Paradigm Shift and The New “Orthodoxy”

A precious teaching from Reb Zalman alav hashalom on Paradigm Shift. (It has been transcribed from the Spirit of the Desert Production DVD, “What’s New in Jewish Renewal, 2006”, disk 2.)

The Talmudic heritage says that we can make changes, but the changes have to be done in a very specific way.

For example: In the scriptural statement about Shabbos it says:

לא תבערו אש בכֹל משבתיכם ביום השבת / Do not burn any fires on the Shabbos in all your dwelling places.

which means that before Shabbos, you’d have to go around and douse all the fires that are there. “Lo tivaru aish b’chol moshvoteichem b’yom hashabat” it means that all fires are out.

Now, you are an agrarian people, you are a shepherd people and Shabbos comes, bah shabbat, bah menuchah, you settle down, you go to sleep when it gets dark.

By the time we are with the Rabbis after Yochanan ben Zakkai, we have a different milieu.

We are no longer agrarian shepherd people. We are doing, we are selling, we are buying, we are, e.g., shoemakers, tailors: It’s these kinds of stuff that we are doing at that time.

And by now we are using some light at night in order to give us longer up-time.

And we realize that if on Shabbos we would have to douse all those things, OY, we wouldn’t have any shalom bayis, we wouldn’t have any peace in the family.

So the chachamim say to us:

“For the sake of Shalom Bayis you should have light on.”

What kind of light?

“Make sure it’s going to be the right kinds of wicks, the right kinds of oils so you don’t have to fuss with it on Shabbos and you’ll light it before Shabbos and you’ll say, ‘Asher Kidd’shanu B’mitzvotav Vitzivanu L’hadlik Ner Shel Shabbos.'”

So the Rabbis ask:

Asher Kidd’shanu B’mitzvotav Vi-Tzivanu / You have given us this commandment?

Heichan Tzivanu / show me anywhere in the Torah which it says you should have candles on on shabbos!”

“Ah!” they answered, “It is written: There will be a time and you won’t know what to do and you’ll go up to the high place and you will find the judges and the priests who will be at that time v’asita k’chol asher yorucha / you will do whatever they will tell you.

ובאת אל־הכהנים הלוים ואל־השפט אשר יהיה בימים ההם ודרשת והגידו לך את דבר המשפט. ועשית על־פי הדבר אשר יגידו לך מן־המקום ההוא אשר יבחר יי ושמרת לעשות ככל אשר יורוך:

That’s where it is commanded.

Realize in the fullness of this what it means, what power the chachamim have taken, that they have said, (and hear those words),

“You have been told not to burn any fire on Shabbos, but I tell you”

Get that?

“to light two candles before Shabbos and to make this brochah so that you can have shalom bayis and dwell with your family and celebrate Shabbos.”

And Shabbos now has become ‘time‘, the sanctuary, and all these things that were in space now go into time, and all the many laws of shabbos [go in too] in order to create that time in which these things can be done.

The Rabbis wove a fantastic web, a mythic web for us. And if you live in that web you breathe the 613 mitzvahs all the time. You breathe them. Your conversation is peppered with words that come from the Talmud. There’s a lashon limudim / a learned language that you would be using in your conversation about things of this sort. And even if you were an am haaretz, an unlettered person, (e.g., if you read Shalom Aleichem in Yiddish, in the original, you’ll see how many of those quotes had snuck into the daily language. Tevya, for instance, in Fiddler will use Rabbinic quotes in mitten drinnen and if not he will make up a quote to sound like a Rabbinic quote, but), that’s the way the language was spoken, that’s how wonderful that was.

Now the Rabbis didn’t much like the idea that time should shift, so they would say the whole Torah that we got today was given to Moses already at Sinai.

But if you think of that as all the details, that Moshe Rabbeinu got all the holy books of Torah that have been written and he didn’t get it — how would I describe it — if you think that he didn’t get it with Stuffit, i.e. condensed, but he got it all expanded, it’s just impossible.

Let’s go back to Moshe Rabbeinu for a moment. If you want to understand something of who we are, you have to ask, “Where did Moshe Rabbeinu go to school?” He went to the “Harvard” and the “Yale” of Egypt which was a very high civilization. He learned a lot of amazing things there. And if you have ever read the Egyptian book of the dead and ever known about Ba and Ka  and about Neter, etc., [then you will know that there was an] amazing awareness which those Egyptians had. Then he runs away from Egypt as a fugitive, and he hangs out with the “[Yaqui] Don Juan” of Midian and, now he learns all the Shamanic stuff. Then God fingers him and says, “I want you to be the one to do it.”

In other words, the deployment has been through all those schools and through all those learnings, and through all those awarenesses and he has to go and redeem the people in the clay pits? An impossible job!

Just think of who we were at that time, the Jews working, and how hard! Taskmasters about them and they have to even bring the straw. And here comes this Moshe Rabbeinu. (I tell you what: I envied Charlton Heston. When he was playing the Burning Bush scene, I would envy him and wish that on Yom Kippur I would feel what that must have been like to play that scene. He did a good job.) Do you understand how powerful that moment was?

