Rabbi Avi Weinstein

The Talmud and The Passions of Those Who Left it.

In Uncategorized on June 23, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Biographies of great failures make for wonderful reading, but paltry sales. Isaac Rosenfeld is a case in point. He is the Saul Bellow who never happened.

A new biography by Steven Zipperstein chronicles this cautionary tale of promise unfulfilled. Phillip Davis offers a thoughtful review of this all but forgotten man of letters. I was taken by a quotation lifted by Davis from Rosenfeld’s review of another classic The Rise of David Levinsky that, according to Davis, is not only a reflection of Levinsky, but of Rosenfeld himself:

Levinsky is a man who is not at home with his desires. Because hunger is strong in him, he must always strive to relieve it; but precisely because it is strong, it has to be preserved.

Are we supposed to be comfortable with our desires? The Gemara in Succah seems to think not. At least King David wasn’t. In the famous Bible story where David covets the wife of another, the Gemara provides “context”.

David himself precipitated this episode when he wondered why he was not included among the forefathers when people offered their prayers. God answers that it is because he has not been tested as they were. David asks for a test, and God complies even revealing to him the nature of the test–something he never did for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. David succumbs to his desires causing the Sages to comment:

A man has a small organ that is sated by starvation, but starved by satiation. (Sanhedrin 107a)

The same seems to be true for the consumption of simple carbs as well. As it is written: Bet you can’t eat just one…But stay away from them altogether and ones desires will be muted. In other words, one is better off eating none.

With sexual desire, however, “eating none” means no family life, no intimacy, no physical expression of love, so we live by necessity, uncomfortable with our hunger, but hungry none the less. Levinsky, Rosenfeld are examples of this age old struggle.

He who serves his Creator, enrages his passions (Midrash Ruth Rabba 6:1)

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