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What's With All These Laws?

Laser Technology of the World

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

    1653 views
  • June 7, 2011
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  • 5 Sivan 5771
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Class Summary:

What's With All These Laws? - Laser Technology of the World

Dedicated by David and Eda Schottenstein, in the loving memory of a young Jerusalem soul Alta Shula, bas Yosef Yitzchak and Hindel Swerdlov. And in honor of their daughter Yetta Alta Shula, "Aliyah" Schottenstein

The Nightingale

The story is told[1] of a king who once decided to reward a peasant who had done him a great service. "Shall I give him a sack of gold? A bag of pearls?" thought the king. "But these mean virtually nothing to me. I want, for once, to truly give something -- something that I will miss, a gift that constitutes a sacrifice for me."

Now this king had a nightingale who sang the sweetest songs a human ear had ever heard. He treasured the nightingale over all else, and literally found life unbearable without it. So he summoned the peasant to his palace and gave him the bird . "This," said the king, "is in appreciation for your loyalty and devotion." "Thank you, Your Majesty," said the peasant, and took the royal gift to his humble home.

A while later, the king was passing through the peasant's village and commanded his coachman to halt at the peasant's door. "How are you enjoying my gift?" he inquired of his beloved subject.

"The truth to tell, Your Majesty," said the peasant, "the bird's meat was quite tough -- all but inedible, in fact. But I cooked it with lots of potatoes, and it gave the stew an interesting flavor."

Is This Freedom?

Why does Judaism prohibit me from doing whatever I want? people often ask. Why can't we just be free, liberated, and individualistic? Why are there so many laws, instructions and rituals in Judaism that govern every aspect of one's life, from the way we eat to the way we marry?  Would it not have been nice if the opening of the Tem Commandments would have read like this: "I am the Lord your G-d who has taken you out of Egypt in order to set you free. Now, young women and men, listen ye to my words! You can do whatever you want, wherever you want, however you want, with whomever you want, as long as you don't hurt another person. I honor your individual rights to choose your own lifestyle and behavior, without anybody governing your decisions. Conform not to any standard; just live it up!"

But, as you know, G-d chose another script for the Ten Commandments. They were not written by Woody Allen, Alan Ginsburg, or Aldous Huxley. At Sinai G-d gave the Jewish people a Torah – filled with directives, instructions and restrictions. I am in the airport, my flight is delayed, and I am the only one who can’t enjoy a hot dog and fries in McDonald. As the sun rises, I am the only one who has to stand up in front of the entire plane and put on tefilin to the dismay of the flight attendants who will now testify that they have spent 11 hours with a UFO. Shabbos arrives and I am the only one who does not go to the golf course…

Is this why we left the house of bondage in Egypt – to become slaves to the Almighty?

And yet the Sages saw it otherwise. “There is no free man, save for he who occupies himself with the study of Torah” (Ethics of the Fathers, 6:2.) Really?! If anything, it is exactly the other way around: as long as you don’t learn Torah, you are free to engage in so many activities, the options are open. Once you embrace Torah, there goes your freedom Charlie… Torah mixes into everything… A life that is faithful to the precepts of the Torah is indeed greatly “constricted” and “confined.”

Why – people often ask me -- limit myself in any way? Why not give free rein to my thoughts, feelings and inclinations, and let them lead me where they may? Why automatically exclude certain pursuits and experiences from the possible paths my life might take?

Democracy and Laser Technology

Among the great technological achievements of the last half-century is the development of the “laser beam.”

Briefly: The nature of light is such that it scatters as it moves away from its source, thereby lessening its intensity and effect. The laser overcomes this limitation by concentrating its energy in a straight line, so that it retains its potency even at great distance from its point of origin; thus its utility -- as a source of light, heat, or other uses -- can be exploited in ways previously unimaginable.

A laser beam is narrowly confined so that the light does not spread to the sides. It is thus completely focused in one direction only, maintaining its strength even at great distances from its source. In fact, the laser beam can even make a hole through a metal barrier several inches thick at a distance of several miles.

The photons in a laser beam all move in the same direction, so they can be precisely focused. This focus concentrates enormous energies on a tiny spot, allowing mere light to vaporize even steel.

Lasers are now used in numerous technologies, from dental drills to CD drives to household tools. Lasers are also widely used in surgery. Laser technology has allowed surgeons to develop many new techniques to reduce injury to tissues and shorten the healing time for incisions. With the laser beams, surgeons silently and smoothly penetrate deep into the body and perform various procedures to bring healing to people.

It is not a coincidence that during the same decades when the concept of “freedom at all costs” has overtaken our society – Divine providence allowed science to develop laser technology, because it is through this technology that we can gain insight into the true function of Torah and Mitzvos, and the objective of Jewish law. Torah is the spiritual “laser technology” of the world.

Scattering the Energy

On the face of it, the Jewish code of behavior is a limiting factor, something that detracts from the great variety of possibilities that life has to offer. In truth, however, the very opposite is the case. As the example of the laser beam demonstrates, it is precisely the “limitations” imposed on a force that extend and amplify its potentials and enable its optimal realization.

A life without parameters is a life that quickly dissipates in the cosmic heterogeneity in which we exist, draining it of all power and impact. When we follow our instincts, habits, cravings and appetites without any restrictions – our inner momentum, focus and depth are weakened. When we allow ourselves the freedom to go in every direction, when there are no boundaries or imitations and we are free to do everything and anything -- our light scatters all over the place and we never realize our ultimate power and potential. Our energies are squandered, our richness is compromised, our creativity silenced, and our brightness dulled.

Conversely, when we “restrict” the light, and do now allow it to flow anywhere and everywhere – we fine-tune our inner creativity, we cultivate our power, we become the most powerful people we can become, we access all of our momentum and we can vaporize even steel… 

It is like the chords of a violin which must be tied down to allow the music to play. Torah and Halacha do not come to tie us down, but rather to allow our music to soar.

The Baal Shem Tov teaches, that Halacha is the acronym of “Hareoo L’Hashem Kal Haaretz,” let the whole earth sing to G-d.” What for one person is meat-and-potatos is for another person a nightingale capable of producing of the most beautiful music in the world[2].

[1] Rendition by Rabbi Yanki Tauber: http://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/133024/jewish/The-King-the-Peasant-and-the-Nightingale.htm

[2] This essay is based on a talk delivered by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbos Chanukah 5730 (1969), said in honor of the “Pegisha”-Shabbaton, a weekend for secular students, which took place that Shabbos in Crown Heights. My thanks to Professor Yermeyahoo Branever and Rabbi Yanki Tauber for their renditions of this talk (http://www.meaningfullife.com/torah/ethics/6/Concentrated_Light.php) from which I culled a few paragraphs.

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    Essay Shavuos

    Rabbi YY Jacobson
    • June 7, 2011
    • |
    • 5 Sivan 5771
    • |
    • 1653 views
    • Comment

    Dedicated by David and Eda Schottenstein, in the loving memory of a young Jerusalem soul Alta Shula, bas Yosef Yitzchak and Hindel Swerdlov. And in honor of their daughter Yetta Alta Shula, "Aliyah" Schottenstein

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    What's With All These Laws? - Laser Technology of the World

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