Omer Day Four
We took a break from our study of the Rambam's Mishneh Torah this Shabbat morning and read YL Peretz's classic tale, "Bontsha the Silent," an examination of the quality of meekness and silent suffering taking to an absurd extreme.
The "kotzer ruach" or downtrodden spirit which the Israelites were said to suffer under Pharaoh's service ultimately had to end with rebellion, an essential step toward a realized human dignity that was required for redemption. Humility is one thing; silent suffering, on the other hand, for no other higher purpose, yields, for Peretz, nothing more than mockery and derision from, of all places, the Heavenly Throne.
Our main character Bontsha has nothing and asks for nothing. As a result, his lifetime is spent in unimaginable suffering. And yet, at the end of his life, when he dies and stands before the Heavenly Court and is offered anything in the Kingdom of Heaven for his unmitigated, life-long suffering, he asks for a warm roll with butter. His meekness is understood as a kind of pathetic derision. There is laughter--the only response to such tragic nothingness.
Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik reminds us, in an essay on the Omer, that the Jewish worldview is not divided radically between two extremes--pure meekness and pure saintliness but rather melds the qualities necessary for redemption in a perspective rooted in the here and now.
Acquisition is necessary for economies to function, but they needn't be bogged down in total greed. The human being creates boundaries, limits to one's desires, but needn't eradicate them totally to live in a redeemed world.
Desire when channeled recognizes that we accumulate goods and experiences in order to satisfy our own urges but also to serve others and allow them to be satisfied as well.
Generosity, therefore, becomes the operating principle, even in a world where things are acquired, if one recognizes that the ability to acquire--both the desire to have and the object sought--derives from the Source of Life.
That our own desires spring from the Source of Life means that one can learn to transcend one's "kotzer ruach" or "broken spirit" on the way to finding one's place in the world as we know it and in the world as it ought to be.
That we left Egypt once is a testimony to an unbroken spirit. To boldly assert our place in the world and role as agents of history to bring further redemption is our mandate, during the Omer period and beyond.