Monday, March 10, 2008

654. Growing up

This past Shabbat morning in honor of Rosh Hodesh Adar II, the beginning of the month of Purim, we studied the midrash about God offering the Torah to the people Israel by suspending a mountain over their heads upside down, like a big Hershey’s Kiss. (The rabbi didn’t use those exact words, but it’s the picture I’ve always had in my mind’s eye.) Accept my word, said God, or I’ll drop this big thing and you'll perish. So the Torah became ours, even though we didn’t have a choice in the matter. The celebration of Purim, in comparison, is a mitzvah given to one another by mankind rather than by God:

The Jews confirmed and accepted upon themselves and their descendants, and all who might join them, to observe these two days in the manner prescribed and at the proper time each year.
—Esther 9:27

By the time of Esther, we’ve grown up and learned how to exercise free will. God is still present but much more subtly, just as our parents always remain in our lives even after we learn to act autonomously. So according to this interpretation, it makes perfect sense that God's name to is absent from Megillat Esther. Purim, the last in the cycle of holidays before they begin again with Pesah and the story of our liberation, signifies a new connection to God out of maturity and understanding rather than fear:

On Purim they accepted the Torah out of love.
—Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740-1810), Kedushat Levi

The celebration of Purim is in essence because Israel accepted the Torah again.
—Rabbi Yehonatan Eybeschutz (1690-1764), Ye’arot Devash

For this reason the holiday will remain even when God has no need for others; God wants to commemorate our love more than anything else. I think the rabbi read my mind when he offered these teachings, because I spent much of the week pondering the kind of God I believe in. Not doubting, not at all, but trying to understand the representations that most move me. Last week in an ongoing discussion group about the book Engendering Judaism, we talked about the image we consider during prayer. Did it have a name (HaShem, “compassion,” The Eternal)? A feeling (empowerment, pleading, embrace)? I concluded that I speak to “God," a default title for my conception of the nameless. I often envision natural phenomena: wind, sand, warmth, light. And I find little connection to concepts like “God as judge” (in the Unetane Tokef High Holy Day prayer, for example), Whom I imagine as harsh rather than benevolent or parental. I resonate with a God of Forgiveness more than other poetic descriptions.

And I see this image in the God of Purim, Who appeared out of a second chance taken once we grew up and learned more about ourselves, and Who is kind enough to step back and let us make our own mistakes.

1 comment:

Regina said...

Gosh, your witing is so beautiful, aa. It really does my heart good to read that yes, it is alright and okay to fashion God in the way we need him to be to us and for us. I have spent many long years trying to accept the God that was fashioned for me, but never feeling quite right about it. Now, I am finding out just what God means to me, too, through my own searching and wanting... it's wonderful.
You are truly a blessing...