26 May 2009

The Inner Melody

This week's shiur by Rabbi YY Jacobson on the The Yeshiva.net is going to be scrumptous, that is, according to the picture of the creamy cheesecake (that 'Miriam' would just kvell over). Tune in at 8:30 to hear the shiur.

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The Angel in the Marble
by Rabbi Jacobson

In the Womb

In a passage demonstrating a keen sensitivity to the subconscious of man, the Talmud describes the experience of the embryo while in the uterus (1):

"A lamp is lit above the child's head, by which it can see from one end of the world to the other end; there are no days during which a person experiences more bliss than those days in his mother's womb. They [G-d and the angels] teach the unborn child the entire Torah, but as soon as the child is to emerge into the air of the world, an angel comes and strikes it on its mouth, causing it to forget the entire Torah."
But what's the point? Is it not futile to teach an embryo the entire Torah if he is made to forget it shortly thereafter?

Several answers are given to this question. As we approach the two-day festival of Shavuos, commemorating the giving of the Torah 3,321 years ago, I wish to present one of the answers, culled from the writings of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (2).

The Inner Melody

It is extremely difficult to remain spiritually and emotionally inspired while living in this world. G-d may give us life, but He does not always grant us the ready-made inspiration required for living a meaningful and elevated lifestyle. We need to stimulate and motivate ourselves through our own efforts.

But how? Life is often stressful and burdensome. Also, our physical and animalistic cravings and temptations are so powerful that they almost completely eclipse our sensitivity to spirituality.

This is the accomplishment of G-d infusing each unborn child with the entire Torah before he is born, though he later forgets it all. This nine-month implantation of G-dliness and holiness in the brain of the child creates a condition in which the spiritual message of Torah forever remains the most familiar information to the soul.

Affluence, power, good food, nice clothing and physical temptations may excite us. Debt, responsibility, laziness and numbness may bog us down. Yet despite all of these sensations being a real part of our lives, the voice of our inner spirituality - the voice of Torah within us - has a deeper, though often inaudible, resonance within us.

It's like a melody that you once knew and have since forgotten. When it is sung to you again, you don't have to memorize it anew, because the song was always a part of you, stored in the memory of your brain.

The melody of spirituality and Torah has been on the lips of our souls since time immemorial. Although in the process of growing up we may have forgotten the tune, none of us have to learn it anew. We need only to pay heed to the silent vibrations stored within us since our days in the womb.

So although upon birth we were made to consciously forget, but the truth remains etched in our unconscious psyches. When we discover a truth in our lives – when we are educated and taught wisdom – the truth resonates, because we already have it inside ourselves; it was just concealed beneath the conscious layers of existence. The function of a true Torah teacher is never to teach people a new truth, but to help them access the truth ingrained already deeply within them. A good teacher is one who helps us cut away the weeds and uncover the flowers within.

Or as the Italian sculptor Michelangelo once said: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

Draw Me
This is the deeper meaning in King Solomon's presentation of the bride saying to her groom, "Draw me, we will run after You, the King has brought me into His chambers (3)." The grammar in the verse seems amiss: If the King already brought me into the chambers in the past, why is there a need to "draw me" close to Him in the present?

But King Solomon is addressing two different times in our lives, the time of pre-birth innocence vs. the time of adulthood disillusionment. We turn to G-d in our days of adulthood and say, 'Draw me, we will run after You,' which means that if G-d draws us in a little bit, we will run after Him. The reason is that since 'the King has brought me (us) into His chambers' during the nine months in the womb, long before we developed our cynicism, we already have experienced the purity of G-dliness (4).
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Footnotes:
1) Niddah 30b.
2) 1745-1812. The following teaching is in Likkutei Torah Shelach 43a. Cf. 
Likkutei Torah Shir HaShirim 8d.
3) Song of Songs 1:4.
4) Likkutei Torah Shelach ibid.




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