Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"Hide What You Want Him To Seek!"

Gandalin commenting on Teaching Sensitive Topics In Chumash:

Please let me examine a few minor sidelights.

1) The language of Tanakh is so wonderful, in that the words are multifaceted and, I think, very clear on each of many levels, so that each of us, at whatever age, can put ourselves in a position where we can "relate" to the stories, and, hence, we can orient our receivers to the frequencies that Tanakh is using to broadcast the Divine revelation to our neshomohs. Depending on our level, and on the quality of our receivers, we will receive more or less of the revelation, and different aspects of it, but it is all good, and all important. Each time we connect with the transmission, we have the opportunity to derive more, and to have our receivers open up to "higher" levels. With respect to Yehuda & Tamar, as tinokim we don't understand the full depth of the story, but we can perceive the change in Yehuda's attitudes, and we can learn that it is worthwhile to acknowledge responsibility for our own actions.

2) In the secular world in which I grew up, many times as a child I was told not to read a certain work of literature, because I was too young to understand it. Having a reasonably good command of the language, I didn't appreciate what that really meant, and thought that I could certainly understand any book if I understood what the individual words were. But of course there were many things that I did not understand. And upon re-reading certain books later in life, I perceived many things, and appreciated many things, to which I had been completely oblivious as a child. The stories in the Tanakh also yield an incredible depth when they are confronted by a prepared mind. To some extent, literature and Tanakh are like a mirror, and if a monkey looks in, a philosopher doesn't look out. By virtue of repeated and concerted study, however, and with the learning that comes from being buffeted by the storms of life, we can derive more and more.

3) Children in many cultures are exposed to stories that appear to be horrific on some level, and they do (we do) take it in stride. The European folklore collected by the brothers Grimm is replete with murders, cannibalism, incest, warfare, pestilence, and suffering. The stories of the Tanakh include sibling murder, adultery, incest, drunkenness, warfare, treachery, and plagues. Perhaps the best way to be exposed to these realities of the world as it is, is through exposure to Tanakh in childhood, and this exposure will be a sort of inoculation, so that as we mature and understand more and more of what is at stake, we will in fact be less shocked and our neshomohs less injured than we might be if we confronted the full adult meaning of these phenomena "cold." Rabbi Sears recently wrote about Buddhism in these pages; well, the biography of the man who "discovered" the principles of Buddhism, the Buddha, is that he was an extremely rich and privileged prince living somewhere around Nepal, and that he had been sheltered from even the slightest knowledge that old age, sickness, and death even existed in the world, until one day, as a young adult, he discovered all three -- that set him on his quest. By exposing the child to small doses of reality from a young age, we may protect his neshomoh from such a shock.

3) It is certainly true that hiding something may make the child search for it with ever greater intensity. So make sure you hide what you want him to seek!


At January 17, 2008 at 1:07:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interestingly, Reb Noson once told how he first began to grapple with the ultimate questions of the meaning of life when as a little boy he went to shul with his father, and one day an old man they knew was absent. When Reb Noson asked where the man was, he was told that the man had passed away. This evidently had a tremendous impact on him, and was a milestone in his spiritual development.

There is a story in Chayei Moharan about a nine-year-old boy whose father took him to Rabbi Nachman because of the child's fear of being alone, which was evidently related to the fear of death. The Rebbe did not shelter the boy from this primal fear, but told him that indeed one day we will die and be left alone. Then he began to encourage him to use this knowledge by appreciating the preciousness of life and living in a meaningful manner. One might think that the child would have run away crying from such a talk -- but in fact he became a lifelong follower of the Rebbe.

More often than not, it is such "rough" experiences that set our feet on the path of spiritual growth.

At January 17, 2008 at 10:57:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gandalin (& Rabbi Sears),

Very well said!

At January 17, 2008 at 10:24:00 PM EST, Blogger Gandalin said...

CE, Thank you for your kind words.

Rabbi Sears, your comments are very interesting. Those two stories describe slightly different cases. In Reb Noson's story, he was seemingly unaware of the reality of death, and his discovery of the presence and nearness of death provided him with impetus towards his colossal spiritual development.

In the other case, the little boy was already afraid of being alone, and this was related to the fear of death. So the Rebbe began with him at that place, and seems to have brought the boy's real underlying anxiety into the light of day. Evidently that struck a chord with him, and he understood how to transmute his fear into something better.

These were both teaching moments. Perhaps we can say, to return to the previous subject, that in the reading and re-reading of the stories in the Chumash, we prepare the ground and set up the conditions, so that when the right circumstances arise, a Rebbe can use them as a teaching moment and connect directly with our neshomohs.


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