Hazinu: Altar Your Ego

BS”D By Dvir Cahana September 18, 2020

Song: Anger Man Age Mentality by Dvir Cahana
Art: Bubble Sheet Without an S.A.T. An’ Swerve by Briah Cahana

Every time I think about Parashat Ha’azinu, I am reminded of how my 9th grade Tanach teacher elevated this poem’s status among biblical writings. She cited an obscure chasidic legend that stated that every Jew’s name can be found hidden within these 70 lines and would recount stories of how in finding the names of dear people in her life, she was able to affect change in them and provide them with a mantra to live by. 

One such individual who found their name in the poem was one of the 1300 rabbis who were freed from sure death in the Holocaust, and was sent on a train out of Bergen-Belsen exactly one month before my grandmother, as my father recounted last week, escaped sure death by finding herself on a train to Bergen-Belsen. This man would grow up to build, what is currently, the largest chasidic dynasty in the world. The name he found in Haazinu was Joel Teitlebaum.  

And so, I embarked on a journey of self-discovery by trying this exercise for myself and sure enough the third word of the poem bore the same root as my name “ד.ב.ר.”, to speak, and I was satisfied, yet unmoved. I thought of some nice understandings to explain away the differences between my name and the word “אדברה”, but because it was so quick to find and the deeper meanings seemed to springboard off the word “אדברה”, which is so tenuously conjoined to my own name I felt a shallow connection to this discovery of my name, I felt severed from the potential magic that my teacher’s testimonial purported to be imbued in engaging with this text on an extremely personal level. My teacher described uncovering the hidden mysteries of Moses’ emblematic poem that could only come about with truly taking the time to sit with the text and let the internal letters prostrate themselves to you on the page. You cannot announce yourself to the letters, but instead you must retract and allow the divinity of the poem to wash over you. That was the shifted mindset I tried to hold myself to. Perhaps I was too hasty to speak and didn’t let my ears listen to the heavens, or perhaps I should have stuck with the cute “אדברה” interpretation before things would start to twist themselves into a dark macabre chaos of my inner psychology.

And so I looked. I searched for acrostic connections to my name, I tried incorporating my initials, skipping a word, acronyms, numerologies… you name the pattern, I was open to trying it. And before I was willing to call it quits, I decided to count to the word of the Parsha that was equivalent to my name’s numerology. And on the 216th word, lo and behold, I landed on the word, “כעסוני”, “you have made me Angry”. The word “כעסוני”, itself has the same numerological value as my own name, 216.  In that instant, I was horrified by my discovery. It seemed to fit so neatly that there must have been something to this word, but it is not a word I wanted to own. Can the sum of my existence possibly be boiled down to a destructive, machismo-oriented phrase of unaccountable blame. What a troubling phrase to coin as your “life’s mantra”. And, unfortunately, despite all of my resistance to accept it, the word resonated so deeply into my soul. As a child I struggled containing my own anger. I remember three distinct moments, in which this tendency was corrected. 1) My parents removed me from Gan, because in a fit of anger, I hit my teacher. 2) In the 4th grade I would leave school, once a week, to attend a program that helped socialize troubled kids, who were mostly neuro-atypical, in order to address my recurring tantrums at home. Whenever asked where I was going, I would call it anger management. It was not called Anger Management, but for some reason identifying my place there as someone who needed help resolving their anger issues allowed me to feel like I too, had unresolved work that I was tending to. As an 8 year old this behaviour isn’t far veering from the norm, but in my head it was framed as a lingering issue that needed attention. 3) After my father’s stroke, my expression of anger did, in fact, resurface. At a distance, I do think that displacing my emotional hysteria into several minor outbursts does not cue any red flags of abnormality, yet, I once again wound up in a weekly group with men who had really destroyed their lives and were forced by the courts to attend sessions to work out their internal tumult. I had never messed myself up to the extent of these men, but the experience definitely served my parents’ intention of showing me how dangerous conceding to one’s angry volitions can be. 

