Showing posts with label Exodus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Exodus. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

God's Outstreteched Arm

“And God took us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with great awe, and with signs and wonders.” (Deuteronomy 26:8)

This verse was made famous by the rabbis who compiled the Haggadah, the book that Jews use to recount the story of the Exodus at the Passover Seder, and who expounded upon it as follows: “Not through an angel, not through a seraph and not through a messenger, rather The Holy One Blessed be He did it in His glory by Himself.” The traditional text of the Haggadah focuses entirely on God as the Redeemer of the people of Israel. While Moses is the conduit for God’s signs and wonders in the biblical account, the rabbis removed him from the Passover narrative so that future generations would understand that Moses was merely a messenger or prophet of God.  Both texts—the Hebrew Bible and the Haggadah—contain numerous references to God’s strength, using anthropomorphic language to describe God. But these descriptions are not intended to be taken literally, as Jews believe that God has no corporeal being. Nor are we permitted to create graven images of God; we are, however, comfortable speaking metaphorically about God’s physical attributes. 

My understanding is that Christians regard Jesus as the son of God—some believe Jesus to be a physical embodiment of God—whereas Muslims do not speak, even metaphorically, of God’s physical attributes.  Although Jews appear to fall somewhere between these opposing views, Maimonides (1135-1204) cautioned against describing what God is because, by doing so, one might inadvertently imply what God is not.

Is there anything that you believe your tradition forbids you to say about God?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. 
I am the LORD your God.
(Numbers 15:41)
This verse appears at the very end of the Sh’ma, the prayer that observant Jews recite twice a day. One of the central stories of the Jewish people is the Exodus from Egypt—the move from slavery to freedom—and, on one level, the story preserves a collective memory. On another level, though, we can understand it as a metaphor for other kinds of liberating transformations. The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, can also be translated as narrow straits. The move from Mitzrayim to liberation mirrors my move into Judaism—from a narrow place in which I had all but given up on finding religious grounding, to the liberating gift of a tradition that offers me deep sustenance and a clearer relationship with God than I had previously thought possible. It is as though I passed through a narrow channel into a vast expanse of possibility. In this verse, God is doing the speaking and acting, in order that God may be known and in relationship with people. On its own, this is such a beautiful statement about the love and deep partnership between people and God. As a metaphor for my personal journey, the idea that God brought me out of narrow places in order to be known and in relationship evokes waves of wonder, joy, gratitude, and amazement—making it difficult, sometimes, to get those last few words of the Sh'ma out of my mouth.

Yaira’s comment about God ‘delivering’ her through her personal spiritual journey reminded me of my own ongoing journey along the ‘straight path’ of Islam to reclaim my purpose as a created human. In Islam we are taught that the inherent state of all creation is that of a muslim, literally, one who submits to God. The natural world exists in this state; babies are born in this state of submission. However, due to cultural and other profane influences, humans deviate from this state during our lifetimes. The purpose of Islam is to create a path on which we strive to reclaim our innate state of being—our natural state of submission to the Creator. It is not a forced existence with spiritual hoops to leap through, but a way of being fully human. In this verse, I noticed that the delivery of the Israelites from slavery was for a specific purpose. Speaking to the newly delivered Israelites, God says that He “brought you out of Egypt to be your God.” So, their freedom from subjugation to the Egyptians was replaced by freedom to serve God. This is our natural stateour “muslimness.” One final thought: when we pray for deliverance from the things that are oppressing us, we need to consider that true freedom does not mean lack of submission, but rather submission to our true purpose. As Bob Dylan so famously said, “You gotta serve somebody.”

Like Yaira and Amanda, I came to my current faith tradition as an adult. I was raised in an agnostic household and spent my childhood and young adulthood searchingyearningfor something that I could not define. I found a spiritual home in Christianity, and with it, a sense of freedom from doubt and fear. When I hear the words “I am the Lord your God,” I think of God’s enduring love for all people, God’s mercy, and God’s deliverance. I also think of God calling us to be better people as we attempt to live according to the promise of our being made in God’s image. Amanda’s articulation of the inherent state of creation in Islam is a nice parallel to the Christian concept of grace. It is through faith that we access the power of grace to do what God requires of us, which is “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8) We respond to “the Lord our God” by seeing ourselves bound in duty, love, and gratitude to keep all of God’s commandments.
Meet Guest Bloggers Yaira, Amanda & LeeAnne on the About Us page!