You must remember then: This person with that training has this revelation at that point and he has to mediate that to people very far away on the scale of, if you will, conceptual development.

So what did the Rabbis do? They extended the Rabbinic heritage past Moses and said there was even a Yeshivah before Moses. It was Shem V’Eber — they had a Yeshivah. And MelchiTzedek, the king of Salem who met Abraham with wine and bread was none other than the oldest son of Noah, Shem. And that from Adam there was already a transmission because, [he was created] l’ovdo u’l’shamro that the “garden” of the Torah was already given to him (to make it work and to take it up).

And how far does that [Rabbinic heritage] extend? So when Abraham is buying the cave of Machpelah, (according to the Rabbinic imagination), he sits and studies the Talmud Baba Basra beforehand so he would know what the rules are and on the basis of these rules he buys from Ephron the Hittite. (It’s just upside down because the Talmud derives it from the way in which he dealt with Ephron the Hittite!) But the Rabbinic hegemony was such that it extended the borders in such a direction that it said he was already acting [based upon his knowledge of the Torah]

קיימו האבות את כל התורה כולה עד שלא נתנה / kiyymu haavot et kol hatorah kula ad shelo nitna / Abraham and Isaac and Jacob kept the whole Torah before it was yet given.

They had that part. So the Rabbis, here, are extending it in that direction [all the way back to creation of man].

And they want to extend it into the direction that all the way until Moshiach will come the Rabbinic hegemony is going to continue unchanged.

Bum, ba dum bum!

So just as at the time of the destruction of the Temple there was a paradigm shift as to what Judaism is going to be like, so the same occurred at Auschwitz, Majdanek, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the moon walk, fifth/sixth generation of computers, the web.

Can you imagine what kind of a shift has been taking place? It’s impossible to stretch the Rabbinic blanket over that.

It is now necessary to ask, what is the way in which we take the Torah that’s coming down from heaven today, that magisterium, and how do we put it on top of Heisenberg, zero-point field, String theory, Gaian hypothesis, how do you integrate those?

And if somebody says you can integrate it with the Talmudic mind, the answer is this is impossible.

And that’s where have to understand that as Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai had to go and really work with the way of which it was coming down to him at that time in order to make Judaism continue, there had to be a switch to take the new reality map and impose the incoming revelation and make sure that it will be downward compatible.  (You know what I mean? E.g. Now, [in 2004], Apple has a new Intel chip that can read both Windows and Apple but it can also read the files that I was making with Mac Classic before. And if it couldn’t it wouldn’t be good. That’s what I mean with “Downward Compatible.”) [In other words], it’s not that I can start something all new.

Because I have, living inside of me, my ancestors. I have a cellular memory. (Yesterday, when we were singing some of the High Holiday “HaMelekh” and you all melted right into the High Holy Day place, your Bubbies and Zaides were coming up, swimming up in your consciousness at that point.)

You can’t just live in the present without having the history and the Masoret and that which was handed on to us from the past. So it isn’t just like to say, “we are turning over a new leaf and we are starting all from scratch” at this point, and that the old files are not longer useful.

We need the old “files”. We’re going to read the Torah every week, we’ll reinterpret it each time and we’re not going to do what they did in the past which was an unconscious kind of reinterpretation; we’re going to do it consciously. We’re going to have Torah discussions before Davvenen. We’re going to go and look at the Torah from a new perspective, from our perspectives. But we’re not giving up grappling with the Torah, we’re not giving up wrestling with God. That’s going to be something that we’re going to continue.

So, you can see, then, that there’s a confluence of a new reality map. And the paradigm has shifted again in this Age of Aquarius.

And we have moved from a point-of-view that was a triumphalist point-of-view to a post-triumphalist point-of-view.

We have moved from a machine model of the universe to an organismic model of the universe.

And when you appreciate how the move was made and you work with it, you can say that you have renewed Judaism.

And that’s what I wanted you to understand about why the notions of paradigm shift are so important.

I used to give a course at Naropa about lineages and upheaval because there isn’t a single lineage that doesn’t need to be updated: They all need to be updated. And part of the updating is the issue of feminism in there and ecology and an understanding that all species are needed for survival, that all this is necessary. So that kind of Halachah that has to come out is a new understanding and that is why I called this “Psycho Halakhah“. And that’s why I feel that Kosher is very important but it has to be eco-Kosher, it has to be the kind of Kosher that will integrate with the needs of the ecology of the day.

So I wanted to give you an overview at this point of what I meant and why it is important  that we should think about the thing of Paradigm Shift. And if you want to do it without this, you’re only going to find yourself as a heretic of the old thing. But if you do it with Paradigm Shift, you will create the new [future] Orthodoxy, the new “right way of thinking about this time.”

One Response to “Paradigm Shift and The New “Orthodoxy””

  1. Shir Yaakov Says:

    I’ve been watching and listening through “What’s New in Jewish Renewal” recently too. SO grateful for your transcribing this. I want to republish/cross post this on the new Let’s figure our the best way. Shabbat Shalom.

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