Friday, November 18, 2005

222. Words

Just as I was pondering the handicap of memory in my last post, I read the following in Sinai and Zion, a book for my Me'ah course:

"It is significant for our understanding of the nature of the religion of Israel among the religions of the world that meaning for her is derived not from introspection, but from a consideration of the public testimony to God. The present generation... do[es] not determine who they are by looking within, by plumbing the depths of the individual soul, by seeking a mystical light in the innermost reaches of the self. Rather, the direction is the opposite... One looks out from the self to find out who one is meant to be... Israel began to infer and to affirm her identity by telling a story." [pp. 38-39]

This struck me as a good capsule analysis of the enduring link in Judaism between text and spirit. Sometimes it's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Maybe that's why I'm so afraid to make a mistake when chanting Torah; the words do not simply represent the story, but are the story, of which I become a part when I read. The responsibility is enormous. I think we circumvent the risk of becoming like the generations before Abraham, of worshipping words as if they were idols, by never agreeing on their interpretation (see, for example, the entire Talmud). To insist there's no room for change in Judaism, to observe inflexibly, seems almost sacrilegious.


Regina said...

That's what I love about Judaism, aa... it's generational... that public profession of faith in G-d that has come down from the generations, shaping the lives of each subsequent generation.

"One looks out from the self to find out who one is meant to be..."

Introspection can be valuable but taking stock of the past is invaluable...

BTW, aa... can you tell me something? When does one begin the new Torah portion for the week? Saturday evening, Sunday morning? I would like to post the weekly Torah portion on my blog but I want to do it at the approapriate time... thanks!

alto artist said...

We actually begin reading the new Torah portion at the Saturday minha (afternoon) service following the morning when the prior portion is read. We only read part of it, however. We continue to read part of it at that week's Monday and Thursday services, and on Shabbat morning we read the entire thing (well, sort of--many Conservative and Reform synagogues do not, but technically we still do, if that makes sense). (Torah is read publicly on Saturday, Monday and Thursday, those last two being the ancient market days when it was possible for people to actually show up and listen.) So, for example, this Sat. morning we'll read all of Vayera, and then at the afternoon service will read sections of Hayyei Sarah. I think of it as a sneak preview and incentive to study during the week that which we'll hear on Shabbat.

Regina said...

OK- I think I got that, aa ;)
Thank you!

alto artist said...

You're welcome, and sorry if I sounded a little too pedantic up there!