Archetypes

We of the tribe prefer to refer to the role of Aslan in the Narnia books as propigating the Messianic Archetype. No need to be more specific than that.

🙂

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R.I.P. Philip Roth

Portnoy’s Complaint was a revelatory book for me, not only a point of literary connection to Jews living far away, but also a comforting reassurance that I was not the only one dealing with very deep issues fitting into gentile society.

I have two other volumes of Roth’s work on by shelf, and I have yet to read it. I will get to it all eventually, but the great Tosafists must come first.

Goodnight, Mr. Portnoy. And thank you.

 

Age and Tolerance

As I age, I am finding myself turning into a bit of a grumpy old man. I dismiss it as mostly harmless, but sometimes I wonder.

As I swim in the works of the Mussar greats like Rabbeinu Yonah of Gerona and Rabbeinu Yisrael Meir Kagan, I am gently reminded that the irritability I am acquiring cannot be too easily dismissed as an earned and slightly endearing privilege of age. I catch myself (or my wife catches me) starting to allow simple crotchetiness evolve into the kind of intolerance, anger, and venom against which Torah, the Prophets, and the learned rabbis inveigh.

I am working on it. I woke up this morning and realized that I would do better to be a cheerful old geezer than a grumpy old man.

Age carries with it many perils to our physical and mental healthy. Old Grouch Syndrome, gone unchecked, carries the greatest peril to our souls.

Be A Great Painter, Asher Lev

““Be a great painter, Asher Lev.” He was still looking out the window at the sun and the sky. “That will be the only justification for all the pain your art will cause.”

Chaim Potok, My Name is Asher Lev

I often think about this quote.

As a Jewish man living in what appears to be the end-times of this particular iteration of Western Civilization, the call back to Torah, tradition, and communalism grows daily. Yet do I spend my life studying Talmud, living according to Halacha, or building synagogues or academies? Only to the tiniest degree: most of my waking hours are spent worrying about my family’s well-being, my clients, my colleagues, and my business.

I am sure that will not surprise you. What you may be interested to learn, though, is that this fact is the cause of a great deal of pain in my life, and probably pain in others.

I rationalize it by telling myself that, like Asher Lev, my urges and my G-d-given abilities have led me to succeed in this direction, so this must be a part of His greater plan, and I should not fight it.

And then listen to my soul. And I look at the world around me. And a voice out of the darkest depths of my genetic past calls me back to seferim, Yiddishkeit, and the people of my community.

And in hearing that voice I know a pain that Potok never placed in Asher Lev, but one that I know he must have felt: that the more blessings G-d gives you the greater your soul struggles.

Free Will Me

The Master of the Universe, praised be He, blessed us with the gift of free will. Along with speech, this is perhaps the one thing that truly raises us above the animals.

But in His wisdom, He did not stop by just giving us the intellectual wherewithal to make choices. He then gave us His Torah as a guide to making those choices.

He then gave us the choice of whether to follow Torah or to allow our whims and our petty concerns drive our actions.

And He gave us the intellectual capacity, through the faculty of reason, to think through our actions, so that we could justify any course of action so as to ensure we would be able to live with our own choices, no matter how foolish or ill-advised. Or, if we made the choice to follow Torah, to use that capacity to apply its laws with wisdom, with justice, and with mercy.

Because we reason through our choices, our choices become the rungs in the ladders of our character. The internal struggle that precedes each choice we make is the hammer of a blacksmith on the metal of our soul, with each struggle between our instincts and “the better angels of our nature,” either weakening or breaking us when we come out with poor choices, or tempering and strengthening us when we make the choices that uplift us and make the world a better place.

So free will is more than about whether to eat a pepperoni pizza or go t0 synagogue. It is a forge for our character.

Have a wonderful week!