Thursday, February 9, 2017


In a recent conversation, someone very close to my heart had taught me a very valuable lesson that probably only a very sensitive educator would find self evident.

The lesson goes like this, since our brain cells carry memory storage, if one is exposed to what’s inappropriate he or she carries the memory etched in his or her very neural biology. Neural cells are either created or altered to accommodate this particular memory, becoming “impurity” which the mind harbors - as it likely toxifies mental processes or at the very least, takes up neural space which could have been occupied by appropriate thoughts and memories. On a case by case basis or on a neuron by neuron basis, that particular mental space didn’t necessarily need to be filled with the ugly, it could have just as easily been filled with the beautiful and pleasant.

This teaching made me ponder whether there is anything positive which can possibly later emerge from mental territory snatched up by toxic thoughts and memories. Then it dawned that possibly the solution begins with the reversal of this toxic process, i.e. by “forgetting”. When “forgetting”, the unpleasant thoughts and memories loosen their neural grip, allowing room for new occupants; hopefully and finally pleasant ones. This exposes the mystery behind the Biblical name Menasseh which Joseph gave to his eldest son, praising his forgotten unpleasant memories of youth; which in his royal success were replaced with new and much happier memories.  

By naming his son Menasseh, he did not mean that he entirely “forgot” what happened to him. If he had, how would he later confront his brothers; the source of his youthful sorrow? What it likely means is that over time he psychologically healed from those unpleasant memories; turning them progressively blurrier and vague.

Okay, but, what is there to praise about forgetting; wouldn’t it have been better for the unpleasant thought or memory to have never formed in the first place and render his “forgetting” entirely unnecessary?  

There is an interesting question in contemporary Jewish dietary law whether whisky produced in casks which had previously contained non-kosher sherry are kosher. The main concern is whether the sherry has been absorbed into the wooden walls of the casks. Then when whisky is stored in them, the lingering sherry may mix with the whisky and flavor it with its non-kosher flavor. The opinion which holds that the whisky is kosher dismisses this concern. Instead, it claims that the prior storage of sherry simply altered the wood of the casks in such a way that they produce a better whisky. However, there is no significant lingering absorption of sherry in the walls of the casks. Therefore, there is no sherry present at all to add a non-kosher flavor to the whisky and render the whisky non-kosher.

Similar to sherry reworking the wood of casks (in the latter opinion), unpleasant thoughts and memories may reshape the neurological structure of the brain in such a way that after a process of “forgetfulness”, whether partial or full, the brain absorbs the positive and pleasant in a very unique and special way. The brain is simply reshaped to notice what it wouldn’t have otherwise, had it not undergone inappropriate exposure.

This can be compared to the difference between the religious experience of a sincere penitent and a lofty saint. They are two very different religious experiences. Had the penitent not gone through his or her “see saw” spiritual journey, God would have been known in a very different way - probably, with less fierce passion and focus.

This helps explain why during pre-messianic times, the Jewish month of “cheshvon”, associated with Menasseh, remains largely dormant of holiday and celebration; and then when the messianic era arrives, the third temple will be dedicated specifically in this month. Possibly foreshadowing this, Menasseh was encamped closest to the “holy of holies” - as by the process of “forgetting” he was formed into a very unique vessel to bear a very unique light of holiness.

On a related note, just a few weeks ago a woman remarked to me about how thankful she is to her husband’s former wife for having trained him so well. Now while in the throes of his former marriage that “training” was likely very toxic and painful. However, once he psychologically healed from it and the past bitterness lost its edge, he was reshaped for a great relationship with his new wife; his true wife!      


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