by Rabbi Ariel bar Tzadok of KosherTorah.com,
reprinted with permission
"Once upon a time," these are the words used to introduce a fairy tale, or to tell a story. Yet, some fairy tails are not fiction and some stories are more real than others. Some stories relate facts from the past. These stories are called history. Other stories might embellish the past, but they do so to relate pertinent morals that are alive and eternal. These stories are called legends.
History speaks to the intellect and can serve as a valuable rational tool to help us make proper choices today based upon the mistakes made in the past. Legends speak to the heart and serve to mold our inner character and inspire us to greater achievements. Legends too help us make proper choices today, but not based upon past mistakes, but rather on the inner awareness of knowing what is right, good and proper.
Our Torah, TaNaKh, Gemara, Zohar and the rest of Judaic literature, written over centuries, all contain the legends of Israel. Many of the stories within this great wealth of literature are literal history, and many others are not. The factual historicity of Torah is absolutely irrelevant. The Torah was not given to us to relate historical affairs. The Torah is not an historical document. Our Sages have always been quite clear about this. While the Torah does contain an element that speaks to the mind, the true essence of Torah, as expressed by our Sages throughout Jewish history, speaks instead to the heart. Torah is legend, not history, Torah is relevance, not a mere rendition of past facts.
In recent centuries, however, the minds and outlook of many a Sage has changed from the old ways. Instead of sharing legend, many a leader has arisen who are academics and philosophers, masters of intellect and rational, who at the same time, have lost the inner meaning of the legend and thus have lost much of the very essence of Torah.
These esteemed Sages have grown accustomed to educate the public using intellectually stimulating lessons calling upon numerous quotes from various holy sources to validate the strength of their arguments. While this approach may be well and good in establishing the legal precedents for the establishments of Torah Law, this is not the way to address moral issues of character. The way of the intellect builds laws, it does not create legends. The way of the intellect convinces the mind, but has not the ability to reach the heart.
The Truth of Torah is at the center of every true Jewish soul. The truth is not something you have to be convinced of, nor is it something you should have to be shown. Your intellect should not have to be convinced of the truth of a thing using some appealing words in a sermon. On the contrary, your heart should recognize truth regardless of whatever words are used or not used to describe it.
Often the message of truth gets lost in the very words being used to describe it. In my opinion, it is all too often the case that the many words and sermons used to teach about truth have themselves become the very hindrance to recognizing the truth.
Truth resides in the heart. This is because the Torah resides in the heart. Do you really need me to quote a pasuk to convince you that this is true, or do you already know deep within you the truth of this, with or without the words of a pasuk to convince you? Do not take my word for it! How about taking your own word for it, the Word of HaShem that is speaking within you right now.
Silence your chaotic mind and indeed, you will hear the inner voice, often heard just as a whisper speaking within you. When you finally do hear it, that inner whisper will become so loud within your conscience that you too will no longer need an outside voice to steer your course through life.
You will know what do and how to do it for HaShem will be your guide. Your own inner awareness will guide you to a regular source to learn Torah, for you will know within yourself the value of living according to Torah Law and how essential this is for you to learn how to do this. No one should need convince you of how important this is, you already should know this. You need only learn the mechanics of what to do, not be impressed with intellectual arguments why to do it!
This is the difference between the one who has fulfilled the pasuk to place Torah upon one's heart and one who has not. But you do not need for me to reference this pasuk to you to convince you of this, because you already knew this with or without the pasuk. Mentioning the pasuk only proves that which you already know.
Life in the real world follows a natural course. Even that which we call supernatural or spiritual is itself just the source and cause of the natural. Therefore, knowledge and awareness of the natural way of things grants us insights into their spiritual sources and counterparts. This enlightenment is what brings us closer to experiencing the Presence of G-d.
One learns natural law through the process of observance. Throughout Torah, our prophets and Sages spent great lengths of time out in nature so that they could accumulate experience of the natural world and with the power of the Torah engrained within their hearts come to recognize the Hidden Hand of G-d in all natural acts.
