To Feel More Powerfully the Rhythm of Beauty and Power and Life, and of Suffering and Death: Shaiya Rothberg Discusses Redemption

[Over the coming times, notice the WOLF exploring several questions of the spirit, and the place of the poet within the spirit.

Here, teacher and mystic, Shaiya Rothberg, responds to a few prompts. Those who want to study with Shaiya will find him at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. Several of his courses are now being offered online.]

Is the cosmos in need of a type of redemption?

Is the cosmos in need of redemption?! yes! the world as i see it is alive, pulsating with power and love and beauty and meaning, these things are woven into the very fabric of the cosmos, but so much is broken and twisted and covered over with anger and narcissism, alienation and emptiness. the world is in desperate need of redemption. redemption would remove that twisted cover and heal the wounds. the world redeemed would strain our imagination: everywhere would flow color and passion and energy, the beauty of all things revealed. the face of God would be visible from right here and Her touch would be felt like the hands of a lover.

(If the answer to #1 was in any form "yes," then...) What can be the role of a poet in the process of cosmic redemption?

What is the role of the poet? i guess i think of the poet as the storyteller, the revealer of myth; she is the prophet and the mystic. her role in redemption is to clarify and to amplify the inner meanings of things, because rationality, with all its power and glory, can't get at the roots. the roots are too deeply embedded in the dynamic organic stuff of consciousness; rationality can erect immense structures but it can't touch the bottom. to reach the foundation we need to learn to think like a plant, to follow the inner rhythm and pattern of the mind. in language, i think that's poetry, like the Zohar.

You have said that, in the end, you made Aliyah (immigration to Israel) in order to "live in the Lord of the Rings." Can you explain that?

Moving to israel to live in the lord of the rings. in middle earth the meanings are bare. there is no thick covering by the mundane and the utilitarian. there, unlike life in our western disenchanted world, the pshat, the simple meaning, is the never-ending story. good and evil, ecstasy and alienation, light, darkness, power, glory, the ancient and the mysterious and the arcane, they all walk the earth in broad daylight in the lord of the rings. and in the bible. imagine that you live in Gondor, you speak the language of Gandalf and learn his ancient tomes revealing secrets of deep magic through which you keep the evil forces in check. "You (the Balrog, the Baal, the Roman army) shall not pass!!" (but they do). you shop in the market of the great city, where the final battle was (and will be) fought, and walk streets named after its great and tragic heroes. and at night, you make love to an elf!

i think i returned both to Torah and to Israel to feel more powerfully the rhythm of beauty and power and life, and of suffering and death, which flows too deep beneath the surface in our disenchanted and unredeemed world. it may be that the holy promised Land (like middle earth!) is also a hell of hatred and of blood, but at least here redemption is at stake.

What book do you have on your bedside table?

books on the night table. the table in my study is the closest to my bed (not great for productivity). its a total disaster, but i'll list the books that are here none the less (since i put nothing away, i'll get to appear more studious than i am…): 3 siddurs (prayer books), 3 gemaras (tractates of Talmud), 4 volumes of Zohar, 2 volumes of Hasidut, 3 or 4 academic things on Zohar, a volume on Jewish holidays (sefer ha-todaah), a few bibles, and a guide to jewish meditation which translates roughly to "living in divine space".


Rachel Barenblat said...

I studied with Shaiya at the Conservative Yeshiva a few summers ago; I love reading these responses. To live in the Lord of the Rings, indeed -- I love "in middle earth the meanings are bare."

And hello, by the way. I'm a new reader and glad to be here. I hear you're a rabbinic student with an MFA, which gives us two things in common already!

Pierre Sogol said...

I am in the midst, throws I should say, of R. Rothberg's essay on Torah Min ha Shomayim, and his is truly a mind that doth kick tuchas. thanks for sharing!

dad said...

At night you make live to an elf? Is her name Gitit? Love, dad (very fine responses!)