These three lessons that my parents gave me, always seemed out of proportion with the reality, a three year old male exhibiting a little bit of wildness does not need to be yanked from his peers, and the ensuing trauma that was caused from being removed from daycare, could be perceived as more harmful than positive.  Joining cohorts of individuals who were clearly more troubled than myself, does seem like a bit of an intense parenting decision. Throughout my time in the socialization program, in the fourth grade, the coordinators were always confused as to why I was in the program. The whole while that I was in these groups, I was surrounded with people who had already crossed the threshold of their “boiling point”, and looking back, I feel like there is damage in being given these out-of-whack ascribed labels by allowing my parents to take these extreme measures. My actions certainly weren’t proportionate to my parent’s concerns but by raising the stakes on the severity of the situation, I think I have been much more softened than I could have ever imagined. In that regard, I am appreciative. My father has constructed a grand thesis in which the world’s problems can be boiled down to the anger of men, and I believe a lot of my parents’ anxieties of what bringing a male into this world could mean got embedded in their heightened sensitivities to these matters when raising me. I believe there was a lot of projection of themselves in me, and in that projection I was turned into a Ben Sorer U’moreh. 

Perhaps my moments of acting out, could be seen as an attempt at discovering my own masculinity in the estrogen-saturated environs of my germination. With four sisters, and no brothers I had very limited access to male role models. I was therefore very impressioned by a hyperbolic understanding of gender through negation and through the media. My toddler self would look mesmerized in the storefronts, when Baywatch would play on shopping escapades with my mother. Already being a member of an emasculated people, I have had to overcome hurdles with feeling comfortable in my skin at the onset of my self-discovery gambado. This challenge gets further compiled with our political climate in which the instinctive inclination is to assume the dangers of men and to assign them all with a blanket name tag entitled “Feral the Barbaric” sewn tightly to our chests. This political climate is rightly justified, but the amount of steps of trust that need to be traversed in order to access a base level of connection means that most interactions I experience on a daily basis are done through an established understanding that I am intimidating and a societal hazard. My parents were adamant about not allowing me access to toys that were perceived as inciting-violence and they used those terms very liberally. I was resigned to use my sisters’ broad collection of barbies and beanie babies in order to have villains to my games. It is true that the caricature sketch in my parents’ minds of my trajectory as an aggressive vigilante was completely illusory, but in some ways what my parents provided me with was something of a naturalizing process. But in the same breath the world has never allowed me space to experiment and this synthetic process of growing into myself has led me to feel like a crucial part of me is missing. In a sense, this extrinsic pigeon holing has snatched my manhood from me. I exist in a world in which the baseline expectation is that I am a threat to society and a threat to myself. “כעסוני”, “You have made me out to be Angry”. 

I would like to suggest another read to this passage in Ha’azinu. The subject of the sentence is G-d. And when we relay the definition of Anger in human terms onto G-d we see that it means something wildly different. Anger is a peculiar emotion in human beings. In psychology they say that when a person is angry it is impossible to speak rationally to them, but this is not true. It is not that they are incapable of thinking rationally, it is just that their rationality is deadset and unwavered. Anger emerges at the discordance between an incongruity in the outside world with the idealized world that exists in one’s own mind. An angry person does answer to rationality, but only to the single one of their own reason. Therefore anger can be recognized, within human terms, as an egoistic trip in which the individual coronates their own rationale above all other outlooks. In a fit of rage, our justice inflates its worth in our mind’s eye and our actions are directed by our exigency to restore order.

