Monday, December 13, 2010

monday's reading

"it may seem perverse for [lionel] trilling to insist on a resemblance between...quasi-pantheism and the faith of the rabbis, which is aggressively uninterested in nature. in chapter three of pirke aboth, rabbi yaakov is quoted as saying: 'one who walks along a road and studies, and interrupts his studying to say, "how beautiful is this tree!" "how beautiful is this ploughed field!"--the torah considers it as if he had forfeited his life.' how to reconcile this with [wordsworth] who wrote, 'one impulse from a vernal wood / may teach you more of man, / of moral evil and of good, / than all the sages can'?

"what they have in the sensibility wordsworth captured in the phrase 'wise passiveness.' such passiveness is not resignation or apathy, but rather a faith that the world has been ordered to man's good, so that we do not have to conquer our place in it, but simply accept the place we have been given...

"what breathes in the aboth is the rabbi's absolute certainty that a life devoted to torah is the best life. 'exile yourself to a place of torah,' advises one of them, 'do not say that it will come after you.' the rabbis are aware that the life of study has its own pitfalls, and they warn against intellectual vanity, quarrelsomeness, and the temptation to elevate theory over practice. but they have no doubt that no worldly activity can rival the study of the law, and they warn against every kind of distraction: 'one who speaks excessively brings on sin'; 'one who excessively converses with a woman [a euphemism for sex] causes evil to himself, neglects the study of torah, and in the end inherits purgatory'; 'desire not the table of kings, for your table is greater than theirs, and your crown is greater than theirs.' the whole ethos of pirke aboth is encapsulated in its very first line, which advises: 'be careful in judgement; raise up many disciples; and make a fence around the torah.'"

--from "trilling, babel, and the rabbis" by adam kirsch in the jewish review of books, fall 2010

[I had nearly forgotten that my habit of reading and walking came out of my appreciation of what torah students are expected to do.]

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