shavuot sermon

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I rarely post sermons-but I am proud of this one and it is a tribute to my late teacher, Rabbi David Hartman, z’l

SERMON SHAVUOT 5774

 

ON SHAVUOT WE MARK THE MOMENT WHEN GOD’S VOICE SPOKE AT MOUNT SINAI

THE SAGES IN THE MIDRASH TELL US THAT EACH PERSON WHO STOOD AT SINAI HEARD GOD’S VOICE DIFFERENTLY-

MIDRASH TANCHUMA STATES-

THE VOICE OF GOD AT MOUNT SINAI WAS UNDERSTOOD BY EVERYONE ONLY ACCORDING TO THEIR ABILITY TO UNDERSTAND-

THE OLD PEOPLE UNDERSTOOD IT ACCORDING TO THEIR ABILITY-

THE YOUNG PEOPLE UNDESTOOD IT ACCORDING TO THEIR ABILITY

 INFANTS UNDERSTOOD IT ACCORDING TO THEIR ABILITY

EVEN MOSES, SAYS THE MIDRASH , UNDESTOOD THE VOICE OF SINAI ACCORDING TO HIS ABILITY

THERE IS SOMETHING PROFOUNDLY BEAUTIFUL ABOUT THIS IDEA-

THAT THERE IS NOT ONE SINGLE WAY TO UNDERSTAND REVELATION; TO UNDERSTAND TORAH

THAT IN FACT THERE ARE AS MANY WAYS AS THERE ARE THOSE WILLING TO LISTEN TO THAT VOICE

NO ONE HAS A MONOPOLY ON THE TRUTH -AND THIS PARTIUCALRLY APPEALS TO US AS PROGRESSIVES AS JEWS OF A LIBERAL TRADITION WHERE ALONG WITH THE MEDIEVAL SCHOLAR IBN EZRA AND THE MDOERN TEACHER EUGENE BOROWITZ WE ASSERT THE RIGHT TO UNDERSTAND TORAH ACCORDING TO OUR INTELLECT

TO PARAPHRASE ONE OF THE FOUNDERS OF REFORM JUDAISM RABBI SAMUEL HOLDHIEM -RABBI AKIVA UNDESTOOD TORAH IN HIS WAY AND I UNDERSTAND IT IN MINE.

THAT THIS PRINCIPLE TAUGHT BY THE ANCIENTS THAT TORAH IS FILTERED THROUGH THE PRISM OF OUR LIVES AND EXPERIENCES AND UNDERSTANDINGS THAT TORAH IS FILTERED THROUGH THE PRISM OF OUR OWN approaches IS MOST GRATIFYING PARTICULARLY IN AN AGE WHERE WE ASSERT THAT WE ARE SOVEREIGN SELVES AND ARE ENTITLED TO A SPIRTIUAL LIFE THAT CONFORMS TO OUR VALUES

BUT WHAT IF THE FILTER THE PRISM THROUGH WHICH WE EXPERIENCE TORAH OR THE WORD OF GOD- WHAT IF THAT FILTER IS MADE OF EVIL-

WHAT IF THAT FILTER THAT PRISM IS ENGINEERED OUT OF THE SPUTTERING ENGINE OF OUR HATRED AND INTOLERANCE

WHAT IF THE VOICE OF GOD WE HEAR- THE SINAI WE ENCOUNTER IS FILTERED THROUGH THE SIEVE OF IGNORANCE, DECEIT, MISOGYNY, SUPERSTITION AND PREDJUDICE?

WE DON’T NEED TO GUESS TO IMAGINE, FOR THAT IS THE WORLD LIVE IN

IF WE LIVE IN A TIME WHEN THERE IS A GREAT YEARNING FOR MEANING A GREAT YEARNING FOR THE SPIRITUAL AND I BELIEVE THAT WE DO

WE ALSO LIVE IN A TIME WHEN PEOPLE CLAIMING TO REPRESENT THE VOICE OF GOD DO SO THROUGH A CLOAK OF IGNORANCE, HATRED, PREDJUDICE MISOGYNY INTOLERANCE AND RACISM

THE VOICE OF GOD HAS BEEN USED TO JUSTIFY THE MOST EXTREME HATREDS AND PREDJUCIDE-

HERE IN THE UNITED STATES

AGAINST GAY AND ELSBIAN AND TRANSGENDERED PEOPLE

AGAINST WOMEN

AGAINST PEOPLE WHOSE SKIN IS DARK

AGAINST WORKERS FIGHTING FOR A LIVING WAGE AND AGAINST THE POOR SIMPLY STRUGGLING TO MAKE IT THROUGH THE DAY

SOMEHOW THOSE WHO CONDMEN AND DISCRIMINATE DO SO SMUGLY EMPOWERED BY WHAT THEY BELIEVE IS GOD’S VOICE

ABROAD WE HAVE SEEN EXTREME CRUELTIES COMMITED IN THE NAME OF GOD’S VOICE-

FROM THE KDINAPPING OF YOUNG GIRLS and forced conversion TO IMPRISONMENT AND DEATH AND TORTURE AND KILLING

