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The Seduction of Tears and Victimization

On Biblical Consciousness, Victimization and Hagar

by Marc Gafni

An excerpt from a forthcoming book, that was written in 2005 and 2006.

This article, The Seduction of Tears and the Hagar Complex, and the Culture of Complaint article, which is actually Part Two of this article (and is also posted here in the Sex, Ethics and Power section of this website), were initially written at the home of a close friend in Israel in the late nights and early mornings of the winter of 2005 and the early spring of 2006. It emerges from twenty years of teaching, living, and feeling into the Torah of Tears.

In many ways these articles turned out to be somewhat prophetic in providing a hermenutic key to my own life as well as to the actions of others and the call of my own personal destiny. But the Torah here really speaks deeply to anyone who feels called to move beyond the story of the victim―even as it embraces all that which is powerful and true in the story of the authentic victim while rejecting the pathetic seductions of the pseudo victim.

The first chapter talks about the Seduction of Tears. Tears express hurt. Sometimes the hurt is real, deep, and devastating and is authentically expressed by the tears. At other times the hurt is not as devastating and tears serve to amplify or even falsify the level of devastation.

Tears have their own truth. Sometimes. And sometimes they cover up emptiness and gaping lacks of integrity. Tears have their own truth―but that truth must be validated and cannot be used to overwhelm all other frameworks of truth and integrity.

The tears of a woman are particularly powerful. A decent person is moved and sometimes even seduced by feminine tears. Sometimes those tears open up all the heavens. And well they should… if those tears express the devastation of the genuine victim.

      “All the Gates are Closed―the Gates of Tears are Never Closed,” says the Talmud.


      “If so, if all tears enter the heavens and evoke divine decree and compassion,” asks Hasidic Master Baruch of Meziboz, “Why is there a need for Gates?”


    He answers, “Because not all tears are holy. Some tears are but masks for the Sitra Achra, the Other Side.”

Tears must not be a cover for resignation, victimization, and the Culture of Complaint.

The first article is a careful study of the Hagar Complex in light of this understanding of Tears. It is part of a broader five hundred page study all of which honors, exalts, and even kneels at the tears of the feminine.

The chapter that I share here, however, warns of the Seduction of Tears. We are all seduced, writes Mordechai Lainer of Izbica. Wisdom is to know which tears you may allow to seduce you.

The second article outlines some of the sense of victimization that has become so popular in Western culture. It then returns to Hagar and suggests a path for the healing of the Hagar Complex.

The Seduction of Tears and the Hagar Complex

The second voice to which we turn our attention in the crying game symphony is Hagar. The context of her tears is crisis and motherhood. She is a woman, she is a mother, and her tears are bound up with her child. We shall see as the stories of our symphony unfold that this is a context shared by many of the key players in our drama. Hagar, Sarah, Rachel, Channah, and the mother of Sisera with whom we have danced in our first chapter. Each of these women is a different face of the Shekinah, of the feminine goddess divine; each one a mother struggling with the drama of family that takes place in the cracks between the generations. Their tears may at times transcend the personal but they always must transcend and include; different voices of personal tears lie at the heart of the Rosh Hashanah symphony. Similarly, the story of Isaac, Sarah, and Abraham, each with their hidden tears, involves a story between generations. And not accidentally―family is the crucible of our lives. It is there that we touch most intensely the primal world of tears.

The story of Hagar crying will not be a story which transcends the personal for the transpersonal, but rather a story of tears at whose core stands a rejection of Hagar’s own story; a rejection of the personal and a reversion to the pre-personal born of Hagar’s radical alienation and pain. It is a rejection which is rejected by biblical consciousness; one which invites and even demands that Hagar rise to claim her story.

Hagar is the first person to cry in the bible. Her story which we will unfold below is a cautionary tale about tears. The deep source code structures in the text reveal that Hagar is set up in the narrative a foil. Hagar is a slave and the Hebrews will be slaves. Hagar is abused and the Hebrews are abused. Hagar is an Egyptian stranger in the land of the Hebrews even as the Hebrews are strangers in the land of the Egyptians. Hagar and the Hebrews are two archetypal models of response to suffering. The question which the text demands we explore is how we respond to authentic suffering.

The reader is invited to distinguish between the crying of Hagar and other forms of tears. Each tear has both a different chemical composition – and a different psycho –spiritual texture. Each tear sings a different melody and spiritual intelligence; the goal of the Rosh Hashanah is to discern the difference and actualize that discernment as a key technology on our journey towards wholeness.

The Hagar story is read on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. It is the entry point of transformation. Rosh – the beginning of – Hashanah – the year, also can be translated as Rosh – the beginning of Hashanah – derived from the Hebrew word – shinui – meaning change or transformation. It is thus the beginning of the beginning. The Hagar story is about avoiding one of greatest sets of obstacles to personal transformation. It is to these obstacles that we now turn our attention.

A Handmaid’s Tale

Biblical readers are familiar, if troubled, by the story of the binding of Isaac. Less familiar however is the no less powerful story which we shall call the binding of Ishmael. The Ishmael story is chapter twenty one while the Isaac story is chapter twenty two in Genesis. ADD PARALLEL STRUCURES *To name but a few. Ishmael like Isaac is almost killed by his father Abraham. He is send to the Judean desert with but a loaf of bread and a flask of water, a sure recipe for death. As in the Isaac story Abraham is responding to what he understands to be the necessity to sacrifice his son on the altar of his spiritual destiny. More specifically in both cases he seems to be responding to a divine command; in the Isaac story it appears to be a direct command, in the Ishmael story he would appear to receive the divine command through his wife Sarah.

Like Isaac – Ishmael is saved by the ninth hour intervention of an angel.

In both stories after the ninth hour intervention there is the promise of becoming the ancestor of a great nation. In both cases we are told of Abraham rises early in the morning to fulfill what he feels to be the divine will. In both cases as we shall see it is not at all clear that Abraham is correctly interpreting the divine will.

The relationship between Isaac and Ishmael which emerges from their intertwined lives will be an important part of our later attempt to uncover the role of tears in Isaac’s life. But for now the concern of this chapter will be not with Isaac nor even Ishmael. It is Ishmael’s mother, Hagar, who occupies center stage in the first movement of the Rosh Hashanah symphony, and it is to her tears that we tilt our ear.

Let’s begin initially with “Peshat”; the deep and simple reading of the story. Unlike Sarah who at least in the biblical text is excluded from the story of her sons trauma, Ishmael’s mother is fully present at the hour of her son’s near demise. Hagar, the reader will recall, is the maidservant of Abraham. Abraham’s wife Sarah is childless – she urges her husband to take her maidservant[i] Hagar as a second wife in order to bear children that would be considered hers. In the book of Genesis children born by maidservants turned wives were considered the children of the primary wife. Such was the case in the house of Jacob. When Bilhah, Rachels maidservant – at Rachel’s urging is taken to wife by Jacob – their child is considered to be the child of Rachel.

When Ishmael is born to Hagar and Abraham however, Sarah is excluded. Ishmael is clearly identified as the son of Hagar and Abraham. Hagar mocks Sarah with in her pregnancy.
The mockery continues. The conflict between Sarah and Hagar is deepened by the tension that develops between the son that Sarah does eventually bear – Isaac, and Ishmael. Ishmael is called by the text “Metzachek”, a mocker and it is precisely this mockery which, to use a modern word, triggers Sarah, driving her, at least in part, to act so cruelly towards Hagar. Sarah sees in both Hagar and her son Ishmael, a threat to both her and Isaac’s status and spiritual destiny as the carriers of Avraham message. Thus at Sarah’s urging, Ishmael, along with his mother Hagar, is banished by Abraham into the Judean desert with naught but bread and water for a few days survival.

Now our story begins in earnest.

Hagar travels with her son in the desert until her supply of food and water is exhausted. At that point she takes Ishmael, places him a distance from her and “raises her voice in howling tears”. The very next words in the narrative following her tears are, “God heard the crying of the boy,” that is to say – God heard the crying of Ishmael. A strange text to be sure. Why would God ignore Hagar’s cry and respond to the crying of Ishmael. As if to highlight this strangeness, it is only Hagar’s crying which finds voice in the text – Ishmael’s cry is silent- we only know of its existence when we are told that it was heard by God. Hagar’s cry is the first and last time in biblical text when God deliberately ignores a person’s tears.

It is difficult to feel spiritually reverent, to love a God who could remain unmoved by Hagar’s cries. It would seem therefore that although God may be moved by Hagar’s tears, there is something in their character which impels God to refuse their overt acknowledgement or response.

Apparently, the text is trying to tell us something about the nature of her crying. Her tears and the pain they express are holy and yet, as the text is implicitly suggesting, somehow flawed at the same time.

Whenever I try to understand Hagar’s tears I cannot help but think of my Tanta Esther.
Tanta Esther, Yiddish for Aunt Esther, is not really our aunt, but while I was growing up she was part of our extended family. She lived in Brooklyn, Manhattan Beach, and we would visit her whenever we came to New York. Although she was always kind and good to us, there was something strange about Tanta Esther. When she would hug you a chill would go up your spine and at times her eyes would pierce right through you as if you weren’t even there. I remember asking my mother when I was 8 or 9, ‘What’s the story with Tanta Esther?’ for it was clear that there was a story. My mother responded, as mothers often do, ‘When your old enough I’ll tell you the story.’ At my bar mitzvah I asked my mother again and the response that came back was, ‘Youre still not old enough’. Returning from a year of study abroad, at the age 18, Tanta Esther was with my mother to pick me up from the airport. Tanta Esther hugged me and more than ever before I felt the chill.

