I once heard an explanation for why students of Chassidus seem to write fewer works of original Torah thought than those who do not study it. Without Chassidus, you learn a text, find what seems to be a flaw in it, study more, and write an essay rescuing the author from his apparent error. With Chassidus, you learn a text, find what seems to be a flaw in it, study more, and realize you were a fool.
Who would publish a book showing the world all the times you were a fool?
However, possessing no recourse in other original Torah thought, bereft of any dashing tales of Rashis in distress or tortured Rambams, I present before you a Chassidic tale of my own devise:
When I was even younger and more self-assured than I am now, I become fond of farbrengen patter. I was a student of greats who knew the words for every situation. They dealt with hecklers and seekers and with boredom most of all. They knew how to stir the heart and draw in the disparate desperate souls placed in their charge by providence and tuition. They were also sincere. I didn’t know sincerity was an important ingredient. I only knew the word.
I was once discoursing in the Yeshiva courtyard upon the importance of fulfilling G-d’s will. Mitzvot, I assured an audience I can’t remember, connect us to G-d. What could be greater than that?
Then: A certain student teacher, a shliach, approached me with a smirk.
It was a group smirk on one face. It was a smirk handed out with champagne at an IPO. It was a smirk backed by confidence backed by respected peers assuring him he was right. It vanished as he said, “Why should I care about connecting with G-d?”
I learned at least three things at that moment.
- The student teachers at Yeshiva thought I was full of crap. They were right then and would be right now.
- A farbrenger, if he can’t be sincere, should at least ask himself about any point why anyone should care.
- I didn’t actually know why it was important to “connect” with G-d.
It is hard to learn sincerity, though perhaps action and experience help. It is less difficult to learn why “connecting” with G-d can seem unimportant but is the most important.
Allow me, then, to offer some brief pointers for any other liars, cheaters, fakers, deceivers, or disappointments interested in making others interested in the Deity:
- “Connection” is a good word for not saying the wrong thing but terrible at saying the right thing. It’s limp and empty.
- G-d can seem unimportant because we are caught up in our sense of self, no matter how good for us G-d is. He may be the most high, possess all qualities in His infinite unity, &c., but we are men and women. Nothing compels us to care. The choice is ours. We need him even less than food and water, and even those we may reject.
- G-d is important because we ourselves, the ones who choose, cannot exist without Him, and in two ways:
- We cannot exist without Him because nothing can. The nature of all being is non-existence and all is brought forth by the Power of G-d.
- We also need Him even more than other creations, since we are uniquely like Him. We are the only beings aside from G-d who perceive ourselves as uncreated.
- This is what should interest us. Our deepest self, the unified subjective person reading these words, may not be what we perceive, but rather a created expression of the deepest truth of the Living G-d. We—in our depths—are souls.
- G-d matters because He is at the very definition of what we are. If you were to claim disinterest in the matter, I’d ask who claims disinterest. And this question could only be answered…by an interested investigation.
Memorize all this, sweet deceivers, for the next time you are called upon to say something Jewish and deep, and feel not my shame.