A little emergency at the synagogue today, so please accept my apologies and this redux musing from 5759, written while I was still one of the few Jewish students at Vanderbilt Divinity School.
Get Your Salvation Here-No Intermediary Needed.
"Salvation?" I hear you exclaim. "That's a Xtian concept. Jews don't need saving!"
Oh, really? Almost all of Vayikra is devoted to telling us what had to be done when we have done wrong. Not if, but when, as I wrote in last year's musing for Vayikra. There's no clearer evidence in Torah that Gd expects us to be imperfect. And wisely, Gd created a system that at once encourages us towards the unattainable goal, while allowing us to deal with "missing the mark." Yes, Vayikra deals with the inadvertent sin, and yes, it speaks only of the sins of violating negative commandments, with no reference to penance for failing to follow positive commandments. But these are all questions I addressed last year at this time. I want to pursue a different avenue of discourse today.
The Xtians seem fond of saying to all "We have the answer to salvation, through the mediation of our savior." Well, thanks but no thanks. We have what we need in the Gd we already know and with whom we have made our covenant. In this week's Haftarah, the prophet Isaiah lays it out pretty clearly for us.
Isaiah paints a fascinating picture. He tells us right off that Gd created us so that we might praise Gd, yet how little of that we have done that we should have already tired of it! What a great bit of rhetoric. For why else would we have stopped praising Gd if it were not that we had done so much of it that we had tired of it? Lay that irony on thickly, Isaiah.
Yet, despite these shortcomings, Gd forgives. No priest, no messiah, no crucifixion necessary.
And what an interesting Gd Isaiah shows us. A Gd who asks us to help Gd remember our wrongs, which have gone on since Avraham, asks us to argue our case with Gd. And then Gd admits to having abandoned us!
Yet, even for all that we have done wrongly, and all that we have failed to do, Gd will "rain upon dry ground." For Gd has chosen us, the people Israel. We need only remember these words: "ani rishon v'ani acharon, umi baladai eyn elohim - I am the first and I am the last, and there is no Gd but me."
Then Gd reminds us of the foolishness of creating idols. We take a tree and use it to make fire and cook, and with that same wood we form idols and bow to them. How foolish that looks. Idols cannot save us, not even idols in the form of a man. (Gee, who might that be?)
What can save us, all of us, I would venture, is a return to our covenant. I quote the words Isaiah tells us Gd spoke: "shuva eylai, ki g'al'ticha - return to me, for I redeem you."
In my Jewish-Xtian relations class yesterday, we discussed the sticky issue of "chosen-ness and election." It is clearly a stumbling block between the faiths. The contemporary liberal approach has been to water-down the idea and make it universalistic. The liberal Jews water down the words of Torah, softening their impact. We avoid those "unpleasant" words in the Aleinu prayer that speak of our being set apart, and that criticize the vanity of those others praying to an empty Gd. Liberal Xtians, too, work to soften the edges of exclusionist text. It's a pretty package but the gift it delivers is more a chimera than a reality. True interfaith dialog requires people coming at each other from the cores of their faiths. It's not about how we can each adjust our faiths to accommodate the other, it's about how we can each keep our faiths and still respect and love the other. For me, the secret is not in rejecting the ideas of covenant and chosen-ness, but in allowing for the possibility of multiple covenants and multiple paths to salvation, or whatever one chooses to call that concept.
I say this because for me, utilizing the message of Isaiah here requires an acceptance that there is a covenant between Gd and the people Israel. To me, doing so does not automatically say that Gd has not covenanted with others. Though I must admit that there is, inside me, a little devil that just once would like to proselytize to my Xtian friends, "shuv elai ki g'al'ticha-return to me, for I will redeem you." No intermediary needed.
[For those of you who worry that the use of "Xtian" might be offensive, allow me to assure you it is in common usage at the Divinity School, and is a Christian usage, not a Jewish put down.]
©1999&2002 by Adrian A. Durlester
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