Making our way to Riverdale after dropping Tanta Esther in Manhattan beach I pressed my mother for the story. I was old enough…or so I thought. This is what my mother said: ‘Tanta Esther was with me in Stanislav (a Polish town near the Russian border). She had two children whom she had hidden from the Nazis with non-Jewish families for most of the war. In 1944 a rumor went through the town that the SS were coming to round up the children still hidden in Stanislav and the surrounding area. Rumor had it that the Nazis knew exactly where the children were and that they were being rounded up not for deportation to gas chambers, but for a fate even worse. They were being rounded up for experimentation. They were to become human guinea pigs in the pain threshold experiments which the Nazi doctors performed throughout the Holocaust period even as these same doctors often continued to revel in the beauty of Schubert and Bach.

Tanta Esther refused to let her children be taken, so she made a decision which normally should only belong to God. She killed her two children, suffocating them even as her bitter but silent tears washed her hands. The Nazis came and burst into every suspected home in Stanislav…except one. They never came to Tanta Esther’s house. Tanta Esther went insane. Somehow she was brought to a sanitarium in Europe where she spent most of the 50’s. In the early sixties she was released; she emigrated to the United States eventually settling in Manhattan Beach. It was there that I knew her in the mid 60’s and early 70’s.

I went back to Israel some two weeks after hearing this story, and upon arrival rushed directly to the person I was closest to at the time- an old wise cabalist named Reb Menashe, who lived in a small one room flat, in an old Jerusalem Neighborhood. I said to Reb Menashe, What does it mean? What does it mean? He quoted to me the Rebbe of Ishbitz who teaches that anything we see or hear in the world is somehow related to us, somehow part of the wisdom we need to live our stories. Meaning and explanation is not fully available in this world said R. Menashe – wisdom however is available and must be garnered from all we see and hear. I wasn’t particularly excited or moved at the time by his answer which appeared to me to be an exercise in sophistry. I must have sounded somewhat exasperated and even a little angry when I said to him in my broken Yiddish- ‘So what is the wisdom you would take from this horror story?’

I remember to this day his blazing blue eyes as he answered me slowly and clearly. He talked for two minutes. It was a soliloquy of sorts, the longest speech that I ever heard from him. “Understand Mordechai- that no matter what happens in the world, you can’t judge anyone…”- and of course it’s so eminently clear that it would be profanity of most obscene kind to even begin to think of judging Tanta Ester. “However,” he said, “In Judaism there is one biblical prohibition”. It doesn’t matter how you identify Jewishly – there is one posture that Biblical consciousness cannot allow—”no matter what happens” – and he said it again and again, “No matter what happens he said, as he rolled up his shirt sleeve and showed the concentration camp number tattooed by the nazis on his arm, no matter what happens – You are not allowed to give up. You never have a right to say its over, to say there is nothing else I can do to change reality, there is nothing else that can happen to make it different, redemption is no longer a possibility. We are never allowed to give up. We can never lose our ability to act, we can never abandon our belief that the future could be better, that tomorrow can bring the dawn of new hope. Giving up is the great Jewish prohibition.” I understood that.

For me R. Menashe’s words gave dramatic personification to the utter rejection of resignation implicit in Biblical consciousness. Hagar’s crying’ s is crying of resignation. God does not accept the tears of resignation. It of course needst to be said that while Tanta Esther may elucidate the Hagar complex but she is not Hagar. Clearly there are times for those who live in the Kingdoms on the night where giving up is the only possible existential and even moral choice available.

Clearly this is not the intent of the Hagar story in our text. God ignores the cries of Hagar in order to indicate that these tears are unacceptable, for they are rooted in resignation when other viable options exist. What these otions are we shall explore below. First however let us unpack the nature of this hagar complex.

Philosophies of Surrender

Consider for a moment the source of Hagar’s tears
Hagar wanders in the desert. She uses up her water, the desert sun beats down on her and she believes that it’s all over. She believes there is nothing she can do to change reality. It’s hopeless. She completely gives up. Her crying is not a crying of prayer; her crying is a crying of resignation, a crying of giving up. Crying of resignation is not a possibility in Biblical consciousness. If you read the text carefully, she places her son far from her- “the distance an arrow shot” and says, “let me not see the death of the child.” She leaves him to die alone and uncomforted. She thinks there is nothing left for her to do to change her reality. For her there is no remaining hope. She does not hold her parched child to comfort him. She does not seek help or water. Resignation always brings grisly alienation in its wake

Earlier in her life she had run away to the desert and encountered an Angel of God who promised her a son – Ishmael- and who promised that Ishmael would live to father a great nation. She has forgotten her direct experience of the angel- she has forgotten her grace- she has abdicated both destiny and personal memory. She chooses resignation over hope. In her mind Ishmael was already dead. In her mind there was nothing left to do to change reality, there was no hope. “She raises her voice and cries.” It was a crying of radical and utter resignation. Hagar has given up. That is a crying not accepted by God.

We all operate under something of a Hagar complex. Resignation has many disguises. And that’s why the Hagar story is part of the Rosh Hashanah drama. The Rosh Hashanah symphony seeks to identify crying moments in our lives. Hagar is a major actress in this symphony because her melody often plays and sometimes seduces us. The Hagar complex implies that we know the limits of our lives. And indeed there are so many forces of limitation which seem to support the Hagar melody. Our genes, our parents, the times, early damage and abuse, economic determinism, various historical dialectics and the conspiracies of poor fortune all militate persuasively against hope. Resignation has many allies.

It is thus no surprise that we develop a Hagar complex which whispers in our ear that we will never be able to make it better. The Hagar complex says it can never be different. The Hagar complex says we see the trajectory of our existence and we know exactly where that trajectory is leading. There is nothing we can do to change course so we surrender our souls to the pseudo comforts of fatalism, realism and resignation.

Whole philosophies are built on the Hagar complex. They are the philosophies of surrender.

These philosophies lull us into the abandonment of Tikkun Olam, the human mandate to heal and repair the universe. In the torah of Isaac Luria the common Hebrew letters of Baby { T I N U K} and Tikkun are noted. The point is that a baby {Tinnuk}is born to do his specific Tikkun, the very particular healing that he and only he can offer the world. Regression into pre-personal surrender offers ostensible comfort but at their core they are nourished by the certain hopelessness of the human plight. They make us comfortably numb

A person about to freeze to death surrounded by the winters ice suddenly feels a sense of fatigue and resignation. Stop fighting the storm and rest in the snow. Death is close behind this resignation.

And death has many faces. If I asked my friend, or myself, tell me what you’ll look like, what your life will be like, where you will be in ten years. If I’m able to answer that question about myself that means that Hagar has taken over a part of my soul. If I believe that where I am now fully determines where I’ll be in the future, if I believe that somehow my path is fated, if I don’t believe that I have the ability to be more than I am now, to run faster than I can run, to reach higher than my arm now extends, that means that I’ve given up. I’ve given up on myself. I’ve given up on my ability to fully become and therefore I’ve given up on my essential human being.

The Hagar complex destroys my ability to choose to change and to become.

In folk literature the Hagar archetypye whose tears threaten to seduce all of us at some juncture in our lives, is sometimes referred to as “The Little Match Girl”.

There was a little girlchild who had neither a mother nor a father, and she lived in the dark forest. There was a village at the edge of the forest and she had learned she could buy matches for a half-penny there, and that she could sell them on the street for a full penny. If she sold enough matches, she could buy a crust of bread, return to her lean-to in the forest, and sleep there dressed in all the clothes she owned.

The winter came and it was very cold. She had no shoes and her coat was so thin she could see through it. Here feet were past the point of being blue, her toes were white; so were her fingers and the end of her nose. She wandered the streets and begged strangers, would they please buy matches from her? But no one stopped and no one paid her any attention.

So she sat down one evening saying, “I have matches. I can light a fire and I can warm myself.” But she had no kindling and no wood. She decided to light the matches anyway.

As she sat there with her legs straight out in front of her she struck the first match. As she did, it seemed that the cold and the snow disappeared altogether. What she saw instead of swirling snow was a room, a beautiful room with a great dark green ceramic stove with a door with iron scrollwork. The stove emanated so much heat it made the air wavy. She snuggled up close to the stove and it felt heavenly.

But all of a sudden the stove went out, and she was again sitting in the snow, shivering so bitterly the bones in her face chimed. And so she struck the second match, and the light fell upon the wall of the building next to where she sat and she could suddenly see through it. In the room behind the wall was a snow white cloth covering a table, and there on the table were china plates of the purest white, and on a platter was a goose that had just been cooked, and just as she was reaching for this repast, the vision disappeared.

She was again in the snow. But now her knees and her hips no longer hurt. Now the cold was stinging and burning its way up her arms and torso, and so she lit the third match.

And in the light of the third match was a beautiful Christmas tree, beautifully decorated with white candles with lacy ruffs, and beautiful glass ornaments, and thousands and thousands of little dots of light that she couldn’t quite make out.

And she looked up the trunk of this enormous tree that went higher and higher, and stretched farther and farther toward the ceiling until it became the stars in the heavens over her head, and suddenly a star blazed across the sky, and she remembered her mother had told her that when a soul dies, a star falls.

And out of nowhere her grandmother appeared, so warm and so kind, and the child felt so happy to see her. The grandmother picked up her apron and put it around the child, held her close with both arms, and the child was content.

But the grandmother began to fade. And the child struck more and more matches to keep the grandmother with her…and more and more matches to keep the grandmother with her…and more and more…and together she and the grandmother began to rise together up into the sky where there was no cold and no hunger and no pain. And in the morning, between the houses, the child was found still, and gone.

Hagar, Tanta Esther, The little Match Girl, all Shekinah figures who gave up; all different faces of resignation.

Yet it must be said, as we have already indicated above that they are indeed different faces. Hagar is neither Tanta Esther nor The Little Match girl. Her tears claim resignation as her only option but as a close reading of the text reveals that her tears lie.


