The Auto Pilot

Friday, 9 August, 2019 - 7:49 pm

 Linda Frimer.png

Dear Friend,

I pray that you’re enjoying a restful and re'jew'vinating summer. 

There is a style in Chabad Chassidic thought- especially pronounced in the Rebbe's teachings- that examines seemingly negative remarks in the Torah for an underlying positive. This is not spin; it is a natural outgrowth of a belief that Gd is goodness itself and the premise of creation of the universe - both macro and micro, for each each individual is a world- is the need of a kind Gd to bestow good. Consequently, as we approach Tisha B'Av, we examine the book of Eicha (Lamentations) and search for encoded blessing within an otherwise tragic and harsh reading.

The volume begins: 'The city [Jerusalem], once with the throngs, is now “בדד”- alone.'

At first glance, this would seem like the description of the sad fate of our people, fallen from glory, dispersed and desolate, doomed to a sort of national solitary confinement. 

But Rabbi David Kimhi (1130-1235), father of the Hebrew grammarians, gets right to work examining the word בדד - Auto. "Auto" can have negative connotations (think, “autistic”) but also positive meaning, as in “autonomous”. 

A quick scan of the Torah for this root word finds the prophet Balaam using it in a most positive sense: 'Am Lvodod Yishkon, Uvagoyim Loh Yischashov' (Numbers 23:9,  loosely translated: 'A nation on its own frequency, not concerning itself with the masses'. 

Now the word בדד- auto takes on a whole new meaning. Rather than a curse of aloneness, it is the blessing of simply being left alone to charter the course of our destiny with our unique moral and ethical code, the Torah. 

Our Torah is בדד -singular. Pop culture and the pop values it espouses are by definition transient. Is it such a curse to be singular against that backdrop? 

To be sure, we absorb and integrate ideas from the global marketplace. Take a look at any landmark synagogue and notice the substantial architectural influences: Moorish, Tudor, even Greek columns; this can be seen in Judaica, scribal arts and many other areas. But there are areas in which the Torah expects us to be the influencers, not the influenced: our morals, ethics and sense of law is our own, and we are expected to be a light among the nations. 

On Tisha B'Av, a day of reflection and introspection, when we abstain from food and drink and focus on that which we have lost and yearn for, we have the luxury of drowning out the background noise of the throngs and realigning our one and only self to the one and only Hashem. 

Good Shabbos/ Shabbat Shalom, 
Rabbi Shmuel Metzger

Artwork by Vancouver based artist Linda Frimer 

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