 The earthly meaning of “כעס” anger, in its direct translation is “like leaven”. Anger is the leavening agent that puffs our ego. It brings about “לחם”, which is the root of war, מִלחָמָה. But in G-d terms, כעס has the exact opposite meaning. It means “like your pressing” and instead, flattening all realities becomes the collapsing agent that solders (not soldiers), לְהַלחִים, G-d’s idealizations onto our planet. The talmudic word for leavened dough and Matzah have the same numerological value עסה vs. מצה. The two exist concurrently. And so when we send off our bread into the waters during Tashlich, we saturate the leaven in order to deflate the grain. Our sins, exposed in this light, are defused of their emotionality when the sea engulfs our egos. G-d’s manifestation is absolute objective truth and so within that paradigm the extrinsic world that is at tension with G-d’s reality is always catalyzed by our own lack of omniscience and our own fallibility. G-d’s anger is a corrective force that should align us to our centers. And in this exhibition of Divinely framed “Anger” is where G-d’s true nature exists. A G-dly anger is a force that is at odds with our world when it is exacted, but it is by definition consistent with capital “T” Truth. The power of the phrase “we have made G-d Angry” under this understanding is heavy. Under the precepts of our definition, it is in anger in which we move the Unmovable and it is in anger that G-d exposes the inner workings of objective Truth. 

But this dynamic with G-d is unsustainable. If, for a single day, we would receive the All-Knowing Judgement of the celestial courts, we would be extinct the next. G-d choosing to not solder our world with the Divine World gives us the opportunity to make mistakes.

So now let us bring our two interpretations of the word “כעסוני” together. During the 40 days of reflection we are asked to work on ourselves in the hopes of setting our intentions on a new trajectory for our lives. We are obligated to reflect on those internal moral codes that, in the moments of rage, are the only ones we can draw from. This work that we do, requires of us an eye of distanced perspective, an eye of judgement. In hearing the Shofar, we are asked to confront our internal demons. But that demand of labour is not accomplishable in a single day. And so despite the Gemara only demanding of us 3 sets of 30 blasts and 1 set of 10, we engage in a process in which we blast 1 set for 30 days and hold the last blast for 10 days. In its original form Rosh Hashana did not incorporate the previous month and when asked why we blow during the month of Elul, the Rabbis come to a very bizarre answer. They suggest that it is in order to confuse Satan. The typical understanding of this answer is that we need to confuse Satan from knowing what day Rosh Hashana is, as Satan is continuously trying to sabotage our efforts of repenting. But this understanding doesn’t respond to the fact that Satan is not a simpleton, and furthermore, our own personal Satans reside in the recesses of our consciousnesses, and so 1) we don’t want to confuse ourselves and 2) we can’t trick ourselves, because once we are made aware of the trick we’ve lost its potency. I think one of the explanations to this question brings us back to the concept of Anger. The anatomical location for anger is the nose. The word is an interesting one, because it’s sense doubles as a word that sets up the condition of exceptionality. The nose itself is on an elevated topography from the rest of the face, and so there is this embodiment of singling out one perspective over all others when comparing the nose to the experience of being angry (It is interesting that I have come to this different understanding of Rosh Hashana on the year פּ”א ,81, the same letters as this word).

