(Fifth in a series summarizing the book Halachic Man)
In the next section of the book Halachic Man the unifying theme seems to be that halacha integrates halachic man. The split personality that plagues human-kind is absent. There is no tug-of-war between the material and spiritual sides of life but instead there is a seamless integration. He doesn’t dress in his Sunday best and then go home and change his clothes to play baseball. There is no “separation between Church and State.” All of life belongs to the same weltanschauung of being in a relationship with God and with other human beings. Spirituality is an intrinsic part of physicality.
For this reason he doesn’t resent morality as something binding him against his will The divine command is interwoven with his conscience and his will. It’s not as if he doesn’t have any internal struggles. He does, but he doesn’t experience a power struggle between spirit and body. Visualizing the ideal world, he recognizes when he has missed the mark. Reaching for the ideal world he approaches religious obligations with joy and love, not as stern commands that have been forced on him. Everything he does, whether they are God-given tasks or not are all incorporated into the ideal world with which he greets life. (Of course whether or not baseball is part of one’s ideal world is a matter of individual taste.) He is free to be creative, to innovate, to improve and refine. His spirit and mind are free.
Furthermore the prototypical halachic man sees a beautiful sunset as a declaration of God’s glory. It’s part and parcel of religious experience. The concept of imitateo dei whereby a human being was born with a commission to reflect and continually approach God by acting with compassion, patience and so forth stems from halachic man’s relationship to the world. God’s ways are revealed through creation. Knowing the phenomena of creation teaches man how to be God-like.
How do the other two prototypes look at the world? Philosophy man is objective. He only observes and records his observations. Religious man on the other hand is very subjective. He trembles before the unknown, hides his face, flees from it…and in spite of himself is magically drawn towards it. He is pulled by two giant magnets of love and reverence, craving and fear, longing and dread. Suffering can even be sweet, leading to ecstasy.
Religious man lives with a crisis of conflicted self-definition. He feels his smallness and helplessness on one hand and his greatness, his distinction of being the crown of creation on the other. He vacillates endlessly between these two poles without any third principle to balance and mediate between the extremes. Halachic man has a mediating principle. It’s called halacha.
The command of halacha affirms his existence. If he returns to nothingness there is no command. The holiday of Yom Kippur testifies to man’s importance. Man is important enough to be obligated and responsible and important enough to be forgiven. He is important enough to be a participant in the creation of worlds by making a better world. He is recognized as a being who stands before God, ready for his mission. The more humane a human becomes the closer he gets to a place of balance between the two extreme views of man (the philosophic and religious view).
Halachic Man is anchored by action. Spiritual laws and principles are effectively values that exist beyond his personal interests and yearnings, and these bring him peace and quietude. Even fear of death is overcome by focusing on what is incumbent upon him to do in the face of it. Halacha applied to life turns even death into something eternal, because halacha itself is eternal. The objectification of death as a situation-to-be- responded-to conquers the subjective fear. He is conscious of his responsibility. Consciousness is defined as objective reality in subservience to subjective authority. Approached with the criterion of consciousness, fear dissipates. The gulf of the unknown disappears and becomes familiar. The enemy is transformed into a friend.
In the last section of this chapter the author turns more to actual “halachic men” as opposed to a nonexistent prototype. He contrasts these people to other movements within Judaism. He spurns the musar movement as it was in its early stages for its encouragement of intensive self-examination and emphasis on emotions of fear, lowliness and self-abnegation. Halachic man doesn’t believe in digging around, obsessively preoccupied with finding sins. If someone commits a wrongdoing, let him correct it! Don’t waste time in self-conscious self-analysis. Don’t depressive-ly brood over sin. It won’t bring you closer to God or to Torah.
At the same time the author says halachic men have been against being what they considered to be excessive emotionality. They always tended to put a cap on singing and dancing even if it was within a religious context. They were able to control their emotions. The author notes one rabbi whose daughter died on a holiday and continued to celebrate, breaking out in crying as soon as the holiday was over.
For the most part I identify with everything being said here. Yet sometimes halachic men remind me of the Biblical Michal who watched with disdain as King David was dancing and turning somersaults of joy when the Ark was returned to Israel. We might call her halachic woman. The insistence on being balanced can be taken to an extreme as well. Where is the spontaneity? Where is the passion for life? In contrast to Michal King David was a musician, and his songs sustain us to this day. In the airplane forced to crash-land on that fateful day of 9/11 passengers were reciting Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want…An outpouring of hope even when there is no longer any hope. There are moments in life when no deliberate action can be planned. Spontaneous expression just spills out. And it’s good that it does.