Friday, June 24, 2011

[Shefa] Check out Welcome to Honest to God by Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky

Welcome to Honest to God
a new blog by Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky

Welcome to this new blog about Judaism, the religion of the Jewish people. I�m writing from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the capital of the Diaspora, at the corner of West End Avenue and 100th Street at Congregation Ansche Chesed. I serve as rabbi to this exciting community, a Conservative synagogue which is intellectually vigorous, ritually traditional and socially progressive.

I named this blog �Honest to God� to refer to one of my deepest religious convictions. The Talmud [Shabbat 55a] teaches that �God�s seal is Truth.� Now, this Hebrew word, emet, has a wider range of meaning than its English counterpart. Honesty, trust, confidence, sincerity, integrity and faith are all part of emet, as are the more obvious truth and something verified. Being a religious Jew calls me to live these virtues in practice. In human relationships and with God, I strive to �admit the truth in public and speak the truth within my heart,� as we say in the morning prayers, based on Psalm 15. I try to keep the faith and to be faithful, to earn the trust of others and to trust. And since no one can lie before the Seal of Emet, I hope to build a spiritual life that is Honest to God.

The great modern Jewish thinker Franz Rosenzweig reflected on how to live on earth, facing God�s Seal of Truth. Only the infinite and eternal God can possess complete truth. That is, only for God can truth be a noun. For us � often mortal, finite, ulterior � truth can only be an adverb, a way of responding to the world. �We must have the courage to find ourselves present in the truth, the courage to say our Truly in the midst of the Truth,� he wrote. �Truth counts as God�s truth for me only when I make it my own in the Truly.� [Rosenzweig, Star of Redemption, 392-3, Hallo trans.]

Sorry about the infamously opaque Rosenzweigian locutions. But what he means is relatively clear: God is True. So people must behave Truly. And that�s what I strive for: to be Honest to God.

This reminds me of a famous ancient parable, from Midrash Genesis Rabbah 8.5:

Said Rabbi Simon: �When the Holy One was about to create the first human being, the angels broke into factions, some arguing: create, and others arguing: don�t create!

Thus it is written, �Love and Truth collided, Justice and Peace attacked each other� [Psalms 85.11]. For the angel Love said: Create humans, for they will perform acts of kindness. But the angel Truth said: Don�t create, for they will be nothing but lies. The angel Justice said: Create, for they will do acts of justice. But the angel Peace said: Don�t create, for they will be so quarrelsome.

What did the Holy One do? God took Truth and threw it to earth. The angels said: Master of the world! Why are you disgracing your chief servant?

God replied: So let Truth arise! Thus it is written, �And Truth will sprout from the earth� [Daniel 8:12].

Much I could say about this great teaching, which shows us human beings to be an unstable mixture of greatness and meanness. But for now let�s focus on the punch line: our very existence is a signal that we inhabit a false world. If the world were totally and authentically true, there would be no room for us imperfect copies. But God made room for us by banishing Truth from heaven.

So where is Truth now? Planted in the earth, an unsprouted seed, waiting to be tended and brought to fruition. That�s our job: pursue the truth, coax it from the earth, clear away the weeds and let truth root and flourish.

Interpreting this teaching, a 19th century Hasidic master, R. Itzhak Meir of Ger summed it up: �Who could ever approach Truth, as it is in heaven? But now that Truth is cast to the earth, heaven demands of us that we be true, as the truth is on earth� [Siach Sarfei Kodesh 3:24 (1989 ed.)].

And that�s the Truth.


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