Ben Avuyah

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

Stairway to Heaven?

With its back to the wall, pinned tight by theodicy and internal inconsistency, snarling ferociously like a trapped animal ready to sink its teeth deep in the fight for its very existence; the oft heard refrain of Orthodoxy is the invocation of the Ethereal Scaffolding.

The invisible structure…the translucent backbone extending from meager earth to the realm of God’s throne itself. The mitzvahs strewn about as a toehold here… a finger hold there. The savvy climber making his way carefully up, finding his path not with lowly vision and touch, but ascending each rung through a belief that his hand grips something stronger than mere material; always having known that his journey into Kingdoms on high was guaranteed by careful application and dutiful observance of the dictates given in the Torah.

And so understanding becomes less important…it becomes unimportant:

Those bothersome brushes between biblical law and what appears to be “right” to human sensibility. The agunos, amalek, Godly wars of pernition, the akedah.

There is no need to belabor these difficulties with puny human morality. God’s instruction are not a moral conundrum, but a series of directives through which humanity can reach true peaks. Thus it behooves us not at all to ponder the frictions between the divine and mundane appreciation of right and wrong.

What a woefully inadequate use of time!!

The smart traveler has already fixed his ropes and begun the ascent while the thinker mires himself in confusion. There is only one way to the top and the clock is ticking.

Those who have started the climb early, never looked down and pined in their hearts only for the summit… may touch it. And at the awesome pinnacle stand only a few, having indeed reached what can only be described as hyper-spirituality through mitzvahs. A state in which they have such heightened sensitivity to the shechina that they exist on a different level than the masses, privy to a true and unspoiled relationship to the divine. Here they can appreciate the momentous effect of every word and action and it’s consequence upon the world. Here they can view their bewildered followers down below and shout encouragement, instruction, and the wisdom of ages.

For those whose arms have weakened in the climb, for those who pitifully embrace the sheer mountainside, stranded below the crevice in the rock they cannot will themselves to reach for, they may stare up. And from the heights of holy knowledge, from the zenith of human accomplishment, rains down understanding and ideology dappled and resplendent with jewels pried from the Heavenly Throne itself.

Occasionally, such a Gem is made available to the masses…

"Is it any wonder if, heaven forbid, soldiers are killed in a war?" Rabbi Yosef said during his weekly Saturday night sermon. "They don't observe the Sabbath, they don't observe [the laws of] the Torah, they don't pray, they don't put on phylacteries every day. Is it any wonder that they're killed? It's no wonder. May the Almighty have mercy on them and bring them back to religion.”

Oh, How it shines!!!

It makes one want to thank the Aibishter for giving us people who have immersed themselves in the Torah and Mitzvahs exclusively so that they can access this higher plain.

And what is it to us if this Justice is as bawdy and primitive as the Dark Ages? What care to us if from such wisdom God’s reflection is cast as simplistically and demonic as a casual dealer in death and control?

If this is the view as seen from unobstructed mountain tops, if this is the image through cloudless skies, what right do we have to complain from within our shroud of darkness and confusion?

And be not bothered, my brethren, by the jarring discordance with the reality, that religious soldiers are killed by the Dozen, for reality is a trifle compared to the divine wisdom: true arbiter of what is real and imagined.

And be not bothered, my brethren, by the Jarring lack of sensitivity to the loved and lost of countless families, for, if the culmination of a lifetime of spiritual grooming through unblinking subservience to torah and mitzvot have resulted in this callousness beyond description, then it must in reality be a kindness beyond compassion that is misunderstood through our dim eyes.

Indeed, do not engage in fruitless and idle speculation as to how a Godol could have, not just a gapeing hole in his soul where compassion should sit screaming, “think of those who have lost members of their families”; but a new malignant growth in its place, so bitter and poisoned , that it allows him to open fresh wounds on those grieving their dead, with an un-furrowed brow and a clear conscience.

And don’t for a moment entertain the thought, harbor the doubt, or commit the averah of kefirah beyond kefirah; to question whether a life of torah and mitzvoth have any impact on the morality or sensitivity of an individual…at all.

Don’t dare be brazen enough, to wonder why becoming a Talmudic mentat capable of delivering memorized Aramaic like so many phone numbers from a telephone book, would ever have anything to do with achieving a sensitive and moral outlook. Because to do so would be an insult to everything the torah true world is about.

Torah, Mitzot, are the impeccable system put in place by Hakodosh Boruch Hu himself as our mechanism for finding him in the thick blackness of a material world.

Don’t think, even in your heart of hearts, whether blatant examples of complete immersion in Torah resulting in nothing more than bias and crude behavior, should lead you to wonder if the Torah and mitzvot are really the tools you have been taught they were, because God can hear even your innermost thoughts and punish you accordingly.

Indeed, from your lowly position and mine, it would appear to be best not to think at all. In the end, who are we to question someone who has spent a lifetime singularly devoted to orthodoxy and God, following every commandment to such stern aplomb, that our compared observance seems shriveled and lifeless by comparison.

No…Let’s best leave it in the hands of those wiser, and closer to the source than we are like Eli Yishai, Shas Chairman and Cabinet minister:

"My rabbi does not err," Yishai told Army Radio. "Everything he says is the word of God."


At 5:37 AM, Anonymous happywithhislot said...

"talmudic mentat"

guess you read Dune.

I still cant figure out why jews played a role in that sci fi novel of the far distant future.