This is how sacred holy men such as Nahum Ish Gamzu were able to look upon any occurrence and recognize the good, within it. His consciousness was able to recognize the Hidden Hand of G-d and then by his positive attitude he was able to make the proper choices of behavior to unleash the hidden Light and reveal the Hand of G-d out in the open.
Rightly did our Sages say that the lives of our forefathers serve as role models for their children. The stories of the past are far more than mere historical events. They are archetypes, legends, role models and examples that we are to follow. The experiences of the past are the same as the present and the future.
Therefore, the stories of the past are not just lessons about what happened then. They are living stories about now, about you and me. This is what makes Torah legendary. Torah's stories are our stories. They are eternally relevant and true. These legends have never been meant to be understood as having only historical meanings, irrelevant to us today and thus worthy of our ignoring them. No, Torah legends lives forever, more than this; it is Life itself!
We do not need extensive commentaries to tell our minds how to interpret these events. Rather, we need to be more like children and embrace the awe and wonder of a story, with simplicity and faith. After all, the entire Torah is summed up as the righteous living by faith. This is legend!
Our present society is unfortunately fundamentally sick. For centuries now, western civilization and the Jewish communities within it have become infected with a disease of rationalism. While there is nothing wrong and everything right in being rational, nonetheless, rationality is not the end-all of human consciousness. This is a sound and known psychological fact taught by our Torah since Sinai and even echoed in the words of modern psychiatrists.
Carl Jung, the founder of Analytical Psychology and associate of non less than Sigmund Freud himself wrote (CW 13, 7), ""The intellect does indeed do harm to the soul, when it dares to possess itself of the heritage of the spirit. It is in no way fitted to do this, for spirit is something higher than intellect, since it embraces the latter, and includes feelings, as well. It is a guiding principle of life that strives towards super-human shining heights."
Western society has taught its citizens to be half-brained, to be rational and to dismiss anything other as irrational, and thus as not real, bad and wrong. As such, religion, which is founded upon faith and legend, has been delegated to the trash heap of history. The proud western rationalist proclaims himself a secularist, emancipated from the myths and fairy tales of primitive and stupid religion. Yes indeed, this is what secularism teaches and this is exactly how many secularists feel, believe and publicly proclaim.
What is amusing about this is that secularism and rationalism are themselves faiths and stories based upon as much an irrational foundation as are simplistic interpretations of religious stories. Rationalism and secularism proclaim their correctness and seek converts to their causes with the self same vigor and conviction of all the proselyting religions throughout history. But enough about current events and the ways of the world.
We cannot change the world, nor should we try. It is the job of Heaven to change the world, so let us stay focused on what we have to do and let Heaven do G-d's work. Our job is to change ourselves and by doing so serving as role models to assist others in achieving higher consciousness to enable them to also better their lives. While we do not change the world, we do indeed change our little portion of it. This is why we are here. This is what we are destined to do.
"And these words that I command you this day shall be upon your hearts" (Dev. 6:6). There, I have given you a quote. Do not run now to seek all the numerous commentaries to it. Simply allow it to sink into your head until it reaches your heart. Start to use your heart, the place where Torah is supposed to be. Stop thinking so much about how to do this, and just start doing it. Certainly, you will make mistakes, we all do, this is part of being human. But, as the old saying goes, "practice makes perfect."
Know the Torah, embrace the legend. Facts of the past do not matter. What is history or metaphor does not matter. What matters is the lesson, embrace the lesson and you will know the Torah. Know the Torah and you will glimpse the Face of its Master, the Creator, HaShem.
What more than this is there to do? So while the world burns around us, pay it no mind. Instead, pay attention to this. Save you, it will. Teach this to others, by example, not by rote. Save them, it will. What more than this is there to do? Ask HaShem, I am sure He will lead to you to understand and know the right direction.
Life is a long road and only HaShem knows the way. This is another psychological truth learned from religion. Jung (CW 7-72) himself said it eloquently, "Direction in life is not a simple straight line, fate confronts us like an intricate labyrinth, all too rich in possibilities and yet of these possibilities only one is the right way."
Let us conclude with the legendary words of the Sage Hillel, who once upon a time said, Zil Gamar, now, go do it!