Say what you will about we liberals and our desire to have it our way and choose to do what we want to do all night and day but from where I sit, I am hearing over and over again from people across the spectrum of life, who are interested in Judaism, who are engaged, with great interest, in the commanding and obligating voice of the Jewish tradition.
This is, arguably, an unanticipated development, born, perhaps, of a society in which there is simply too much choice. Or too much individuality, which leads, dreadfully, to just too much self-absorption and narcissism.
As I listen to adults describe what draws them to Jewish questions, it's almost always a sense of wanting to root oneself in a narrative beyond the self. A paradox of sorts--that one intuits that personal happiness can be found beyond the personal.
Inspired by this idea, I chose to teach tonight the narrative leap from Genesis to Exodus where the individuals tales and stories of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of the opening Book of Torah give way, in Exodus, to the notion of an עדה or community in obligation. Moses and Aaron and Miriam *lead* but they are not the focus of the narrative any longer in the way that Abraham/Sarah, Isaac/Rebecca and Jacob/Rachel/Leah and Joseph were. They are those who deliver the Law and in so doing release the Jewish people not only from the physical bondage of slavery to Pharaoh but from the existential bondage from the narrative of self. Moses, with his impairment of speech, is exalted because his task is not to deliver golden words of poetry but the strict and challenging prose of obligation.
There is much to think about in this construct.
And so as we approach the week of Torah readings when we open a new book of Torah, ספר שמות--the Book of Exodus--we do so with a humility of sublimation to a narrative greater than ourselves, the narrative of radical obligation to the other and the Other.
In an aside that I feel inspired to share I want to say that *if* I were advising the President as he continues the enormous task of repairing our nation, I'd strongly encourage him to use the Office of the President to speak the language of national and civic obligation. What is true in faith communities must be true in our greater polity as well--the People (if we can any longer adhere to such designations) are hungry for an organizing narrative of civic engagement. President Obama's election and inauguration of a year ago ignited that sense of purpose that has been lost in the miasma of the last year's economic crisis. It was from the position of the degradation of slavery that the Community of the Children of Israel forged a narrative of obligation and redemption; what's to say we can't create a similar narrative for ourselves as Americans today.
Release the Preacher in POTUS. Speak from the gut of what we OUGHT to do, Mr. President. Your citizens await your lead! The reluctant prophet is a motif, for sure; but don't let it define you. The Law, like once at Sinai, is what will set this nation free.