Even the last novel that ends the series by his son, has jews in it.

At 5:44 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

there was a very arab feel to the desert warriors as well.

The firefly/serenity tv series also has orthodox jews in the distant future.

At 7:15 AM, Blogger Baal Habos said...

Very nice. You've got a great way with words.

At 8:28 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

thanks BHB, ROY really gets on my nerves, although I think his version of religion is more consistent with the text than most of the blogospheres religious defendants.

At 11:56 AM, Blogger Moshe said...

Well written as usual.
I think ROY is a straw man, who most modern orthodox Jews are embarrassed of. you do yourself and your readers little service by using your formidable abilities against such outbursts.

Of course, he is influential, but so is rush limbaugh, it doesn't make his arguments worthy of serious reflection.

you claim that at least ROY is loyal to the sources has some appeal but, it should be noted, as several recent scholars have argued, ROY is in fact a modern revolutionary who is part and parcel of the modern world. It is true that his theological pronouncements have basis in earlier sources, and this is not a trivial point. but I think his critics, have at their disposal at least as many sources that this statement as theologically incoherent and morally insensitive.
the "sources" are not univocal.

At 12:02 PM, Anonymous rick said...

Your posts are really worth the wait.

Its a national pastime to read Yediot Achronot ( on Sunday, to see what gems of wisdom came out of ROY's motzai shabbat drasha. Bear in mind that for years his words have been beamed by satellite around the country, and he damn well knows that evtg he says will be broadcast in the secular media, soundbited appropriately.

But at least he is consistent to his beliefs, and is not afraid of saying his truth. And does not engage in some intellectualiztion of how the soldiers are really holy, and shabbat desecration is kind of ok, because mitzvot are important but not important.

At 12:16 PM, Blogger Moshe said...

I should be clear that I think that your 'stairway to heaven' motif is a powerful critique of an important aspect of many forms of Western spirituality and theology. but once again, the tradition is far more complex.

At 1:24 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Thanks Rick I will have to check out that link !

At 1:36 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Moshe, it's hard to gauge how much support ROY's religious vision actually has among the orthodox. I will grant you I have seen very little support for it on the blogosphere.

I think my main point here was the critique of mitzvos and learning as a guide/signpost/catalyst to "higher levels" of xyz.

In my opinion this ideal is fairly well entrenched in orthodox philosphy. It's part of the reason we elevate certain people to leadership roles.

It strikes me, that real believers who have invested stock in this metaphysical axiom, likely imagine those whose observance, learning, and torah knowledge grossly outwieghs theirs, to have reached in some extant these promised greener pastures.

What is the shock value then, of experiencing one of those rare moments where someones words stray from banality and give you a glimpse into what he really believes, what really makes him tick.
The clockwork ROY so to speak.

And there, in this snapshot of the soul, where one expects to be blinded by bright heavenly lights too powerful to handle, he instead sees, the maggots and wrotting bread of a psyche that has neglected such basics elements of compassion and human understanding that the basest of jews is obliged to wrinkle their noses in distaste.

Does it start people thinking? Surely it is more complex, as you suggest, but does it start any wheels turning ??

At 2:07 AM, Anonymous Rick said...


ROY is arguably one of the most powerful Rabbis in World Jewry. This is easily established by looking at the number of seats (12) his Shas political party has in the Knesset, which got 300,000 votes in the last election.

As you can see he is Shas, and he is not a marginal sideline, or a strawman. His views are more popular/mainstream than any of the MO apologetics. Likewise he is a tremendous scholar and should not be compared with the populist Rush L.

At 4:48 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

that's interesting Rick, I tend to agree with you, that the apologists on the blogosphere are a very small minority with a religion that is fringe orthodoxy if it is orthodoxy at all. But I think MOshe will point out that the issue of politics takes this discussion out of the realm of simple theology, which is my main interest.

At 8:07 AM, Blogger jewish philosopher said...

Ben, has anyone ever suggested that you have a problem accepting authority?

At 9:20 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Don't you and I share the problem of not being able to accept the authority of the church of scientology??

what's wrong with us ?

At 1:02 PM, Blogger jewish philosopher said...

But I mean the whole concept of authority.

At 5:02 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

I accept many authorities.

I accept authority in my feild of medicine.

I accept legal authority.

I accept the authority of natural concequence.

At 1:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Has anyone ever suggested that you have a problem with questioning authority?

At 11:37 PM, Blogger rebecca said...

Silent Night


Silent night! Holy night!

All is calm, all is bright!

Round yon virgin mother and child!

Holy Infant, so tender and mild,

Sleep in heavenly peace,

Sleep in heavenly peace.


Silent night! Holy night!

Shepherds quake at the sight!

Glories stream from heaven afar,

Heav'nly hosts sing Alleluia;

Christ the Savior is born!

Christ the Savior is born!


Silent night! Holy night!

Son of God, love's pure light

Radiant beams from thy holy face,

With the dawn of redeeming grace,

Jesus, Lord, at thy birth, ,

Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

~~~by Age Of Conan gold

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At 6:20 AM, Blogger Jake said...

You lump all the "yeshivish", or "right-wing" or "black hat" or whatever label you want to use, Jews together with your unforgiving criticism. I would say that's on the same order of the moral decrepitude you're accusing them of. Just don't break your arm patting yourself on the back for your superior humanism and egalitarian sensitivity.

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