Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hear, O Israel (part 1)

One of my favorite aspects of Judaism is how we view ourselves. "Israel" -- "Struggling with G*d".  Controversy and dispute are long-standing traditions in Judaism.  Abraham argued with G*d about the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Jacob wrestled with G*d's angel, thereby earning the name "Israel".  Moses argued with G*d repeatedly on behalf of the Jewish people.  Later on, rabbis argued about the proper interpretation of the various commandments.  Rather than picking one and discrediting the others, the tradition maintains the controversy, in all its messy glory.

In light of this, how do we read the most famous of Jewish prayers, the Shema?

"Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Ekhad!"  --  Hear, O Israel, The Lord Our G*d, The Lord is One!"
(Deuteronomy 6:4)

One more thing.  The word translated as "Lord" -- "Adonai" -- is a plural noun.  It literally means "Lords".  The singular of it merely means "Sir".  Likewise, the common word in Hebrew for "G*d" -- "Elohim" -- is also a plural noun.  So we declare 3 plural names of G*d in a row, and then declare them all to be "One".  Yikes!

This feels to me a lot like the motto on the US seal:  "E pluribus unum"  -- "Out of many, one".   Out of all our disputes and controversy, underneath we are all one, we all look to the same Oneness.

And there's more!  While "Adonai" and "Elohim" both refer to G*d, Adonai is the universal, apersonal aspect, Creator of the Universe, referred to in the text by the unpronounceable name "YHVH", while Elohim is the internal voice of the divine.  Those two are One, as well.  Whoa.  That's really hard for me to wrap my brain around.  That the same power that controls the Universe is speaking inside my own soul is pretty intense.   But look at what the Shema does with it!  "Adonai" inflects the noun to be "My Lord" -- my personal Creator of the Universe.  While "Eloheinu" inflects the noun to "Our G*d" -- our common internal voice.  Think about that for a minute.  How much meaning can you put into 6 little words?!  Can you "HEAR" it?

We are all One.  Jews, Christians, Moslems, atheists, pagans, what have you.  We all seek the vision of the divine within us and in the world.  The visions are certainly not equivalent -- what you believe about the divine has a huge impact on what kind of society you will build.  But we all seek it, though we call it different things.  Reaching for that common humanity and divinity is what allows us to look at disabled children in faraway lands and call them "ours".

Hear, O G*d-wrestlers, the Creator of all speaks within our souls, the Creator of all is One!

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