I have self-diagnosed yet again. It seems that I suffer from Cryptomnesia, or, unacknowledged memories. There are times when I am inspired by an idea that was long ago planted in my memory by something I read or heard. The idea is not truly mine, but it certainly feels that way. (Jonathan Lethem planted the idea for this newsletter in his essay “The Ecstasy of Influence” published in Harper’s Magazine.)
I often hear others make authoritative statements that are clearly plagiarized from movies, books, television and classes. However, I was not prepared to hoisted by my own petard: Someone with whom I pray each Shabbat explained to me that he was better prepared to read the Haftarah as he had studied the text on The Foundation Stone. He obviously did not know of my association with the essay and was quite perturbed when I told him that the text he studied was written by me. He refused to believe that I could come up with the idea for the essay and researched numerous books and scholarly articles to prove that the ideas could not possibly have been mine. He didn’t find another source, but I will tell you, that he was absolutely correct: The idea was not mine. The seed had been planted by a short comment of my father at the Shabbat table in 1969.
All of the Bible stories are about seeds of thought planted within our minds and souls. From Adam’s search for a life partner to Abraham’s journeys, from Israel at Sinai to Korach’s rebellion, we read of basic human drives and struggles.
No wonder the Sages teach us that Datan and Aviram of this week’s portion were the same people who criticized and spoke of Moshe’s killing of the Egyptian, who worshipped idols while crossing the Sea of Reeds, who kept their first portion of Manna overnight against Moshe’s explicit instructions, and who went out on the first Shabbat searching for the Manna that Moshe said would not fall that day. The Sages understood that their participation in Korach’s rebellion did not grow out of nothing. The seeds had been planted long before. They want us to observe how that seed, first planted more than 40 years earlier, flourished and grew into the horrible beast we can observe in this portion.
“Find the seeds,” they tell us, so that we can begin to notice the seeds that have been planted in our own minds. The Sages instruct us to recognize the sources of our questions and struggles. Torah study nurtures our ability to examine ourselves below the surface, recognize the symptoms of Cryptomnesia, and deal with issues at their core.
The Haftarah of Korach: From Prophet to King, and that of Chukat: Choices, use the words of the prophets to help us identify our struggle to live in this world and yet maintain a meaningful relationship with God. Table Talk Korach and, for our friends in the Holy Land, Chukat, Rabbi Yaakov Shlomo Weinberg’s The Torah Connection, Rabbi Chaim Goldberger’s incredibly popular, The Voice of Torah, and Bentzion of Medziboz’s Stories of the Baal Shem Tov and Keter Shem Tov all offer challenging insights into our spiritual development.
Proud to be a Duns, Misreadings, Do You Know Where You Stand?, The Violence of Silence, and A Bow to One’s Students on The Foundation Stone Blog all offer opportunities to dig a little deeper into Torah and our souls and find the seeds that nurture us.
That reminds me…
Rabbi Simcha L. Weinberg