A Grain of Sand

"I will multiply you as the stars in heaven and as the sand upon the shore." - Genesis 22:17

"I can see the master's hand in every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand." - Dylan, Every Grain of Sand (on Shot of Love)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Responsible Life, Part IV, ctd.

Notes on Chapter 15

The challenge of a life of Torah is to remain "awake" to the true reality of the world. We are seduced into sleep by our inability to confront our responsibilities. The method for keeping awake to the true nature of reality and to our responsibilities to others (and to ourselves) is a life of Jewish observance through halachah (Jewish law). In fact, halacha's (he spells it halakhah) power and authority stems from its capacity to keep us morally awake

if halakhah is to have any authority or hold over us, then it must by its very nature carry this compelling wakefulness with and for us. (p 119).
I want to point out here that Rabbi Stone is trying to find a foundation for Jewish life and Jewish observance that does not rest simply on tradition (that's how it's always been done) or divine authority (God told you to observe) in the commonly understood sense. In other words, he is answering the question, "Why should we observe Jewish law and teaching?" His answer is that Jewish law helps make us be better human beings, more awake to the realities of our world, more attuned to our responsibilities; Jewish law won't let us "go to sleep."

Having said that, though, I should also be clear that by no means does Stone flee from the idea of God. Not at all. In fact, he writes immediately after the quoted passage above "Halakhah is the vehicle by which the divine makes its way into our experience, as the burden we carry for another." (119).

Halakhah is not just a list of laws that are passed down and observed (or ignored). Halakhah also is shaped by the experience of our own lives in the present day. Jewish law

is based in Torah but it is equally based on avodah (worship) and gemilut hasadim [acts of loving kindness]...Insofar as halakhah is based on Torah, the shape of the acts it requires is determined by Jewish experience. (120)
That is, Torah records the experience of the Jewish people. I think he means Torah in the broadest sense here. Not just as the five books of the Torah, but as all Jewish teaching, which draws its wisdom from reflections about human experience. By the phrase "the shape of the acts it requires" he means the sorts of acts Jewish law requires or prohibits.

Insofar as [it] is base on avodah, the shape of its acts is determined by the voice of those who suffer and cry out. (120)

Prayer (avodah), Stone has written previously, gives the individual and the community the opportunity to cry out in need and in pain. Halakhah (Jewish law) has to take human suffering into account.

Insofar as [it] is based on gemilut hasadim, the shape of its acts is determined by the imperative to respond to another's suffering... (120)

Jewish law must also take into account our experience of the suffering of other people and take into account our sense that we are responsible to help alleviate that suffering and come to the aid of our fellow.

[Halakhah] is a whole cloth constantly being woven, un-woven, and re-woven, depending on the circumstances. (120)

Again, Jewish law is not just a list of habits and requirements passed down from generation to generation. It has to adapt to human experience, to be flexible to take account of how we live our lives in response to the divine call to to care for others. So, it is always being revised to take account of our changing reality.

1 comment:

  1. Thank You Rabbi Rose! All Your Writing/Comments On Rabbi Stone's Book Have Been Extremely Helpful!