A closer reading of the deep structures in text, as we shall readily unfold, reveals that Hagar actually has significant options at her disposal. Her resignation is therefore a choice and not an inexorable fate. Hagar chooses resignation. Hagar chooses to see herself as a victim. It is this identity that is so radically rejected by Biblical conciousness. It is for this reason that God refuses to respond to the tears of Hagar.

I heard the dharma teaching of R. Menashe. I hear it particularly in relation to Hagar who we will show to have other genuine options. In regard to Tanta Esther however I cannot fully accept his teaching.

Despite everything we have written- all of which we believe in with great passion and is a guiding mantra in the way we try to be in the world, it still rings hollow when applied fully to Tanta Esther. For Tanta Esther surrender may well have been the only option.
Clearly this is not the intent of the Hagar story in our text. God ignores the cries of Hagar in order to indicate that these tears are unacceptable, for they are rooted in resignation when other viable options exist.

The biblical text makes this clear when God opens Hagar’s eyes. A well of water had been present even as she cried in resignation awaiting the death of her son from thirst. Indeed Hagar knows the desert well. In chapter sixteen, when on her own volition she seeks to escape Sarah’s affliction, she flees to the desert and leads herself to water. Ultimately, when she transcends this moment of resignation in chapter twenty one, she will choose to make her home in the desert. She will once again find water. The desert is her friend. Resignation for Hagar is a trap. Not so for Tanta Esther. And God has created a world filled with both Tanta Esther’s and Hagars. We need to distinguish between their tears. We do not know why there are Tantal Esthers. We do know that it arrogant and obscene to try to judge whether Tanta Esther had any genuine options available to her.

And yet my intuition tells me that even this distinction between Hagar and Tanta Esther necessary as it is in a world of Havdalah conciousness does not fully hold on the level of Hamtaka. And since the Rebbe of Ishbitz teaches us that our deepest spiritual intuitions are holy and sources of revelation – we will attempt to understand something more of the biblical rejection of Hagar’s tears.

Mystical tradition teaches us that the Biblical text -clothed in the garb of this world- is only one expression of higher truth and reality. Our text is the way we need to read the story in our world. In Havdalah conciousness. There is however a higher text – what the mystics call the text of Atzilut. The Hebrew word Etzel means to be next to or close to. Translated then, the text of Atzilut means something like the Text of Intimacy.

In the Text of Intimacy I am convinced that God does hear even Hagar’s tears- that God accepts those tears and embraces Hagar even if her tears are of resignation – invalid resignation as other genuine options exist. In the Torah of Atzilut our primal intuition is that tears are beyond good and evil. God dries our tears even if they are not our only option. Occasionally the mystics themselves, who shared with us the existence of a text of intimacy, actually reveal glimpses of its story in their own lives.

Such is surely the case in the story of the death of the great master Isaac of Vorke. You see Isaac (the Vorker Rebbe) was best friends with another well know master Menachem Mendel of Kutzk. They had years earlier made a sacred promise to each other that the one who dies first would visit the other and share the secrets of the higher world. As it was Isaac of Vorke died first. Strangely however weeks went by and Menachem Mendel received no visitation from his departed friend. Deeply disturbed and worried for his friend he decides to break with protocol and ascend to heaven himself to inquire after his friend’s welfare. Arriving in heaven- the world of Atzilut- through the mystical method of a soul ascention he searches for Isaac. He searches through myriad palaces, the palace of king David, of Abraham and Sarah, of Joseph and his brothers, of Solomon and Sheba- in all of these places they tell him Isaac was there but he left. But where could he be queries Menachem Mendel and they respond by pointing in the direction of a vast and dark forest. Into the forest follows Menachem Mendel and there he wandered for a considerable amount of time- and about what happened in the Forest we cannot write in this book. After a time he hears the rush of water – the sound of a vast sea and he follows that sound to the edge of the forest and there he sees his friend Isaac standing –crying – seemingly defiantly by the sea. They meet and embrace and Menachem Mendel asks his friend – where have you been, why did you not come to me, and why are you crying?

Isaac responds – My friend, look at this ocean and listen. Do you know what this ocean is. Menachem Mendel, master of Kutz inclines his ear and his heart and listens. The sounds of the ocean make him shiver sending a deep chill up his spine and an overwhelming unbearable sadness threatens to suffocate his heart. No waves had ever done to him before. But he cannot make out the reason. Know my friend Isaac said to him, that this is the Ocean of Tears. There are tears in this ocean that were rightly shed and tears that were wrongly shed – but I don’t care their cause. I have told God that I will not leave here, I will not hold back my tears – not even to enter heaven – until God in love promises to dry up all the tears.

And are we not all little gods – are we not God’s miniatures, are we not G-d’s messengers – Do we not have to dry up all the tears- whatever their cause, whatever their source?! Was Tanta Esther “wrong” to give up and to succumb to hopelessness that led her to kill her own children. And even if Hagar was wrong, as I believe a close reading of the text will show I none the less stand with her and demand that God dry her tears and return her and Ishmael to the bosom of Abraham.

I remember when I was young hearing my teaching tell a well know story about Isaiah of Karelitz, a sainted scholar known as the Hazon Ish, literally Man of Vision, who led the Israel ultra Orthodox community for many years. As the story goes the Hazon Ish is walking with a group of his students when they see a fire break out in a distant bunch of stores. One of the students faints. His store that he had spend all of his life building and which contained all of his assets was in that bunch of stores. The Hazon Ish bends over his students and whispers to him, “It’s okay your store was unscathed”. And so it was. The students however were troubles by this. The hazon Ish could not possibly have seen so far away and in general he opposed the miracle working ways of the Hassidic master. Why them this supernatural display. To which the Hazon Ish responds. It was not supernatural at all –there is a rule in heaven- a person never receives suffering that they cannot bear. When I saw him faint I realized he could not bear this suffering so I knew that his store must be unscathed.

I was impressed by the story then. After teaching for twenty five years I am less convinced today.

In this world, and in the lives of most of us, the Hazon Ish teaching is true. And yet there are times when it seems that god brings such unbearable suffering that the only choice a person has is to break escaping into some other reality less agonizing then ours. Wether this is right or wrong matters little to me. All I know is that I stand; we all must stand with Isaac of Vorke and refuse entry to heaven until God relents and dries up all the tears. And in some deep and powerful way that God is other and transcendent. And in some deep and powerful way that God is us.

These paragraphs we have just penned of Tanta Ester, Isaac of Vorke and the move beyond the Hazon Ish are sacred texts of the Torah of Atzilut. And yet our text- addressing a world which for most of us is a Hagar reality, a reality where there are options other then hopelessness; a reality where the sirens of resignation threaten constantly to dash us against the rocks an often a cruel reality – our text must read as it does. In this world we need to distinguish between tears.

In virtually all the scenarios of our lives, we, like Hagar have options. The options are often hidden in the texts of our sacred auto-biographies waiting to be redeemed in an act of self hermeneutic. Heremenutic, a formal word for interpretation. We sometimes need to re-interpet our lives, our destinies and our past in order to disclose the possibilities and openings that will allow us to embrace the future with love and hope. A superficial readings of our text will often offer to us as it did to Hagar the seemingly inexorable response of resignation.

The spiritual exercise of Rosh Hashanh is then to engage in sacred study of the Hagar texts; Hagar who is us. In seeing the genuine options hidden even from herself, in the folds her story, something moves in us. That which is closed begins to open. We begin to re-embrace our divinity. We remember that the God is the possibility of possibility. God reminds us of our greatness and grandeur. God calls us to what we may be if we are willing to leave the fear behind and shatter the comfortable idols of our own resignation. God is the force for healing and transformation that course through each one of us lets us see beyond the wall to the open expanse of love and infinite potential that is our tomorrow if we but claim it. .

So let us re-visit the Hagar story. There are two basic schools in the classical and modern scholarship on Hagar.

One approach sees Hagar as the innocent victim of abuse and thorougly indicts Sarah as the abuser. A second approach casts aspersions on both Hagar’s actions and motivations and seeks to justify Sarah. The first position is championed by the likes of Biblical reader Phylis Trible who with other writers have held Hagar up as the oppressed woman rejected by the patriarchal narrative. Strangely enough however all the incisive textual evidence of Hagar’s greatness, of Sarah’s abuse and the complexity of Hagar’s reality, masterfully marshaled by Trible, comes from the narrative itself! It is the biblical narrative itself which tells the story of Hagar’s opresssion. And the telling is far more powerful and sophisticated then Trible imagined. Much of classical Midrash adopts the second approach which, in varying degrees, vilifies Hagar and exonerates Sarah.

Of course both schools are half right. Hagar as we shall she was abused. Sarah was guilty of being an abuser. And at the same time – in an entirely different sense Sarah experienced herself as the victim and Hagar was far from innocent.

While all of these themes play are key notes in the Hagar drama, the real underlying point of the Hagar story in the larger frame of biblical consciousness lays hidden in the a key source code structure of the text. It is this structure which I shall now unpack in all of it’s poignancy pain and gorgeousness which is highly relevant to discerning the nature of Hagar’s tears and which we will seek to unpack in the coming paragraphs. The sources code structures of the text which unravel the mystery of the Hagar Archetype were either missed or treated only peripherally by virtually all readers of the Hagar story.

The key to unlocking the secret in these stories is to realize that are several different biblical narratives that are all playing off each other. Like sacred auto-biography, in sacred text as well. No narrative detached from the larger context of stories can be properly interpreted or understood. Every story in our lives is what Arthur Koestler called a Holon, that is a whole part. It is a whole narrative with it’s own contours, parameters and integrity. And, it is also a part of other narratives, often parallel to it in striking ways, and needs to be understood in relation to them. To discern meaning we need to see deep structure of a story embedded within other stories which are in turn embedded in still other stories. . To do so we need to discern both the deep patterns in common stories as well as where the similarities end and an original and fresh development presents itself.

