Fallow Lab – Digital Shmittah

Thanks Amichai and team for putting this together. It’s always nice to have a meeting whose objective is how to get us to do less not more.

Jotting down some thought on the conversation.

First, we need to get past the humiliation of starting this conversation at all. So you’re suggesting I’m on Facebook too much? Don’t you think I’m an adult and can manage my life for myself? I think this is the first hurdle we need to get past if we are to make any progress, and goes to the source of the problems we have. This touches Amichai’s question, a question I have been thinking a lot about too. How do we get ourselves to realize that our actions have consequences when there is no daddy or hell to scare us? To me this is a familiar part of the modern predicament and the reason we’re so easily manipulated by anyone who wants to make money off us by playing to our autonomy while taking it away.

The mere suggestion that  we need direction in life, that we can’t really just figure this out on our own, that we aren’t all rational adults acting in our own self-interest, is an affront to the modern man. The assumption all our social institutions are built on is that we are perfectly capable of caring for ourselves, economically, socially, spiritually. If you are seeking guidance you must have a pathology, something listed in the DSM, so you get a permission slip to see a doctor to bring you back to ‘normal’. What’s missing in this equation is that normal doesn’t exist, that man is in a state of becoming not of being, and that his entire journey is predicated on the idea of him missing something and striving to achieve himself.

To me, finding better ways to live, and using ancient and modern texts and teachers to guide us to do better for ourselves, isn’t a question of what the consequences are, it is a question of finding answers to our questions and guidance where we are lost. How to live life isn’t something we innately know or are capable of doing ourselves. And so we turn to teachers, to texts ancient and modern, and to friends to help us find a way. Torah, says the Baal Shem Tov, means guidance. (Alain de Botton has articulated this problem beautifully in his Religion for Atheists).


When do you take conscious daily, weekly time for no-doing and just being? What time would work best for you? And for how long?

As we saw in conversation, being might signify different verbs for different people, for one playing music is being, for another drawing, writing, walking, running, basically any action can be done as being-not-doing. I think the idea that draws these together and might clarify what we mean by setting aside a time for being is intention.

Intent isn’t a verb, yet can be consciously done. In the language of Chazal prayer, and Mitzvot, need Kavannah, which translates as intent. What defines all means of being is that they are begun with the intent to break from the do-do-do of daily life and just be. What your body or mind does with that intent doesn’t matter, you could write sing pray walk or just meditate quietly. But it is this intention that transforms your state of mind into being not doing. Getting into this intention might not be so easy, it requires a real change in your state of mind. But it is all that is needed for a Shmittah to happen.

The Torah warns that if Shmittah is not observed the land will take it for itself, by exiling the inhabitants from it, and thus it will lie deserted.

Taking this to the emotional realm. This is a law of nature I have observed.  IF you don’t learn to give your body and soul its times of rest and contemplation in a deliberate and structured way, it will take it itself. There is no time to be gained by skipping that daily or weekly hour of being. It will only lead to your body/soul to force that break on you, in a more destructive way. Here’s me putting this more positively (Hebrew)  be it by addiction, by unhealthy cycles of binging and fasting, or (more likely in my case) just by total breakdown. The cyclicality of Shmittah is about taking control of these non-doing forces within us, of giving structure to the breaking of structure. Forces that, left without direction, are strong enough to break all doing forces in existence. The boom-bust cycle might be good for capitalism, it isn’t good for anyone else. Creating your own planned bust harnesses the great creativity of non-doing, which than translates into a great deal of doing.

That’s it for now.

Unmask Yourself (Ki Tisa – Purim)

The end of Parshas Tisa tells the story of Moshe Rabbeinu’s Masve – his mask, or veil. After Moshe came down from being on Mount Sinai with God for forty days, his face glowed, although he didn’t know it. Ahron and the elders were afraid of approaching him, so Moshe would veil his face when he spoke to them, and Take off the mask when he spoke to Hashem.

Speaking of veils and masks ties in perfectly with Purim, when we all dress up and put on masks. And so the story of Moshe isn’t just something that happened to him but is applicable to every person, As the Mekubalim teach us, Moshe is symbol for the mind. The knowledge that creates Torah for every person is called Moshe. And it is this Moshe which we are talking about when reading the Torah Introspectively.

Every person’s mind and soul has its Mount Sinai, and it’s being in God’s Presence for forty days and forty nights. Not eating, not sleeping, and not drinking. The intellect does not need food or water, it subsists on contemplation alone. Whether it is in study, meditation, or prayer. Coming back from such a trip, one usually does not know themselves how they have changed, and how they Glow.

Moshe, the mind and consciousness, is in a state of Ad Delo Yada, he has no way of knowing his own glow. It is the nature of enlightenment not to recognize its own greatness. You need support from others to let you know your own light. Just as Ahron and Chur held up Moshe’s hands in the war with Amalek. We need support from friends to recognize our on worth and Shine.

