Bob Schwartz

Tag: Bruce Springsteen

The Whole Wheat of Spirit and the Millstone of Reason

Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth

Going beyond pure reason is a trip too far for many, to a place where the possible and the impossible seem to coexist on equal terms.

But why not go beyond, at least for a visit or vacation? You never know what you will find or learn there.

Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun
Oh but mama that’s where the fun is
Bruce Springsteen, Blinded by the Light

To the pious man God is as real as life, and as nobody would be satisfied with mere knowing or reading about life, so he is not content to suppose or to prove logically that there is a God; he wants to feel and to give himself to Him; not only to obey but to approach Him. His desire is to taste the whole wheat of spirit before it is ground by the millstone of reason. He would rather be overwhelmed by the symbols of the inconceivable than wield the definitions of the superficial.
Abraham Joshua Heschel, Man Is Not Alone

Recommended:

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism: Second Edition, Geoffrey W. Dennis

The new edition of a thoroughly readable and accessible compendium of information and insights. Fun for the casually curious, valuable for the interested reader and researcher.

From the Introduction:

Judaism is one of the oldest living esoteric traditions in the world. Virtually every form of Western mysticism and spiritualism known today draws upon Jewish mythic and occult teachings—magic, prayer, angelology, alchemy, numerology, astral projection, dream interpretation, astrology, amulets, divination, altered states of consciousness, alternative, and rituals of power—all have roots in the Jewish occult….

Modern Jews like to imagine that magic has been swept into the dustbin of history by the long, inexorable progress of rationalism. More than that, Jews have been taught from our youth that Judaism has always possessed an essentially naturalistic worldview and that magic, merely a marginal Jewish preoccupation at most, was just an anomaly resulting from our being situated (and corrupted) by the superstitions of our neighbors. But that’s not entirely accurate. It is only in the last two centuries that Jews have fully embraced science, but we have always been looking for ways to change the world for the better, whether it be through science, medicine, or “practical Kabbalah.”

Even today, rationalism has not completely displaced our sense that there is a mystical potential at work in the world; Occam’s razor has never been able to fully overpower the Sixteen-Sided Sword of the Almighty. Millions of people, both Jews and gentiles, continue to believe that the stars influence our lives. Most Americans believe in the reality of angels. Jewish techniques of dream interpretation and for combating the evil eye are still widely practiced today. When you read the entries of this book on topics such as these, you will realize that magical thinking and enchanting deeds have always had a place in Judaism and, however much some might want to dismiss Judaism’s miraculous and wondrous traditions, the presence of Jewish magic in Jewish life has merely been eclipsed, never uprooted; it still has the potential to empower us.

4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)

Who’s the boss?

The challenge of being a pop culture maven is that songs, movies and TV shows are regularly running around in your head, just waiting for a hook in the other real world. Then something happens and the connections light up, seemingly by themselves.

As soon as it was certain that the storm would hit the Jersey shore, Bruce Springsteen’s 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) became the involuntary soundtrack. It is from his career-making second album, The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle.

It is a sweet and melancholy song, more folk than rock. It seems to be about leaving a girl behind, but as Springsteen has explained, it is about leaving Asbury Park behind:

And me, I just got tired of hangin’ in them dusty arcades, bangin’ them pleasure machines
Chasin’ the factory girls underneath the boardwalk where they all promise to unsnap their jeans
And you know that tilt-a-whirl down on the south beach drag
I got on it last night and my shirt got caught
And they kept me spinning, babe, didn’t think I’d ever get off…

Did you hear the cops finally busted Madame Marie for tellin’ fortunes better than they do
For me this boardwalk life is through, babe
You ought to quit this scene too

All this (Sandy the storm, Sandy the girlfriend, the Jersey shore, Bruce Springsteen) prompted the question: Between events and people, who’s the boss?

The reflexive answer in the face of natural disasters like this is that events are in charge. As true as that may be, the parallel truth is that when people claim dominion, by building boardwalks and impossibly complex cities, people are in charge too.

Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog was one of the big inspirations in Steve Jobs’ life and career. In the 1969 issue of the Catalog, Brand stated the premise for his project to help people understand whole systems and master the tools to build and maintain them in an enlightened way. As we rebuild and reflect after Sandy, this is worth keeping in the mix:

We are as gods and might as well get good at it.