Saturday, January 23, 2010

A return to "mind control": Comfort with self as the fulfillment of "Do not covet"

On Monday, I delivered a d’var torah at school echoing many of the themes I have written about on this blog with regard to commandments which mandate one to control her thoughts, particularly the example of the 10th commandment of the big ten, Do not Covet (lo tahmod).

Later this week, Ari and I skyped into the “Community Time” session at JTS, when the rabbinical school met together for lunch to hear the JTS chancellor address the school. Using the address that he gave at last year’s Rabbinical Assembly (the Conservative rabbinical union) as a jumping off point, he spoke about the morning prayer experience.

He writes:

We sometimes pay too little attention to what makes prayer work for us when it does work. Many in this room, for example, journey through the tefillah each day or each week and meet old familiar friends along the way. I myself look forward to the vision of the angels, ahuvim, berurim, gibborim (beloved, flawless, mighty): a description of how I would like myself and my congregation to stand before God…

The modern world, as Max Weber famously put it, is disenchanted. If we cannot believe in the angels, even as metaphor, it is hard to resonate to my ahuvim, brurim, and gibborim angels, or to those whom we imitate when we sanctify God in this world and proclaim it “holy, holy, holy,” and full of “God’s glory.”

Take the time to read the rest of the text here. It’s well worth it.

This image, of become angelic, is a continual quest, perhaps an impossible one, an ideal well worth striving toward.

Chancellor Eisen put this in the terms of our commandment in question, lo tahmod, do not covet. The only way to fulfill this commandment, not to covet the other, is to be satisfied with one’s portion in life. One can only "not covet" if he fulfills Ben Zoma’s dictum from Pirkei Avot: “Eizehu ashir, hasameach b’helko” (“Who is happy? He who is happy with his portion”) (Avot 4:1).

Is it possible to control one’s mind? To ensure that one does not think about particular topics?

Jury’s still out on that one. But I can certainly endorse reading the morning Shacharit service as a continual quest to be comfortable in my own skin.

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