In the story of Hagar in the desert visited by God, the first realization is that there are actually two stories of Hagar in the desert visited by God. The first is in chapter 16 and the second is in chapter 21. In the first story, she flees Sarah’s abuse. She flees to the desert. She flees –ostensibly without provision; without bread and without water. Yet somehow she finds her greatness in the desert.

So it is to Hagar’s greatness that we now turn as it unfolds itself in the first desert story. She is the first person in biblical text to be visited by a divine messenger.

She finds water by the “way of Shur”; we cannot help but notice that Moses who leads the people in book of Exodus to the “desert of Shur” is unable to find water.

.Moses needs to turn to God for help. God however seems to be guiding Hagar without her needing to annunciate prayer. She intuits her way to water guided by the divine energy which hears the cries of the abused. Both Moses and Hagar flee from oppression. Both flee to the desert. Both come to “Shur”. Both are connected to the identity of a stranger. Hagar in Hebrew is literally The Stranger. Moses has a son who names after himself Gershom “for he said I have been a stranger in the land of my alienation. Both Moses and Hagar experience divine revelations in the desert. That hagar finds water and Moses does not is not insignificant. It is not small sign of grace in biblical text to find what Moses cannot.
It all happens in the desert of her fleeing. God responds to Hagar the afflicted who has run away from the Sarah. Sarah is explicitly named the abuser in the text. Indeed the word used to describe Sarah treatment of Hagar, “E-nuy” is the word reserved in the text for Pharaoh’s oppression of the Jewish people. To describe the matriarch and pharaoh with the same term is sure confirmation of Hagar’s abuse. God thus responds to the oppressed Hagar and her cries in the same way he will later respond to the cries of the oppressed Hebrews. This is all terribly important because it tells us is that –already in this first story of Hagar and the desert- she is the one who is viewed by the text as the primary abused party. Tradition, based on a close textual reading which we shall unpack below identifies Hagar as the daughter of Pharaoh. And yet ironically it is Sarah and not Hagar who is described as an abuser with the term reserved only for the villain archetype of the biblical narrative –Pharaoh himself. Yet Hagar at this point in her life knows how to turn the fate of her abuse into the destiny of nationhood and spirit. She is the first person in the biblical text to be visited by a divine messenger. In the continuation of this very same narrative she becomes the first woman to be named – like Abraham as the ancestor of a nation
.She is, in the same story, also the first person to name God.

When she emerges from the desert she become the first person in the memory of Israel to bear bear a child

A picture of Hagar begins to emerge. Now we need to go one step deeper still.
The key is the strange instruction of the angel in the first desert story. When she escapes Sarah’s abuse the angel seems to send her back to be “afflicted” anew under “Sarah’s hand”. Read by itself the text is virtually inexplicable. To send her back to the place of her pain and trauma when she seeks to escape?! How could it be? Until we discover the larger pattern and context of the story. There are three key words which run through the Hagar story . They are Gerut, Avdut and Inuy; expressions for Stranger, Slave and Affliction
. Hagar’s very name is Ha-Ger, the stranger. She is described as a slave and she is afflicted.
Critically these same three phrases are used in describing the great covenant between Abraham and God which inaugurates the community of hebrew wisdom and its great adventure on the stage of history. “You will be strangers in a strange land….and they will be slaves and afflicted”.

Gerut Avdut and Inuy. Stranger, Slave and affliction. The same words re-appear in the description of he covenants unfolding at the dawn of the Egyptian exile. “Egypt made the people slaves”; “and as they were afflicted so did they multiply”. Moses who represents the people calls his son Ger-shom, for he says “I have been a Ger, a stranger in the land of my alienation”. The same three words of covenant. Stranger, Slave Affliction. Gerut Avdut, Inuy.

What is the Torah, the enlightenment teaching which demands our attention in these central texts of the covenant? Why is the covenant bound up with suffering? The answer of course is because life is bound up with suffering. Bhudda first noble truth was correct at least as a starting point. Life is suffering.

Some degree of human suffering is the fate of every human being. There is no new age book, however beautiful that will change that. This is our fate. The question is what will be our destiny?

The entire invitation and even demand of the covenant addresses what we do with our suffering. Everyone suffers to one degree or another. Many people are abused in life to some degree or another. In Alice Miller’s well know Drama of the Gifted Child it appears that the essential journey of childhood is and will always be with parents who will never quite know how to fully receive us – just as their parents were not fully able to receive them. Childhood, a rite which every adult must pass thus involves no small measure of suffering. Everyone at some point or another in their lives is a victim of some profound unfairness. This is part of the fate of human existence in Samsara, the world of limitation, matter and frailty.

We spend much of our lives in the attempt to reducing suffering and increasing joy in the world. A noble endeavor to be sure. This is an essential part of the covenantal response to sufferring- the partnership with God in healing the split and redeeming existence. However, it does not address the first covenantal question. What does your suffering do to you? It is here that the second part of the covenantal response to suffering begins! Does it turn you into a victim, embittered, angry, or worse yet, deadened to love and possibility, apathetic and tragically resigned in the face of pain. Does it destroy your naturally flowing springs of care and compassion. Does it turn you into a an abuser. Or does it arouse you to your greatest heights of nobility and deepest depths of love. This is the question of your life. There is virtually no other as ultimate in it’s implications for your life and Karma.

In biblical consciousness, forged in the crucible of Gerut, the experience of the stranger the mantra which repeats itself more then any other is compassion for the stranger…for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Do not afflict the stranger…for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Love the stranger …for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Reject resignation. Reject the philosophies of surrender and choose life in every person, at every time and in every place.

It is here that Hagar stands as a deliberate literary and conceptual foil to the covenant. Contrary to the Phyllis Trible school reading of Hagar she is not external to but an essential part of the narrative. The biblical spirit seeks not to hide her suffering nor her abuse to but highlight it. In the first desert story, She flees and God appears responding to the cry of the slave, the stranger and the afflicted. For this is the essence of the God face. But Hagar refuses the covenant. When the angel invites her to return to Sarah and to her affliction the intention can only be understood in the context of the larger covenantal tale. The angel is saying is inviting her to embrace the covenant. To learn the sacred alchemy of transforming suffering into compassion instead of into hatred. Learn how to transform and heal abuse into love and commitment instead of into a degenerating cycle of victim hood in which the abused resigns to his fate and all to often becomes an abuser himself.

Hagar does not respond to the angel. We do not know if she has accepted the covenantal invitation and challenge. Can she avoid the seduction of the warm snow of victimhood as her heart of love and compassion freezes to death in the shrouds of illusively comforting snow. Can she avoid the fluttering eyelashes of and seemingly soft embrace of victim hood and reach instead beyond her grasp to the heroism of compassion and the divine destiny of love.

We will only know the answer to these and other questions when Hagar in the second and parallel story in chapter 21 sets out for the desert once more. Sarah once again is the instigator and the abuser. She is the catalyst for Hagar being send to the desert. This time however the condition seems to be more in Hagar’s favor. This time is not an angel but God himself who speaks the annunciation. Hagar will live and she will be mother of a great nation. She enters the parched desert not empty handed as in her first desert journey but with bread and most importantly, water. Yet the story unfolds very differently. This time she cannot find the well. She has lost her center. Something is broken inside of her. She has become a victim. Her vitality seems sapped from her. She becomes alienated from her own power, from her own life force and from her own intimacies. She no longer sees her son. A key word in the text is She “wanders”. The Hebrew word is used only two other times in the biblical text and each time it describes a key biblical figure who has lost the thread of his story. Who is confused and overwhelmed by inexorable fates and has lost for the moment the ability to transform them into destiny.

Hagar has options in chapter twenty one, the second desert story. Resignation is not a necessity here. But she wanders cut off from her own heart. Precisely the point of the parallel structure between the two Hagar desert stories is to tell us that it is not the desert that threatens her. As we have seen Hagar knew at one time how to find both water, God and even destiny in the desert. Indeed at the end of the story after God will appear to her to show her the path beyond her hopelessness Hagar chooses to remain in the desert and there raise her son Ishmael. The dryness desolation, death and alienation are then not qualities of the desert but of Hagar’s interiority. Most tragic however; the the result of Hagar’s alienation from her own heart is the rejection of her son. In her embrace of victim identity she turns her son from a second person I-thou into a third person I- it. Already at the beginning of this –her second journey into the desert Ishmael is already unnamed. She takes with her bread, a flask of water and “the boy”. In the desert itself the grisly alienation between her and her son deepens. “She cast the boy away under one of the bushes. She goes and sits over against him, at the distance of a bow shot, for she said l will not see the death of the boy. VaTeshev La MiNeged; literally translated; She sits against him. Twice this phrase is repeated in the short text. Minimally it means that she has dis- identified with her son; that is with most intimate to her. She is distant. She is outside of his story. And from that place the text then tells us, “She raises her voice and cries.”

Her suffering and pain overwhelm. She loses her heart afraid to touch it in her pain. She places the boy out of sight under a desert bush to dies a lonely and terrible death. She does not hold him. She does not rock him. She does not call him by name. Moreover she seeks to make him, like herself a victim. The tragedy here lies not in the desert but in hagar. Yes she is abused. Yes she is a victim. Yes her fate is hard. But she is not without genuine options. She is not without choices. She shuts her eyes to the possibilities that might redeem her. She chooses despair. Her tear are tears of resignation. But even if Hagar would have no genuine options to improve her actual lot, which is clearly not the case in this story, she could still choose her heart over her alienation. This is the great teaching of Victor Frankel the founder of logotherapy, in his classic work Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankel finds himself in the midst of a fertile and thriving psychiatric carrear, interred with so many of his people in a Nazi concentration camp. There is little he can do to affect the external outcome of his plight. Will he live or die is not in his hands. And yet he can still choose how to live. In that choice his human dignity is affirmed and thus his capacity for compassion is not destroyed. Frankel the victim becomes Frankel the Hero.

