Thoughts written during the Bein Hametzarim Period, in memory of my parents.
“A good name is better than fragrant oil, and the day of death than the day of birth” (Ecclesiastes 7, 1).
It occurred to me that man’s discourse with space is quite possibly his most defining, recognizable trait. Man’s journey begins with abstract thought: I remember nothingness. Beyond time and space. The Maggid [who for many years was childless] speaks of the child born in the imagination of his father.
The less primordial memory is that of the organs, the state of being of a fetus in the womb: an enveloping, nourishing space that lacks self-awareness or a sense of independent physicality. The fetus consumes what its mother consumes, expels what she expels. [A fetus is not a human being, and there is a debate about abortions and the status of the fetus]
The expanse of the womb is all wonder: we can only imagine what kind of consciousness exists there. But it is entirely clear that one’s image is definitively affected by what occurs in his mother. To say something more precise about this here would only leave us with platitudes.
One can only experience wonder and mystery.
From here are born the midrashim on the baby in its mother’s womb waters, learning Torah, etc. A baby that sees from one end of the world to the other. The endless space allows for an endless vision that precedes tzimtzum (contraction). The traces of ancient, primordial worlds.
The womb: man’s first experience in a narrow, sealed space. After he is born, his mental and physical horizons broaden. As death nears they converge once more until his final end in a narrow, sealed grave. For man returns to beit olam, the house of his world [another name for a cemetery].
Yet this image is one dimensional. It is true that man comes from the grave [=womb, with no opening that is not filled with blood, etc.] and his end is in the grave [he inevitably returns to the grave]. But a little shake-up of those words completely changes the narrative.
Man’s origin is a state of absence of (defined) space, floating in an infinity without borders – in his mother’s womb; his end is in the infinity of souls, in an eternity – in the grave.
Standing at a grave – especially that of a tzaddik – is an encounter with an origin that precedes the tzimtzum of the dimensions of time and place. This is not a suggested, cued moment – it is a very real experience. Standing at the grave of my father z”l does not conjure up his image as I remember it. Unfortunately, that would be almost utterly meaningless. Instead, my thoughts, wonderings and imaginings of him as the bearer of (my) primordial origin intensify: a genetic, mental combination of my soul from generations past, whose chains and chains of chains are the stuff of the “I” that I know.
The subject called “I,” alongside my father’s place, becomes endless, shedding the contractions of consciousness. The impurity of the dead becomes a purifying mikveh: one submerges and wraps oneself in it, returns to the womb and is born thereafter.
Perhaps I will merit the dew of revival.
The resurrection of the dead – as a principle of faith – is made to be a real possibility for the revival of entities that have died in image and in biography.
Remembering my father z”l (29 Tammuz, 46 years after his death), and my mother z”l (on Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av, 7 years after her death)
My experience of leaving a fixed order dates back to 46 years ago: the experience of no longer being a father’s son. Forty-six years ago, I lost my father. I became an independent, free man, so to speak (or not).
The archetype of walking over forty years in a journey towards something. This archetype is an experience of journey in the desert that concludes, essentially, with nothing – at Jordan near Jericho. Nothing is left of the journey but the desire to enter the Promised Land, to fulfill the mission.
But we always experience the inability: ‘not yet.’
So it is in Exodus: “And Moses could not…”(Exodus 40:35). The conclusion of every journey in the desert is helplessness. And Moses could not. The sadness of Mount Nebo.
Additionally: Isaiah 51
(1) Listen to Me, you who pursue justice, You who seek the LORD: Look to the rock you were hewn from, To the quarry you were dug from.
(2) Look back to Abraham your father And to Sarah who brought you forth. For he was only one when I called him, But I blessed him and made him many.
(3) Truly the LORD has comforted Zion, Comforted all her ruins; He has made her wilderness like Eden, Her desert like the Garden of the LORD. Gladness and joy shall abide there, Thanksgiving and the sound of music.
Every journey to the future is a journey to one’s parents, to the past.
On the one hand, there is the leave-taking of parents: “Hence a man leaves his father and mother..” (Genesis 2:24). It is an expulsion from the Garden of Eden of his mother and father’s house. From this abandonment begins the journey forward, to the future, to the unknown, to breaking through, to distance from a childhood home, to realizing personal freedom, to manifesting desires and fantasies.
On the other hand, this journey is also a return to parents, to the house of my mother, to my parents’ room.
A forwards that is also backwards. Like with the blind miser. The image of a table that is opened one way but opens in the opposite direction.
The chronology of a journey known from the start: not yet. On Jordan by Jericho – but not entry to the Land of Israel. Left with the sadness, the bitterness. Like a person at the end of his days, the personal journey over, standing in the face of meaninglessness.
The end of the journey is consolation.
The desert – itself the absence of expectation – turns into a garden of God, into Eden.
This is the return to the Garden of Eden.
The ruination, the loss, lack of fulfilment, disillusionment on the journey – these are the raw materials of consolation.
“Truly the LORD has comforted Zion, Comforted all her ruins; He has made her wilderness like Eden, Her desert like the Garden of the LORD. Gladness and joy shall abide there, Thanksgiving and the sound of music.” (Isaiah 51:3)
” …I accounted to your favor The devotion of your youth, Your love as a bride— How you followed Me in the wilderness, In a land not sown.(Jeremiah 2:2:)
Mother and father. Rejoice, partners that do not part. The tripled thread – of father-mother-son – will not soon be broken.
“Hence a man leaves his father and mother..” (Genesis 2:24)
The yartzheit is like a chuppah [“the world from which we depart is like a wedding feast” (Eruvin 54a)]: an invitation to shed, to cut loose, to leave, to depart, to be exposed like a newborn that has just come into the world. With powerful energy to break free, forward-facing, to create worlds, to touch other lives.
Not to become stuck in memory. This is only possible when we leave our mother and father once again and open ourselves to an ever-renewing partnership: “he cleaves to his wife, so that they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). To restart fertility, to set up students in a generation that “does not know” (Exodus 1:8).
Can we throw it all away? Abandon it and leave?
Return from memory, and to a face-to-face illumination in this reality, as a grown adult, a still-young old man?
Rav Nachman taught: It is forbidden to be ‘an elder.’
Because in truth, nothing has begun yet.
To turn the accumulated biography, successes and failures -into ‘not anything,’ to nothing.
To renew the name.
The path of the one who returns transforms his name.