Jean-Paul Sartre is sitting at a French Cafe, revising his draft of Being and Nothingness. He says to the waitress, “I’d like a cup of coffee, please, with no cream.” The waitress replies, “I’m sorry, Monsieur, but we’re out of cream. How about with no milk?”
In honor of Purim: Humor. To acknowledge the paradoxical nature of the shabbat that precedes it, Shabbat Zachor: Philosophical Humor.
Purim, which has become in the course of history a Jewish Mardi Gras (except it doesn’t always occur on Tuesday and our Fast is BEFORE the Feast not after) is preceded on the Sabbath before by Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of remembering, remembering the villain Haman’s ancestors from the Torah, Amalek and from the era of King Saul.
Of the many paradoxes associated with this Shabbat, one is a result of viewing earlier history through the lens of more recent history. When we were exiled to Babylonia, Judeans came to believe that it was a function of God’s will and punishment for our idolatrous ways. Through that lens, they decided that all Torah punishment was a result of God’s will.
So, the rabbis ask, why do we view Amalek as evil if, based on this rabbinic understanding of God’s will, the Amalekites are simply delivering a punishment we must ultimately deserve? The answer some commentators give is that Amalek, like Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar, wasn’t merely following God’s will but was making war against us because they hated us.
Studying Maimonides last week, we came across one of four categories of crimes for which there is no Teshuvah or effective repentance: Not disciplining a badly behaved child when they are still young enough to be our responsibility. One member of the class felt it was unfair and that Maimonides, if he knew the genetic and chemical pressures that some kids undergo, would realize that some things are not under our control or our kids’ for that matter. I disagreed and said that the text didn’t say that we had to be successful in preventing our child’s later bad adult behavior but we had to try to guide them on the right path. Were Maimonides alive today he would certainly include medication and counseling to help a child among the many disciplinary tools available to the modern parent.
Recent neuroscience suggests to some that free will is a fantasy. They have found that before something is said or done that the brainwaves associated with that word or motion light up before we are even aware of it. If we were to accept this as an assumption that we have no real free will since it’s pre-fired in the brain, the only thing we’d have left is what intent we put into the action or words we say. As Rabbi Akiva said, All is foreseen but permission is given giving explicit sanction to the paradox.
Here’s a joke that explicates the Jewish attitude towards many such paradoxical constructs:
A logician’s wife is having a baby. The doctor immediately hands the newborn to the dad.
His wife asks impatiently, “So, is it a boy or a girl?”
The logician responds, “Yes.”
Here are some Jewish paradoxes: Is God transcendent or immanent? YES.
On this Shabbat are we supposed to Remember Amalek or destroy its memory? YES.
Can we make this Shabbat a real rest leading into the wild of Purim? I HOPE SO!
Having heard a joke with logical expression, let’s hear one that takes into account the notion of Quantum Mechanics:
Schroedinger’s cat walks into a bar. And doesn’t.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Purim Sameach!