Recently I held two meeting with the Dali Lama of Tibet. The first, at the invitation of my good friends Bill Ury, author of Getting to Yes and Dr. Michael Beckwith, founder of Agape Center in Los Angeles. The first meeting took place in Castel Gandolfo at the pope’s summer residence, together with a wondrous group of about twenty five “counter cultural” spiritual teachers and activists from around the world. The second was a televised dialogue which took place between us, at his invitation, in his home in India. In both occasions there were parts of the conversation that were truly wonderful and other parts that simply seemed not to work. We understood each other and we did not understand each other. And both were good. But on both occasions his holiness told the same story and each time I cried in joy grace and prayer. The story is so very simple.

Apparently he had a very close childhood friend whom he had not seen for many years. They are reunited. The friend had been in Chinese prison camps for all of these years. In their re-union the Dali Lama asks about the camps and his experiences there. His friend recounts many stories of horror. And then says but one – one incident was worse then all; it was then that I most feared for my life. However continued the friend…I was saved. What could have been more terrible then all the incidents that you have already related asks the Dali Lama in great trepidation. To which his friend responds with a tear trickling down his face; ” there was one day in which I stopped having compassion on the my Chinese captors” ….his friend pauses for a moment – remembering the horror of that day and then resumes…”but I was saved and the compassion returned”.
This is almost precisely the call of the covenant.

Do not misunderstand. It is not a call to pacifism or to turn the other cheek. It is not a call to blindly “love your enemy” . Pacifism and turning the other cheek is often immoral. Even the Dali Lama’a pacifism against the Chinese is largely pragmatic. He told me that he believes that there needs to be an International force of arms. Pacifism is a sacred strategy to be employed only when it brings in it’s wake the deepest good. At times only the force of arms brings the greatest good.

Covenantal Man must be a great alchemist. The covenant begins with a call to compassion. It is first a demand that great and terrible suffering not be allowed to destroy compassion. The usual course of human suffering is all to often that the abused, the victim who has suffered becomes the abuser. Those who led the revolution from despotism usually become the worst despots. The abused child who is a genuine victim often becomes an abusing parent. The call of the covenant is to break the cycle of abuse. But not only to break the cycle. But to actually embrace the sacred alchemy which transmutes suffering into the noble virtues. Suffering must become compassion. Compassion must lead to protest. Suffering must then become protest. Protest which rejects the idolatry of the status quo and knows that healing and transformation are genuine possibilities waiting to be realized. Protest must lead to Tikkun. Manifested action of healing in the world. Suffering must become sacred action which leads to the healing and transformation of the world. This is the alchemy of the covenant.

The second core text from the biblical narrative itself which is read before the community on Rosh Hashanah is the story of the Binding of Isaac. We shall engage in the sacred encounter with that text in a later chapter. For now however one word is an order, an important word for our line of discussion here and a foreshadowing of things to come. Perhaps Abraham was abused by his father Nimrod. Perhaps Nimrod was willing to sacrifice his son Avraham for the sake of his Gods. Perhaps Abraham then, in the classic repetition compulsion of the abused is simply doing to his son what his father did to him. He thinks it is God calling him to sacrifice Isaac but really it is the voice of his own abuse acting itself in the drive of repetition compulsion. And perhaps for Abraham to be covenantal man he needs NOT to sacrifice his son but rather to break the cycle of abuse and realize that it is not God who calls for this terrible sacrifice but his own internal pathology. If he can disambiguate his own pathology from the God voice then Abraham will become covenantal man for the essence of the covenant is to first break the cycle of abuse and the with the sacred alchemy of the covenant actual transform suffering to compassion.

The mystical secret of Hagar, hidden in the deep structures of the text is that she is the covenantal foil. She is the covenant gone wrong. Not because she is guilty and Sarah is innocent as some of the Midrashim are wont to suggest. Sarah is guilty and Hagar is innocent. Hagar is abused and terribly hurt by Sarah. But Hagar refuses the covenant. She refuses – at least – at this stage in the story – the call of the alchemist.

She cannot see how to turn her suffering into compassion. She cannot see. Her suffering closes her. It does not open her. It closes her to her son. It closes her eyes. It closes her ability to identity with her god self. She experiences herself as cut off from the God field of compassion. Her become becomes a stranger to her. Hagar named symbolically the stranger, becomes estranged from all of her intimacies. She abandons her son to his death. She no longer has the ability to embrace him in love in his suffering. She closes her eyes and say ” I cannot not see”.

Her tears are tears of radical estrangement and resignation. They are the tears of the victim who refuses to grasp fate and turn it into destiny. Therefore, the divine universe- God in the biblical text -does not hear her tears but responds instead to the tears of the child Ishmael.

What is critical however in this story – as we unpacked above based on a close textual reading of reality – is that Hagar does have options. Not only the option to turn suffering into compassion in a pragmatically hopeless situation whose outcome she cannot effect; but actually the ability to embrace the desert of her fate and make it the desert of her destiny. Hagar knows how to find water in the desert. However she has lost her Essential I, and tears of resignation and fate replace the wells of living waters of destiny that once awaited her in her desert journeys.

A Siren’s Call

The symphony of Rosh Hashanah sounds its powerful refrain against the seductive siren call of Hagar’s melody. In this sense Rosh Hashanah is the rejection of resignation and the beginning of transformation.

To Pass through the Gates

The Talmud makes the stunning claim that even when all the gates are closed the gates of tears are never closed[iii]. The power of tears to open gates lies not with tears of resignation, but with tears of hope. In the Chassidic tradition, a clever terse question was raised in relation to this Talmudic passage. Simcha Bunim of P’sischa asks, “If the gates of tears are never closed… so why are there gates?” Gates seem to imply that some tears enter while others do not. Answers Reb Simcha Bunim- the gates of tears are for those who cry and don’t understand their tears. Even the open gates of tears are closed to those who weep without attempting to understand. Rosh Hashanah is about understanding our tears, about understanding the nature of crying, understanding the difference between various and different forms of crying.

R. Baruch of Meziboz, grandson of the Baal Shem Tov asks the same question and gives a different answer. R. Baruch says there are gates for tears because some tears are not allowed to enter. There are tears, which are false; those tears are not accepted on high. Tears that are false are tears of resignation. Tears of resignation are not accepted on high. Tears that seem holy are not always holy. There’s crying of resignation and there is also crying of manipulation which we will talk about at great length in a later chapter.

How do we distinguish between different forms of tears? How do we distinguish between holy- tears and unredeemed tears.

Indeed the problem is not only in the arena of tears- how do I distinguish between holy acts and not holy acts? How do I know what’s a mitzvah and what’s not a mitzvah? Clearly the question is not in relation to charity versus murder – rather it addresses the realm of ostensibly similar actions – where one act is indeed a mitzvah and the second a sin.
The Baal Shem Tov deepens the questions with a novel interpretation to the verse in Ecclesiates –‘There is no righteous person who does good and does not sin’. Usually the verse is understood to mean that even the righteous people have their little ‘peckelach,’ their little or not so little bundle of sins they carry around with them. No one is wholly righteous; everyone is in some sense flawed. The Baal Shem Tov however understood the verse in a radically new manner. He said – there is no righteous person who will do good and within that good there will not be something flawed, a moment of sin. Piety is beautiful but there is no ulterior motive like the ulterior motive of piety. Even within the good that we do, even within the holy, there is a moment of impurity, of that which is ulterior. So how can I ever know what is a holy act? How do I ever know what’s really a mitzvah?

They tell the story- a story in poor taste, ethically reprehensible and beyond politically incorrect – but one whch makes the point none the less- the story of the man who was a complete saint; he is admitted to heaven and all the angels are ecstatic with joy. Unitl one smart aleck angel says, Wait –we cannot admit him. He has never sinned. And the biblical verse says “there is no saint in the land who has not sinned”. So if has not sinned he must not be a saint. The angels did not how to respond. Heaven was deadlocked. Until one angelf offered a solution. Let us send the saint back to the world for one hour. Let him do the worst and most vile sin he can imagine just to make sure…he will then be a saint who has sinned and we can admit him to heaven. In the modern version of the story – the saint lands in the middle a very upper class elderly neighborhood. There is a Jewish woman, not young at all, overly dressed and made up..who is walking down the street..He grabs…and begins to….And she cries out. “What a Mitzvah… What a Mitzvah” . The story is funny – despite it’s bad taste because it reminds us that the lines between Mitzvah and Sin are often more blurred then they might initially seem
Addressing the larger issue may allow us to return to the question of tears with a distinguishing formula in hand.

Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapiro of Piasetzna, the last great Hasidic master of Polish Hasidut who surivived the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and died in Treblinka, makes a stunning suggestion. In his book Derech Ha Melech written in the 1930’s, he offers a litmus test for distinguishing between that which is a mitzvah, a holy act, and that which appears to be a mitzvah, but indeed is not. His litmus test is three word Talmudic formula-“Mitzvah Goreret Mitzvah” literally translated, a Mitzvah drags a Mitzvah. What does it mean? The simple understanding is that if I do one good thing, it brings me to another good thing and another and another. Good things lead to good things, good people lead to good people. In Chasidic thought a tongue in cheek suggestion based on the literal transaltion of the word Goreret as “drags”, has it that even a Mitzvah which drags- in Yiddish which shleps along – is still a Mitzvah. Even those Mitzvahs that shlep, which drag along, which we can’t quite muster enthusiasm for, those also are mitzvoth. A comforting interpretation for all of us. The Rebbe of Piacezna however, offers a stunning new interpretation. He says the litmus test of authentic mitzvah is that it creates mitzvah in its wake. An act that is holy when it engenders goodness in its wake, when it opens up new possibilities and clears way for new paths to grow and emerge. A mitzvah which creates mitzvahs in its wake, in indeed a holy act.

