02 July 2010

I'm With Those Who Cry

I know that I am meant to be disturbed.  To a degree, it's biological; or if not that, then *inherent* in who I am.  I bear the middle name Norman, given to me, likely before I was born, by my mother--in memory of her murdered father, who was killed in 1939.  I sometimes imagine, lying awake at night, that my middle name is like a car speeding toward me on a dark highway, its headlights and engine bearing down on my soul, taking me, possessing me against my will.  And sometimes, when dawn comes, first light and birds' song outside my window, the name is a legacy of a soulful, gentle man.  One whose own life was never fulfilled and therefore finds compassionate realization in a grandson he never knew.  Either way, by my name alone, I'm chosen.

I read Adam Kirsch's article in Tablet today about the new liberal theology collection that was recently published and I'm ambivalent about getting my hands on it.  I'm ambivalent about anyone beyond the early 20th century suggesting what one might think about Judaism.  I still haven't fully integrated what the earlier Sages have to say what thing's for sure:  this is an ambivalent generation.  More than any other, it suffers from two problems:  One, it takes *literalism* way too literally.  And two, it's practically given up on Peoplehood. 

I don't know any other way to say this:  Help!

Here's Adam Kirsch's closing paragraph:
In his afterword, Cosgrove expresses a certain degree of surprise at the book he has produced. He notes that certain subjects that might be expected to feature in contemporary Jewish theology—“the Enlightenment, Shoah, or establishment of the State of Israel”—go practically unmentioned here. But that is because these writers do not see it as part of their task even to touch on subjects like providence and theodicy. The existence of evil can present a theological problem only if you believe that God has the power to restrain or permit evil, and the God we see in these pages has no such power. It follows that this God would be extremely hard to pray to in times of need. A useful sequel to Jewish Theology in Our Time, in fact, would be accounts from these rabbis of how their theology works in a pastoral setting. When comforting a mourner, as when organizing a protest, it is probably much easier to be able to say, “God will rule for all eternity”—which doesn’t, of course, make it true.
 I say *help* because what liberal theology as liberal theology unleashes is the logical extreme of the unhinging of our connection to chosenness, the narrative promise that God exists and that God cares about our lives, and therefore that the Jewish people *matter*.  The logical extreme is unfathomably bleak.  It's to imagine that we no longer exist.

Thank God for the prophet Jeremiah.  Chosen by the Sages to open the first of the Haftarot of Warning, read in the 3 weeks leading up to Tisha B'Av, the Fast Day commemorating the Destruction of the First and Second Temples.  He arrives like a superhero, just in time to save not only this Shabbat but also to shake loose the bonds of our own autonomous chains, reminding us as he does that we born into narratives begun long before we were ever conceived. 
Before I created you in the womb, I selected you; before you were born, I consecrated you.  I appointed you a prophet concerning the nations.  I replied, "Ah, Eternal God!  I don't know how to speak, for I am still a boy.  And the Eternal said to me, "Do not say 'I am still a boy' but go wherever I send you and speak whatever I command you.  Have no fear of them, for I am with you to deliver you," declares the Eternal.
Fast Days, Temples--who needs 'em in the days of Twitter and Facebook and Multiple Identities.  I know, I know, I get it.  We're who we want to be; who we say we are. 

No:  Jeremiah says otherwise.  "Israel is holy to the Eternal.  The first fruits of His harvest."  Chosen without even knowing it--can you imagine?  A whole generation out there, hesitant to take it on; reticent about owning a legacy that others were given--also against their will--but whose faith, in only enduring, gave us our future.

Everyone's freaking out about Israel these days.  I know--it's horrible stuff.  From all sides.  And what's the answer?  I'm not sure.  So I turned to the only source I know these days who continually gives me comfort and guidance--Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, of blessed memory, killed by the Nazis but whose writings we have because he preserved them in milkcans beneath the earth of the Warsaw Ghetto.   In one of his collections--Bnai Machshava Tovah, translated as "Conscious Community," Shapira writes about those who merit membership in his holy society:
You must truly feel the distress we described above because of the terrible chasm between yourself and God.  This is not an intellectual sort of knowing; everyone, unless they are drunk or insane, knows we are far from holiness.  However, the members of our society feel such a pervasive sadness that we worry about our spiritual affairs no less than we worry about our financial affairs, God help us.  We are occasionally moved to tears because of our spiritual concerns and our overwhelming sense of unworthiness.
 I'm with those who cry.

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