Thursday, 18 Apr 2019

Written by Mathias Elasri

Pesach 2019

A few days ago I was with my fellow students in Israel in the desert, somewhere not far from the Jordanian border.

  • “Right there Joshua and the children of Israel came into the land”, said the guide with a mocking smile …

We walked in single file, thinking thus of Joshua and the first Hebrews who entered the Land where flows milk and honey.

The stones rolled under our feet and seemed to whisper words beyond ages, words of exodus and long walks.

The sun tingled our shoulders and eroded our thoughts. We were walking through the sound of our footsteps, our minds emptied of all kind of “interior hametz” surrounded by the golden colors of the rocks around us.

Throughout the week, Jerusalem was agitated, has dusted, scrubbed …

And we actually felt, chasing the last chametz crumbs of our kitchens, the imminence of the exit of Egypt coming and sitting at our tables. We could smell Foam waves of the Sea of ​​Reeds on our skin and wind twisting in our hair.

In the synagogues, the sensuality of the episode of “Shirat HaYam”, the Song of the sea crossing that we read a few weeks before, takes shape during the offices of Pesach, in the reading, of a Another Song: The Song of Songs.

The poetic tonality of the text as a thin veil of the bridal chamber and no longer hides but the faces of the protagonists, in whom some commentators see Israel and God.

Never anywhere in the calendar of Jewish holidays it is more union and love than during the Passover celebrations.

Yet, if it is true that Israel’s love for God is an injunction, opening for example the prayer of Shema Israel (“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul …”), is the reciprocity of this love explicit as well ?

God’s love for Israel is often read between the lines and needs to be interpreted.

So much so that one can ask the question: does God love ?

The “goodness” given to God is thought from our possible goodness and our experience of human power. How to do otherwise? Human beings have only this language to evoke God.

Maimonides in his book “The Guide to the Perplexed” says that even the most sublime things associated with the name of God are imbued with our imagination.

Therefore, to say that God is “good” in human terms or loving is not likely to mislead us, to stretch finite human features on His infinite face ?

God cannot be defined with words.

There can therefore be no common measure between human love and divine love. Yet both are designated by the same word and placed in a reciprocal relationship in the Covenant.

This qualifier is applied to God by homonymy and anthropomorphism.

Speaking of His love can only be maintained in a negative way, that is by stating what His love is not, and this, according to our human experience.[1]

By making this kind of comparison, by giving human traits to this divine love, we reduce the divine to something human. We give borders to infinity, we make the divine a fixed image, and therefore an idol.

For Maimonides, no one could have an adequate idea of ​​God and, for the wisest, silence would be the best way to tell about God.

Thus, a human being may love God as a symbol of perfection or beauty but he cannot hope that God will love him in the same terms.

This human or humanized love would therefore be one way.

There are, however, many signs or metaphors in the Torah that we can interpret as declarations of love. So let us remember God’s promise to Abraham of the parashat Lekh Lekha (“I will make you a great nation, I will bless you, I will give your glorious name and you will be a source of blessing.” I will bless those who will bless you and outrage I will curse him, and by you will be blessed all the races of the earth. “)[2]. This promise of a glorious future does not explicitly contain the word “love” which would “objectify this declaration of love”. Everything is suggested and it is up to the reader to formulate the hypothesis. Love, then, would be here for the benefit of the reader.

In other terms, love is here because the reader interprets it as such with his own eyes. And how could it be different ?

In the Talmud tractate Shabbat, the famous schools of Hillel and Shammai are debating whether in the desert, the count of the days of Shabbat lost, one should artificially designate the Shabbat (Hillel) or whether it is better to keep the research of this day “objectified” in the count of the days of creation (Shammai). It is in the end the thesis of the school of Hillel which is retained. [3]

Neither the nature of God nor his commandments are therefore objectifiable.

Jewish tradition emphasizes their social construction.

It is the same with the love of God, hidden in the folds of the metaphors of the text, interpreted as such by the commentators and not objective.

The sun of the desert was now declining and the golden rock of the morning was now dressed in shades of gray and green. Our legendary walk was now diluting in the cold colors of the late afternoon …

If we had been sincerely searching our kitchens for a few days hoping to remove any crumbs of chametz, we had forgotten our own chametz inside us, most often hidden in the folds of our mind, we weigh down and confines us to the most literal sense.

So let us throw ourselves into researching for God into the poetry of the biblical text, its ellipses and its suggested meaning. Let’s get rid of any superfluous projection, let’s be careful to not think about the divine with a human reading, even if God sometimes comforts us and performs acts that are often felt as loving.

The alliance is not defined primarily by love, at least in a human way.

It would make it so vulnerable, at the mercy of the instability of a human passion. The Covenant of God and His people is a mutual commitment, a relationship built step by step with the minutia of a work of art. It is about generosity and mutual “respect” according to the root of the word respect (respierce in Latin = to look at).

Thus, it is in his absence, in these shadowed areas of the text, as the folds of His mantle that we can walk in “His trace” to use the formula of the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas.

So let’s go into the unknown, into His infinity “ beyond the verse”, and let us remember that at Mount Sinai, when Moses asked Him his name, God did not respond to but in an ellipse, a no-answer about His infinite nature: ehié asher ihié,

“I will be what I will be”.

Mathias Elasri LBC rabbinic student

[1] Maimonides M. Guide of the Perplexed I / 52 p.116; / 55, p. 129; / 56, p.131

[2] Gen 12. 2-3

[3] Talmud Babli Shabbath 69b

The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.