 G-d being slow to anger is described as having an ארך אפּיים, long nose. When G-d opened Adam’s sentience, G-d blew into Adam’s nose, and we reinact this moment of creating consciousness in the act of blowing into the Shofar. In this blast, we reanimate a ram’s dead limb, and breathe life where there was no self-awareness prior. The devil is commonly depicted with horns and so, the Shofar asks us to summon the Satan and confront the Satan head on. This is what confuses the Satan. The Satan says “why are you working beyond the Torah’s prescription, why are you summoning me a month prior?” Like with Adam and Eve, the snake (a representation of the Satan) wants actions to bear no meaning. If you eat from the tree of Knowledge you won’t die. And on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we are confronted with a similar challenge. If we look around and see all the individuals who haven’t repented and all of the people who haven’t grown during the high holidays, we can get discouraged. We can lose faith in the process. We can tell ourselves, “Look, we can sin and we won’t die, we are invincible.” But it is at that exact moment of inflated ego that we do die; internally. It is at the moment of freedom that G-d told us to have Matzah and not עסה. When you summon the Satan you tell the Satan “I want to look back at every moment this year that you had an influence on me and I want to blow life into your nose and reanimate each of those moments with you.” This is so confusing to the Satan, the Satan wants to respond, “Forget what you did. The past is dead, let it stay there.” Then we confuse the Satan again, by ceasing to blow the day before Rosh Hashana, and the rabbis of the gemara once again say that this practice is to confuse the Satan. With this previous read we can infer Satan’s confusion once again. “If you want to confront your sins, why is the day before Rosh Hashana an exception” Satan asks. And you reply, “I want to distinguish regular days and holy days.” But the devil once again is bewildered. The devil is a figure of irreverance and does not distinguish something that is holy, or designated off (as in the tree of knowledge of good and evil) and something that is not imbued with any extra meaning. Satan retorts, “A day is a day is a day everyday, you are so inconsistent, if you are committed to changing yourself, then why should any day at all be considered special. If you want to do the work you can, no? Why do you need Rosh Hashana” But you stay strong in your commitment to the prescribed methodology and reply, “No. I am weak, you have weared on me and so I need to build this Jewish system to vanquish you from me. You want me to be cavalier, but I will not give in. You’re right, I should perpetually be working on bettering myself, and that in physical terms the sanctified and the sacriledge are composites of the same fabric. But you’re wrong, there is a difference. Dates might be a mental construct. We create a structure, and we create a system in which we infuse meaning and strength into something that when you take a step back seems elusive to grasp. The day has the same number of hours, it is easy to be priggish and to look down condescendingly.” Needless to say Satan is cornered and at a loss, in this state of perplexity, through your commitment to the cause and your discipline throughout the month, Satan regurgitates all of your slips of the tongue and in externalizing these actions, you act as the judge and sentence your Satan to death! In this moment, you must leave from the state of compassion and you must embody G-d’s Anger. And in your last blow of the Shofar you tell the Satan one last parting word, “כעסוני”.

G-d is described as ארך אפּיים, but never does it say that G-d doesn’t exhibit anger, G-d merely extends the distance from G-d’s to the enforcement of their anger. And so on Rosh Hashana we embody this sense of lengthening time. The Satan tries to conflate Rosh Hashana with any other day, but instead we call the 48 hours of the holiday Yom Arichtah, one long day. Rosh Hashana plays in the space between Shabbat and Chol, and so the Satan’s dilemma is not as far off as we would like to think. Rosh Hashana marks the anniversary of Creation, just like Shabbat, Is a day of remembrance, just as Shabbat was commanded to the people as a day to both keep and Zachor, Zecher L’maaseh Bereishit. Furthermore, Rosh Hashana is on the 7th month of our calendar in the Torah. And so, of all days Rosh Hashana has the making of a Shabbat of all Shabbats. Shabbat is timeless days, but Rosh Hashana is Yom Arichta, an extension of time, an appendix of all of the days of Chol. The gemara in Yoma 19b teaches that the gematrya of HaSatan is 364. And so the Satan takes hold of all days of the year dancing around one day of Reflection. So Rosh Hashana can be perceived as a Shabbos of all Shabboses or a Yom Chol of all Yom Chols, and we can see that, in fact, when looking at the Shmoneh Esreh where its allegiances lie. There are 10 distinct blessings in the Rosh Hashana liturgy. The 7 typical ones that are recited on Shabbat and holidays, plus the Malchuyot, Zichronot and Shofrot. This would lead us to believe that Rosh Hashana is an elevated version of Shabbat. The 7 prayers on Shabbat emulate the 7 sefiroth, and 10 is the completed version of the sefiroth that include the three higher levels of consciousness. However the rabbis change the delineation of these 10 blessings in Masechet Rosh Hashana 32a. They solder Malchuyot to Kiddushat Hayom and so, instead of 10 blessings we have 9. 9 is doubly as compact as the 18 blessings that we say in Shmoneh Esreh on weekdays, and in a similar parallel, on weekdays we dilute the intensity of the prayer by adding a 19th just as we increase the density of this prayer by removing 1 from 10 to make 9. In this sense, Rosh Hashana is a Yom Chol of all Yom Chols. It is the day that we reanimate all the other days of the year in order to confront our actions, and put them up on the alter. Rosh Hashana, Yom Arichta teaches us to not lose our anger, but to distance ourselves from it, and to harness it in a fruitful manner, and to channel our anger when the time calls us to direct our anger at the Satan in a prescribed way. We must be angry in a way that emulates G-d’s anger, ארך אפּיים. My roommate, Elisheva Spellman, was teaching me about different methodologies in psychoanalysis, and one very fascinating methodology that grew out of the study of bipolar patients is called dbt, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy. It is about acknowledging your weaknesses and rage and setting it out far away from yourself. In teasing out those behaviour sets and analysing them, you are able to understand their role in your life in a new light. When my parents gave me those three poignant lessons, they allowed me to externalize the demons that were inside me and allowed me to see them grotesquely plastered on individuals that I did not wish to become.       

