Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Intentions

I am in Rebbetzin Greer's class and we recently learned something utterly beautiful. It begins with Exodus 28: 3.

וְאַתָּה, תְּדַבֵּר אֶל-כָּל-חַכְמֵי-לֵב, אֲשֶׁר מִלֵּאתִיו, רוּחַ חָכְמָה; וְעָשׂוּ אֶת-בִּגְדֵי אַהֲרֹן, לְקַדְּשׁוֹ--לְכַהֲנוֹ-לִי

The words asher milaitiv are difficult. Whom has God filled with the spirit of wisdom? Does he refer to the chachmei lev, the wise of heart, or someone else?

The Netziv answers this question perfectly. This is what he says. (It's the source page.)

Moshe was to tell the chachmei lev that God had given Aaron wisdom. Why was this? When Aaron was told that he was to be holy, he was also given holy garments, the priestly vestments. These garments would aid him in achieving further sanctity. Moshe therefore commanded the craftsmen and artisans, who were God-fearing people, to make the garments in a way that would lend them greater sanctity. He told them that God had filled Aaron with a spirit of wisdom in order to caution them that when Aaron wore the garments, he would be able to tell how they were made. This is why it was Moshe who spoke to the craftsmen, and not Betzalel; this was not a matter of technical craftsmanship, focusing on the weaving or the sewing, but a matter of intent- the intention behind the craftsmen and artisans had to be to make the garments for the specific purpose for which they were intended. And they were warned that if they intended something else, Aaron would be able to discern it, to feel it, simply from wearing the garments!

To me, this testifies to the importance of intent in every single aspect of our lives. There are innumerable Chasidic stories and tales of holy men who could feel the history of an object or the way in which it had been made, and therefore could not abide to use the object themselves. One of the most famous is that of the man who went to sleep in a bed and woke up exclaiming "My bones are on fire!" He had discerned that something untoward had happened to someone who had slept in this bed before him, and therefore could not bear to sleep in it. The same is said of people who knew the intent behind certain paintings they saw. Objects testify to the intent of the artisan, if we are only attuned enough to see or sense it.

If this is the case, whenever we engage in any form of creation, the intent behind our actions matters. I can make a chair and you can make a chair, but based on the different intentions we had while making the chair, they are different chairs. And although they look exactly the same, to someone attuned enough to see it, the chairs are completely distinct from one another and could never be mistaken for one another. This also explains the reason that we so often must explain why we are doing certain things or engaging in certain actions. We all know about the women who make matzah saying "L'sheim matzos mitzvah." It is the same idea. When a person creates something, the intent with which it was made matters.

One wonders how this applies to mass-produced machine-made objects. Are they simply neutral? It seems logical to assume that they are; there was no intent put into the making of them, so they cannot radiate any sort of energy. It is up to us to elevate them or relegate them to a lower level based on the way in which we use them (similar to raising up the kelipot.)

One also wonders whether this could even be applied to the creation of a child. One could argue that when parents engage in lovemaking simply for their own pleasure, and do not make God part of the equation, the child is born in some way flawed. Thus could the creation of the mamzer be defended, for the mamzer is a child borne of a union that is unsanctioned by God. The parents preferred to allow their own pleasures and passions to rule them, in which case the product of their flawed intentions is also flawed. I do not particularly like this approach, as it seems to me that the child ought to be innocent regardless, but I could understand it.

Brooklyn Wolf at some point mentioned this approach being taken in terms of test-tube babies, and the claim having been made that they were in some way less holy because they were created in that medium. I don't like that idea either, nor do I think it true (after all, if someone has a test-tube baby, it is because it is necessary; clearly the mother would prefer to bear her own child if possible.) So while I find this idea beautiful, and think that one's intentions very much imprint themselves upon one's creations, whether they be physical or spiritual, it must be applied carefully so as not to exclude people or deem them inferior.

I love the idea that something that I think has the power to uplift something that I do- that given my thinking a certain way, an object can be imbued with more sanctity or power, and in this way become distinguished from another object. I love the fact that we have so much power, simply in our minds, to cause something to become holy or mundane. It's really very beautiful.

4 comments:

G said...

"So while I find this idea beautiful, and think that one's intentions very much imprint themselves upon one's creations, whether they be physical or spiritual, it must be applied carefully so as not to exclude people or deem them inferior."
------

Please tell me you see the inherent self comforting or at least inconsistency in the above statement.

Either this is a reality or it isn't, you cannot decide when to "apply" it.

Moshe Y. Gluck said...

See R’ Dovid Povarsky, Mussar Vedaas, volume 1, 15. (Pdf available upon request.) Please send R'n Greer my regards!

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