Tu B’Shevat Reflections

The Ari (or somebody from his school) says that the Tu B’Shevat seder is the tikkun of eating from the Tree of Knowledge.   Tikkun means something like — taking something that didn’t turn out well and recontextualizing it so as to understand why in the ultimate analysis it is a good thing, healing, re-integration of disparate elements or subsystems of the self into a coherent whole.

In other words the Tu B’Shevat seder is meant to bring us back to the Garden of Eden.

What are we to make of a story about a super-man who creates a man in his image, puts him in a garden with two magic trees, tells him to eat one and not the other, then is surprised and all judgey when the copy-man eats the tree and kicks him out of the garden, punishing him with hard labor, sexual shame, and death?

The first thing is to realize that it is a children’s story.

The second thing is to realize that it is a children’s story about the loss of childhood, or ignorance, or animality, or feeling like being one with nature and part of nature.  It is not an adult story about that — the adult story about that is more like what I just said — we evolved from animals and have told various stories about what we have lost and what we have gained.   A species of arboreal primates who came down from the trees and developed sufficiently advanced brains that they could reflect upon their separation from nature, conquer nature, and long to return to it. The adult story is about regaining the second Eden, which is to say, the right blend of innocence and experience, of ignorance and knowledge.

Another way to say the right blind of innocence and experience is to say the right blend of the tree of knowledge and the tree of life.  The tree of life, the feeling that our lives are good because they are life — eating, hugging, breathing — and the the tree of knowledge, the idea that we are different from our natural, animal selves and can be better — all the things we know — have to be put in the proper relationship.

How do we put them in the proper relationship?  By making all the things we know and all the ideals we have of how to do better in service of the tree of life.

Because the Torah is a Tree of Life to those that hold on to it.

We put them in the proper relationship by ritual — the Tu B’Shevat seder.  Ritual is a fancy word for play.  Or to use another fancy word it is using transitional objects — things that hover on the boundary between self and world, real and imaginary.  Ritual objects are toys.  In play we have recaptured the second innocence.

As Nietzsche said that’s maturity — to recapture the seriousness we had as children playing with toys.






Reading List for the New Semester

Unit One: Endings and Beginnings

Eddison, E.R. The Worm Ouroboros

Chesterton, G.K. The Man Who Was Thursday

Garcia Marquez, Gabriel One Hundred Years of Solitude

Cordovero, Moses. Introduction to Kabbalah: An Annotated Translation of His or Ne’Erav

Unit Two: Anagnorisis and Priority

Dodgson, C.L. Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There

Moore, Alan Miracleman

Hofstadter, Douglas Godel, Escher Bach

Unit Three: Quest and Identity

Sophocles, Oedipus The King

Attar The Conference of the Birds

Crowley, John Little, Big

Le Guin, Ursula K. A Wizard of EarthSea

Parfit, Derek Reasons and Persons


Grading: Anyone who attends the course will receive an A.

Anyone who attends the course and does the reading will receive an A+.

Anyone who attends the course, does the reading, and understands it will receive an A+ and their choice of a vintage 1976 matchbox racing car or a dolly.

Office Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays 11:30 pm, in the back of the halvah section of Sahadi’s on Atlantic Avenue next to the glass  jar full of golden raisins.

Teaching Assistants: An owl, a can, a spoonful of pepper.

Note: Lateness will not be tolerated! ELK


What’s Your Problem?

I heard a story about a rabbi in New York once.  A minister asked him “Rabbi, are you saved?”  The rabbi said “That’s not my problem.”  The priest said “What’s your problem, then?”   The rabbi said : “What is my next mitzvah going to be?”

The rabbi was suggesting that Christianity is the problem to which it is its own solution. But that’s true of all the good problems.  Or, to speak less riskily, the first problem for each of us is “what’s my problem?”  Once you know what your problem is the rest is just luck, or hard work, or technique.