The numerology for the word “כעסוני” is also the 90th of Sivan. Which is also known as the first of Elul. Before Sivan we go through a 50 day growth process in which we build unity in each household with G-d (The Passover Seder) and it concludes with building unity within the entire nation and G-d (Shavuot), At the beginning of Ellul you are to begin the process of building unity between your Yetzer Harah and Yetzer Tov and you conclude the process with bringing unity between You, the individual, and G-d. You rebirth your past year’s self in Ellul, and you sacrifice and reincarnate them on Rosh Hashana. These two dichotomous passages of growth are the building blocks of our calendar, but what are you supposed to do in between. These two processes of growth are bridged with Tisha B’av, and dead space. Tisha B’av was brought about through fits of rage. And it is in the flexing and unflexing that you can see your true growth. The 90 days in between are just as important as the 90 (50+40) days during.          

In the liturgy of the Zichronot prayer we are able to see explicitly, G-d’s nature vs. human nature during this time playout. You see, we are not the only one’s who need to do Teshuvah and need to grow into ourselves. Every year while we need to grow out of our tunnel visioned human nature and enter into a mindset of Judgement, G-d must do the opposite. G-d must exit from the world of anger during this time, and enter into compassion. G-d’s nature is unwavering, eternal and truth, but, at this moment, we ask G-d to depart from their nature. In the Zichronot service we say that “We must conquer our compassion in order to do G-d’s will with a unified heart, and in this way G-d too, you must conquer your inclination towards anger in order to make space for compassion”, וְכָבַשׁ רַחֲמָיו לַעֲשׂוֹת רְצוֹנְךָ בְּלֵבָב שָׁלֵם כֵּן יִכְבְּשׁוּ רַחֲמֶֽיךָ אֶת כַּעַסְךָ. Both of us need to do Teshuva in order to preserve the intimacy and intensity of our relationship.

But while G-d’s nature is formed in infinity, there is an advantage that we have in this process. We have finitude, we have the ability to live in paradox, we are walking contradictions. Our limitations give us the freewill to be in perpetual reformation and change. We are never bound to the rules of consistency and so when G-d reveals their 13 attributes to Moses, that we say everyday during this period, there are both sides of this coin revealed. G-d has anger, but slows down the process. In having a long nose it does not mean that the nose does not exist. The 13 attributes exist to remind G-d, (as Moses does after the sin of the spies) that in order to be consistent G-d must inhabit our earth with the understanding of our limitations and weigh that in their Jurisprudence. But the second half speaks to the radical ephemerality of the human condition. Each generation is held to a different status, each packet of time -a speck of dust in G-d’s eyes – is judged in its own context. Every night we experience judgement and every day we have the opportunity to completely break from our past and make radical change. Only when the Shofar is blown during the day has an individual fulfilled their obligation to hear the Shofar – and then on Yom Kippur, we only blow the Shofar at night; during the final judgement of this period. We must learn to hold onto the infinity of the Torah, and G-d must learn to hold onto to the finity of us.

Every year we ask G-d to inscribe us in the book of life, not the book of knowledge of good and evil. We ask G-d to inscribe our names there, but G-d has inscribed our names there all along. G-d signed our names at the bottom of the document right there in Moses’ poem. I promise you yours is there. Will you find it?

Parshat Ha’azinu

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