The musings of a previously unemployed Jewish Freemason. I write about the job search, about Judaism, and about Freemasonry.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Chayei Sarah: Walking After the Lord

In the Talmud, Rabbi Hama, son of Rabbi Haninah was asked about Deuteronomy 13:5 (13:4 in the Christian Bible) says, "Ye shall walk after the Lord your God". How are we supposed to walk after the Lord when Deuteronomy 4:24 says, "For the Lord thy God is a devouring fire"? Rabbi Hama's answer is central to Judaism, essential to how to act and how to live considering that we are created in the image of God (בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים, b'tzelem Elohim) [Genesis 1:27].

Rabbi Hama suggests that when we emulate the attributes of the Lord, we walk after the Lord. For example, we should clothe the naked in emulation of the Lord in the Garden of Eden: "Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them" [Genesis 3:21]. We should visit the sick because God sent angels to visit Abraham when he was recovering from his circumcision [Genesis 18:1}. We should comfort mourners in emulation of Genesis 25:11: "And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac". We should bury the dead since God buries Moses after he dies: "And He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day". [Deuteronomy 34:6, although the King James Bible uses an uncapitalized "he" without referring to whom the "he" refers to. In Jewish tradition, it is God who buries Moses].

All of which goes to show that "the image of God" is more about a wider ontological frame of reference than merely the corporeal. Kabbalah teaches that the higher worlds are realms where patterns, ideas, impressions and archetypes are the building blocks, the way that atoms and molecules are in the physical world. God is pandimensional, and therefore the image of God is as well. The worn-out metaphor (which to everyone's horror, some people take literally) of God as a king on a throne does not work here. God is woven into the fabric of the way that consciousness interacts with the material world, but it is not productive to consider the physical existence of God as separate from nature. The Talmud regards the physical metaphors, such as the hand of God, the face of God, or the eye of God, as metaphors not meant to be taken literally. The metaphor is important, sometimes crucially important, but we must not confuse the map with the terrain. There is a lot of rabbinic writings about what the different anthropomorphic manifestations mean, but Maimonides warns us stringently not to consider them as having material existence.

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