Directions to the Priests
By Morty Breier,
March 30, 1996
This week’s torah reading really reminds us that the Jews of Moses’s time, our great-great-great, going back some 280 generations, grandparents, were a , what’s the word, a down home, close to the earth, primitive group of desert dwellers whose ceremonies were at the edge of differentiating between the more brutal and beastly past and the more consecrated and holy future. It was that hoary band that were first to be so bold as to declare what Hashem wanted of their passage. But it was also that hoary band that still used flesh and blood rituals to represent Him with. This week’s Torah portion, Parshas Tzav, is a detailed description of such a flesh and blood ritual.
Now I see these passages as some of our very first recorded steps. We were stepping hesitantly out of the cave of a past that originated in the animal kingdom into a future that will ultimately involve the making of a spark-of-God consciousness. We are now much further advanced in our journey. We must reinterperate the messages of the Torah into terms that fit our present understanding of the world. I am firmly convinced that Hashem did not intend for we jews, we humans, to be more accurate, the only living beings, of all His creations, capable of accumulating wisdom and knowledge, to have 280 generations pass without such accumulation. Why create a creature so ideal for evolving consciousness and then assign him a fate of looking backward for truth. We were to be an advance over instinctive creatures who once having learnt a lesson go on repeating it forever.
Rather than believing that there was a particular time when Creation happened, a particular time when God spoke to us and gave us the Torah, and a particular future time when Meshiach will arrive, I believe that Hashem writes the real Torah continuously as this our human story line, perhaps with the Jew as the quill. I believe that creation is continually happening and Machiach consciousness is our ongoing project. Rather than believing that Hashem spoke once with us, I believe that we are continuously in conversation with Him through our deads as civilized citizens, our curiosity as scientists, our challenge as engineers, our search for justice as lawyers, our compassion as healers, our love as members of the human family. I further believe the conversations are getting more and more interesting. I believe that we, humanity approaching the 21st century, are this Torah’s latest and greatest expression.
Lets go back to the time of Moses. God spoke to Moses at a time when human consciousness looked out at what seemed a fixed landscape, a fixed stage on which players arrived and departed, Kings and cultures fought for power, man played out his life. These God given insights were given in terms of a backdrop that was static. Generations changed but one’s immediate landscape, the way of life, the daily routines, the town and people, the house, bed, plow or staff, one’s surround, the ever present randomness of sickness, weather, lawlessness and tragedy, was the prevailing and little changing backdrop in which these generational changes took place. The human story-line took place because the actors changed themselves, or were changed by events, on a fixed stage.
Our Patriarchs, in terms of their understanding, imagined Creation as a one time process that happened long ago. Creation gave them the stage on which human life plays out its story line. On this stage, Hashem chose them for a life of discipline and suffering. Discipline was needed in the face of our primitive natures and suffering was a teaching. They presented a personal or communal strategy that offered relief: A life cleaving to God; Surrender to His Eminence in all things; Life is a morality lesson, a test of observance; Do good because He is watching; Learn to follow law and ritual, those powers that represent them; Reward is in the hereafter, is beyond our reckoning, is knowing that you are doing His beckoning; Reward is belonging to the chosen tribe, the emis religion, being part of the right take on it all; Success is surviving, prevailing, as against other takes, other religions, other peoples, other ways.
This fixed stage made insights once gained forever valid, with the consequence of ascribing transcendental holiness to events, prescriptions, laws, and doctrines of the past. This viewpoint says that since there is no new information, nothing can shed new light on, transform or obsolete these ancient insights. Since change in the nature of things is only superficial, then change in law, ritual, or insight is also superficial. This belief states that Hashem gave us to know what we are to do at one time in our history and we are to follow those dictums forever more. Succeeding generations have no basis or right to believe themselves more knowledgeable, of broader vision or with more understandings of the workings of the world and we as actors upon it, then did the ancients.
The same fixed stage consciousness believes that just as creation happened as a past event, so salvation will happen as a future event. Just as creation was a cataclysmic, miraculous, discontinuous singularity, so salvation will be a cataclysmic, miraculous, discontinuous singularity. Mashiach, the time when the lion lies down with the lamb, guns are beaten into plowshares, the time of peace on earth, loving abundance and joyful bliss is the time when, as the older religious models have it, one of them prevails, when all will bow down to Hashem, heralding God’s intervention on the human scene. At that time Hashem will miraculously transform every wounded, violent, angry, ignorant, selfish, envious, glutinous, greedy, pained and down-trodden human being, every one of those elements that afflicts each of us, into its opposite. It is our duty, therefore, in order to hasten the coming of this future event, to be as pious, as challacically correct, as glatt fruhm as possible and to promote fruhmness as much as we can.
Now let us get to our present understanding of the stage on which our drama unfolds. It is only relatively recently that we humans began to see clearly that we are imbedded in a vast, awesome, truly ancient story line, one that dates from the origins of this universe, some 10 to 15 billion years ago, the proverbial Big Bang, when all was energy and chaos, to now, when you and I, miraculously complex organizations of conscious soul-filled matter, speak to each other across half the planet, using systems and technologies that have been thousands of years in the making.
It is only recently that we see our embedment in a spacial universe that grew from a point singularity of infinitesimal probability functions to countless galactic constructs strewn over unimaginable expanses. Only recently that we began to see how galaxies and suns developed, how planetary geology was formed from the nuclear furnaces of suns, how biology took hold and formed the evolutionary story line that resulted in multi-celled organisms, mammals, us.
It is only recently that we understand the cumulative nature of the human story line, the fact that our libraries, artifacts, law-codes, institutions, sciences, technologies and connective systems grow and mature over time, albeit in fits and starts and with temporary setbacks. Only recently that we begin to realize that our history represents progressively more successful attempts at harnessing the physical forces around us, at knitting the human community into universal systems of information, communication, economics, trade, ecology, security and abundance.
