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No Choice But Love - Poem by gershon hepner
NO CHOICE BUT LOVE
If we had more than just one heart
we could both love and hate, but since
we’ve only one we have to start
with love and, sealing it, convince
our heart that since it can’t feel more
than one way it should not let hate
into its chambers, but explore
a way for love to flood its gate.
Inspired by a devar torah for Shabbat Breishit by Mimi Feigelson:
'In the beginning God created heaven and earth' (Breishit/Genesis 1: 1)
This verse seems to be one of the hardest verses of the Torah to comprehend. Every word begs for multiple questions and attempts of interpretation. For example: Breishit (in the beginning) - If there is a beginning, what was before hand? The Talmud will address this in one manner in P'sachim 54, when highlighting those things that existed before creation. Bara Elokim (God created) - again, what is the nature of creation and the Creator? Can we think of all that was created in a form that precedes creation? Where would the Neo-Platonic understanding of the realm of ideals dwell? Is 'creation' only a physical manifestation or one that contains the realm of ideas as well? An element of dichotomy that manifests as well is the split between heaven and earth. The separation between what are known as 'the higher waters' and 'the lower waters'. Alongside these questions it appears that as old as the world is, so too are the controversies between Beit (the house of) Shamai and Beit (the house of) Hillel and the questions they challenge each other with. We did not even complete one verse of the Torah and already they disagree!
'The sages have taught: Beit Shamai says: the heavens were created first and then the earth, for it says: 'In the beginning God created heaven and earth' (Breishit/Genesis 1: 1): and Beit Hillel says: the earth was created first and then the heavens, as it says: '...in the day that Hashem Elokim made the earth and the heavens' (Breishit/Genesis 2: 4) '
After they state their opening positions they bring proof texts to challenge each other. Beit Hillel challenges Beit Shamai: 'Is it reasonable that a person first creates the second story before erecting the first story of a building? ' Beit Shamai challenges Beit Hillel: 'Is it reasonable that a person would build a foot stool first and only after make a chair? ' (Chagiga 12a) .
It seems hard to look at this controversy at face value when thinking about the verses that they are debating, and the plethora of questions that we began to touch upon in our opening comments to Breishit/Genesis 1: 1. Is this really what Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai are in disagreement about? Is it really about the precedence of heaven over earth or earth over heaven? And what is the difference if heaven was created first, or if the earth was created first. Why do we indeed have two different verses in the first two chapters of Breishit/Genesis?
In his known work, The Lonely Man of Faith, Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik (d.1993) lays out many differences between the story of creation in Breishit/Genesis 1 and 2. He portrays two different images of Adam as described in these chapters as two different ways of walking in the world: The Adam that conquers the world, and the Adam that responds to the glory of the world. The Adam that wants to take apart a clock, to understand the components that avail the clock to tick, versus the Adam that wants to understand the meaning of time, the imprint that time has on our human existence. In bringing together Rav Soloveitchik and the controversy between Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai we find ourselves asking foundational questions as to how we live our lives. What are the guiding principles with which we interpret the reality that we live in? Do we need to be grounded in this world before we aspire to reach for the heavens, as Beit Hillel is asking of us? Or, perhaps, without first being able to answer questions of meaning and purpose we can't really take a step forward, as Beit Shamai would suggest. The controversy between the two is therefore not a technical question of the accuracy of the verses or even the process of creation, but rather a core question that we each need to answer for ourselves. What is it that we need to function in God's world - an earth beneath our feet or a heaven above our head?
It was only a couple of weeks ago when we read the Torah portion of Ha'azinu where there, too, earth and heaven are called into center field. Moshe calls for the heavens to listen and for the earth to hear (D'varim/Deuteronomy 32: 1) . The Ishbitzer rebbe (d.1853) in his interpretation of this verse aligns the heaven with the mind and the earth with the heart. For the Ishbitzer rebbe the key difference between the two is that the mind can hold onto dichotomies, realities that seem unfathomable. The mind can comprehend simultaneously juxtapositions that the heart can not. The heart, he teaches, seeks for peace and harmony. The mind can accept everything while the heart will only hold on to that which in the immediate present beckons quiet and integration. It is in this light that Reb Shlomo Carlebach (d.1994) while teaching and performing in Poland in 1989 repeatedly said, when addressing his relationship to the Polish people in the shadow of the Shoah: 'If I had two hearts, I would love with one and hate with the other. But I only have one heart, and I choose to love.' The Ishbitzer would smile and say, 'Yes, with our mind we can hold on to 'love' and 'hate', but with our heart we have to choose - to love or to hate.'
It is here that I am left with a question and challenge: I remember hearing that the Piasetzna rebbe (d.1944) once walked into the beit midrash (the study hall) and smacked and hugged a student simultaneously. The student was wearing a tie and this was unacceptable in the eyes of the Piasetzna rebbe - having something that cuts off the connection between the mind and the heart, like the tie around one's neck, has no room in his beit midrash.
I'm left with the challenge of connecting heaven and earth. Regardless to whether we stand in the world as a disciple of Beit Hillel or Beit Shamai we cannot live without both. That was never the rabbi's question - heaven and earth are a given. I know that when the Torah will be taken out of the ark this Shabbat I will lean to kiss it as it passes me by. I know that it is only when my upper lip, the lip closer to the heaven connects with my lower lip, the lip closer to the earth, that this kiss possible.
Comments about No Choice But Love by gershon hepner
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