105b): “Whoever loses his temper, it is as if he has worshipped idols.” Anger is dehumanizing; it expresses a loss of self-control. Instead of a person being the master of his passions, he has become their slave. This is why it is “as if he has worshipped idols:” idolatry means handing over control to something else. However, to my knowledge, there is no verse in the Torah or ruling in the Shulchan Arukh that tells us what transgression such a person has committed.

HATRED: There are specific prohibitions against hatred, such as the above-cited verse: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart” (Vayikra 19:17). However, I believe the Rambam is not referring to this focused prohibition. Suppose that one hates people who are not included in this prohibition, which speaks very specifically of “your brother,” your fellow Jew. If a person has great love for his brethren, but hates everybody else, he still falls under the purview of this passage in the Rambam, for he has a poisoned personality, a personality full of bitterness and enmity, a personality that is rotten to the core. In this passage, the Rambam speaks of the need to uproot hatred from one’s heart, not because of its impact upon those who are the objects of his hatred, but rather because hatred is a cancer which consumes one’s moral and psychological self.

ENVY: Chazal expressed very strong words about envy: “Rabbi Eliezer Ha-kappar said: Envy, lust and honor remove a person from this world” (Avot 4:21). This refers to a person who has a passionate, sometimes obsessive, quest for the object of his lust or envy. One might interpret the mishna to mean that these remove a person from the World-to-Come. But I think that anyone who knows people who are totally consumed by envy, lust and honor realizes that such people have effectively removed themselves from “this world” as well. Even if there are circumstances where envy is not formally prohibited, it nevertheless is to be avoided since it is a “bad character trait.”

FRIVOLITY: The Rambam’s term “hittul” combines two sins mentioned in the “Al Chet” litany recited on Yom Kippur: latzon and kalut rosh, scoffing and lightheadedness. This term describes a person lacking what Matthew Arnold called “high seriousness.” The book of Mishlei takes a very low view of leitzanut, or mocking frivolity, and likewise Chazal declare: “All leitzanut is prohibited, unless it is directed against idolatry” (Megilla 25b). It is a quality of heart and soul, which certainly does not make for the optimal spiritual life. The first verse in Tehillim declares, “Happy is the man ... who does not sit in a gathering of leitzim”— we do not want to be seen in their company. But, again, there is no specific prohibition here.

PURSUIT OF WEALTH, HONOR OR FOOD: These categories may impinge on actual prohibitions. For example, we find two problems mentioned in conjunction with the rebellious son: first, “he does not hearken to our voice,” showing a lack of honor for his parents, and second, “he is a glutton and a drunkard” (Devarim 21:20). While the former violates one of the Ten Commandments, what is the prohibition against the latter? The Sefer Yere’im (275) writes that this violates the prohibition of “You shall not walk in their statutes” (Vayikra 18:3), while the Ramban (Devarim 21:18) suggests that it violates either the injunction to be holy (Vayikra 19:2) or to serve God and cleave to Him (Devarim 13:5). Nevertheless, it is hard to define glut- tony as a prohibition per se. Likewise, pursuit of wealth is undesirable, and the prophet Yeshayahu rails against those who “love bribes and are greedy for gifts” (1:23). The problem he denounces is not limited to dishonesty in government, but includes the obsessive passion for the accumulation of wealth. Lastly, while pursuit of honor may seem nobler than the other two pursuits, it still is not the spiritual path a person should follow. Yet, while all three of these pursuits are spiritually corrosive, they are not focused prohibitions.

WHY WOULD ONE PRESUME TESHUVA TO BE IRRELEVANT HERE?



As noted, the Rambam believes that many readers might be inclined to regard repentance as confining itself to sin in the strict sense, but not relating to the more general qualities of heart and soul that characterize a person’s self and his lifestyle.[2] Why would one imagine that teshuva does not relate to these things? There might be two answers, one concerning the difficulty of teshuva in these cases, and the other related to its necessity.

One might imagine that a person is not in a position to achieve teshuva in a meaningful sense with regard to basic character traits. First, there is no particular action which you can regret and recant. Second, many people are likely to be of a more deterministic cast regarding character traits, assuming that perhaps one can change his habits, but it is beyond a person’s reach to change his mindset or psychological constitution.

