Perashat Beha’alotcha I
A Perfect Circle, Like a Ring
What do we understand about desire? Other than being led around most of our life by desire, we have a hard time attempting to understand it, and harness it. A popular teacher has built an entire career around explaining and analyzing it; students of all sorts gathered around him to perhaps get a handle on “desire”, the “holy erotic”, etc, until this teacher himself entirely self destructed (taking some victims along with him down an ugly path). It is no wonder then, that Hassidic teachings on desire are found where one might least expect them, perhaps its an area that must always be approached by sneak attack. We too will begin with a classical teaching and then move carefully towards a more direct encounter with the subject, in two essays that grapple with the concept from different angles.
There is an often cited teaching of the Magid of Mezeritch, in teaching 32 of the Magid Devarim L’Yaakov. Verse 10:2 presents a command to Moshe, in which he should forge two horns, hatzoterot, made of silver, for various communicative purposes, such as calling the leadership together, or moving the camps, during the Israelite’s sojourn in the desert. The Magid presents an entire teaching based on three words in this verse that appear to be totally removed from any connection to the actual narrative.
He suggests that the term hatzotzerot is derived from the phrase “hatzi tzurot”, which means “half forms”-man alone, material man, is only half formed, only half actualized, is only “dam”, blood, physicality. However, with the introduction of Gd consciousness into one’s life, symbolized by the Hebrew letter “aleph”, which is commonly read to stand for the term “alufo shel olam”, meaning leader or teacher of the world, the word adam is formed (as opposed to simply dam), thus formulating a fully formed form. Thus, it is in the coming together of these two halves (dam and aleph) in themselves lacking, that a much greater unity is created. This, the Maggid explains, is achieved through “kesef”, silver, (the hatzotzrot are made of silver), the word kessef being derived from the term kissuf, desire; a properly directed desire towards Gd leads to a union, a state of oneness and wholeness, a mutual resolution of the yearning by both sides of the relationship.
This theme, of the unity being formed as the balanced encounter of two disparate elements which need one another, is developed in another section of the perasha by the Kedushat Levi in his discussion of the manna (I adopt the anglicised form rather than the Hebrew term man, due to its confusing homonymity). The manna is described in the text as having the taste of the “Gad” seed, “Gad” to the Kedushat Levi being an acrostic for Gomel Dalim (redeeming the poor): The manna is described by Talmud in Yoma 75. as bearing any flavor the eater desired for, thus, to the Kedushat Levi the manna was an meeting of a physical object, the raw substrate of the manna, in encounter with the desire of the Israelite eating it; one side provides the physical, one side the spiritual, just like in the interaction of the rich man and the poor man- the rich man gives a physical item, and receives spiritual quanta in return. So the manna is like the redemption of the poor, which is actually mutually constructive to all parties involved.
The problem is, that the awakening of desire can lead to unforseen results-in English the phrase “awakening of desire” can be rephrased using the term “arousal”, which suggests a whole other class of wants. “Desire” is a central concept to Lacanian analysis, in which “desire” is defined as a want that can never be fully satiated, as opposed to a “need”.