Friday, February 14, 2014

Second know God and each other - D'var Torah - Parashat Ki Tisa - February 14, 2014

Who….or God?
  My father, who taught 7th-10th Grade Religious School classes for 15 years,  had what might be the best answer of all, “I just don’t try to define God.”   For him, God was definitely a presence, maybe even a feeling, because I didnt attend services with my parents nearly every Friday night of my growing years for nothing.  We were committed and dedicated members of a worshipping community.  We enjoyed melodies with which we could sing along. We appreciated a meaningful Dvar Torah, in whatever form it was presented.    We had a sense that our prayers could change us spiritually and challenge us to practice the positive values of Judaism.   God, defined or not, was definitely there.
     This past Tuesday night, I taught the session of Temples Judaism: Roots and Rituals class that focuses on Jewish philosophy and theology.  In 90 minutes, we reviewed 2500 years of Jewish thought.  We were guided by succinct descriptions of Jewish belief from George Robinsons book ESSENTIAL JUDAISM , and FINDING GOD: SELECTED JEWISH RESPONSES by Rabbis Daniel Syme and Rifat Sonsino.    What struck me this past Tuesday night was the particular set of values reflected in the perspectives we discussed.  Here are the thoughts and ideas about God which emerged from our study:
·      God is present within all the interconnections in the Universe. 
·      All religions can lead a person to God and salvation.
·      Human relationships can reflect divine love. 
·      The most godly type of relationship is one where two people stand together in dialogue, characterized by mutuality, openness, directness and human sympathy. 
·      We best reflect what God asks of us when we transcend our petty, egocentric interests and respond to creation and to our fellow human beings with love and devotion. 
·      The key to ethics is “seeing the face of the Other” –meaning anyone we encounter – and acting towards him or her out of goodness because we recognize that there is common ground between us. 
·      We are partners with God in bringing goodness into the world.
·      God is “our sense of self and our innermost essence” which we can discover in Gods creation.  
·      God is the totality of all those forces, powers and processes which help us become the best that we are capable of becoming.  
     What do all of these beliefs about God have in common?   Nothing tangible and nothing material, for sure!    Every one of them is about what we know and what we feel but what we cant touch.  On a day like today when so many people focus on love – yes, even in Israel – it is appropriate to talk about feeling, mutuality, goodness, empathy, and trust.
     When did Moses truly get to know more about God’s essence?   It was only after the episode of the Golden Calf.   It took the backsliding of the people into the need for a visible symbol of the divine to reveal to Moses what was special about God.
    Moses pleaded to God on behalf of the people to give them another chance.  Yes, they had made an idol, yes, the tables of God’s 10 utterances were broken, but there could be healing between God, Moses and the Israelites.  It was that renewal of their commitment and relationship that brought them closer than ever before.  God said to Moses: “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you the name Adonai/Eternal, and the grace that I grant and the compassion that I show.  But you cannot see my face.”   God then told Moses that he could only see the “back of God,” which some interpret as the “after-effects” of Gods presence.  And while passing by Moses, who was standing in the cleft of a rock, God declared the divine attributes that are stated in the portion I will read from Exodus Chapter 34.  Those traits included kindness, compassion, faithfulness and forgiveness.   The judgment noted in verse 7 – “yet I will not remit all punishment” would occur only if the people lost their focus on the value of intangible aspects of life and if they succumbed to the “golden calves” of power, excessive wealth, the need to control others, and the absence of equal respect and consideration towards every human being, created in the divine image. 
    Second chances can lead us to realize that we need to acknowledge that what we cant see is more important than what is visible to our eyes.  Last Sunday morning, our youngest Religious School students were sitting on the bimah for their music session, in which we were talking about the Shema.   Before we sang the Shema, I had them recite it, first with their eyes closed, then with their eyes open.   I asked them whether it is easier to feel that everything is connected – that God is One and that we are One – when their eyes are open or closed. They said it is when their eyes are closed that they have a greater sense of the unity that binds all of creation together.  
     Living in this world does require us to keep our eyes and ears open, especially to note whether people are acting with generosity or selfishness, love or hatred, compassion or cold-heartedness.   That is why Judaism demands that when we see injustice in the world, we must give voice to the teachings about God that have guided our heritage throughout the ages.  It is we who are God’s eyes, ears, hands and heart to be sure that people approach one another with kindness, consideration, grace and goodness.  People in need, those whose rights are denied, those who need hope restored, need us to bring God’s compassion to their lives. So may we do!

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