It is not that I have become cynical, it is just that my intellect has matured to the point where I am now better able to recognize the subtle nuances differentiating pious mirages and true piety. I am capable of discerning between genuine scholarship and political machinations couched in biblical exegesis. Fundamental changes to my core beliefs are interdependent with my ability to question and comprehend. It is not that my faith requires reason, but that my faith is strong enough to allow questions to be asked that never need to be answered. The repressive Judaism of our past, when questions of faith were deemed heretical, was an ill-conceived approach by rabbinical leaders incapable of leading. Fearful of the ramifications that a broadening of horizons may have on the minds of the uninitiated seems counterintuitive if we want to expand the minds of these budding scholars. In our daily prayers we say the words ְתֵן בְּלִבֵּנוּ לְהָבִין וּלְהַשכִּיל. לִשְׁמעַ. לִלְמדּ – we beseech the Almighty to give us the wisdom to first think, comprehend, listen and learn. Once we have mastered that comprehension are we tasked with a mandate to perform the mitzvah.
“It is always sunny in Delray!” Last Friday the heavens opened, some may say the tears of God rained down upon Delray Beach with an awesome display of power. Almost two feet of water descended upon the area surrounding Anshei Emuna and the financial toll on many of our families is unfathomable. Apartments were flooded (please take out flood insurance) and dozens of cars were totaled. The shul was closed as our lake front property expanded and there was no vehicular access. On a positive note, there was an outpouring of assistance from our community whose concern and dedication for the welfare of others knew no bounds.
In shul last Shabbat I said, does anyone really imagine that God had nothing better to do than to wreak havoc on Delray Beach? Or that the storm was divinely orchestrated to cause stress to people like Shimon Askenazi, one of our saintly Holocaust survivors who lost the use of his car and with it his ability to serve God? After hearing my sermon, in which I challenged the premise that everything that happens is an act of God, I was accused of being a heretic. (Who knows where I would be now if I had been living in Salem?) Does God have the power? Of course! Rabbeinu Bachya says that although God has the power to change nature, it is a rarity that he chooses to alter nature. In other words, the “great” preachers and rabbis who use the randomness of nature as a means to dismiss contrarians are masquerading in a cloak of divinity. They speak as if they represent God but our intellect must be brave enough to challenge that which is unfathomable.
This week’s Torah portion starts with the words “וַיִּשְׁמַע יִתְרוֹ” And Jethro heard all that Hashem had done to Moses and Israel. The commentaries explain that after hearing about the miraculous events that happened in Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea, Jethro had an epiphany and converted from polytheism to monotheism. The entire world heard exactly what Jethro heard, but what was unique about him was that he did not merely hear; he chose to comprehend and understand the bigger picture. He challenged his own belief system first and continued his rise to monotheism.
I think much of how we have been programmed to just believe and agree with what the rabbis’ taught us. This is the antithesis of genuine Judaism and has led to our reduced numbers and increased disillusionment amongst our coreligionists. To be a genuine Jew it is mandatory to challenge, ask, and then ask again. Abraham challenged God, Moses challenged God, and perhaps the time is ripe for us to challenge him. Yes, I believe, but I choose to use belief as a means to foster an expansion of my horizons and not a limitation of them.