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What Religion Has to Say to the World - Remembering Rabbi Harold Schulweis

12/13/2018 11:59:54 AM

Dec13

What Religion Has to Say to the World

Remembering Rabbi Harold Schulweis

When the angels of heaven learned of God's plan to create the human being with the divine image, they were aghast.  

“How can God plant something as pure and holy as the divine image, in a create as deceitful, base and corrupt as the human being?” So they conspired to steal it and hide it from the human. But where, where to hide the holy image? The angels met in urgent council to decide.

“Hide it on the top of the highest mountain,” suggested one angel. But no, “one day he will climb that mountain and find it.”

“Hide it beneath the deepest sea,” suggested another. But no, “someday he will plumb those depths and find it.”

“Put it at the farthest edge of the most forbidding wilderness,” another offered. But no, “he will learn to traverse the wilderness some day and will find it.

Finally, the shrewdest of the angels stepped forward. “We will place it deep in his heart. He will never look for it there.”

This was the great truth taught us by a great teacher -- Rabbi Harold Schulweis. Divinity is not far away. God is not far away. God abides right here, within us. Only we don't know that. We don't recognize the divinity within us. Rabbi Schulweis held up a mirror, so we could see the truth.

In the 30th chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses offers one of his last teachings to the People Israel.  He implores them "

This truth is not too difficult for you. It is not beyond you.
It is not in heaven, that you should say, who can go up and get it for us, and teach us to do it. It is not beyond the sea, that you should say who can cross the sea and get it for us, and teach us to do it
No. It is very close to you, this truth.
It is in your mouth, and in your heart, to do it.

Rabbi Schulweis called this “predicate theology.” God lives in our acts, our words, our dreams and ideals. God is discovered in moments of self-transcendence " in loving, caring, healing, giving. God speaks in the voice of conscience drawing us upward be better, drawing us outward to be loving, drawing us forward to be giving. God protects us from hopelessness, helplessness and despair.

The God that Rabbi Schulweis worshipped demanded that we recognize that our lives matter -- our actions matter, our voices matter. Belief in God, the Rabbi taught, does not allow us to sink into triviality, into small thinking.

Rabbi Schulweis was embarrassed by the smallness of spirit and hollow superficiality of so much of Jewish life. He was enraged by a Judaism self-absorbed and morally oblivious, offended by a Judaism resentful or afraid of the world, offended by rabbis who had nothing to say, by prayer that was  superficial and learning that was trivial. He insisted on the importance of this moment. He demanded that Torah be read in the present tense. Not about yesterday, but about today and tomorrow. The essential question, he taught, is not what was or what is, but what ought to be. Not what the world is, but what it ought to be. Not who we are, but who aspire to become.

God's name “Adonai,” Rabbi Schulweis pointed out, is first pronounced only when the human being enters the world. “Adonai” is the name for the human capacity for self-transcendence; for the human capacity to transform and reshape and heal the given world. Adonai " the power of human being to create the world of God's dreams. Rabbi Schulweis found Adonai, the God of self-transcendence, everywhere. Even in the midst of the darkest evil, we hold a capacity for moral heroism.

Rabbi Schulweis taught us " Ours are the hands of God. Ours are eyes of God. Ours is the voice of God. God lives, only so long as conscience lives in us. And religion thrives when it keeps conscience alive. Religion must have something important to say to the world. It must not be cloistered, isolated, hidden behind sacred boundaries. According to the Talmud, a synagogue must have a window, so that the sanctuary cannot be an escape, a diversion from the world's needs. The holy must invade the world.

Next week, Friday and Saturday, December 21st and 22nd, we will commemorate the 4th yahrzeit of our teacher, Rabbi Harold Schulweis. It has become our custom to commemorate by carrying forward the conversation he began, so this year, we will consider, “What Religion Says to the World.” Our guests will be two brilliant contemporary religious leaders -- Imam Jihad Turk of the Bayan Claremont Islamic Graduate School, and Rev. Mark Whitlock, pastor of the COR church in Irvine and director of Community Initiatives at University of Southern California, Center for Religion and Civic Culture. Please join us for this important conversation.

Sat, September 26 2020 8 Tishrei 5781