A Conduit to the Divine That Enriches Our Lives
One of the major drawbacks of the Western cultural mindset is that we have been so influenced by the Greek division between mind and body that we naturally think that, in matters of the spirit, a rational solution is more reliable, more significant than an emotional one; that philosophy always trumps mysticism or meta-physics.
When we encounter Shakespeare what matters more? Is it the technical debate over whether Shakespeare wrote his plays or whether they were authored by someone else (Marlow, Bacon, Johnson, etc.)? Or is the important thing the actual experience of watching and hearing the play itself? In a human relationship, the experience of interacting is what validates the relationship, more than the other person’s physical makeup.
We are used to thinking of religion as a series of theological propositions we that must accept. But really it is more an experience, a framework for living one’s life.
We are often invited in Judaism to playact. On Yom Kippur, we pretend we are standing before a Divine Tribunal and being judged. On Pesach, we are told to imagine what it was like to be enslaved and then freed. The purpose is not to verify the historical facts but to go through certain experiences that teach us important messages and heighten our religious, spiritual sensitivity.
It is the action, the experience that counts more than the words and the theory. The Seder is an experience, emotionally and hopefully spiritually. It is not designed to be a historical phenomenon.
Each religion, each culture has its own traditions and narratives that are often not factually true or at least not strictly so, but underpin and reinforce its value system. Does their significance lie in their historicity or accuracy? Is it important to try and “prove” them to be “true”? I don’t think so. I accept the Torah as my way of life, of God communicating with me. Do I know exactly how or even when it was transmitted? Not in any scientific sense, no.
What matters to me is not any scientific or historical information the Torah may (or may not) impart, but that it functions as a conduit between me and the divine and provides me with a way of life to cope with the daily challenges of life and enrich it.
The Meaning of the Seder: Appreciating our Current State of Freedom
The Seder is a series of rituals designed to get us to recognize that we are part of a people whose tradition includes ideas of slavery and freedom. The purpose is to get us to appreciate our current state. To be reminded that life has moments of freedom and moments of servitude. The customs, after all, are designed to get us to question, to challenge, to try to understand our lives even if we may not have all the answers.
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March 26, 2015
June 19, 2020
Dr. Rabbi Jeremy Rosen is the rabbi of the Persian Jewish Community of Manhattan and the Chairman of the Faculty for Comparative Religion in Wilrijk Belgium. He is a graduate of Cambridge University and yeshivot in Israel including Be’er Yaakov and Mir from whence he has his Smichot. He has worked in the rabbinate, education and academia.
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