Thoughts to Ponder Number 94


A "Brenn"
or
"Familiarity breeds contempt"

A Chassidic Rebbe was once asked: "If you could save one thing from your burning home, what would it be?" "The fire" answered the Rebbe, "because it is the "brenn*" which makes life worth living." Indeed, without an inner fire burning in the soul of man, there is no real life. Life becomes meaningful only when man "burns from within" for his ideals and his determination in life. The art is to live a life as if every moment is new, a challenge and an encounter with the Divine.

When carefully reading the 46th chapter in the book of Yechezkel, we read a most revealing instruction concerning the common people who visit the Temple on the festivals:

"And on the moadim (festivals) when the common people come before the Lord, whoever enters the north gate to bow low shall leave by the south gate, and whoever enters by the south gate shall leave by the north gate.
They shall not go back through the gate by which they came, but they shall go out through the opposite one." (verse 9)

Why should the people leave the Temple by another gate? What difference does it make through which gate one leaves?

It was Rabbi Jonathan Eybeschuetz, (18th century) author of the classic,"Yaaroth Devash", who provided a most significant answer: "God was particular that they should not see the same gate twice. Lest they see the Temple gate like they see the gate of their homes."

The prohibition of leaving the Temple the same way one entered it, was, in other words, based on the principle that one should not get used to the Temple's environment by seeing it twice from the same point of view. Nothing is more dangerous than getting used to one's surroundings. As the saying goes: "Familiarity breeds contempt"

This indeed is the basis of proper religious life: To avoid complacency and to make sure that one stays astonished and amazed.

To appreciate life requires a special kind of thought. It needs the ability to see things differently, to reframe, to change perspectives, sometimes to turn something upside down. This is one of the blessings of religion. Most of the time it does not show something new but rather shows things one has seen all the time but never noticed. Western culture has given us a very limited and selective view of life. In fact it makes many beautiful things in life invisible, and makes it extremely difficult to enjoy life and feel a kind of exhilaration. Often we look in the wrong places and believe that the "good life" is absent.

Religion is a protest against taking things for granted. It offers a way of meditation on the simple matters of life. It turns the obvious around and introduces a mystical element. Ludwig Wittgenstein, the great Austrian philosopher used to say: "Not how the world is, but that it is, is the mystical." Not how we are, but that we are is cause for ongoing wonder.

To see the world in a grain of sand
And heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour

(William Blake, Auguries of the Innocence)

The raison d'etre of the Temple was to give man an opportunity to see the world from a different perspective. Through its surroundings and its many symbolic items it forced man to wake up from his secular ideology and see the world in its divine dimensions. To underscore this fact the common people were not allowed to see its gates twice. Lest they lost the Temple's message. Lest they lived their lives without an inner "brenn".

Nathan Lopes Cardozo

· yiddish for an inner fire.

Reproduction of this essay is permitted when printed in full.

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