So is it with Tears.

Tears are holy tears if they open us to new possibilities, if they help us to grow, if they move us towards higher places. Tears of resignation are tears that close off possibilities for action. They lock us in a perceived reality which we come to believe. Such crying stagnates outside of the closed gates of tears, they are not holy cries. We need to understand on Rosh Hashanah the nature of the Hagar complex so that we’re able to avoid the seduction of unholy tears.

Eat, Drink and be Merry, and tomorrow we’ll cry…

There is a Rosh Hashanah second biblical crying story, which although it doesn’t play directly as part of the liturgy, is directly related to the tears of Hagar. It’s from the eighth chapter of the biblical Book of Nechemia.

The issue in the text is no less than the relationship between tears and Rosh Hashannah. On this particular Rosh Hashanah the entire Jewish people have banded together in a great wail. Rather unexpectedly the prophet Nechemia at the time turns to them and says, “Don’t cry, go home and eat good food and drink sweet drink – for this is a holy day unto God – don’t cry and do not be mournful- – for Gods joy is your audacity”. Commentary on the text, including the classical and authoritative voice of the medieval scholar Rashi, respond to the implied question – why were people crying? Rashi explains succinctly, they were crying over their sins.

In effect this is the second crying story bound up with Rosh Hashanah. It is similar to the crying of Hagar at least in the sense that like Hagar’s tears the tears of the community – engaging in a seemingly powerful form of repentance- are rejected by Nechemia, are rejected by no less than the central prophet who gives voice to the spiritual sensibility of biblical consciousness. But why? Isn’t Rosh Hashanah a day of judgment? Isn’t the appropriate activity on Rosh Hashanah to cry over our sins? Why would Nechemia dampen apparently authentic religious passion and tell the people to dry their repentance seeking eye?

In order to interpret the verse let me to share with you the sweetest most beautiful Torah from the Baal Shem Tov, Israel son of Eliezer and Channa, Master of a Good Name, founder of the Chassidic movement. The Baal Shem Tov comments on the phrase in Nechemia’s exhortation, “for God’s joy is your strength”.

Don’t cry, says the prophet, to an assimilated generation, to a generation adrift from its deepest mooring and alienated from it’s most fundamental identity. Don’t cry, don’t mourn, don’t lament over your sins…go home and drink, and be glad -For your audacity is God’s joy. Why would Nechamia – the spiritual master – reject tears of regret and contrition which are typically held to be among the most desirous of religious postures?

The Baal Shem suggests that to cry over sin is to say that my past, my sins of yesterday, determine my future. We all carry sin. Sin is who we are – deficiency, inadequacy, failure is part in parcel of all our sacred autobiographies. To sin in the original Hebrew means to have missed the mark- to not have fully been the best we can be. Who among us can claim exemption from sin. And yet sin is not a source of embarrassment or shame as some would have us believe. The entire point of the opening story of humanity in the Biblical version of the tale- i.e. the sin in the Garden of Eden, is to teach us that there is no shame in sinning or falling. All spiritual tales – and the bible being a spiritual journey par excellence – features a fall. The question is only how do we respond to the fall? Do we pick ourselves up and continue in our journey or do we feel naked, give up on ourselves and hide in resignation.

To cry over sin can often be our way to hide in resignation. Nechemia says don’t cry over sin, don’t give up on who you are, don’t for a moment allow yourself to believe that your yesterday’s need to determine your tomorrows. Rather, says Nechemia, God’s joy is your audacity. God’s joy is your ability to dream about tomorrow despite yesterday. God’s joy is your belief that you have the ability to create a future which breaks the patterns of your past. God’s joy is our audacity, it is our ‘holy chutzpa’ in always affirming the possibility of possibility. Nechemia says, if you really believe in yourself you can’t cry over sin. Sin was yesterday, you need to recognize it, you need to regret it, there needs to be a moment of sorrow, and then you need to move on and build tomorrow. The greatest sin in the world is to believe that yesterday determines tomorrow. Rosh Hashanah is about charting the path to tomorrow. It’s not about crying over yesterday. Beware of the seduction of contrition. One master taught “anyone who does not believe that even though a minute ago they were so low, now they can be so totally high, does not believe in God”. To get lost in the tears of of the past is to be a herertic in regard to the present and the future. Yesterday does not have the power to determine the trajectory of today.
Hagar’s tears, like the crying over sin in the Nechemia text, are tears of resignation. It’s crying that believes that there is nothing to do to change the now and that the past determines the future. And in this sense her tears are false; false at least to the ethos of a biblical text whose primary moral imperative and doctrine is the credo of a freed humanity- with the freedom to create and recreate our stories being our essential divine birthright.


קולין פרגוסון הוא גבר שחור המואשם ברצח נוסעים לבנים בתחנת הרכבת של לונג איילנד. פרגוסון מביט מטה על עבר קורבנותיו, בוחר בסתם שבעה אנשים לבנים, ורוצח אותם בדם קר. סנגורו מגן עליו בטענה שהוא קורבן של האפליה החברתית כנגד השחורים אשר יצרה את מה שמכונה ה”זעם השחור”, והאפליה הזאת היא האחראית האמיתית לרציחות. פרגוסון אינו האחראי למעשיו. הוא קורבן. האשם הוא ה”זעם השחור”. עורך דינו של פרגוסון טען שכ-2/3 מהשחורים וכמחצית מהלבנים שהשיבו לסקר בעניין יחסם למשפט תמכו בקו ההגנה של הזעם השחור! הטעות בקו הגנה שכזה ברורה לגמרי. הרוב המוחץ של השחורים שסבלו מאפליה אמיתית אינו הופך לרוצחי המונים. ואמנם, הרוב המכריע של אנשים אשר עברו התעללות אינו מבצע פשעים אלימים. אולם ישנם שכן. אך – הם לא היו חייבים לעשות כן. הם לא היו קורבן של הנסיבות. שאלו מישהו – מדוע אתה עונה לטלפון? הוא בדרך כלל ישיב לך – משום שהוא צלצל. אולם זהו כבר סימן מקדים לתודעת הקורבן. מישהו שעונה לטלפון משום שהוא מצלצל הוא קורבן. צלצול הטלפון הוא גירוי. התגובה לצלצול נתונה לבחירת האדם. יתרה מכך – זהו בעצם מה שעושה אותנו אנושיים. אמא שואלת את בנה, “מדוע הכית את אחותך?” תגובתו הראשונה של הבן יכולה להיות ” משום שהיא צעקה עלי”. האם, בכדי לחנך את בנה, אמורה כעת להוכיח לבנה את תפישתו השגויה. “צעקותיה של אחותך עליך הן הגירוי. תגובתך לגירוי הייתה להכות, וזו בחירה שאתה אחראי לה.”בחברה המערבית, תודעת הקורבן מערערת את הבסיס של חוק, פשע, שכר ועונש; ערעור אשר מחליש משמעותית את המרחב האלוהי וגורם לתרבויות לקרוס.ניקח את מעשה הרצח כדוגמה. ישנה הבחנה יסודית בכל המערכות המשפטיות, מהתנכיות ועד למודרניות, בין רצח והריגה. לא כל הריגה נחשבת רצח. ואכן, התרגום של הדיבר השביעי כ”לא תהרוג” הוא שגוי. הדיבר אינו “לא תהרוג”, כי אם “לא תרצח”. הריגה ורצח אינם בהכרח זהים. כך, לדוגמה, אדם לא שפוי – איש אשר למשל שומע קולות האומרים לו להרוג – לא יכול להימצא אחראי לרצח.

כמובן אנו יכולים להסיק מהמקרה של רצח לצורות רבות אחרות של פשעים אלימים ולא אלימים.
בעל מגלה שאשתו מזה שנים רבות בגדה בו בקביעות עם חברו הטוב ביותר ואז רוצח אותה ואת חברו באכזריות. הבעל הוא קורבן, זעמו אמיתי. וזה אינו מצדיק רצח. אף על פי כן, בהרבה הקשרים משפטיים מודרניים הבעל מצליח לצאת מזה עם שנה או שנתיים בכלא..
אחד המקרים המפורסמים ביותר של לצאת נקי מרצח הוא של האחים מננדז. הם תיכננו את רצח הוריהם- הפשע המושלם- במשך מספר חודשים. לבסוף כאשר הם נעצרים, הגנתם מבוססת על התעללותו לכאורה של אביהם. העורך דין המפורסם אלן דרשוביץ, בשחזורו את הסיפור, אומר שייתכן והם המציאו את קו ההגנה הזה. אך הבה נניח שאביהם באמת התעלל בהם. מדוע הם הרגו את אימם בזמן שהיא ישבה ואכלה תותים ומילאה את טפסי ההרשמה של בניה לקולג’? יתרה מכך – לאחר הכדור הראשון הם רדפו אחריה כשהיא כבר מדממת במורד המסדרון, ורוקנו לעברה עוד מספר כדורים.
העניין הוא שאפילו אם הייתה התעללות, רצח של הורים אינו התגובה היחידה להתעללות מהצד של ילדים בוגרים שעזבו את בית הוריהם. ובכל זאת, טענתם לחפותם בגלל שהיו קורבנות התקבלה במלוא כובד המשקל ע”י בית המשפט ורוב חלקי הציבור. האסטרטגיה הנפוצה בקו ההגנה של הקורבן היא להציב את הקורבן האמיתי – במקרה זה ההורים המתים- למשפט. החשיבה המרומזת פה אומרת – “זה הגיע לקורבן” – קו הגנה שאין לו תוקף חוקי או מוסרי משום שהוא מחליש באופן חריף את המרחב האלוהי שהחברה נשענת עליו. המיקרו והמקרו קשורים באופן אינטימי. ברגע שהזעם היוצא מקרבך ע”י הפיכתך לקורבן הופך לתירוץ קביל למעשי אלימות, מעגלי אלימות מחרידים יופיעו בעולם וחיש מהר יהרסו אותו. אם נחבר את סיפורם של האחים מננדז עם ספרה הידוע של אליס מילר “הדרמה של הילד המוכשר”, המצב נהיה מפחיד באמת. ספרה של מילר, שהיה רב מכר במשך כעשרים שנה, עסק בכך שלא רק האחים מננדז הם קורבנות של הוריהם, כי אם כל הילדים הם קורבנות של הוריהם. “ההדחקה של התעללות ברוטאלית הנחווית במהלך הילדות גורמת להרבה אנשים להרוס את חייהם ואת חייהם של אחרים”. אלה שלא עברו טיפול נפשי מכונן – ורובנו לא עברנו- הנם ע”פ מילר “קורבנות פגועים… של העבר… של הכלא הבלתי נראה והאכזרי של הילדות”. היא מדברת על “הייאוש של הילד שהתעללו בו”. “כל החוויות הטראומטיות של הילד נשארות כלואות בחשיכה”. בתיאורים אלה, מילר לא מתייחסת לקבוצה ספציפית של ילדים, אלא לכל הילדים. היא הצליחה בהפיכת כל בן אדם, בזכות היותו נולד וגדל, לקורבן. לפיכך, לגיטימי להסיק שכולנו רוצחים פוטנציאלים ואם אנו מבצעים רצח הורים, כולנו יכולים לטעון ל”התעללות ברוטאלית” – הגנתם של האחים מננדז.

