Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A personal relationship with Gd

[Note: I've discussed this theme somewhat in my columns on “Avoiding the appearance of showmanship” and "Is religion private if your family sees you?, and in a derashah on Private Religion and Public Religion.]

Rabbi Shalom Carmy hits what is, for me, another home run in his column, “He thought she was drunk,” in the Summer 2010 edition of Tradition. In particular, one part of his article criticizes what I do, sometimes, on this blog: public sharing of religious intimacy.

R' Carmy cites Rav Soloveichik, from a eulogy for Rabbi Zeev Gold:

If it is good for a man, and his heart is full of joy, let him reveal his feelings to God…thank Him and yearn for Him; but not exhibit them to others,lest an alien gaze desecrate this holy of holies. If, to the contrary, it is bad for man, and he is given over to distress, beneath the yoke of suffering and affliction, and fi nds himself abandoned and forlorn—let him confess before God, weep and entreat Him behind the curtain, but let no stranger approach the holy of Holies lest he desecrate through his indifference the sanctity of mute suffering oppressing him (Leviticus 16:17).

I know that this citation doesn’t explain why sharing the intimacy debases it. Further, R’ Carmy does note the need to share that intimacy for pedagogic purposes as well as for our health as social animals. But I think the case for this main point is strong.

To cite myself, from the derashah linked above:
Private religion is Moshe on Har Sinai, Adam and Chavah and Gd in the Garden, a direct relationship that is neither open nor shared, intimate, monogamous, an immanent relationship that bonds each Jew uniquely to Gd. Gd knows me, and I know Gd through my experiences of a lifetime, and no one else on Earth can claim the Gd-experience that I have.
Michah ordered us, והצנע לכת עם אלקיך, walk in צניעות with HaShem. צניעות is not specifically about covering a part of the body, or being humble. צניעות means privacy. We are to walk privately with HaShem, and so experience a faith which is intense and personal.

If our relationship with Gd is shared with others - even spouse, children, students, close friends - then will we ever have an authentic religious experience which is not for sharing, which we don't set about describing in print, which we don't photograph and email to all of our contacts, which is just "me and Gd"?

This matters. It impacts prayer and ritual, obviously. How could I seriously contemplate Gd in Shmoneh Esreih, if I never thought about Gd, if I never communicated with Gd, outside that davening framework?

Less obviously, it also impacts Olam haBa. One of the visions of Olam haBa [the “world to come”, Heaven, etc] I find most authentic is a description of a world in which the soul is fully exposed to Gd, and one can appreciate Gd at whatever level of purification, sensitivity and understanding he achieved in this world. Years ago, when I would imagine this potential future I would worry that I might find it boring. After all – none of the elements of daily life would persist, none of the distractions would be present, none of the usual types of satisfaction would be present. What would I do for eternity, locked in a room (so to speak) with Gd?

Ineed to think about this some more.


  1. How does R' Carmy explain Sefer Tehillim, which is full of revelations of David Hamelekh's personal relationship with Hashem?

  2. The challenge is that as a parent, or as an educator, how do you transmit the Human/HKB"H relationship if it is by nature private?

    Joel Rich

  3. R' Maroof-
    An interesting question; I don't know. His article is only a short piece and it certainly needs fleshing out, but the challenge from Dovid is strong.

    Yes, he points out the issue. See also the links I included to othe rtimes I've discussed this.

  4. Doesn't this view contradict the Jewish idea of public prayer, berov am hadrat melech. We just experienced public confession on Yom Kippur,ashamNU, bagadNU. The Mishna Brura even said that on Yom Kippur the chazan should cry. Breslavian hitbodidut seems to me to be on the fringe of Jewish religious experience. While I think that davening must start with trying to connect with the spark of divine within;outward public expression is also necessary.

  5. David-
    Certainly, our norm is communal prayer - but R' Carmy, based on a thought from the Rav, shows that Chanah's prayer was internal, indeed invisible and incomprehensible to the outside world. Despite the tears, the content is essentially private.

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  8. To Anonymous,

    Children know their parents' love for each other even though it isn't discussed with them. Don't you think they know their parents' love for Gd in the same indirect way?

  9. Another Anonymous -
    I wouldn't be certain of that; depends, I think, on the extent to which it is expressed.

  10. Wasn't Michal punished for chastising her husband King David for dancing before G-d with the "amcha?"

  11. Batya-
    True, but that could be more about the way she did it, than about what she said.