Fetishizing the trigger -- a phrase that comes from my friend Tammuz -- is when a trigger (e.g. the holy land, halacha, whatever) gives you a real spiritual experience, but you then make the mistake of thinking it's all about the trigger. The finger points at the moon, but wow, how about that finger! And fetishizing means: It's only this trigger, this trigger is the point, this trigger is better than others. Or: it's these words. It's this Torah, written by God. It's this Zohar, written by Shimon bar Yochai. These codes, this land, this holy people. This spirituality, these souls -- on a higher level than any other. It's that turn, that move -- that fetishizing of the trigger -- that causes the distortion. Now the entire world is seen through the prism of the trigger (Torah, Israel, etc.). Now the trigger is reified into an objectively real reality. The reality.
And then the trigger has to hold everything. The Torah has to say everything we want it to say; the Jewish tradition has to hint at everything we want it to do; and so we take thousands of years of interpretive traditions, and marshal them to find in our sacred texts precisely what we need to find. And we will find what we need, because of Judaism's many voices. But if we are looking with Romantic, non-rational, or mystical eyes, we are in trouble. Mysticism (as I have written in Zeek before) excites the passions, stimulates the soul. But when it is tied to myth, it becomes toxic, because while the passions are universal, the myth is particularistic. Combine the particularism of myth with the excitement of mystical practice -- and violence often results.
I don't know what's kept me immune from hippie-Right fundamentalism. Maybe it's because, due to my own life circumstances, I know that the "Torah is everything" approach will never work for me, at least if Torah is interpreted by hetero Orthodox men with no understanding of the Others they create. Or maybe it's because, having had powerful experiences not just on the Jewish path but on others as well, I see Jewish forms as forms -- nothing more, and nothing less. They are to be respected, if we want them to work. But they are forms, not the substance that fills the forms.
Personally, I love the Torah. But I don't need to make it say everything I believe. I love that the Jewish path can lead me to devekut. But I don't need to prove that devekut is better than samadhi. In short, I don't need my group to own the mojo. I'm happy to share it with the rest of the world's religious traditions, to learn from them, and not to assume that the choice I've made -- to follow the Jewish path -- is necessarily the right or the best choice. Most of the religious-hippie crowd are baalei tshuvah; they became religious later in life, usually after experiencing many other paths. So now they've found the best one. Really, the only one.
I love the Sufi tale with which I started this essay, because it seems to capture the dilemma, and its humanity, so perfectly. It's not that the Jewish fundamentalists are confused in a way that I or the rest of us aren't. We all make this mistake -- it's natural and human to do so. You feel good after doing something, so you value the something that brought you there, whether it's a meditation practice, a territory, or a car. We fetishize our own triggers all the time, which is why we're constantly trying to arrange the conditions for our happiness.
Yet fetishizing the trigger is also confusion. The tools of religion and meant to lead to liberation -- mysticism, love, and contemplation -- but then they get ossified if we forget that you're not supposed to worship a key; you're supposed to put it in a door and turn. In other words, you're supposed to liberate yourself, experience the Divine, leave the prison cell of separate self and merge into your true reality. But the key is so powerful, especially when it is turned and these wonderful liberations, these beautiful ecstatic feelings, really do arise! How could you not fetishize it, worship it, and treat it as unique in the world? There is real juice in spiritual practice, and that is its danger as well as its attraction. So, at the very least, we have to be careful.
In these last few months, I've become so suspicious of zeal. I still haven't given up my ethos of seizing the day, living as intensely as possible, and trying to appreciate the miracles in the everyday. But I have started appreciating the quieter pleasures of ordinary life, because it feels like fewer people would be willing to fight and die for them. In the religious community in Israel, one often hears a kind of pity for the secular, who lack the energy, direction, and focus that religion can bring to one's life. But maybe we could all use a little less energy -- at least if we're not repeating to ourselves, over and over again, like a mantra: Other people feel this too... Other paths can lead here too... I recommend that mantra for when you experience your highest joy -- see if it doesn't bring a smile when you say it, knowing that so many roads can lead to paradise, and see if a bit of compassion doesn't follow soon after. Other people feel this too... Other paths can lead here too... I wonder if those will be the days of redemption: when, on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, our tshuvah is no less ardent for the fact that its fruits are there for all.
On the Mel Gibson film and the passions of religion
Douglas Rushkoff talks with Zeek about the future of Judaism
What draws protesters to banal holocaust art?
Happy Jew Year
The Wooden Synagogues of Lithuania
Joyce Ellen Weinstein
Fetishizing the Trigger
The Goats of War
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