Sunday, May 18, 2008

Meditation, action, thought and a maximalist halachic lifestyle

In a recent comment, Gandalin, wrote:

One breath at a time does sound meditative, but meditation is action.

One breath at a time is one hevel at a time, one moment at a time.

I am trying to suggest that the Halakhic approach does not seek to do everything all at once, but examines life in action in bite-sized pieces. Every moment is important and worthy of consideration.

This comment brings many ideas to my mind.

One is that yes, meditation is action, but it is also concentrated thought (such as Tibetan Buddhist analytical meditations) and this makes me think of talmudic study, which is clearly concentrated thought.

And yes, I couldn't agree more that "Every moment is important and worthy of consideration," which is something the halakhah certainly instills in a way that I think is different from the very popular and perhaps effective motto to "be in the now" or "be in the moment."

While these sayings are certainly worthwhile, I think they lend themselves too easily to simple inwardness and attention, if that. While the halakhah asks one to focus on the moment, by asking one to follow the commandments of Hashem, these I see as very different responses to life.

In some ways, the popular mottos could be seen as a "minimalist" view of life -- be attentive to anything that occurs. Which again is in drastic contrast to Rav Rosensweig's insistance of encouraging a "maximalist man of destiny" from his essay "The Spiritual Legacy of Noah and Avraham" or a "maximalist halachic lifestyle" from his essay "Chanukah as a Holiday of Idealism and Maximalism."

One of the things that attracts me to the Modern Orthodox tradition is this emphasis on a maximalist viewpoint, because I believe that Hashem deserves nothing less.


chossid said...

I too came across your blog via Hirurim, and echo the sentiments of your anonymous commentor in the previous post.

One thing I'd like to comment on is your use and understanding of the term "Modern Orthodox tradition".

I guess you could say I belong to the "Chareidi tradition". What I don't follow is why you see ideas such as "maximalist man of destiny" or "maximalist halachic lifestyle" as being particular to Modern Orthodoxy. I would have thought these concepts would be eminently Chareidi too. In fact, I can imagine how some could even say more Chareidi than modern.

I'm sure you recognise that Talmud and Halacha of the MO are identical to that of the Chareidim, so on what grounds to you make the distinction?

Jeff Wild said...

Dear chossid,

You make a great point. I think I need to change my language and simply speak about an Orthodox tradition. Would that be more correct?

The books and shiurim that I have primarily been influenced by would be traditionally placed in the MO camp I think. But certainly the ideas of "maximalist man of destiny" or "maximalist halachic lifestyle", would be clearly be seen as Chareidi.

I would be interested in Chareidi authors or shiurim that I can listen to. One work that I did read and enjoy was a biography of Rav Aharon Kotler entitled, The Legacy of Maran Rav Aharon Kotler from Feldheim.

In the end I am sure that individuals in both "camps" wish that people would speak about Judaism and not make all the distinctions.

With blessings for life, peace and all good things,


Gandalin said...


Thank you for noticing my comments. The two articles by Rabbi Rosensweig to which you point are indeed very interesting.

The nature of maximalism deserves more consideration.

There is the maximalist goal, and the minimalist technique which enables that goal to be achieved.

Instead of trying to get everything right, you try to get something less wrong.

For the time being, I have two quibbles with Rabbi Rosensweig. First, the rededication of the Beis which we celebrate as Chanukah was not a "post-revolt" event, and did not come after the eventual victory of the Chashmonaim over the Hellenizing Jews and their Seleukid allies/sponsors. Rather, the Beis was re-dedicated in the midst of the war, as soon as it was feasible to do so, even though victory had not in fact been achieved, and the war had to continue on for several years more, and recognition of Jewish autonomy took longer to achieve.

To me, this means that partial progress is as worthy of recognition, perhaps more so, than the eventual complete accomplishment.

Second, I think there is more to discuss in getting at an understanding of the mission for which Avrom became Avraham Avinu, than simply stating that Avraham was "passionately devoted to transforming the world..." When Avraham argued on behalf of S'dom, he made no arguments that the wickedness of S'dom could be changed, nor that the wicked Sodomites should be saved -- only that the entire city should be spared if a sufficient number of worthy residents could be identified.

Moreover, Avraham was not instructed to reform his birthplace, Ur, but to leave the city, and journey to a new country, where he would found new nations. To me that seems altogether comparable to Noah in the ark. Hashem provided Avraham with a different sort of ark, an ark which did not require the destruction of the world, merely his change in location.

That made his task all the more difficult, of course.

Jeff Wild said...

Dear Gandalin,

Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I have just added a new post that in some way takes off from your comment. I call it -- "Looking for more than a 'measure of sanctity'"