Shiur #10: Volozhin in Transition
I watched my 4-year-old son approach some waves one day. We were at a water-park in the desert, so the waves were made, not by the pull of the moon, but mechanically, with levers instead… My son approached these waves with delight, eyes sparking and voice pitched high. Yet he stood back a bit, not quite ready to jump in, a bit apprehensive. He was displaying two basic emotions: joy and fear. He seemed to experience them nearly simultaneously, even though they are very different feeling states. Where did he get such a rich feeling repertoire?...
Most of us believe that to feel good means not to feel bad, that positive feelings are incompatible with negative feelings. …Indeed it appears that much of the time, positive and negative feeling states are not opposites at all. They represent distinct emotional forces in our lives. Consequently, we can and do feel good even though we are feeling bad. We can have bittersweet memories of past innocence or anxious excitement about the prospects of a new romance. (J. Zautra, Emotions, Stress and Health, Oxford University Press 2003, pp. 1, 16)
"Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling" (Tehillim 2:11). What is meant by "rejoice with trembling"? Rav Adda bar Matena said in the name of Rav: In the place where there is rejoicing there should also be trembling.
Abaye was sitting before Rabba, who observed that he seemed very merry. He said: Surely it is written: "And rejoice with trembling"! He replied: I am wearing tefillin. (Berakhot 30b-31a)
… Mar the son of Ravina made a marriage feast for his son. He saw that the Rabbis were growing very merry, so he brought a precious cup worth four hundred zuz and broke it before them, and they became serious… The Rabbis said to Rav Hamnuna Zuti at the wedding of Mar the son of Ravina: Please sing us something. He said to them: Woe unto us for we are to die; woe unto us for we are to die!
The stream of events is reflected not in one state of mind but in the full spectrum of feelings, and the emotional awareness at a certain instant is a microcosm, mirroring not only the dominant emotional motif – such as joy in the case of a marriage celebration – but the whole range of the emotional cycle… The central emotion is joined by its antithesis at the periphery. (ibid. – my emphasis)
There is no doubt that the drive for procreation is basically the desire for perpetuation of our finite existence. The longing for a child is basically the outcry of a lonely soul groping in the dark for salvation and eternal life, and finding instead the wet and dreary fall into the grave. In the marriage event, the critical emotional awareness sees the tragedy of human destiny… In the midst of carefree and unrestrained merrymaking and jubilation, the vision of the loneliness of man is beheld. The antithesis of joy emerges from the peripheral distance.
[The Netziv] would relate that in the days of the Gaon, Rabbi Chayim of Volozhin, a certain Torah scholar learned in the yeshiva, who would dedicate much of his learning time to recite Tehillim. The Gaon Rav Chayim was distressed by his taking so much time away from his Torah studies, and he commented to him about this. That person replied: "But our Master! Surely it says in the Aggada that King David petitioned that whoever occupies himself with the recitation of the psalms should be regarded as if he had occupied himself in the study of Nega'im and Ohalot!" The Gaon Rav Chayim thought for a moment and answered: "Indeed, he asked for this, but we don't know what he was answered on the matter!" (ibid. p. 62)