We, as human beings, have built and continue building new, more inclusive, more detailed, more conscious and freer realities over time. There is no doubt that creation is an ongoing process. There are more new objects with previously unknowable functions that we touch and use today then ever in human history, or for that matter, it goes without saying, in cosmic history. And, from my own point of view, I have more awe, praise and gratitude for God’s creation as is being presented by science then as described by any of our previous religious presentations, or for that matter then any of the ancients could ever have conceived. We are uncovering/imagining/creating a cumulatively unfolding Human reality that easily transcends the previous religious attempts at its static definition.
Our progress has allowed about 25% of Humanity, the industrial nations of the world, to be primarily free to pursue lives mostly unconcerned with survival, or even discomfort. This percent is the highest its ever been on the planet. Since it has grown till now, we have every right to expect, and every right to encourage this continueing growth. After all we have a great history of successful development behind us: We can each trace our successful lineage back to the big bang. And it is this 25%, you and I, who, from our positions of safety and ease, can better see the dimensions of the spirit, can separate the tribal, survival oriented, scarcity generated rhetoric of our religion, of all religions, from the insightful maxims of love, tolerance, and compassion that truly move the world forward.
Strange to say but from my point of view, the cumulative efforts of history, resulting in the advent of the middle-class, middle class work-saving and servant eliminating technologies, middle class access to information and the arts, to the words of the masters, middle class mobility and choice, have produced more opportunity for enlightenment in more souls than any of the past religious practices ever have. Think of the extremely poor record of success logged by religious practices. After all how many Tzaddikim, out of the many million Jewish souls, do you think the practice of Judaism creates. How many living Buddhas you think may exist, or may ever have existed out of the several hundred million Buddhists. How many Christs out of the several hundred million Christians? How many Sufi Masters? How many Krishna conscious Hindus?
And the rest? Aren’t there many more who are narrower minded, more resistant to change, less tolerant, less apt to help their fellow man, less likely to move the Human story line forward?
The vast majority of citizens of the industrialized countries of the world, the middle class, think nothing of giving a large proportion of their income to the communal enterprise of government, have no qualms about government assisting the poor, think nothing of going through life without committing a violent act, respecting ownership, aiding a fallen citizen, upholding principals of democracy and justice, acting lawfully, showing compassion in times of tragedy, living lives of civilized deportment. Isn’t that precisely what our Patriarchs and Matriarchs implored of us, what they told us Hashem wanted of us, when we were a fierce, primitive people wandering the middle eastern landscape? Haven’t we achieved it through our cumulative efforts? Haven’t Jews always been in the forefront of enlightened progress?
Some say that we are being assimilated into the prevailing secularist culture, Jews are becoming more American. I say that the prevailing culture is becoming more Jewish, that America is the most Jewish nation that ever existed, even, dare I say more Jewish than Israel. We, as Jews, are a light unto the world, a light powered by the most successful society now or ever to have existed, the United States of America. I mean, isn’t that the most reasonable way Hashem would have it? Of course it would be necessary for Jews to harness the most powerful entity to produce change, to Tikkun Olem.
It is because the U.S. are a people of the book, the Constitution, and not a tribal or genetic entity, that our influence can flourish. It is because the U.S. rewards and promotes performance and capabilities that we attain influence. It is because intelligence and science are respected that Jewish minds, honed by centuries of Talmudic reasoning, are honored. It is because the U.S. aims for rule of law and not rule by clans, tribes, or class power, that we thrive. And the reason we thrive in this milieu is precisely because this milieu is so familiar, So Jewish. To look for wisdom in a document we all uphold , to make everyday life holy by rewarding the excellence of its doing, to use the mind as Humanity’s most precious gift, to treat every human as a spark of God, subject equally to opportunity and responsibility, to allow for the freedom to work out our spiritual life, to pursue justice and compassion, these are the qualities of America that make it our finest expression to date as Jews and as Human Beings.
Along with my gratefulness at being an American living at the end of the twentieth century, I know that I am asked to shoulder my responsibility for moving the human story line forward. Didn’t we admit of the possibility that Hashem is writing the Torah through this our Human story line (perhaps with the quill of the Jew)? Isn’t it an ongoing process? Aren’t we, as Jews, as twentieth century human beings, the cutting edge of His unfolding? I’m quite sure that our actions, from moment to moment, either hasten the advent of Mashiach consciousness, of peace, compassion, love, abundance, creativity, freedom, equality and community or retard its arrival by holding on to fear, anger, rigidity, defensiveness, scarcity, dogma, control and intolerance.
The voices that fear letting go of defenses, defenses that our past may have required, are working against Hashem’s yearnings for a planetary community solving the problems of poverty, sickness, violence, hate and ignorance. There is of course risk. There are still major parts of humanity that operate from these positions. There are those that argue that the safest course of action is, therefore, to use those strategies that work with those conditions, contain and isolate the poverty and sickness, use force to stem violence, return hate and ignorance with fear and dogma. And it may indeed be the safest course. But we, as Jews, are always asked to risk ourselves in Hashem’s service, why else would we consider ourselves a chosen people. We do it with full understanding that it is precisely the degree of risk that determines the degree of holiness. Isn’t that what our Tzaddikhim have taught us?
So from that distant past, the scene described by Parshas Tzav, a picture of our first steps toward holyness still mixed with yet older ceremonies of blood and the rending of flesh, we come to our present tasks as Jews and as human beings: To take risks for the sake of peace; To take risks for the sake of understanding; To take risks for the sake of opening hearts; To take risks for the sake of inclusive minds; To take risks for the sake of fulfilling Hashem’s living expression of Torah, the ongoing human story line.