Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Telling God What He Should Think

As Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch points out in his commentary on Chumash, the Jewish conception of God is centred on the idea that He has completely free will.  He is not bound by the forces of nature that He created, nor does He have to follow our demands if He chooses not to.  With an intelligence we cannot comprehend and situated outside of both time and space as we understand it, God runs everything with perfection even if we cannot understand that given our limited view of the "big picture".
The modern conception of God, on the other hand, is quite different.  The modernist, unable to see beyond his own needs and possesed of an empathic sense that assumes that everyone is, underneath all the bluster, just like him, assumes that God is too.  Modern religious understand seems to be based on three principles that flow from this mindset:
1) God wants me to be happy.
2) X makes me happy
3) God is in favour of X
Search through all liberal religions or denominations of older conservative ones and this pattern repeats itself over and over.  God is in favour of egalitarianism, alternative lifestyles, even recycling.  And the proof?  Because "we" are and God happens to think exactly like us.
A recent article from The Jewish Week encapsulates this erroneous thinkly neatly:
One of Judaism’s most profound ideas is the notion that each year at Shavuot each of us stands at Mount Sinai, poised to receive the Torah as if for the first time. The holiday, in other words, is an annual renewal of the relationship we Jews as a people experience with God through Torah.
It is incumbent upon us at Shavuot, then, to consider to what we are renewing ourselves. As a proud Conservative Jew, standing again at Sinai, I commit myself to a dynamic Judaism that is learned and passionate, authentic and pluralistic, joyful and accessible, egalitarian and traditional.
We might call the holiday Z'man Matan Torateinu but Rabbi Wernick makes it very clear that he is prepared to dictate to God what He should be giving us.  Wernick is passionate, involved and enthusiastic about celebrating the Torah, but his Torah is a cut-and-paste job that includes only those sections that don't offend his liberal sensibilities.  Anything that doesn't reflect his Western liberal values has been removed so as not to make any actual demands of him.
This is, of course, diametrically opposite to what real Judaism has always been.  Again, as Rav Hirsch notes, the Aron in the Mishkan was placed behind a curtain with access being limited to one day a year.  This was on purpose to show that the Torah is not just another ritual piece of Jewish life.  It is the word of God and that word is not for us to play with.  It stands independent of us, makes demands of us and insists that we submit to its values, not the other way around.  The real challenge of Sinai is looking into the Torah, seeing things we might be uncomfortable with and then demanding a change of ourselves so that we can embrace God's perfection more fully. 
Anything less is a mere imitation.  Accept only the genuine article please.


Bob Miller said...

How bold it is to commit oneself to doing whatever moves one! Why even call this commitment? It's more like anti-commitment, the rejection of the whole idea of Divine commandment. People making this anti-commitment should call their holiday anti-Shavuot.

Anonymous said...

>How bold it is to commit oneself to doing whatever moves

I second that.