כאשר בין לאדן שרף אלפי בני אדם תמימים במגדלי התאומים, הוא גם כן הונע ע”י הזעם הקדוש האישי שלו. כאשר טרוריסטים של הפת”ח מפוצצים אוטובוסים מלאים ילדים בישראל, הפרשנים של הCNN מסבירים שזאת ביטוי של הזעם הפלסטיני, והרוב המכריע של החברה הפלסטינית באמת רואה בזה ביטוי לגיטימי של אותו הזעם. ההקשר המוסרי אינו קיים. ההיסטוריה אינה קיימת. הכול הופך לביצה אחת גדולה של זעם. השוויון המוסרי שולט בכיפה ורוע נוראי משוחרר לעולם, והכול מתורץ בשם הקורבנות. הבסיס הרעיוני כאן הוא שהנצחת ההתעללות הינה התגובה היחידה האפשרית להתעללות וקורבנות. כמובן שתגובה כזו שגויה בתכלית. יש לאדם בחירה איך להגיב לגירוי. ישנן תגובות אחרות בנמצא. התגובה הנשגבת ביותר – והיא התגובה שהברית תובעת מאתנו – היא דרך האלכימיה, כלומר, להפוך את ה”עופרת” של התעללות וקורבנות למתכת זוהרת של חמלה ואהבה. “גרים הייתם בארץ מצרים”, נכתב בטקסט המקראי. לכן אל תלחץ את הגר. אל תיתן לעובדה שעברת התעללות להפוך אותך למתעלל. הפוך את הסבל שלך לחמלה. זו היא האלכימיה של הברית.

הכול מתחיל במושג הבסיסי של אחריות אישית. זהו המושג המקראי שהאדם נברא בצלם אלהים. האדם אינו רק קשור לאלוהות; האדם למעשה נוטל חלק באלוהות. הווה אומר שהאדם אינו לכוד בטבע. בדהרמה הגדולה של בראשית, הטבע נאצל מאל הנוכח גם בתוך הטבע וגם מעבר לטבע. הרעיון של בריאה שמתפתחת מצביעה על כך שיש מטרה וכיוון; כוח חיים אלוהי אשר מדריך ובסופו של דבר שולט בטבע. רעיון זה של כוח אלוהי הנוכח בטבע ומסדר אותו, יחד עם רעיון האדם הנוטל חלק באותו טבע אלוהי, הוא הקרקע הפוריה אשר העניקה למדע המערבי את הרעיונות של קידמה, דמוקרטיה והרבה ממה שבצדק יקר לנו. באותה מידה, גם המושג של אחריות אישית הוא פועל יוצא של התפיסה הזאת. בן האנוש הנו גם חלק מהטבע וגם מעבר לטבע. בנרטיב המקראי, האדם אינו נברא פעם אחת כי אם פעמיים. בתחילה, בפרק הראשון בספר בראשית, הוא נברא כחלק מהסדר הטבעי; ואז שנית, בפרק השני, כבן אדם ייחודי שהוא גם בתוך וגם מכיל את הסדר הטבעי. אם האדם הוא לא רק חלק מהטבע אלא גם מעבר לטבע , אזי הוא יכול לשלוט בטבע שלו. מוענקים לו השמחה והכבוד המגולמים באחריות אישית. זהו בדיוק המושג המתערער כתוצאה מההגנה על הקורבן הכל כך פופולארית במערכת המשפטית בזמן הזה. האדם, האלוהי בעל פני התינוק, מסוגל לתעל את טבעו החיצוני ולחדור לטבעו העמוק והאלוהי. לכן, בעוד שזעם הוא דחף טבעי בנסיבות מסוימות, הוא לא בהכרח צריך להוביל לרצח. זעם הוא גירוי ורצח הוא החלטה. על ידי ההסתתרות מאחורי קורבנות, הבסיס המהותי הזה של תודעה רוחנית הולכת ונמחקת בחברה המודרנית.

ברגע שעמדת הקורבן מתבייתת בחברה, היא הופכת הרבה יותר מאיימת מאשר סתם קו הגנה של אי שפיות במשפטי רצח. זה מתחיל להיראות בכל מקום. סוכן FBI גונב אלפיים דולר מהממשלה ומפסיד אותם אחר הצהרים אחד בהימורים בקזינו. הוא מפוטר. אולם מחזירים אותו למשרתו לאחר שהוא תובע את הממשל משום שבית המשפט פסק שהנטייה שלו להמר עם כסף של אחרים היא נכות, ולכן הוא מוגן מטעם החוק הפדראלי. או שניקח לדוגמה את המקרה של עובד המאחר לעבודה יום יום. הוא פוטר. הוא תובע לחזור למשרתו בטענה שהוא קורבן של מה שמכונה בפי עורך דינו “סינדרום האיחור הכרוני”.

מקרה אחר – מי שהוא מודה שחשף את עצמו במקומות ציבוריים בין עשר לעשרים אלף פעם. הוא הורשע שלושים פעם בהתערטלות. הוא לא מקבל משרה של פקח חניה במחוז דיין, וויסקונסין, על סמך גיליון המעצרים שלו. הוא תובע את המחוז בטענה שהוא חושף את עצמו רק במכבסות ובספריות ולא במגרשי חניה. בפסיקה תקדימית הוא נמצא קורבן ראוי של ” אפליה בעבודה בלתי חוקית”.

תחילה עלינו לציין שהפסידו- קורבנות עושים נזק משמעותי לא רק לעצמם ולאלה שהם מאשימים סתם, אלא גם לקורבנות האמיתיים. פסידו-קורבנות לוקחים את התבנית של התעללות אמיתית בין אם היא מינית, משפחתית, גזעית, פוליטית, או כל סוג אחר, ומעצימים ומעוותים אותה מעל ומעבר. ישנה התעללות אמיתית בעולם. ישנם קורבנות אמיתיים הראויים לאהבתנו הרדיקאלית, לחמלה ולתמיכה. כתוצאה של קולות הבכי והנהי של הפסידו-קורבנות, הצעקה האמיתית של העשוקים, של האלמנה והיתום, נדחקת החוצה. להגר התנכית קוראים ממש הגר – הזרה. אך היא בעצם רק הפסידו-גר, אשר דרך אותנטית פתוחה בפניה, אך היא בוחרת שלא ללכת בה. דמעותיה מטביעות את דמעותיה של הגרה האמיתית, הקורבן האמיתי. המטרה המהותית של ההארה המקראית היא לפתוח את הלב אל הבכי של הגר האמיתי. על מנת לעשות כן, יש להיות מסוגלים להבחין בין הקורבן לביו הפסידו-קורבן. הדוגמה dogmaהמונחת ביסודה של תרבות הקורבנות היא הימצאות הרוע האנושי מחוץ לבן האדם. אמונה זאת מערערת את המרחב האלוהי באופן משמעותי.

העיקרון הוא שבגלל שבני האדם טובים מטבעם, כל רוע חייב להיות תוצאה של כוח חיצוני אשר משחית את הטוב הטבעי של בני האדם. הויכוח בין זרמי המחשבה הרבים המחזקים טענה זו מתמצית לדיון על איזו סיבה חיצונית לאדם נחשבת כגורם המרכזי של הרוע. עבור המרקסיסט, התשובה היא המבנה הקפיטליסטי של החברה והכלכלה; עבור שמרנים זה יכול להיות ממשלה ריכוזית מדי, אלימות בטלוויזיה או ליברלים. עבור ליברלים זה עלול להיות הכנסייה, רובים או פטריארכליות. אולם למרבה הצער הדוגמה הקובעת שהרוע ממוקם מחוץ לאדם גורמת למספר השלכות הרסניות אשר מחלישות באופן משמעותי את המרחב האלוהי.

