Originally posted by KellyJay
Was it you that described for me once a story I believe it was Plato
gave when referring to a chair I think? If I recall it went along the lines
of there is chair the reality, what we think of when we think about the
chair and an artist rendition of the chair. I believe the discussion was
about reality and our break with it in our understanding, but ...[text shortened]... they called Him as they
described what He did for them from provider, banner and so on.
Gee, Kelly, I don’t remember—but it sounds
like the kind of analogy I might draw…
Knowing me, I would probably have put a lot of emphasis on the “artist’s rendition” aspect.
You’ve been here long enough to recall that for a couple of years at least, almost all of my posting on this forum was from the same Judaic perspective as the one above. Although it’s a quick, off-the-cuff and somewhat playful one, that is the first “midrash” that I’ve attempted in a long time. After a month or so of reflection, I am re-membering it—and am trying to knuckle down and really work at the Hebrew, so I can have some real reading-fluency without always digging into dictionaries, grammars, language commentaries, etc. We’ll see how it goes…
I like your comment about uniqueness. There is a rabbinical saying (I forget--
--from where) that one must bring one own torah to the [written] Torah, and out of that engagement new, real Torah emerges. The written Torah—the words and their plain meanings—are called the “garment of Torah”.
Although Torah is sometimes translated (badly, I think) as “law”, and sometimes (especially by Jewish writers) as “teaching”, I tend to take it as a much broader term—and prefer to leave it untranslated. However, I do like the following—
One Shabbos afternoon, Reb Reuven called me into is study. He was sitting behind his desk and motioned me to take the chair across from him. A volume of the Zohar
was lying open in front of him.
“Do you know what the Zohar
is?” he asked.
“Of course,” I said. “It is a mystical commentary on Torah written by Moshe deLeon, a thirteenth century Spanish kabbalist who....”
“Nonsense!” he yelled at me, half rising out of his chair. “The Zohar
isn’t just a commentary; it’s a Torah all by itself. It is a new Torah, a new telling of the last Torah. You do know what Torah is, don’t you?”
Suspecting that I didn’t, and afraid to invoke his wrath a second time, I waited silently, certain that he would answer his own question. I was not disappointed.
“Torah is story. God is story. Israel is story. You, my university-educated soon-to-be a liberal pain in the ass rabbi, are a story. We are all stories! We are all Torahs!...Listen, Rami,” Reuven said in a softer voice. “Torah starts with the word b’reisheet
, ‘Once upon a time!’”
—Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Hasidic Tales
Which prompted our old friend and forum comrade lucifershammer to ask: “Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Or am I missing the point of this story?”
To which, I replied:
“If you assume that all stories are told either by God or an idiot; or that human story, myth—as opposed to history or historical revelation—must signify nothing; or that the words “once-upon-a-time” necessarily signify a following-after of foolishness; or that your own story has no more depth than a newspaper bio.....
“.....or if you think that’s the kind of message that I’m about here, then , yes you’re missing the point. Truth and meaning can be embodied in and carried by story—and for most of the human venture have been; and for most of the human venture, story has probably been the principal vehicle, whether oral or written—and probably still is, really. Whether the truth about the gods, or the truth about human beliefs about the gods, or the truth of the human condition. Whether woven around historical facts, or recurring themes of love and struggle and conflict, or pulse-pounding tales of human adventure and achievement—and human atrocities—or the wilderness of the human psyche, or the marvels of scientific discovery. Whether about pirates or peasants. Whether about a particular person at a particular time, or about “everyman,” anywhere, anytime.
“And if today we have lost our regard for story as something more than entertainment, and insist on nothing less (or more) than a factual report (“Just the facts, ma’am” ) or a precisely decodable divine revelation—then I suspect that it is we who are missing the point(s) of the tales left by the ancients (at least the ancient ivr’im), in an ancient language, chock-full of word-plays and puns; the drama of open-ended readings, an adventure of meanings that rely on the listener/reader to pursue them—that indeed, demand the active involvement of the listener/reader if the story is to have any meaning at all. If you can’t put yourself in the story—not as someone else but as yourself—then it’s not yours. And the rabbis would say that leaves the whole story incomplete—but that’s another story...
“Part of the art of such tales as are found in Torah is that they do not plainly disclose themselves to you all neat and tidy, with the appropriate climax, resolution, denouement—so that once you “know” the story, you don’t have to bother with it any more. Oh, some of them undoubtedly do; some of them are probably just entertainments, like Ridley Scott’s “The Gladiator,” in days before film. Or, what? you want to read them like a recipe-book?: Now, how many hin
of oil did that call for...?
“As Rami Shapiro’s Reb Reuven put it: ‘Torah is story. God is story. Israel is story. You are a story. We are all stories. We are all Torahs.’ To know one another is to know one another’s story—not just a rap-sheet of facts; to know one another intimately is to share the ongoing living-out of our stories, to be part of the same story, for good or ill. If you are asking for more than that (is
there more? ...an existential question...), then I suspect that you may not find even that much. Maybe I’m wrong. As for me: “once upon a time, I..... ”