Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Archive for January, 2016|Monthly archive page

On Victims, Predators, and Kabbalah…A cautionary tale

In Uncategorized on January 4, 2016 at 11:01 am

Years ago, I read a biography of the late poet Allen Ginsberg who had managed to achieve a cult like status through the unlikely medium of poetry. He, and Kerouac had discovered at some point, Zen Buddhism, and became involved with the former Buddhist monk who founded the Naropa institute, and many Buddhist centers throughout the country. Rinpoche was a master of Zen wisdom, but he had abandoned the traditional discipline of the Buddhist monk for the pleasures of the flesh.  He was also a raging alcoholic who died of cirrosis at the age of forty-eight. His marriage was not shackled by arcane notions of fidelity, and he fully engaged carnally like a full-fledged beatnik. His knowledge, his wisdom, however, emanated from an authentic world to which he was deeply connected. His merger of the traditional east with the hedonistic and narcissistic west was, in essence, quintessentially American. He offered the promise of being the master without the shackles of traditional discipline; a loveable rogue Buddhist who has it all. In Jewish terms, the fruits of this world and the next. There were no expectations that he should be anything other than he was, and the Naropa Institute lives on as the only accredited Buddhist University on the continent–a true merger of east and west, I guess.

Mark Gafni must have kicked himself for waiting so long to find his way to Esalon where he could engage in the chaotic world of commitmentless love while lecturing nonsense peppered with pithy aphorisms borrowed from the many new agers who had preceded him.  If he had gone straight to Naropa, we may not be talking about him now, and we would still be lining up at Whole Foods checkout counters. This is why he feels persecuted. Like Rimpoche, Gafni needed an authentic history to abandon in order to sell his brand of snake oil.

Did we boycott Roman Polanski movies because of his ostensible liaison with a teenager? What galls us is that Gafni duped both leaders of the Jewish religious establishment  and Jewish renewal who demur when it comes to being that unconventional. Inasmuch as this campaign of ostracism is for defense of the innocent, and vulnerable, it is also particularly visceral for those who think they should have known better, but didn’t. As Americans, we, too, wish to have delights in both worlds, but we do so under the guise of our encounter with modernity; our own version of east meets west. “Feelin good, feeling good, all the money in the world spent on feelin’ good”. This is what Gafni’s acolytes received from him, but it cost them dearly, and so, therefore, he should pay for all the suffering he caused. Even when he acknowledges the pain he caused, he does so in the context of his so-called evolving awareness.

The book of Proverbs defines wisdom as being familiar with the ways of seduction. The Vilna Gaon explains that one is obliged to know these ways so as not to be swayed by the evil inclination. True wisdom eschews naïveté and the Book of Proverbs was supposed to immunize pupils from the malady of innocence. “To give the innocent guile, and to the uninitiated awareness, and cunning.” (Proverbs 1:4) The Gaon comments: 

For wisdom has many aspects, among them are wisdom and guile. Wisdom refers to one who has learned, received and knows much. The one with guile knows how to tempt and seduce others, offering sweet words, but his heart is up to no good. Similarly, the one who can recognize this quality is called “cunning”…as it is written, “I am wise, and I have dwelt with guile.” (Ibid 8:12) Through this exposure, he will understand the. temptation of the evil inclination.

 I think that says it all.