On the other hand, one might assume that teshuva here is possible but that it is unnecessary, and this from several perspectives. Many adhere to the school of thought that one’s character traits are essentially neutral matters, morally speaking, as long as you do not hurt anyone. By this I do not mean people who hold John Stuart Mill’s view that government should not interfere except in interpersonal matters; Mill certainly thought that, as far as morality is concerned, it makes a great deal of difference what kind of person you are. But there are people who are far more liberal than Mill, and assume that even your character traits are entirely a matter of choice, as long as you do not bother anyone.

There are some who would go even further and idealize possessing some measure of envy, frivolity or greed, in order to be able to resist them. They understand the dictum, “Who is a hero? He who overcomes his inclination” (Avot 4:1), as indicating that you should have an inclination to overcome. The Rambam rejects this and stresses the need to repent from these negative traits, because Halakha poses demands and standards regarding character traits no less than with regard to more defined sins.

THESE SINS ARE MORE DIFFICULT”



In the continuation of our passage, the Rambam posits that “these sins are more difficult (kashin) than those which entail an action.” In what sense is this true?

Some Acharonim have suggested that this is a paraphrase of the gemara (Yoma 29a), “Thoughts of sin are more difficult (kashin) than sin.” Rashi understands the term “thoughts of sin” as being sexual in nature; the gemara says that it is more difficult to inhibit forbidden sexual fantasy than it is to refrain from an actual sexual infraction. There is a certain line which needs to be crossed if a person is going to transgress a sexual prohibition, and a person can restrain himself more easily from crossing that line. Firstly, he has a clearer and a sharper sense of the fact that this is indeed wrong. Secondly, it is something which requires initiative on his part, and he can prevent that. However, it is more difficult to restrain fantasies. This explanation of the gemara understands kashin in the sense of difficulty.

In his Guide of the Perplexed (3:8), the Rambam interprets the gemara differently: kashin does not refer to the difficulty of preventing thoughts of sin, but rather to their severity. In a sense (though not in the strictly halakhic sense), thoughts of sin are worse than the sin itself, for the center of the human personality is the heart or mind, and not the body. If a person has sinned with his hands or feet, he has defiled some peripheral and marginal aspects of his selfhood. But if a person sins with his heart, his passions, his thoughts, he has defiled the epicenter of his spiritual personality, and that is, in a sense, worse. Here we have an indication of the seriousness with which the Rambam took one’s inner being.

A DIFFERENT TYPE OF TESHUVA: MOLDING OF PERSONALITY



Chapter Seven of Hilkhot Teshuva contains some formulations that appear surprising at first. After speaking vigorously in Chapters Five and Six about the power of human freedom, the Rambam at the beginning of our chapter draws an inference from this:

Since every person is endowed with free will, as we have explained, he should try to perform teshuva and confess his sins verbally and renounce them, so that he may die penitent and thus be worthy of the World-to-Come. (7:1)

The Rambam’s formulation—“he should try”—is uncharacteristic. Does Hilkhot Shofar stipulate that a person should “try” to hear the shofar? One is obligated, and there is nothing more to say. We are accustomed to hearing the Rambam speak in normative and imperative terms, presenting a substantive and absolute demand.

Another noteworthy formulation is the duration of this attempt at teshuva; apparently, he is talking about a lifelong enterprise.[3]

Clearly, in light of the two chapters on free will, Chapter Seven presents a different modality of teshuva than the earlier chapters. Chapters One and Two deal with teshuva as a very specific halakhic performance, which has a focused mechayyev (obligating factor) and mode of fulfillment. After committing a specific sin, there is a focused response, composed of defined stages: abandoning sin, regret, resolve for the future and confession to God. In Chapters One and Two, the Rambam focuses particularly upon viddui, confession.

But, moving to Chapter Seven, if a person is guilty of, for example, frivolity, at what point does he engage in confession? Does he confess a particular incident of frivolity, as he would confess to having eaten ham on a specific occasion? I doubt it. I have no proof that it is not so, but it seems unlikely that there is this focused kind of confession when we speak of a general quest, a personal housecleaning.

Clearly, we have here an extension of teshuva in two senses.

First, in terms of the ambience: the first two chapters speak about teshuva in a very narrow context—there was a sin and there must be a response of teshuva. Here the Rambam speaks of something else entirely, namely, the molding of the human personality, the maximization of one’s spiritual self and the realization of his psychological, moral and religious potential. It is to this end that the Rambam offers what seems an exaggerated description of the lack of bounds of human freedom: “Every human being is free to become righteous like Moshe our Teacher or wicked like Yeravam. . .” (Hilkhot Teshuva 5:2).