AND LEST WE AS JEWS FEEL TOO PROUD AND TOO SMUG AS WE OBSERVE CHRISTIAN INTOLERANCE AT HOME AND MUSLIM VIOLENCE ABROAD

IN ISRAEL THERE ARE PLENTY OF JEWS OF OUR CO-RELGIONISTS WHO JUSTIFY THEIR SEETHING HATRED OF WOMEN, OF GAYS.  OF MUSLIMS, OF ARABS, OF NON-Orthodox jews by CLAIMING THAT THE VOICE THAT THEY HEAR THE VOICE TO WHICH THEY RESPOND IN OBEDIENCE IS THE VOICE OF GOD THE VOICE HEARD AT SINAI

IT WAS MY TEACHER RABBI DAVID HARTMAN OF BLESSED MEMORY WHO DECADES AGO BEGAN TO INSIST THAT A JUDAISM WHICH WAS NOT LEAVENED BY COMPASSION, DEMOCRATIC VALUES AND A SEARCH FOR EQUALITY COULD BECOME CORRUPTED AND EVEN EVIL

MOREOVER, RABBI HARTMAN BELIEVED THAT THIS VIEW HAD ITS ROOTS IN THE TRADITON ITSELF,

IN A PASSAGE FROM THE TALMUD TRACTATE YOMA PAGE 69B  A PASSAGE THAT BECAME A FAVORITE OF RABBI HARTMAN’S THE SAGES DECLARE

”THAT GOD IS A GOD WHO INSISTS ON TRUTH, AND NO FALSEHOOD MAY BE ASCRIBED TO GOD”

Hakadosh baruch hu she- hu amiti hu

FOR RABBI HARTMAN, TO ASCRIBE TO GOD’S WILL  TO GODS VOICE TO ANYTING WHICH CAUSES HARM, DEGRADATION, CRUELTY OR SUFFERING TO ANOTHER HUMAN BEING IS TO ASCRIBE FALSEHOOD TO GOD-TO VIOLATE THE RABBINIC TEACHING THAT GOD INSISTS ON TRUTH

THIS IS WHY RABBI HARTMAN ENTITLED HIS FINAL BOOK-THE GOD WHO HATES LIES

-AND IN RABBI HARTMAN’S VIEW TRUTH MUST INCLUDE A RECOGNITION OF THE DIVINE DIGNITY  IN EVERY HUMAN BEING

AS RABBI HARTMAN PUTS IT -IN JUDAISM, LOVE FOR GOD MUST LEAD TO A LOVE FOR REAL PEOPLE AND SO JUDAISM TO BE AUTHENTIC MUST ALSO BE CONCERNED WITH EQUALITYY AND COMPASSION AND MORAL BEHAVIOR-

FOR DAVID HARTMAN, MORALITY AND TRUTH WAS THE ONLY PRISM THROUGH WHICH WE COULD FILTER GOD’S SINAI VOICE

UP UNTIL THE DAY OF HIS DEATH, RABBI HARTMAN WAS DENOUNCED AS A HERETIC FOR INSISTING THAT WE FILTER THE VOICE OF SINAI THOUGH THE PRISM OF COMPASSION, EQUALITY, LOVE AND UNDERSTANDING AND THAT IF ANYONE BEHAVES WITH CRUELTY, HATRED AND INTOLERANCE, IT IS NOT THE VOICE OF SINAI TO WHICH THEY ARE LISTENING, BUT THE PRISM OF THEIR OWN HATREDS-FOR GOD IS A GOD OF  TRUTH, AND HATRED , PREDJUDICE AND INTOLERANCE  ARE ANTITHETICAL TO  TRUTH

FOR TOO MANY IN OUR TIME, MUSLIM, CHRISTIAN AND YES EVEN JEW, RELIGION IS A LISCENCE TO HATE, TO DISCRMINATE,TO PERSECUTE, EVEN TO KILL

WE MUST COTNINUALLY REMIND THOSE PEOPLE, AND OURSELVES THAT THOSE WHO PREACH SUCH IDEAS DO NOT LISTEN TO THE AUTHENTIC VOICE OF SINAI, BUT THE DEMONIC COICE THAT INHABITS THE DARKEST RECESSES OF THEIR OWN TWISTED AND CORRUPTED SOULS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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