lundi, septembre 26, 2005

mitzvot as a discipline

One way to learn to love is to learn what discipline means. To love someone means learning to discipline them, too. Hence, why parenting is a school in itself about love. We must learn, too, to parent ourselves properly. All the things we didn't learn with our parents.. and believe me, no one learns everything at their parents's hands --if you were lacking a parent, because one died, or if you were lacking one, becuase one left or divorced, etc. really SERIOUSLY .. take it from someone who has seen, heard, and lived a lot... you are no worse off than anyone else-- we all bear the scars of errors our parents made.. that is how it should be. That is how we are made... we are made b'tzelem elokim, sure, but we are also made by two humans and by HKB"H. We are made with certain flaws and certain struggles ingrained into our paths... we can choose to embrace that and grow or to run and hide. We choose our way no doubt. We are also each of us given our own unique task, based on our parents and their flows and what we will encounter as we live and grow. So it is that I have come to begin my learning of the lesson that discipline is oft confused with punishment and that the two are different and that discipline is itself a form of love --a form of love with boundaries. Having boundaries doesn't mean love that is conditional. It means love that respects both the person loving and the person loved. Discipline means learning to love oneself as well as the other person.

The first idea is the idea from the gemara about what to do when two friends (reiyot) are in the desert with one sack of water. Hillel says "love thy neighbor as thyself" and so we reach the proposal that the men must share the bottle of water. It comes out though instead that the sack of water is enough for one man to make it out of the desert alive. this solution of splitting the water means both men die, which is not okay by the torah. the sugya goes on and on and in the end the conclusion as I understoond it years ago when i learned this chunk of text is that one must learn to love oneself. Loving oneself is inherent to loving another... and that Hillel's teaching of do not to another what you would not do to yourself, is really two commandments one to love oneself, and the other to love others. Learning to do that is indeed all the torah. Mitzvot are themselves a practice in discipline. They are training annd bring merit particularly if you struggle with them.

this is rather like the training of yoga or meditation... people are taught to bring their minds into focus. Yoga and meditation are more palatable to our sensibilities these days, inn a way that mitzvot are not. truthfully though, the torah way of life, the following of mitzvot is really also the same kind of meditation practice that all those New-Agey people are pursuing. when one is obedient to H" one feels good someplace deep down inside, because one fulfills an inner sense of following through, doing what is right, and living up to discipline and rules set down. the level of guilt people feel for not follwoing what H" sets out for us is amazing.. maybe even one reason there are so many jews in psych-related stuff. I think that a human's mind requires rules and living up to those rules, becuase inn a way doing so frees us and makes us aware of who we are in a very different and powerful way. We are aware when we follow the rules of who we are, what are place is, and how we choose to live. Living the mitzvot without thinking is in itself a difficult thing, too. Living the mitzvot and knowing what you choose is difficult too, for totally different reasons. In any event, the practice of holding oneself to a set of rules is important becuase it trains one to love and to learn oneself. By obeying H" you learn to love yourself. you learn to say, if i don't do X I will feel guilty and bad, I don't want to do that when I could feel happy about who I am and what I am doing. One learns after a fashion, how to hold oneself on course... and of course, one's lifetime?... it is merely the practice of such mindfulness and such focus and awareness... and the struggle to do what is right. Living a life dedicated to the mitzvot is hard. One struggles with it all the time. It is in and of itself, however, an incredble practice in love -- love of H" , love of oneself, love of life, love, too, of the world, and love of one's fellow man.

The other train of thought regarding discipline is this... discipline differs from punishment as follows... 1) one who is disciplined really learns to love himself... his intention is to pardon, to show mercy, love, and kindness, and to work so that the wrong doesn't happen again. 2) one who is punishing himself is exacting vengeance for something done wrong.

To investigate that thought let's put it this way: someone I love Plonit bat Fuzzy Wuzzy forgot my birthday. Plonit could be very upset, make up for it by buying me a gift, then fed-ex-ing it to me to make up for it. however,the birthday is missed, does it amtter if the gift comes in the regular mail or by next day delivery? not really, no. Plonit confesses that she did it because she wanted to make herself "pay" for the error, so she wouldn't do it again... a more compassionate response probably would be instead to be sorry she missed my birthday, send me a gift by regular post, and to enter my birthday into an automatic calendar program which will email her a reminder a few days in advance... this way she won't forget it again and is addressing the issue in a manner more likley to provide a real solution to the issue. Exacting payment from herself is punitive, vengeful, and not actually self-disciplining in any manner. Rather it is designed to hurt the self, either in a self-abuse/self-hate kind of manner... Plonit is hardly unusual.

consider another case: Ploni ben Fluffy Tuchus was supposed to be the spokesperson for a group event. The evening gala drew near and Ploni, in part nervous, in part just unaware and not taking good care of himself, didn't sleep much, didn't eat much, and as a result worked very poorly on the gala speech. The speech went quite badly. So much so that Ploni's team mates in the group were angry with him. Ploni came home bemoaning how much he felt he was a failure and a regular shmendrick and shlimazel. Ploni beat himself up over the event for days. This kind of beating oneself up for days thing is another kind of self-hate or self-abuse. We learn it easily as children from peers, parents, whomever... because it is so rampant in our society today... as one of my colleagues Roger says either we are fighting against guilt or we are flowing with the guilt... at any rate, the punitive option is to beat oneself up, and not to do things, to learn to be afraid and to hamper oneself... the discipline response is instead to apologize, accept what comes his way for the error, and to apply himself to learning how to take good care of himself properly.

truthfully, most people live like Plonit and less like Ploni, whose story (below) is more severe. in either case though we see a strong sense of punishment... abuse, hate, and frustration and dislike... this is the root of human loneliness. when we no longer hate ourselves, we can find contentment in our own company and peace within the borders of our own minds... and we can also find awareness and love within our own hearts...

It is so hard though for us to behave with discipline in our actions, meaning moderation, but also to behave with discipline for ourselves, meaning to discipline ourselves. We tend to want to punish and to exact vengeance... also tending to want to impose some standard upon ourselves which is disastrous for our self-esteem and personal growth. We must unlearn the painful lessons which taught us fear and taught us to hate ourselves in even the slightest and most subtle of manners. We must learn what discipline and self-love the mitzvot have to teach us. Obedience and focus in itself are virtues and part of love.

***** shana tovah to all, may you in these days preceding tishrei gain for yourselves a smidgen of self-love and discipline... and if you don't, I love you all nonetheless.*****

Last lines of the day: eat artichokes. they're good for you.

question of the day: if CHAZAL say that one would be best never to have lived and they also agree that pikuach nefesh is of tantamount importance, revealing that life is the primal Jewish value... how does one reconncile these two thoughts?
(I do realize that the other side to the comment is that they say "given that one is born and one lives, one must do his best to live well..." --but I find a contradiction therein which bothers me nonetheless...