Showing posts with label Moses. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Moses. 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 13, 2013

Faithful Advocacy - Part 3

“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth...”  (The Gospel of John 14:16-17a, NRSV)

The pursuit of justice is one of Judaism’s central themes. From the prophets who cry out, demanding that we care for those who are on the margins of society; to the many mitzvot (commandments), obligating us to share with those in need, welcome the stranger, and regularly forgive debts; to the well-known instruction, “Justice, Justice, you shall pursue!” (Deut. 16:20), Jewish tradition insists that we construct societies that are fair and just for all people. It recognizes, too, that although not everyone is a decision-maker, each person is obligated to do what she can. According to one rabbinic saying, “If [a person] sits in his home and says to himself, ‘What have the affairs of society to do with me? Let my soul dwell in peace!’—If he does this, he overthrows the world.” (Midrash Tanhuma, Mishpatim 2)

For too many years, I sat at home and left justice work to others. Now I am actively involved, but I still sometimes feel afraid and under-qualified. Here, I draw inspiration from the story of Moses, the quintessential “reluctant prophet.” When God called Moses to lead, Moses was afraid and doubted himself. But God promised to be with him and guide him. Moreover, God sent someone—Moses’ brother, Aaron—to help him. In my own life, every time I have left my comfort zone, I have found unexpected friends and helpers along the way. My tradition demands that I do what I can to bend the world toward justice—but it doesn’t want or expect me to do it alone.

This is the third post about Faithful Advocacy from Guest Writers LeeAnne, Amanda & Yaira. Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2.  Please join their conversation by leaving your comment below.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Mercy (part 3)

“Moses, when tending [his father-in-law] Jethro’s flock in the wilderness, proved himself a tender shepherd. He was not above carrying a little lamb that ran away in its search for water on his shoulder back to the flock. God said, ‘This tender shepherd of man's flock shall be the shepherd of my own flock.’” (Exodus Rabbah 2, 2)

This biographical sketch of Moses the shepherd is found in a collection of classical midrashim, or legends, written in the 9th-11th centuries. When I read Yasmina’s post about the Prophet Mohammed, this story immediately came to mind. In particular, the verse of Quran describing Mohammed himself as “a mercy to all creatures” struck me as so similar to the rabbinic sages’ description of Moses’ compassion toward the lamb. How can a prophet or leader, a teacher or parent, relate to God’s creatures except with mercy and lovingkindness? Without these qualities, he or she would surely fail. One of the 99 names of God that I have studied with Yasmina is ‘Al Rabb, the Master, Lord, Nurturer or Sustainer. God nurtures His creatures through eloquent guidance and educational discipline, signs and tests. Similarly, God nurtured Moses, offering divine guidance and signs, as well as discipline and tests, including the test of the runaway lamb described in this legend. The etymology of ‘Al Rabb is akin that of the Hebrew word HaRav, the master or teacher, an honorific that the rabbis bestow upon Moses. A striking parallel in our religious traditions is the extent to which our prophets are a shining reflection of the divine attribute of mercy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Last Prophet

“And a prophet did not rise again in Israel like Moses, whom God knew face-to-face.”
(Deuteronomy 34:10)
As I begin to prepare for the holiday of Passover, I am reminded of a tension in Jewish tradition regarding Moses. In the Torah itself, Moses is described as the last, great prophet of Israel; in the Haggadah,[1] he is never mentioned by name.  The rabbis who compiled the Haggadah added countless interpretations of the text yet consistently left Moses out, and focused solely on God’s role in the redemption of the people.  I understand their editorial choice: no doubt they were reacting to the primacy attached to leading men in other religions, namely Jesus and Moses.  Nevertheless, removing the human protagonist and leaving only an unknowable hero—to whom we offer lengthy praise both before and after the meal—the rabbis made the story less accessible to modern Jews. I am thinking about how best to add Moses’ voice to the retelling of the story at my Seder this year. I would like to imagine what Moses saw in God’s face, what Moses felt along the arduous journey from Egypt to the edge of the Promised Land. How can Moses be our role model for knowing God?

What a provocative question, Tziporah!  What would Moses’ voice tell us?  Perhaps about how God can take an impetuous, doubting, and argumentative anyone[2]—someone like us—and show him or her how to lead others who fail repeatedly to trust a God who never fails.  As our Jewish friends prepare for Passover, Christians now near the end of a 40-day Lenten journey when we remember the Exodus in our own lives, times when we too have wandered in a wilderness, afraid, confused, and prone to forget God.  In those hard and awful experiences, when we see the run-together godisnowhere, our eyes may first tell us that “God is nowhere;” until we confront God ourselves, in a burning bush or through the gentle, outstretched arm of one who will part the waters for us. Then we discover the reality that “God is now here” and that we, too, stand on holy ground.

