When I was in fourth grade I had my first crush. “Crush” is a fitting term for it. It was too much for a ten-year-old to handle. I became entirely preoccupied with what this other person saw, felt and thought — in particular when she looked back at me.
I had absolutely no idea at this point in my life what might be going on over there in her mind. She was a mystery to me, but somehow her presence in the world turned the entire world magical. The world as I knew it was shocked out of its orbit around myself. I was overcome with a pleasant nausea, my body was wracked and overheated, and I was lovesick.
And the worst possible outcome transpired: She did not like what she saw. She rendered that kind of terrible, inexorable judgment older girls (at least the merciful ones) learn to soften. She was nauseated by me, too — but in a very different way, and it crushed me.
While I never did figure out how to dispel this mystery, or conquer or possess it, or control or suppress it, I did learn how to win more favorable judgments (partly by developing my own judgment). And I learned how to inhabit this magical sphere, how to function and flourish within it, and how to order my life according to its strange laws of mutuality.
And while this way of living did expand the region of clear and mundane familiarity, it also lengthened the shimmering outer boundary where mystery recommences, each time reaffirming the inexhaustibility of mystery.
The above is intended as a response to a question I asked myself in the margin of Lee Braver’s A Thing of This World: A History of Continental Anti-Realism. He wrote:
Hegel’s strategy here is quite reminiscent of the later Wittgenstein’s dissolution of problems by showing that our terms only make sense in mundane contexts, whereas philosophy confuses itself by taking them out of the language-games where they do work. It is then that we tend to misconstrue notions in bizarre, that is, philosophical ways: “When we do philosophy we are like savages, primitive people, who hear the expressions of civilized men, put a false interpretation on them, and then draw the queerest conclusions from it.” Within normal conversation or during standard inquiry, we can make perfect sense of an idea corresponding to reality as it really is or the world apart from our conceptions, but once we stop these mundane endeavors and become bewitched by the sublime vision of an unknowable world existing in absolute isolation from all human contact, it has gotten away from us.
And I ask: “Why are we attracted — or repelled — by bewitchment?”
I think the answer is contained in the story of my crush.
Show me your response to lovesickness, and I’ll show you your attitude toward religious life…
Do you want immunity to lovesickness? Have you intentionally immunized yourself to it? Or have you accidentally become immune?
Do you want to treat lovesickness, and recover from it as quickly as possible?
Do you want to practice social distancing, or even self-quarantine?
Do you want to deaden its symptoms with drugs and distractions? Or do you want to intensify its symptoms?
Do you want to experience it with full awareness and attention?
Do you want to prolong it forever? Or do you want to catch it, and when its symptoms abate, catch it again, and again, and again?
Do you want to try to inflict it yourself on others? Perhaps without suffering it yourself?
Do you want to possess and control your lovesickness — or possess and control its source? Do you refuse to become lovesick unless you can possess and control it?
Have you refused lovesickness? Do you dismiss lovesickness as an exaggeration of mundane affection? Would you prefer to be lovesick toward an imaginary image?
Would you prefer to be lovesick for yourself? Would you prefer to be lovesick for lovesickness?
Do you scoff lovesickness into nonexistence, or debase it into impossibility?
These are only a few of myriad possibilities.
My favorite opening line to any book is: “Supposing that truth is a woman — what then?”
Martin Buber was the person who activated my Jewish soul:
To man the world is twofold, in accordance with, his twofold attitude.
The attitude of man is twofold, in accordance with the twofold nature of the primary words which he speaks.
The primary words are not isolated words, but combined words.
The one primary word is the combination I-Thou.
The other primary word is the combination I-It; wherein, without a change in the primary word, one of the words He and She can replace It.
Hence the I of man is also twofold.
For the I of the primary word I-Thou is a different I from that of the primary word I-It.
Primary words do not signify things, but they intimate relations.
Primary words do not describe something that might exist independently of them, but being spoken they bring about existence.
Primary words are spoken from the being.
If Thou is said, the I of the combination I-Thou is said along with it.
If It is said the I of the combination I-It is said along with it.
The primary word I-Thou can only be spoken with the whole being.
The primary word I-It can never be spoken with the whole being.
From Daniel Matt’s The Essential Kabbalah:
Luria wrote hardly anything. When asked by one of his disciples why he did not compose a book, Luria is reported to have said: “It is impossible, because all things are interrelated. I can hardly open my mouth to speak without feeling as though the sea burst its dams and overflowed. How then shall I express what my soul has received? How can I set it down in a book?” We know of Luria’s teachings from his disciples’ writings, especially those of Hayyim Vital.
Luria pondered the question of beginnings. How did the process of emanation start? If Ein Sof pervaded all space, how was there room for anything other than God to come into being? Elaborating on earlier formulations, Luria taught that the first divine act was not emanation, but withdrawal. Ein Sof withdrew its presence “from itself to itself,” withdrawing in all directions away from one point at the center of its infinity, as it were, thereby creating a vacuum. This vacuum served as the site of creation. According to some versions of Luria’s teaching, the purpose of the withdrawal was cathartic: to make room for the elimination of harsh judgment from Ein Sof.
Into the vacuum Ein Sof emanated a ray of light, channeled through vessels. At first, everything went smoothly; but as the emanation proceeded, some of the vessels could not withstand the power of the light, and they shattered. Most of the light returned to its infinite source, but the rest fell as sparks, along with the shards of the vessels. Eventually, these sparks became trapped in material existence. The human task is to liberate, or raise, these sparks, to restore them to divinity. This process of tiqqun (repair or mending) is accomplished through living a life of holiness. All human actions either promote or impede tiqqun, thus hastening or delaying the arrival of the Messiah. In a sense, the Messiah is fashioned by our ethical and spiritual activity. Luria’s teaching resonates with one of Franz Kafka’s paradoxical sayings: “The Messiah will come only when he is no longer necessary; he will come only on the day after his arrival.”
. . .
In the beginning Ein Sof emanated ten sefirot, which are of its essence, united with it. It and they are entirely one. There is no change or division in the emanator that would justify saying it is divided into parts in these various sefirot. Division and change do not apply to it, only to the external sefirot.
To help you conceive this, imagine water flowing through vessels of different colors: white, red, green, and so forth. As the water spreads through those vessels, it appears to change into the colors of the vessels, although the water is devoid of all color. The change in color does not affect the water itself, just our perception of the water. So it is with the sefirot. They are vessels, known, for example, as Hesed, Gevurah, and Tif’eret, each colored according to its function, white, red, and green, respectively, while the light of the emanator — their essence — is the water, having no color at all. This essence does not change; it only appears to change as it flows through the vessels.
Better yet, imagine a ray of sunlight shining through a stained-glass window of ten different colors. The sunlight possesses no color at all but appears to change hue as it passes through the different colors of glass. Colored light radiates through the window. The light has not essentially changed, though so it seems to the viewer. Just so with the sefirot. The light that clothes itself in the vessels of the sefirot is the essence, like the ray of sunlight. That essence does not change color at all, neither judgment nor compassion, neither right nor left. Yet by emanating through the sefirot — the variegated stained glass — judgment or compassion prevails.