Second, the Rambam extends the scope of teshuva, in the manner we mentioned before—one must repent not only from sins, but from all kinds of other flaws as well.

These two extensions are related. A very focused procedure of teshuva, as in the first two chapters, needs to have an object to which it relates, and that object must be a particular sin. By contrast, in building a personality, we focus not only on one’s literal obedience to the Shulchan Arukh, but, in the broader sense, on the extent to which he forms himself in line with what tzelem Elokim (the image of God) should be. That may entail many factors which are of great significance to the religious life, but not necessarily classified, narrowly speaking, in particular halakhic categories.

The interplay between the earlier chapters and Chapter Seven highlights one aspect of the total religious balance we seek. One certainly must relate to every jot and tittle of formal Halakha, and beyond this, also to moral qualities.[4] Today we speak of a person as being a ba’al teshuva (penitent) when he first led a life of sin and lacked commitment, and then decided to serve God. In Chapter Seven, the Rambam speaks of people who already serve God, and says that each person must attempt to be a ba’al teshuva, in the sense that he endeavors to remove himself from sin and to maximize his potential. This is a process, an effort, a direction: “he should try to perform teshuva” (7:1). Teshuva is not just a response to particular sins, but a lifelong enterprise of building oneself, and therefore everyone should think of himself as a ba’al teshuva.

INWARDNESS IN JUDAISM



The Rambam’s move to an area of greater inward or spiritual thrust invites a brief glance at where Judaism stands with regard to the element of inwardness.

Some very central and cardinal mitzvot are “duties of the heart:” love and fear of God, teshuva, prayer, service of God, etc. Nevertheless, the bulk of mitzvot relate to actions, and Judaism takes action very seriously. What of intention that does not come to expression in action? Clearly, a person should try to distance himself emotionally and psychologically from sin. Yet, the gemara (Kiddushin 40a) tells us that God is very liberal with regard to intention. If a person entertained the thought to perform a mitzva, but failed to do it due to some external reason, it is considered as if he had performed it. However, if a person wanted to commit a sin, but for some reason he did not succeed—his gun misfired or he did not aim properly—it is not considered as if he committed the transgression. In terms of evaluating the person, his murderous inclinations are very negative, but we do not regard him as a murderer in the moral sense. This is opposed to the Kantian conception that defining an action as good or bad depends on one’s intention, not on what actually happens.

The element of inwardness relates not just to intention but also to motivation. Are we concerned only with one’s actions, or also with his reasons for acting? This has halakhic ramifications when dealing with the question of mitzvot tzerikhot kavvana—is it enough technically to perform the mitzva, or must the person be impelled by the intent and desire to fulfill the mitzva? This entails a detailed halakhic discussion, but suffice it to note that there are many statements of Chazal which indeed focus on the inner element— for example, “God desires the heart” (Sanhedrin 106b).

Unquestionably, we strive to recognize the importance of both elements: external action and inwardness. Not only do we believe that a person’s actions influence his inner self,[5] which would suggest that the inner self is our ultimate concern, but we also clearly ascribe importance to one’s actions per se. In moral terms, our actions impact upon society, and in mystical and metaphysical terms, every mitzva performance illuminates a light on the celestial switchboard, so to speak. Thus, those who engage in the search for ta’amei ha-mitzvot (reasons for the commandments) can posit a number of categories: mitzvot which aim to attain practical results, mitzvot oriented towards inner being, and mitzvot with a dual focus. An instance of the last category would be the mitzva of tzedaka (charity), which intends both to provide the needs of the poor and to educate the affluent.

In many places, the Rambam too insists upon balancing the external and the internal. Take, for example, his famous conclusion to Sefer Tahara. Although, he says, the realm of tum’a and tahara (impurity and purity) is supra-rational, as is the immersion which absolves a person of tum’a—“for tum’a is not mud or filth which water can remove, but is a matter of Scriptural decree and dependent on the intention of the heart”—nevertheless, there is an axiological message here as well:

Just as one who sets his heart on purification becomes pure as soon as he has immersed himself, although nothing has changed physically, so too a person who sets his heart on purifying himself from the impurities that beset people’s souls— namely, thoughts of evil and bad character traits [which we encountered earlier in Hilkhot Teshuva]—is purified as soon as he decides in his heart to distance himself from these counsels and brings his soul into the waters of pure reason . . . (Hilkhot Mikvaot 11:12)

2010-07-19 18:44 Читать похожую статью
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