Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah-Vaera
I can’t count the number of people who feel the need to keep telling me how non-religious they are. Can you imagine the number of times a year I hear the phrase, “I don’t believe in God”? I certainly am not God’s agent, but I spend a lot of time trying to help people get past this obstacle and find faith. I have no idea what God is, and our tradition teaches that to describe or define God is blasphemy (concretizes God into our own boxes). I am 100% sure, however, that there is something a whole lot more powerful that somehow keeps the universe and all life within it continuing to function. So, you know my mantra, “If you set an alarm clock and go to sleep, you believe something else is going to make sure tomorrow happens.” At a minimum, this line makes people think. On the other hand, there are folks out there who deeply “believe” that God directed them to set the alarm clock … God directs every move. Of these people, I ask why they look before stepping into the street. If God wants them safe (or not), then there will (or will not) be a bus to hit them crossing the street. It is God’s will. These folks think I am crazy.
Somewhere in between these two spectrums lie most people who, at some level, believe, but are not sure what to believe in. Of course, scripture and tradition provide us a great many insights and pathways to faith, but this week’s portion brings the conversation to a head.
Moses and God are speaking. “I am God (Y-H-V-H). I made Myself seen to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, by the name of El Sha-dai, but by My name, Y-H-V-H, I did not make Myself known to them.” Yet, these are the very people we revere as the “Patriarchs” of faith. Each experienced an epiphany with God only through dreams and visions.
Torah commentators wonder why God would bring up the ancestors to Moses. Some argue that God rebukes Moses. Effectively, according to these scholars, God is saying, “These older guys had faith. They didn’t question me as you do.”
The Talmud purports to give us the continuation of the conversation, and leads us into a potentially different understanding of text: “I regret the loss of those who have passed away and are no longer found. Many times I revealed Myself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; they did not question My ways, nor did they say to me, ‘What is Your name?’ You, on the other hand, asked from the start, “What is Your name?” and now you are saying to Me, ‘You have not saved Your people!’.” Medieval scholar Rashi continues, “You questioned My ways; unlike Abraham, to whom I said, ‘Isaac shall be considered your seed,’ and then I said to him, ‘Raise him up to Me as an offering’ — and still, he did not question Me!”
While the Patriarchs believed without question, Moses keeps challenging God. However, there is the rest of the story. While we refer to the patriarchs as our ancestors, we speak of Moses as our teacher. “Avraham Avinu (Abraham our ancestor).” Moshe Rabbaenu (Moses our teacher). We honor one while we learn from the other. Our Jewish tradition has always maintained that the partnership with God is open and transparent. I may not know what God is, but I know that I can never come closer to whatever God is if I don’t engage in honest and sometimes difficult dialogue.
Faith is about struggling with and engaging God. Faith helps us grow and learn … and better serve. Faith helps us pray in meaningful ways. Kierkegaard argued, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” People meet in God through a commitment to upholding each other’s dignity. May our prayers cause us to engage each other, push each other, and use our prayer to God to help each other become more whole. It cannot and will not happen because we simply believe. Shabbat Shalom.