6 years ago I wrote a musing for parashat Emor which connected with a very personal space inside of me. I've been dealing lately with some subtle discriminations against others (and myself) that compel me to reiterate those thoughts from 5760, along with a few added comments from this year. So, with your indulgence:
The haftarah for our weekly parasha comes from Jeremiah. The reading begins with the assertion that all the people of the earth will renounce the false gods of their ancestors, and acknowledge Ad''nai as the one G''d. with a little "spin" these words can take on a more universalistic feeling. We need not read them as "Ha, ha, we were right and you wrong!" For as we continue along in the haftarah, we learn how unfaithful the children of Israel have been. No, there's more at play here.
In Verse 20 the prophet asks "How can human beings make gods? They are not gods at all!" And then the kicker, in verse 21: "Therefore, I am letting them know-once and for all I will make them know My might and power-and they shall know that I am called Ad-nai."
Now, we could read this as a throwback to when G''d was less mature and more petulant, a sort of "all right, now I'll show them!" in the same way G''d showed Pharaoh and the Egyptians who was really the god. However, we can also read it as an act of G''d's mercy. After all, as pagans, their prayers are wasted. Might as well hook them up with the "real" G''d so they can derive some reward and satisfaction from their behavior, their actions, their worship.
There. I feel better now. Another potentially exclusionist bit of text made a bit more universal. Except, of course, for pagans and atheists.
(On a side note, I was reminded this week while learning from someone I consider a great teacher and scholar, how the Aleinu prayer, when used in its entirety, provides both particularistic and universalistic components. It's that second section--the one that gets left out of the Reform and other liberal prayerbooks: "Al keyn n'kaveh..." While you can read it as particularistic, in that it says that to G''d every knee must bend, etc., I think the vision that inspired it is one of all the peoples of earth all recognizing that the G''d we all worship is one and the same. While problematic for some faith systems outside of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim family tree, I think the idea behind it is a universalistic one. And, at least for me, it's perfectly plausible that the Deity manifests itself it many ways, so that , again, except for the atheists, there are ways that Hindus, Buddhists, Shintoists Daoists, and others can really ultimately be part of this one big family that recognizes that G''d is "one" in some sense of the concept of one-ness.)
But I digress. (What else is new.)
What I really wanted to talk about this week was further on in the haftarah. Starting we chapter 17 we get a nice stern rebuke. For our (Israel's) sins G''d will take away our wealth. And this portent:
You yourself will lose the heritage I gave you, and I will make you serve your enemies in a land you do not know: for you have kindled the flame of My wrath, to burn a long time.
Something kept drawing me back to these words. Something was tickling the back of my mind. And then it hit me. Those last few words. A long time. Ad-Olam.
And the question arises-a long time from whose perspective?
From our perspective, it has been quite a long time. 1,878 years, give or take a few. Quite a bit longer if we go back to the point at which Jeremiah was prognosticating an exile for the Israelites. In any case, it has been a long, hard time. We've been persecuted, vilified, subjected to genocide. Now thing are looking a bit better (albeit only some of the time.) Yet, from G''d's perspective, it has been just an instant. In G''d's time, it could be a few more millennia before the flame of G''d's wrath against us burns out. And, during this interval so far, we've not exactly done the best job of trying to get our house back in order and do the things that G''d has asked us to do (and not do those things G''d has told us not to do.) Not much incentive for G''d to give us another chance, for G''d to reduce the length of the sentence of exile from our heritage.
We may think we are worthy. We may believe that G''d's compassion will prevail sooner rather than later. Yet how sure can we be? A reborn Jewish state in Israel. A miracle. If G''d is ready for us to keep it, perhaps we will. Yet if the period of time that G''d's wrath is to burn against us seems but an instant of time to G''d, it seems unlikely G''d will take notice of our feeble efforts to do better.
All this can seem pessimistic. It's not meant to be. We need to learn from the story with which the book of Exodus began. Seems to take a lot of crying out to get G''d to notice us, and redeem us. We can sit here and say, well, from G''d's perspective, G''d's wrath has only burned against us for our wrongful ways for but a moment. Not much point in doing anything good now, Let's just go on about they way we've been doing things, and wait, with perfect faith, for the coming of moshiach.
Let's take a hint from our orthodox brothers and sisters. We, too, should want "moshiach now!" Now, we might be convinced that the way the orthodox want to bring this about is not the way that is gonna work. And that's OK. G''d likely doesn't care about the distinctions - orthodox, conservative, liberal, humanist, etc. Figuring out what G''d wants might require us recognizing that G''d might not want exactly the same thing from each of us, or from our communities.
Let's figure it out. Let's do all we can to make our "long time" into an instant got G''d. Let's convince G''d to think that G''d's anger has burned against us long enough. It might take us a long time to bring this about. Or it might take only an instant.
©2006 by Adrian A. Durlester
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