Since the story of Moses [Peace and Blessing be upon Him] is recounted in the Quran in more detail than that of any other prophet, I am lost in a multitude of choices: patience, trust, courage, dedication and perseverance are but a few of the many honorable qualities Moses displayed to the people of his time and to us today. However, I will focus on another aspect of Moses’ character. In the Quran, God asks Moses—although He knows the answer, of course—why he hastened and left his people to head to the mountain. Moses says: “and I hastened to you, my Lord, that You be pleased.”[3] I find these words deeply touching; to me, they epitomize Moses’ contentment and happiness of sharing an intimate connection with God, as well as his deep understanding of pure intention. Moses’ eagerness to respond to God’s commands, his sincerity and his devotion are characteristics I seek to emulate.

[1] The Haggadah is a book that is used to retell the story of the Exodus at the Seder, the ritual meal held on the eve of Passover.  There are many different publications of the Haggadah; most recently, Jonathan Safran Foer edited the New American Haggadah.  Corey-Jan Albert, a contributor to She Answers Abraham, wrote a version in script format titled Diaspora Journey.
[2] Peter in Christian scriptures
[3] Ta Ha, 20:84

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Good Posture

We begin the year with a post that reflects what we have learned from our survey: You are interested in the personal conversations we have as we develop our responses to the sacred texts. This conversation began when Tziporah emailed Yasmina to ask about attending Friday prayers at the mosque.  Grace joined in, agreeing that the email exchanges formed the backbone of a blog post.  While we continue to add new texts on Wednesdays, we invite you to join our conversation by commenting below or responding to the survey
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Whatever beings there are in the heavens and the earth prostrate themselves to God, with good will or in spite of themselves; so do their shadows in the morning and evenings.”
(al-Ra’d 13:15)

When I visit the mosque, I always feel a little awkward during the prostrations because this is not a typical posture of Jewish prayer.  Jews used to prostrate—known in the literature as “falling on one’s face”—as a sign of devotion and humility.  Most notably, when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, he used to prostrate and ask forgiveness on behalf of the people.  Nowadays, some Jews perform full prostrations on the High Holidays in remembrance of this custom, but usually only the leader of the congregation prostrates.  As I understand the evolution of liturgical practice, we gave up prostration after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (70 C.E.), because the Holy of Holies no longer existed and the rabbis who re-envisioned Judaism pretty much put the Temple functionaries out of work. We still bow at the knee and waist in key sections of the liturgy, but these bows are carefully choreographed NOT to be full prostration or kneeling. The rules against bowing reflect the tendency of the rabbis to forbid “worshiping like our neighbors,” and likely arose as these postures became common in Christian and Muslim prayer.

I understand your feelings about prostration because it is unusual to you—and I am not saying that you should do it—but I wanted to offer some insight as to its meaning in Islam. Muslims are taught that prostration is the position in which they are closest to God because of the humility it represents; it is the physical expression of the submission of the heart. What we say in this position is "Praise be to My Lord, Most-High," three times at minimum. Then we may prolong our prostration to include supplications to God for good health, guidance, etc. The Quran mentions that many prophets prostrated before God. Even the magicians that challenged Moses [Peace and Blessings be upon him] finally relented and bowed low: “So the magicians were thrown down to prostration; they said, ‘We believe in the Lord of Aaron and Moses.’” (Ta Ha 20:70) In fact, the Quran says that all creatures prostrate to God (see above). I included the verses because I knew you would ask me for them! Checking references is a great habit to cultivate, especially in our days when so many things are taken out of context.

I am inspired by your conversation and happy to add some information about physical expressions of prayer in various Christian practices.  Prayer postures vary among Christians of different denominations. However, full prostration is not customary in Christianity except when a monk or nun takes Solemn Vows to lead a monastic life.  Catholics traditionally show reverence at the church altar by bowing or genuflecting, and stand or kneel for prayer.  Protestant Christians are typically more restrained, sitting quietly and reverentially with bowed heads. Pentecostal Christians often raise their arms and hands, sometimes swaying their bodies to welcome God’s Holy Spirit. All of these postures convey the supplicant’s humility and adoration towards God. Some Christians, during and following prayer, make the sign of the Cross over the upper torso, sometimes also signing the Cross three times in miniature on forehead, lips, and heart: “God in my thinking, in my speaking, in my being.”  Because prayer is both corporate and personal, the movements during prayer—like the words of prayer itself—can be highly prescribed or completely spontaneous.