In my Me'ah class tonight, we met with one of the rabbis instead of our usual teacher in order to put weeks of academic learning (i.e., scholars believe the Bible was written and redacted by many people over time; archaeologists have proven that history didn't happen like the stories say, etc.) into a religious perspective.
It was very interesting. Although my synagogue has members spanning a large variety of beliefs and practices, most fall on the liberal end of the scale. This generally means that we don't take the words of the Bible literally. So I was surprised to hear that many people in the class were troubled by what we studied. How, someone asked, can I reconcile all this information with the Torah as "mi Sinai" (given at Sinai)? How can I continue to believe it's a sacred text? Why observe mitzvot if they were made up by people, not heaven?
I'm sure these were not new questions for anyone, but were brought to the fore by many weeks of reading a sacred text as history, literature, and archaeological record. I was also a little surprised to acknowledge, with complete confidence, that I'm not bothered by any of what we've studied. With each theory I read, each literary connection between authors "J" and "E" or bit of proof that a battle did not take place as written but was fabricated in a creative way by someone else, decades later, I thought--how great that God gave us the ability to spin meaningful tales out of myths that have lost their relevance, or history otherwise doomed to be forgotten. If we're really made in God's image, He must be pretty cool. The rabbi talked about an "internal sense of commandedness" borne as much from the covenant with ourselves as the one with God, of which we must be aware even when we don't subscribe to the traditional reasons for following those rules. I understood; this, I think, is why I feel both compelled, and unworthy, to chant Torah and lead services. Maybe it's my duty to both God and people--the two categories blurring, overlapping, and sharing meaning--to do these things.
Your observations (and your rabbi's, of course) in this posting reminded me of the Dean Stanley quote: "We must never throw away a bushel of truth because it happens to contain a few grains of chaff." (I am afflicted with quotation brain today, forgive me)
I am continually impressed with your insights, aa... I am going through the same kind of thing, realizing that what I know from childhood (an even adulthood) is not always as it seems. Unsettling but life transforming at the same time... thanks, aa...
A friend and I were wondering yesterday why God gave us the ability to doubt...you'd think His job would be so much easier if we didn't. But then He'd probably get bored very quickly, and so would we...
I just followed a link here, and am enjoying your blog tremendously. This post in particular resonates for me. Thank you for this.
Rachel, thank you! (And I'm a longtijme fan and reader of your blog--thank you so much for that, as well.)
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