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Yitro: Who is God and What Does God Want From Me? January 26, 2019

Rabbi Randall Konigsburg

ב אָנֹכִי ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים  לֹא-יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים עַל-פָּנָי.
I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage: You shall have no other gods besides Me.  [Exodus 20:2]
1.       How, as a Zionist could I explain my attachment to religious traditionalism, whose conservative tendencies threatened to smother the cultural rebirth Jewish Political sovereignty made possible – and which, in my view, was desperately needed. . .  in response, I developed a theology, based on the concept of covenant, that understands the relationship between God and the Jewish people as one of intimacy and partnership. This covenantal model … describes a religious anthropology characterized not by slavishness and a howling sense of inadequacy in the face of an infinite commanding God. Instead it resurrects the vital and precocious religious spirit of the Talmudic Rabbis, who understood that the implementation of God’s will amid the complex considerations of human society and psyche requires, at times, the full and fearless assertion of our intellectual independence. … The new stage of covenant would bring forms of personal and collective religious dignity yet unknown in Jewish history. Not only was the Torah no longer in heaven, as the Talmudic Rabbis declared, having been given over to human hands at Sinai; so too, the covenantal understanding of Israel’s rebirth taught us that the direction of history was now included within the scope of human responsibility. (p. 6-7)
2.       To state the question in a broader, more essential form; how do I justify maintaining a commitment to the Jewish religious tradition in the places where it demands I violate what I intuitively feel and know? What place, if any, does my personal, subjective intuition have in a halakhic system – not just abstractly, but for someone who wants to live, day to day, within that system? … What does it mean for an individual who finds that certain cherished moral values are being uprooted by the same tradition that in other areas manages to inspire great love, loyalty and faith? What does it mean for the individual who stands committed to that tradition, yet at the same time knows that he or she knows, and cannot manage to be other than who he or she is? (p. 8-9)
3.       When the edifice of my yeshiva worldview began to crack and shift, what emerged was a personal quest for a frame of reference that would enable me to remain within the tradition, yet at the same time recognize its inadequacies and incompleteness. … I became unable to justify women’s exclusion from a minyan; why should they be denied the religious dignity that comes with full communal participation, treated, in essence, as if they were not there? I could not understand a world in which a woman might function as an active, creative person in law or medicine, … and then, the moment she leaves the hospital or the courtroom and enters the synagogue, becomes transformed into a non-person, with many of the same status limitation as a child or a slave. … My experience with the world of the Orthodox community in Israel brought me to recognize what type of limited human being grows from a tradition that is not exposed to alternative perspectives. (p. 21-22) [All passages from: Rabbi David Hartman, “The God Who Hates Lies: Confronting and Rethinking Jewish Tradition” Jewish Lights Press, from the introduction]
Think About It:
1.       In an age where the gap between Judaism in Israel and Judaism in the Diaspora grows wider, what is the nature of the problem to Rabbi Hartman?
2.       Is his critique of Orthodox Judaism particular to Israel or is it a worldwide problem?
3.       How is Rabbi Hartman Orthodox and not a traditional Conservative Jew?
What did the Israelites actually hear at Sinai? Some say they heard God proclaim all of the utterances. Others say that God spoke only the first two, declared in the divine “I” and that Moses added the remaining 8 in which God is referred to in the third person. Our Hasidic master taught that the Israelites heard only the first letter of the first word (the alef in Anokhi, which is a silent letter) and intuitively understood the rest (Menachem Mendel of Rymanov). That is, having encountered God in such a real and direct way, they understood the rightness and wrongness of certain modes of behavior without the need for words to be spoken. What God said is clear. How God communicated it to human beings remains a mystery. [Rabbi Harold Kushner, Commentary to Etz Hayyim
p. 441-442]


Sermon given by Rabbi Randall Konigsburg at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel on Saturday, January 26, 2019.

Thu, May 28 2020 5 Sivan 5780