Thursday, May 13, 2010
Psalm for Thursday: Psalm 81, Verse 5 (verse 4 in most Christian translations)
For it is a חק statute for Israel, a rule משפט of the God of Jacob.
This simple verse refers to the command in verse four to sound the Shofar at the new moon and the full moon (see comment from Thursday May 8, 2010). In reading this verse I wondered how I was going to find anything to write. After all, there is not much there. Is there?
Then it struck me. The word for statute, חק was understood by the Rabbis as referring to a law that did not necessarily make intuitive sense, but which we were to obey because the Torah commanded it (i.e., not mixing linen and wool in garments). The word translated as rule משפט were viewed as the laws that did make intuitive sense (i.e., do not murder).
And so, one could read this verse as saying that the law of sounding the Shofar at the new moon and full moon may not make sense to us, but it makes perfect sense to God. But why?
As I mentioned in last week's commentary, it might make sense to sound the shofar when the moon is full. This is a natural time to rejoice. But when the moon is new and the world is in darkness, it may seem less intuitive to make a sound of rejoicing. On the other hand, the case could be made that sounding the shofar as a wake-up call when there is no moon makes more sense than sounding it as a wake-up call when the moon is full.
Either time of the month can be viewed as both an intuitive and a counter-intuitive time to sound the shofar. Any given moment can be viewed as an intuitive or counter-intuitive moment to praise God, pray to God, give thanks, celebrate, connect, love, be compassionate .......and the list goes on.
On some level everything has a place and time, as Ecclesiastes/Kohelet might say. Yet, it is also true that every moment is a potential place and time for all things.
There is a kind of knowledge that is beyond that of which we humans can conceive. This can be called God's knowledge, the knowledge of the universe, or whatever you choose. But what it means is that there are things that we may never understand and yet we may be commanded to do them by our tradition or simply from something that arises within us. And so we do this things, such as praising, thanking, rejoicing, even when they might feel strange, because something tells us that we need to do them.
We sound the shofar when it is dark...and light, we break a glass at the end of a wedding when we feel most celebratory, we are told to cease our official mourning in order to celebrate Shabbat and festivals. These things may seem counter-intuitive, or even wrong, to us. And yet, there is some deeper wisdom which we may not understand. Then, by performing the act with intention perhaps we will connect with the greater meaning that lies behind the act itself. We can make that moment into the time that is meant for that particular action.
The spiritual realm is not about exact science. What works for one person may not work for others. Ultimately, what we must do on our journey is try to discern through being present and through intentional action, what acts will connect us with the Divine and with the Universe in that moment. Whether or not the actions feel "intuitive" ultimately does not matter. What matters is that they bring about a sense of connection and that they bring joy, goodness and compassion into our world. For then these actions create holiness in the moment and that is always a good thing in the minds of us mere mortals and in that which is beyond us.
Posted by Rabbi Steven Nathan at 1:03 PM
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