Showing posts with label Passover. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Passover. 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 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