ראשית, האדם אינו נקרא לשנות את עצמו; שנית, אין הוא מרגיש צורך ללמד טוב. אם בעיית הרוע היא חיצונית לאדם והוא נמצא בעולם, אזי הדרך להשיג את הטוב ולמגר את הרע היא לשנות את העולם.
אולם, בתודעה המקראית המיקוד של רוע האדם, וכתוצאה מכך המיקוד של האפשרות של שינוי, נמצא בתוך העצמי! הנושאים המהותיים אינם רובים, פורנוגרפיה או ממשלה ריכוזית מדי , אלא דברים כגון אנוכיות, התמכרות, תאוות בצע, אי הכרת תודה, קנאה ועצלנות. זו היא ברירת המחדל של רוב הטבע האנושי. האופי השטחי הזה חייב התמרה על מנת לסלול דרך לעצמי האלוהי הפנימי אשר הוא הוא המהות האמיתית של בני האדם. אולם, אם אדם מאמין שהאנשים טובים מטבעם, אזי הוא לעולם לא יעשה את העבודה הנחוצה על מנת לחדור לעצמי האלוהי הפנימי שלו. אחת הראיות הגדולות שהובאה ע”י רומנטיקנים מהמאה התשע עשרה על מנת להוכיח את הרעיון שאנשים טובים מטבעם הייתה שתינוקות נולדים ו”מאחוריהם ענני הכבוד”. האמת היא שבעוד שברוב המקרים תינוקות נולדים חמודים, הם אינם נולדים טובים. למעשה, ברוב המקרים, התינוק מתעלם מהצרכים של הוריו על מנת לספק את צרכיו שלו. שאלו כל זוג שלא התנה אהבים במשך שמונת החודשים האחרונים מאז שהתינוק נולד; עד שיש להם זמן, אנרגיה ורצון, התינוק מתחיל לצרוח…. רק לאחר התנתקות מהאם, התינוק, כישות אוטונומית מוסרית, יכול להחליט להיות טוב. על מנת לעשות כן האדם צריך לעשות כל מאמץ בכדי לצאת מתחושה השטחית של עצמאות מוחלטת וישות מנותקת אשר האינסטינקט הראשוני שלה הוא להבטיח את הנוחיות והישרדות שלה. הוא חייב לעבוד על מנת להוציא החוצה את האמפתיה שלו, את תחושת השלמות שלו, את הידיעה שהוא קשור לכל ובכל, וחושי הארוס, האהבה והמחויבות.

האמונה שאנשים הינם טובים מטבעם ועושים רע רק כאשר הם מונעים ע”י כוח חיצוני, יוצרת אמונה פופולארית חדשה ומסוכנת והיא שכאשר אנשים עושים מעשים רעים, זה לא בגלל שהם בחרו ברוע וכפועל יוצא אחראים למעשיהם, אלא משום שהם חולים. הם הקורבנות של מחלתם או של הסינדרום שלהם ולכן הם אינם אחראים. קו ההיגיון הבסיסי פה מבוסס על כך ששום אדם שפוי לא יבצע רצח, ולפיכך כל אדם המבצע רצח חייב להיות חולה רוח, כלומר לא שפוי. כך שבעוד שארנסט בקר טען שהכחשת מוות היא הכוח המניע הנסתר של התרבות, לכך יש אולי להוסיף את הכחשת הרוע. הטוב והרע הוחלפו ע”י שמות תואר כגון סוציופתיה, משחק תפקידים, זעם, פרנויה או פתולוגיה. כל אלה הם תוצאה של מה שאפשר לכנות “תרבות תרפויטית” שבה ההקשר המוסרי הוחלף ע”י ההקשר הפסיכולוגי. הטיעון הבסיסי בתרבות התרפויטית היא “אני לא אשם – השטן נכנס בי”. אולם, בעולם המודרני השטן הוחלף ע”י סינדרום התלות ההדדית, סינדרום ההתעללות, סינדרום הבעל הזועם, כל צורות האי-שפיות הזמנית, וכדומה.

התרבות התרפויטית טוענת להשוואה וירטואלית בין אלימות לבין מחלת נפש. קביעה זו היא פשוט שגויה. תחילה יש לציין שאלימות יכולה לפעמים להיות מוסרית ובריאה. הפעולה של הריגת חייל נאצי על מנת לשחרר את מחנות הריכוז הייתה בוודאות פעולה מוסרית ובריאה. בדומה, אישה אשר היא קורבן אמיתי לבעל אלים, המשתמשת באלימות על מנת לעצור אותו מלפגוע בה פעם נוספת, מגיבה בצורה בריאה בהרבה מאשר אותן הנשים שכל כך הושפלו ע”י מי שהתעלל בהן עד שהן נכנעות לאלימות הנשנית וחוזרת. אולם לא פחות חשוב היא הדחייה של התודעה המקראית והפועל יוצא שלה, המשפט המערבי הקלאסי, של ההנחה שאדם נורמלי אינו מסוגל לבצע מעשים אלימים. אדם אשר המרחב האלוהי שלו נחלש ע”י היעדר ערכים או היעדר הכשרה ומשמעת, יכול בהחלט לבצע רצח. הדוגמה המודרנית הטובה ביותר בתרבות הפופולארית לאמת בסיסית זו מגיעה ממקור מפתיע – סרטו המעולה של וודי אלן, “פשעים ועבירות קלות”. העלילה נסובה סביב רופא עיניים יהודי מכובד המנהל רומן. האישה מאיימת לחשוף את הרומן ואת עסקיו המפוקפקים אם הוא לא יעזוב את אשתו ויתחתן עימה. הוא בטוח שאם הוא יעשה כדבריה, היא תהרוס את חייו. אולם הוא אינו מעוניין לעזוב את אשתו ולשנות את אורח חייו. הוא פשוט רוצה לסיים את הרומן ולהמשיך בחייו. הרופא מבקש את עצת אחיו החלקלק. אחיו אומר לו שהוא יכול לארגן את רצח הפילגש. תחילה, הרופא הטוב נחרד מעצם הרעיון. הוא הולך לייעוץ אצל הרב המקומי ובנוסף, הוא נתקף זכרונות מאביו, ושתי החוויות מחזקות את הערכים הבסיסיים של המרחב האלוהי. “לאלוהים יש עיניים”. הווה אומר שישנו תחושה של איבוד הקיוונון של המתחם האלוהי ולאותו אובדן קיוונון– מה שלעיתים נקרא חטא – יש תוצאות קארמטיות, מה שלעיתים נקרא עונש. הקארמה לא תמיד מורגשת במשך-חיים אחד, אך כל המסורות הגדולות מלמדות שישנו סוג מסוים של אחריות. בסוף, הרופא, המבקש לשמר את החיים שהוא התרגל אליהם, מסכים לרצח פילגשו. אולם במקום להיהרס, הוא מתאושש מההלם וחוזר לשגרת חייו, כאילו יצא נקי לחלוטין מהרצח. העניין הוא שהרופא הזה הוא אדם נורמלי לחלוטין. הוא אדם נורמלי ובלתי מוסרי. האגו שלו גבר על ערכיו וגרם לו לבצע מעשה אכזר, אך אין לסווג אותו כבלתי שפוי זמנית, או כל שאר הסינדרומים האחרים שמשתמשים בהם בתרבות התרפויטית בכדי לתייג את הרוע.

זו בדיוק הנקודה ברומנו האפי של דוסטוייבסקי- החטא ועונשו. רסקולניקוב הורג אישה זקנה. ללא ההכרה באל, רסקולניקוב יכול בקלות לחיות בשלום עם מעשהו ולצאת נקי מהרצח. רק הערכים של המרחב האלוהי והקיוונון של הבסיס האלוהי של החיים הופכים רצח , גם כאשר הרוצח לא נתפס, לעיוות נוראי. אולם ברור הוא שרסקולניקוב, ע”פ דוסטוייבסקי, הוא נורמלי לחלוטין וכפועל יוצא אחראי למעשיו. דוסטוייבסקי אמר “ללא האל הכל מותר”, ווודי אלן אמר “החיים הם ג’ורה”; כלומר- ללא קשר עמוק לערכים ולאנרגיה המקודשת של המרחב האלוהי, אין כמעט מה לעשות כדי למנוע מאנשים שפויים לחלוטין, כאשר הם מאוימים, לעשות את הכל בכדי להימלט מעונש על רצח או כל עבירה אחרת. יתר על כן, יש לציין שגם מעשים טובים מאד לאו דווקא באים ממקום שפוי. האם הזוג הפולני הנוצרי שהחביא את אימי מהנאצים במהלך מלחמת העולם השנייה וסיכנו את חייהם ואת חיי ילדיהם ייחשבו לשפויים ונורמלים? על פי אמות מידה מסוימות הם יכלו בקלות להיות מתויגים כבלתי שפויים ולא נורמלים. נראה שהאמיתות הפשוטות האלו עברו מעל להגיגיהם של מובילי התרבות התרפויטית.

תרבות הקורבנות המבקשת לזכות את האינדיבידואל מכל אשמה היא למעשה – בדרכים רבות- האויב הגרוע ביותר שלו. הקורבנות במהותה מחזקת דימוי עצמי נמוך- באופן פרדוקסלי, הביטוי האולטימטיבי של הרוע בתרבות התרפויטית. במקום לתבוע את הכוח והכשירות של הפרט, היא מחלישה אותו ומשאירה אותו חסר-אונים. התרבות הזאת מספרת לו שכאשר סערות הגורל הבלתי נמנעות מכות בו, אין לו שום יכולות בסיסיות להגיב. העמדה הבסיסית של פוליטיקת הקורבנות קובעת שהאדם חף מפשע ביסודו. במובן מסוים, זה יכול להתפרש כתגובה מאוחרת למוסרנות הפוריטנית אשר שלטה בעת ייסודה של אמריקה, ואשר ראתה את בן האדם כמושחת מעיקרו. אולם שתי גישות קיצוניות אלו מסרסות למעשה את האדם. כפי שכתב גארת’ וודס “אנו משלמים מחיר נוראי עבור כפרתנו”. איך תהיה לנו תחושה של כבוד עצמי אם אין אנו אחראים למי שאנו?


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