Now, after being told it is set apart from the world, it needs to learn a way of dealing with the word, not burning the entire world in with its glare. We put on many masks in order to deal with the myriad of situations we find ourselves in. One mask is a teacher, as Moshe was. Another is a student, a child, a parent, a boss, a worker, and all the other roles we take on. These are all different costumes and masks we use so we can do our business in the world.

Only when going to speak with God, does Moshe removes his mask. The one place we can appear with no mask, with no predefined role, is in the presence of God. Poskim Disagree on whether it is appropriate to pray in a costume on Purim. In the inner sense, there is no doubt we are to appear before God Unmasked, wearing our most inner essence alone. It is there we can know ourselves unmediated by any language or role. Unmasked.


The Real Amalek

The Rebbe Reb Bunim of Peshischa Said: In the period when there was a Jewish king and Jewish warriors, the simple interpretation of the wars we read about in the Torah was the physical war, while the esoteric meaning was that it is referring to the inner wars and struggles man has to fight. Nowadays, with no Jewish army, and no physical wars to speak of, the simple reading is each person’s inner struggle with himself, while the material war is relegated to a historical anecdote, metaphor for the inner struggle.

We can trace this transformation of meaning back to Chazal themselves. The original intent of the Mitzvah to remember what Amalek did and eradicate them was referring to a certain physical nation, enemies of the ancient Jews, who the Jews waged a physical war on. By the time of Chazal, the original Amalekite nation had already disappeared, and with them the animosity between them and us, and thus the Mitzvah was left with no real meaning.

Chazal then connected the Mitzvah to the Purim story.  The Megillah describes Haman as an Agagi, which was explained to mean a descendant of Agag, the Amalekite king of Amalek of King Shaul’s time. Thus the link was made between the contemporary Haman, and the Celabration inspired by the story of victory over him, to the old Amalek story and mitzvah. Chazal transformed the Mitzvah to remember Amalek into a mitzvah to read the Parsha on the Shabbos before Purim and to read the Megillah on Purim, so that by these readings and celebrations we perform the mitzvah to remember and annihilate Amalek.  (See  Megilla 7a , Daat Mikra Esther 3, 1)

Consequently, the question we ask ourselves about Zachor and Purim is not who was against who, or what happened in ancient Persia or Israel, let historians deal with that. The living Torah we have demands the question be what the contemporary Amalek is in our lives and time,  Who or what is it that we are against, what are the pitfalls we need to remember to avoid and what evils do we need to eradicate.

This question has no right answer. Each person must face his own personal Amalek. As the Passuk says, in the singular: Remember what Amalek did to you.  Don’t obsess over what he did once upon a time, or to other people. Remember what he did to you. Fight your own demons, and overcome them. Don’t waste your time fighting other people’s demons. Let everyone dress up in his own costume, Celebrate Purim on their own day, in their particular fashion, and depict Haman and Amalek in his own way. As the Megillah says, each family for its family, each country for its country, each city for its city. Just as our forefathers applied the ancient Amalek story to their modern day Haman, we apply the ancient Haman story to our modern day struggles, Bayamim hahem Bazman Haze.

This is the power of Purim that lasts forever. Anything based on the past will inevitably degrade in relevance as time passes and situations change. On Purim we celebrate the present, our own lives, our own struggles, our own victories. And the present – it is always the present. It never goes away. So too Purim will never go away.

Moshe's War with Amalek

Always be Building – Parshat Terumah

Parshat Terumah contains what is essentially the blueprint plans and instructions for the Layout, building, and furniture, of the Mishkan. The preservation and inclusion of all these detailed plans for eternity in the Torah at full length is somewhat curious. Plans are usually drawn up by the architects to instruct builders how to build, and discarded as soon as the building is put up and finished. What point does saving the plans serve after that?

Imagine entering a beautiful and important building and finding on the wall in the lobby all the blueprints and plans for the building framed on the wall, Or going to a fancy restaurant, and finding the recipes and instructions how to make each dish on your plate, on each plate. Why would I be interested in this you would ask, I am looking for the finished product, not for the instructions how to get there.

Therein lies one of the great secrets of Jewish continuity. The Mishkan is a symbol for the entirety of the Jewish project, The project of creating the conditions for God to live in our midst, right here on this earth, to create a sanctuary for the Divine in our lives.

In Judaism, there is never a time where we lean back and say ok we have finished building our religion, our sanctuary for god to rest in us, now let’s use it, enjoy it. Jews never become merely consumers of their Beit Hamikdash, of their way of life set up previously. We are always still building our community, still going back to the planning board and discussing the instructions, what is the Halacha for this, perhaps we should do it a bit differently, we are always discussing, always planning, always figuring out what and how we need to do. Building the mishkan never ends, and so every year we re-read the plans, discuss them again, find new and better ways to create our place for the dwelling of the Shechina (Divine presence) in our midst.

Be Jewish. Always be at the drawing board.