for never does the meaning of these symbols completely dismiss the materiality of the symbols that suggest it and that always preserve an undreamed-of power to renew this meaning; never does the mind dismiss the letter that reveals it to itself. On the contrary, the mind awakens in the letter new possibilities of suggestion (E.Levinas)
As a collection of perfect signs, the Text can never be attained. One say that it is caressed. So in spite of the analysis undertaken, it spite of the research, the bursting open, the laying bare, the text slips out of our grasp, remains inaccessible, always yet to come. It reveals itself only to withdraw immediately. The text is both “visible and in-visible” at the same time; ambiguous, its meaning twinkles, it remains an enigma: “Transcendence owes it to itself to interrupt its own demonsttation. Its voice has to be silent as soon as one listens for its message.”
But the Text withdraws only if we let it; the interruption of the demonstrationof transcendence, the movement of necessary withdrawal depends, above all, on the interpreter, on his way of being as he reads the text, on his approach. We call this way of being the “caress”: the caress is a modality of the subject, where the subject in his relation with the Text goes beyond the relation, for “that which is caressed is not actually touched”; “the caress is the non-coinciding proper to contact, a denuding never naked enough.”
The caress consists in seizing upon nothing, in soliciting what unceaselessly escapes its form toward a future never future enough, in soliciting what slips away as though it were not yet.(E.Levinas)
In short, the caress is research. In this research the caress does not what it is seeking. This “not knowing,” this “fundamental disorder,” is central to this way of being. The relation to the Text authorizing the transcendence of the voices of the Text will therefore be like” a game utterly without project or plan.”
Study, considered as research, allows one to experience. In this respect we can contrast the expressions “to have an experience” and actually “to experience.” “To have” refers to possession, to knowing, to settling back with satisfaction, to the confidence that acquisition confers; in the “having,” the experience is confirmed by repetition. But since the experience is repeated and confirmed, it cannot be something that renews itself. Consequently, that which originally was unforeseen is now foreseen. “To have” an experience of the Text is to understand it, grasp it, possess it, because it is its repetition that gives it substance. But once it becomes visible, graspable, the Text takes on the shape and status of an idol. Its language becomes totalitarian: “stereotyped, remaining frozen in meanings set and imposed once and for all without consideration for situations and experiences that may have changed.” The idol-text is “set out and crushes because of both its weight and its unchangingness.”
There is no longer any question of “having” an experience with the Text. Studying no longer means knowing in advance the results of one’s research. Nothing should fulfill our expectations. “Experiencing is always, at first, an experience of negativity: the thing is not such as we thought. Our knowledge and its object are both altered with the experience of another object.”
“To experience” means to participate in opening. The “man of experience” – in our context, the interpreter – is not only the one who has become such as a result of his experiences (already acquired}, but the one who is open to experiences.
The fullness of experience, the fullness of being of the person we call experienced, does not consist in the fact that he already knows everything and knows it better. The man of experience turns out to be radically foreign to all dogmatism.(Gadamer)
The interpreter experiences things by caressing: never seizing anything, he allows himself to be carried, negatively and infinitely, from one meaning to another, so that if one had to locate (in the Text) a center, an origin of meaning, a god that gives the meaning, one would find it only in the void, empty of language, the “blanks of writing.”
We can then understand why study is symbolized by the written form of the letter Lamed, the only one of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet to go over the line, to trans-gress, to thrust itself “beyond the verse.” Lamed, the last letter of the Torah…
So the Text should be elusive, impregnable, and should never take on the form of an idol. The Cabalists explain that the Text, the Torah, and God are one (Rahamana vekudsha beirikh hu, had hu). In refusing to lay one’s hand on the Text, one also refuses to lay one’s hand on the divinity. The relationship with the text and with God is paradoxical: one must move away, create a distance, if the relation with God is not going to be idolatrous. This is what Henri Atlan calls the “atheism of writing”:
The primary preoccupation of biblical teaching is not the existence of God, theism as contrasted with atheism, but the fight against idolatry. In all theism there is the danger of idolatry. All theism is idolatry, since expression signifies it, thereby freezing it; except if, somehow, its discourse refutes itself and so becomes atheistic. In other words, the paradoxes of language and its meanings are such that the only discourse possible about God which is not idolatrous is an atheistic discourse. Or: in any discourse the only God that is not an idol is a God who is not God.’
All the masters of Jewish thought, from the prophets to the contemporary masters, have understood that…
The system of interpretation-besides its necessity for the phenomenon of understanding-is founded on the will to refuse idolatry. The Text, which is the primary relation to God, must not turn into an idol. The temptation of idolatry is strong-one need only remember the golden calf, made right after the Revelation; it is the temptation of appearances, of Presence. “The idol gives us the divine, and so does not deceive or disappoint.” The idol-in this case, the Text, given up to the grasp of the hand, the manual-reassures; the idol brings things closer:
What the idol tries to reduce is the gap and the withdrawal of the divine… Filling in for the absence of the divinity, the idol brings the divine within reach, ensures its presence, and, eventually, distorts it. Its completion finishes the divine off. The idol tries to bring us closer to the divine and to put it at our disposal: because he is afraid of atheism, the worshiper lays his hand on the divine in the form of a god; but this taking in hand loses what it grasps: all that is left is a too-familiar, too tangible, too assured amulet… The idol lacks the distance that identifies and authenticates the divine as such-as that which does not belong to us, but which happens to us.(J.L.Marion)
To avoid the trap of idolatry – the illusion of possessing the meaning – Hebrew tradition has introduced the idea of levels of meaning. It is sufficient to say that four levels of reading can be found, which are called: -Pshat: the simple or literal meaning -Remez: allusive meaning -Drash: solicited (exegetical) meaning -Sod: hidden or secret meaning.
M.A. Ouaknin: The Burnt Book. Reading the Talmud.
The “Caress”: Experiencing (pag. 62-65)