I’m not sure it’s necessarily a good idea to relate dreams, but I had a weird one last night based on The Twilight Zone episode Third from the Sun where a couple of scientists and their families flee imminent nuclear war in an experimental spaceship. We’re supposed to think they’re fleeing from contemporary Earth, but right at the end we discover they’re fleeing to it from a similar planet. (A lot of The Twilight Zone episodes reflect late fifties/early sixties nuclear war anxiety.) I think Doctor Who elements drifted into the dream too, but I don’t remember what. I was a bit surprised that the dream did seem to match the episode in broad outline, as I don’t usually dream coherent plots. I also don’t usually dream about fiction other than Doctor Who, I haven’t watched any Twilight Zone for months, and I don’t know why my unconscious is feeling anxious about nuclear war. Is it about Vladimir Putin? Or is it just a symbol for wedding anxiety? I mean anxiety about planning the wedding; I have no anxiety about marrying the wrong person.
I woke up a little early for work and not rested. I don’t know if it was from the dream or from not enough sleep. Work was OK. I got to go to the bank, which I like, but when I got back I had to do the Very Scary Task, which I dislike. I think I went into autistic and anxious incoherent speaking mode on the phone and gave some garbled instructions. In this situation we send a text afterwards to repeat instructions and give necessary contact details, so it wasn’t catastrophic, but I felt embarrassed.
The psychiatrist (or her secretary) seems not to have sent the letter about my prescription change to the GP and myself, so I can’t reduce the dosage yet, as the GP has to prescribe 25mg capsules for me to do so.
While I’ve been typing this, there’s been a “silly” thread running on the autism forum, with comments from many commenters flying much more quickly than usual, more or less in real time. It’s a deliberately silly thread, with a lot of joking and I’ve been contributing. I think I made a joke which could have been interpreted in a somewhat offensive way, although that was not my intention. I had a fan discussion with another Doctor Who fan and I then got into a discussion about Hebrew grammar with a Christian woman. I do feel as if I’ve become a bit more “accepted” there tonight although I’m still confused about the protocols for friending and sending private messages on there. I worry I upset someone or put them in an awkward situation because of that the other day.
I’m still reading A Fire Burns in Kotsk about the rebbes of Przysucha and Kotzk (I’m using my usual spelling of Kotzk for consistency except in direct quotes). It’s a retelling of oral traditions about the rebbes and their courts. It’s not an academic account and two of the stories in it, although well-known, have been debunked by academic scholars: the story that three rebbes tried to “force the end” (try to make God bring the Messiah) during the upheaval of the Napoleonic Wars and the story that the Kotzker Rebbe apostatised and publicly broke Shabbat. It is true that the Kotzker spent the last nineteen years of his life as a relative recluse in his study, but he is now known to have had more contact with the outside world than was once thought. All that said, it’s interesting as an account of what these courts based on oral tradition (with the strengths and weaknesses that implies).
The Kotzker Rebbe is a very important religious figure for me. Of the “modern” Jewish thinkers (in Jewish thought “modern” begins after the publication of the law code the Shulchan Aruch in the sixteenth century), only Rabbi Lord Sacks z”tzl is as big an influence on my thought. This is very obvious if you read my divrei Torah (Torah thoughts), which quote them much more than anyone else.
A Fire Burns in Kotsk reinforced what I already suspected, that the anarchic atmosphere of Kotzk was not for me. The court was a weird cross-between yeshivah (rabbinical seminary) and secondary school locker-room, with intense Talmud study combined with what essentially amounted to hazing rituals designed to force new Hasidim to pay for alcohol and food for everyone. There was a lot of drinking going on and a general pushing of boundaries and lack of respect designed to see if Hasidim could reach a point of real disinterested spirituality, with no selfish motives at all and especially no arrogance. The Hasidim of Kotzk had a reputation for strong individualism and non-conformity, which I suppose is part of the appeal to me.
The other thing I couldn’t cope with, aside from the raucous nature of the court (which I think was unique to Kotzk), was the young Hasidim abandoning their wives and children for months on end, which was normal for early Hasidism.
It’s strange to think that the Kotzker Rebbe and his teachings are so important to me, yet even if I had lived in the mid-nineteenth century, I would have found his court and his Hasidim unbearable. I wonder, reading the book, if the Kotzker was autistic. To be honest, except for living in his study for nineteen years, I’m not sure he has that many symptoms, but he certainly didn’t like the numbers of people around him. Although if we want to play the “diagnose historical personages” game, bipolar disorder is probably a better fit for him.
I’ve mentioned before that the Kotzker represents the Romantic, ascetic, passionate side of my personality, the part that reads Kafka and Dostoyevski. Whereas Rabbi Sacks represents the calm, philosophical, Maimonidean side of my personality that values balance, harmony, and moderation. The former seeks to perfect myself, the latter to perfect the world around me. It’s not religion versus materialism, but a primarily introspective religious approach as opposed to a more outward-focused one. It’s hard to know how to get them to work together rather than to pull apart, although I think my writing comes from both of them.