Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 6/10 Post

I appreciate the overview, and I can see why you prefer the fifth option, but I am troubled by something. Like the Apostle Paul, you seem to be saying that God and Jesus set humanity up to fail; and that if it were not for God’s Grace and Jesus’ redemptive death on the cross, humanity would be damned for all eternity for failing to do what in fact is beyond our capacity to do in the first place. As you said earlier, the game is rigged and the House always wins.

You and I differ greatly over our understanding of God, but to simply offer a counter–argument would be somewhat prosaic. What I would rather do is hear from you regarding why God, as you understand God, would do this.

Judaism offers a very different notion. The Seven Laws of Noah that the rabbis derived from Genesis are the basic ethical precepts by which God judges humanity. The 613 Laws of Torah form the system by which God judges the Jews. The Jews are chosen for this more extreme lifestyle, but there is never any idea that God is setting Jews or gentiles up to fail. God says, “Keep My laws and My statutes, which a person shall keep and live by them—I am HaShem,” (Leviticus 18:5). Even God assumes we can do what God commands.

While most rabbis would agree that no one ever lives these laws perfectly, Jews do not believe people are judged based on a notion of perfection. Regardless of your beliefs, as long as your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds you are assured a place in Heaven. Indeed we even have Yom Kippur, our annual Day of Atonement, when God forgives all sins arising from our imperfect doing of God's commandments. (Jews are obligated to seek forgiveness from the people they may have hurt during the weeks prior to Yom Kippur).

This is, of course, somewhat academic since I don’t believe in a law-giving God who judges or damns; nor do I believe in a literal Heaven. As for what I do believe, I am drawn to your first and second options.

Given my suggestion that Jesus was a Lamed Vavnik, a Tzadik Nistar, one of the thirty-six hidden righteous, his sermon on the mount could be, as your first option suggests, a standard of living restricted to Lamed Vavnikim (plural of Lamed Vav, Thirty-Sixers). But if this is so, it is of very limited value. I prefer to see the Sermon as your second category does, an agenda for social change rooted not in large social or political movements but in personal transformation. Jesus as a Lamed Vavnik is articulating an ideal toward which we can all strive, but which few us will ever master. Mastery is beside the point; it is the effort that matters for it is the effort itself that is transformative.

I am very excited to go deeply into this text with you, Mike. I have never had the opportunity to study it formally, and certainly not with someone who seeks to embody it. I look forward to going into this verse-by-verse.

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