Monday, December 15, 2008

Rear View Mirror

I’ve always prided myself in looking to the future. Committed always to having both eyes on the road ahead, but occasionally looking into the rear view mirror would be the metaphor of choice for illustrating the paradigm of Rabbi Maryles’ post this past Wednesday December 10, The Challenge. (The rear view mirror is one of the great auto inventions of the twentieth century along with windshield wipers.) To put it another way: There are two kinds of people in this world; those who are focused on the past and those who are primed and tuned to the future. There really aren’t two groups as Rabbi Maryles would posit; Hareidim and Centrtists, but rather those who chose to live in the past and those who live with an eye to the future.

The difference between the two groups is profound, a chasm that really isn’t bridgeable because the fundamental differences between them aren’t predicated on practice but rather upon a deeply rooted philosophical perspective that defines the core value of the person. Either you see the cup half empty or you see it half full. Either you see life as a series of challenges waiting to be met and exploited or you see life as a series of obstacles and threats that need to be negotiated. Those who are constantly poised with their eyes on the past haven’t a clear vision of the future or its possibilities. They aren’t dreamers, they are doomed to continue the motions of those before them always moving in the same monotonous circle, perhaps a little faster or a little slower, but never leaving the orbit. They never really progress, but live/exist in a cocoon, never having the joy of discovery. How can they? If they are always focused on the past their ability to discover is radically impaired. They may print an occasional sefer titled ‘chidushei this or that’, but we aren’t really talking about discovery, it is more of regurgitation in a slightly different format. Those who are dreamers, who have their eyes focused on the future haven’t the patience or inclination to keep on moving in the same circle, regardless of whether or not they can vary the speed in which they travel. They haven’t the patience to keep on reading the same stuff year in and year out without variation. And as they transition into another orbit seeking the new and exciting, understanding that they are on a new trajectory that will take them to unknown places, whether it is in the physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual realm. It is exciting because it holds out the possibility of new discovery and self discovery.

This is what Judaism is really all about. That is what Genesis is all about. It is the story of Avraham, when he set out on his own journey, leaving behind a life he rejected. He tired of moving in the same circle day in and day out without deriving satisfaction and spiritual fulfillment. He jumped the orbit catapulting himself on to a new trajectory setting out on a journey of discovery and self discovery. Avraham didn’t focus on the past, but focused on the future. While Isaac may have been traumatized by the “Akeida”, Jacob definitely was a unique thinker, his entire life spent on a journey seeking the future, seeking the new, searching for self definition and new ways of self expression.

There is however another group of people, the indecisive ones, those who want to look to the future but fear the unknown, so they focus just a little longer on the past by over using the rear view mirror. These are what Rabbi Maryles refers to as the Centrists. But Centrists aren’t sustainable. They are designed to self destruct. The human being isn’t designed to live in limbo, dangling between the past and the future. Sooner or later you have to make a choice; to either live in the past or to move on and into the future. Those who initially can’t decide are Centrists, but sooner or later they can’t take the stress of being in limbo and either join the hareidim living in the past or hook onto the Modernists (Post Denominationalists) who are firmly headed toward the future with an occasional glance at their rear view mirror.

Being a modernist doesn’t mean you discard the past or ignore its teachings and values. It does, however mean that a cap is placed on its ability to dictate ones approach to life. It means that while one may check the rear view mirror occasionally for contextual references one isn’t cabled to it nor hobbled by what is revealed in the rear view mirror. Rather one may use this information in a way that may help negotiate an unchartered journey. Isn’t that one of the lessons to be learned from Jacob’s long journey? The situational ethics to which we are introduced throughout Genesis is a by -product of this healthy approach to living.

With this in mind one can better understand Rabbi Maryles’ determination of reconciling the hareidi community with the “centrists”. He is conflicted, because I believe he is still one of the danglers, he’s in limbo, not having yet made the choice between the past and the future. He understands the beauty of the future but is conflicted with his loyalty to the past. I respect this and certainly appreciate his struggle, but I will be waiting for him on the other side.