Mar 24, 2010

Shabbat HaGadol 5770: “Commanded to Hope”

Shabbat HaGadol 5770: "Commanded to Hope"
Rabbi Menachem Creditor

commemorating the Shloshim of Jon Galinson, z"l
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The Haftarah for Shabbat HaGadol speaks of a day when Elijah will come and "return the hearts of parents to their children and children's with their parents (Malachi 3:24),"  a day that can seem far, far away sometimes.   

The whole of the Haftarah is an emotional outpouring of God through the prophet Malachi, whose name means, significantly, "My Angel".  An "angel" is, according to Jewish Mysticism, an impulse borne of spiritual emotion.  Another way of saying this is that an angel is one way God is revealed in the world.  Malachi the 'Angel-Prophet' might be best understood as a manifestation of God's desire to not be Alone, and of God's Burning Need to remind us that we aren't alone either.

There is anger here as well, anger from a God who feels abandoned:  "I haven't changed, and you haven't disappeared either (3:6)… Turn back to Me, and I will turn back to you — says Adonai Tzeva'ot/Lord of Hosts (3:7)."  In other words, "Where are you? I need you! I don't want to Be Alone!"

Where is the Omnipotent God, the Unmoved Mover, the Perfect Eternal One?  Those are not biblical notions of God.  Those are philosophical responses to inescapable human vulnerability.  What can we know, then of God?  If one human yearning (Tanach) portrays a Vulnerable God, and later human yearning portrays a Perfect God, what does "belief in God" mean?  Can Judaism speak with a coherent voice about God?

I believe in God. 

God is, for me, the emotional pull we feel toward each other, the collective potentiality of humanity calling out for you.  I am in love with the Jewish path to the sacred, in which communal commitments demand hope embodied by commanded behavior.  This structured way of life, our People's evolving trek with the Mystery, emerges from (and is sometimes in dialogical response to) Biblical text.  Traditional behaviors, mitzvot, bring us closer to each other, and therefore to God.  The stronger the shared particular path, the closer we are bound to each other.  The more connected every person and interconnected every family becomes, the healthier the world.  The healthier the world, the healthier God is.

I believe in a day when children's hearts will reconnect with their parents' hearts, when the things we yearn for will burst into reality, when those we've lost will return and embrace us once more.  God and we don't want to be alone.  It's a hurt that makes us cry out for each other.

I believe we are commanded to hope for and work towards that better day, expressed in this week's Haftarah as God begging for our return.  

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Rabbi Menachem Creditor
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