Thursday, June 3, 2010

Shlach: Insecurities

The headline of the Yahoo article read “Being Bad at Relationships Is Good for Survival”.

Obviously my first thought was that I had just found another ra’aya as to why the “shidduch crisis” was anything but. [Of course, if I was to be intellectually consistent, it might lead me to have to admit that the marry-then-meet system of shidduchim [ostensibly] prevalent in the Chareidi world was the best of all possible systems [or, the worst except for all the others], because what kind of relationship is worse than no relationship; but I’d never want to publicly give any of their approaches to anything more than a grudging credence.]

Further perusal, however, revealed the real essence of the research being discussed: namely, that harboring insecurities are important mechanisms in the adaptation of evolutionarily advantageous behaviors, as the insecure have more incentive toward due diligence in the fight to survive. Or, in English, the insecure are better off, even if [if not especially when] it comes to relationships.

That led me to thinking about Alan Dershowitz’ “tzures theory of Jewish survival”:

We know that Judaism is adapted to crisis, we know how well it does when it faces external threats; the real test of Judaism is how it deals with its own internal crisis and how it deals with problems that cannot be blamed on others outside of the Jewish community…[it] puts Jews in a very uncomfortable position, we don't want tzures, we don't want to be attacked and nonetheless we want to survive and thrive.

That led me back to an older post of mine, Vayigash-States of Emergency, where I basically theorized that if you scream “sha’as hadechak” enough, you get one.

Meantime, its in these last two parshiyos—culminating with the chet hameraglim and the gezera of 40 years in the desert when the possibility of the relationship between Hashem and Benei Yisrael becomes officially insecure, as detailed in the Rashi in Devarim [2:17] that explains that during the dor hamidbar the communication between Hashem and Moshe was itself strained, “amirah” as opposed to “dibbur”.

Yet at the same time, the 40 years—according to some midrashim [I can’t find exactly where just now—I think it may have been in Beshalach, on “derech eretz Plishtim ki karov hu”]—were necessary for the development of Bnei Yisrael’s character: they needed the 40 years of Torah they got while being fed with the manna and having perpetually fitting clothing and shoes, and never even having to go the bathroom.

Were, then the 40 years were paradigmatic of security, because everything was taken care of, and “ein nitnah Torah ela le’ochlei ha-man”—so there was unparalleled Torah learning, the ultimate expression of the “relationship with G-d”? Or, were they eminently insecure, because as the aforementioned Rashi notes, the 38 years were “nezufin lifnei ha-Makom”? Can there be a tradeoff?

I would venture another link to my thesis in States of Emergency, that while some degree of insecurity is necessary to actually make a relationship work, the pursuit of ultimate “security” inherent in the “Torah-only” philosophies of some schools [you know who you are] are not only far from ideal, but actually may end up being counterproductive.

The first example is as noted above: during all the openly miraculous sojourn in the midbar, bnei yisrael were “nezufin lifnei ha-Makom”, even to the point that it affected the Divine communication with Moshe. That state of affairs hardly beckons as the ideal state of a relationship, secure or otherwise.

A later example from the annals of Jewish education comes from Chizkiyahu’s education policy as delineated in Sanhedrin 94b: he stuck a sword at the entrance of the beis medrash, which probably was the most effective deterrent to batalah—and it worked: there was no halachic ignorance in all of Israel. A perfect ra’ayah to educational coercion, no?


A few contextual clues may offer explanation as to why the policy was hardly ideal and probably not sustainable. One was the fact that it was likely done during the siege of Sancheriv, and Chizkiyahu needed to make sure learning did not stop entirely during wartime; imposing a form of martial law on the beis medrash was perfectly in line with imposing it elsewhere. What might be more indicative of the insustainability of the policy may be what occurred right after Chizkiyahu’s petira: his son Menashe take sthe throne and ushers in 22 years [at least] of the worst behavior to occur in the kingdom of Yehuda until that point, so much so that the gezera of Churban Bayis Rishon was sealed during this period. The coerced knowledge not only did not hold up, it more than fell by the wayside.

One of theories regarding the impetus behind the chet ha-meraglim was insecurity: whether they were worried about their actual worthiness to enter the land, the rest of the people’s worthiness to enter the land, whether they could actually succeed militarily—in any case, there are several psukim that point to the fact that a large part of the population was subject to insecurity. [And, as the Gemara in Ta’anis reveals, the mida k’neged mida was the perpetual insecurity—the bechiya ledoros of Tisha B’av.] It might be the Jew’s [and the Jews’] lot to e perpetually insecure. However—despite, or perhaps even because of, the evidence buttressing the possible “payoffs” from that status—from the nisim in the midbar, the amount of Torah learning resulting, or even the principle of “l’fum tza’ara agra”—it should hardly be considered an ideal.

It is something to be overcome, not something to be idealized.

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