Posts Tagged 'Vulberability'

The Wholehearted Hurt of Revelation: Nine Inch Nails, Johnny Cash, and Rava

Recently I had a chance to teach a class for the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s S’more Learning: A Campy Pre-Shavuot Celebration. It was a great event. We have a great team. Noting the COVID-19 pall that has fallen over us this year I wanted to give some voice to the anguish and sadness that many of us are experiencing. I wanted to share with you a taste of that class.

During this time of extended social isolation I keep finding myself listening to Johnny Cash‘s 2002 cover of Michael Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nail‘s song Hurt. Enjoy this video:

 

There is a lot of emotion in this song. While it might have originally been a lament of drug addiction and depression, Cash’s rendition seems like a painful retrospective of a long life. One line that I have been mulling over is:

I hurt myself today

To see if I still feel

I focus on the pain

The only thing that’s real ( Hurt, NIN 1994)

While I hope no one wants to hurt themselves, I think many of us can relate to experience of feeling numb after weeks of sheltering in place.

I was thinking about this image when reviewing a Gemara in Shabbat that discusses what happened on Shavuot at Sinai. The Israelites receive the Torah with the words  Na’aseh V’nishmah- we said “We will do” before “We will hear”. In the Talmud our merit is our belief and conviction coming before our discernment and understanding. It is in this context that we learn a strange story about Rava. There we learn:

The Gemara relates that a heretic saw that Rava was immersed in studying halakhaand his fingers were beneath his leg and he was squeezing them, and his fingers were spurting blood. Rava did not notice that he was bleeding because he was engrossed in study. The heretic said to Rava: You impulsive nation, who accorded precedence to your mouths over your ears. You still bear your impulsiveness, as you act without thinking. You should listen first. Then, if you are capable of fulfilling the commands, accept them. And if not, do not accept them. He said to him: About us, who proceed wholeheartedly and with integrity, it is written: “The integrity of the upright will guide them” (Proverbs 11:3) ( Shabbat 88a-b)

Like the song Hurt we see Rava injuring himself. In this context the heretic seems very reasonable. Why would anyone want to hurt themselves?

I have no interest in defending Rava, Nine In Nails, or Johnny Cash, but I do want to understand this urge to experience reality through an exploration of grief and pain. I have many thoughts here but for now I just want to offer one word alluded to in Rava’s response to the heretic- wholeheartedness.

As Brené Brown, my Vulnerability Rebbe, writes:

Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

The risk of revelation is that we will be forced to confront the darkness. If we are brave enough to explore this we will be blessed to share the infinite light. One of the lessons of Shavuot is that if we can get in touch with the hurt, we can wholeheartedly experience the joy.

-For full class check the source sheet

 

Faith Minus Vulnerability

In Eikev, this week’s Torah portion we read:

The graven images of their gods shall you burn with fire; you shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them, nor take it unto yourself, lest you be snared therein; for it is an abomination to the Lord your God.And you shalt not bring an abomination into your house, and be accursed like unto it; you shalt utterly detest it, and you shall utterly abhor it; for it is a devoted thing. (Deuteronomy 7:25-26)

What do we make of the use of the word”abomination” in the context of idolatry?  In the Talmud Rabbi Yohanan in the name of Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai noted the word “abomination” in common in both our portion and in Proverbs which says:

Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; my hand upon it! he shall not be unpunished(Proverbs 16:5)

They deduced from the common use of the same word “abomination” that people who are haughty of spirit are as though they worshiped idols (Sotah 4b).

I was thinking about this in the context of the work of Brené Brown. In her brilliant discussion of vulnerability she writes:

Faith minus vulnerability and mystery equals extremism. If you’ve got all the answers, then don’t call what you do ‘faith.’
Rabbi Yohanan and Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai are on to something – there is a certain abomination of being too haughty and close minded to be vulnerable. The secret of whole-hearted living is to break the idols in our lives and be open to the mystery of the unknown, the Unknowable, and even yet to be known self. These are only revealed through the hard work and practice of humility.

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