Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Letting Our Ears Hear What Our Mouth Says

If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. (Num 30:3)


I'm reminded of what is probably the greatest of all rabbinic tales – the tale of Abraham destroying the statuary idols of Terach his father.

What have you done?

Asks Terach.

Abraham concocts a ridiculous story of statues come to life and fighting.

His father isn't having anything of it

א"ל  מה אתה מפלה בי, וידעין אנון?!

Are you kidding me, he responds – they are statues, they have no awareness!

א"ל says Abraham  ולא ישמעו אזניך מה שפיך אומר, [1]

Don't your ears hear what your mouth says –

How can you sell idols when you know full well they are just statuary.

How can you let your actions betray what you know to be the case?

How can you let your actions betray the words of your mouth?

It's a challenge to which Terach has no answer – but then neither, I claim, do we as a community.


I spent a day, this week, looking at the future of the kind of Judaism we believe in.

Up in Anglesey 140 madrichim, youth leaders, are preparing for the arrival of 800 Masorti kids who will spend two weeks on Summer camps in Wales, France and Israel.

These camps are the largest and most effective way we have of sharing of vision of Jewish life with the generation to come.

Today I want to look at the difference between the way this new generation attempts to foster a Jewish future and the way the generation, one or two generations older than I, attempted to foster Jewish life in their time.


In December a group of young Noam members passed a motion at Veida, their annual conference, asking that all Noam youth leaders should not ea non-kosher meat when in restaurants.

The problem, apparently, was that young Noam members would be in restaurants, studiously avoiding eating non-kosher products on the menu and their youth leaders would be seen … not.

Personally I am less interested in how terrible it is, or isn't that some Noam youth leaders are eating not-kosher.

I'm more interested in this idea about setting out standards.

I'm more interested in the notion that say, 'here is a line, below that line of Jewish ritual behaviour, just isn't good enough.'

It's not the only time Noam have done something like that.


If you want to be a Movement Worker at Noam, you have to keep Shabbat – no driving.

If you want to be a senior Youth Leader, you are strongly encouraged to spend some time at the Conservative Yeshiva – you are supposed to know how to read a Mishnah.

If you want to lead a Summer Camp, you have to know how to lead a prayer service.


Lines are drawn, explicit, judgemental, clear lines as to what is and what isn't good enough to be a good Jew.


And one of the remarkable things to notice, in these precarious times for young people, is that Noam is thriving.

More and more people want to be part of it.

More and more people are committing to going on a journey of personal Jewish growth.

Noam is the fastest growing Jewish youth movement in the country and this is the key thing.

It is taking responsibility for the training and development of its own future.

And its doing it by being clear about what it takes to be a committed Jew.


It's not a narrow list, a commitment to Tikkun Olam – social action

And a commitment to personal development, creating a supportive and kind atmosphere for everyone is central too.

But this goes along with a commitment to Jewish learning, Jewish life, Jewish community and Jewish commitment.


Another story, one I have been thinking about ever since I first heard it.


The story goes that when Rabbi Jacobs used to live on the other side of St Johns Wood High Street he would walk back from Shul not along the most direct route, across the High Street, but he would take a circuitous route so as not to embarrass any congregants who might be out shopping, on Shabbat.


It's a very Rabbi Jacobs story, a very New London kind of story.

It's about not making explicit calls on us, members.

It's about Jewish leaders getting on with living lives of decency and observance, but not making explicit demands on the community to grow, to develop, to take more levels of observance on themselves.

Or perhaps, to be more exact, to hope that people did develop and grow, but to be so opposed to any threat of causing discomfort in members that these hopes were always kept simmering, on a very low heat.


And this, very New London story, gives us an insight into the hole in the middle of this community.

There are plenty of members who joined in the first days of this community, when to join New London meant something.

It meant standing up to the United Synagogue and joining a brave new vision.


And there are plenty of members, on a day like today, who have joined recently, younger members mostly.

People beginning their adult lives, particularly converts beginning their lives as Jews.

But in the middle there should be my generation – the sons and daughters of founder members, people whose parents joined New London in the sixties and seventies.

But we aren't here.

Very very few of us are here.

And admittedly some have joined New North London or other communities, and that is fine, but my sense is that all too many of my direct contemporaries in the Cheder at New London, a cheder that contained 120 children, drifted away because no-one made any calls on them.

We were, as a community, too committed to skirting around the outskirts of the St Johns Wood High Street.

And the children of the founding generation of New London left.


There is a danger, of course, in making calls on us to do more, do better.

And that is that we might begin to feel uncomfortable.

And it's important that members of this Shul feel comfortable.

Indeed, this trend of making calls, making explicit demands, at Noam, led one member to ask if they still had a place at Noam.

My answer to him was this.

'You still have a place if you can cope with the notion that you are not perfect in every way. Wonderful, yes, perfect no.'

Of course I value people, members and non-members whether they observe Shabbat or not, whether they keep Kosher or not.

I only ask in return, that you, that we, accept that not doing, not observing is falling short – and that the demand is that we do more.


I spoke, several weeks ago, about the need to take Shabbat more seriously, as a community.

Actually it was the first sermon I gave having been inducted, having got my feet under the table, as it were.

And one member came up to me at Kiddush and told me that Rabbi Jacobs gave them a personal exemption on one particular piece of Shabbat observance.

I'm not quite sure what Rabbi Jacobs, of course, said, but as a Rabbi I don't do papal dispensations.

I can't make something the halachah says is not possible, possible.

And I would rather we get used to falling short of standards, than pull down the standards to a level where we feel so totally at ease with them that there is no danger of our doing better.


Shortly, at Kiddush, we are going to intone the words of the Book of Exodus

Zachor et yom hashabbat lekadsho – six days you shall do your work and the seventh day is a day of Sabbath rest to your God.

But we fall short when we don't take this call seriously.

When outsiders, visitors, guests, look at our community they don't see a community who fulfil the command to zachor et yom hashabbat.


Our actions belie our pious words.

And this is where the great dream of New London went amiss.

What I am about to say is, I think, the most important, and certainly the most controversial thing I have said since my appointment here.


Our actions belie our pious words.

And this is where the great dream of New London went amiss.

Rabbi Jacobs' dream was to publish enough, give enough public lectures and cite enough Rabbinic texts that his theology, our theology would become acceptable to the mainstream Jewry.

And it cannot be that Rabbi Jacobs failed in publishing enough, in citing enough footnotes or even in giving enough lectures.

The problem is that when mainstream Jewry looked at us, looked at New London, looked at Masorti Judaism, they didn't see us taking it seriously enough.

They didn't see us rising up to the challenge of Jewish observance, Jewish learning and Jewish commitment.

They saw a Synagogue where too few people came to make up minyan on Sunday mornings, where too few people knew how to read from the Torah.


And this, more than anything else, is the reason why Rabbi Jacobs was never accepted back into the fold of mainstream Judaism.


Whenever I get into discussions, usually with Orthodox people, about theology or the development of Halachah over time, I know            I'm safe turf – I can out argue and win these arguments.

But when the argument turns to the question  - where are our living communities of observance and commitment or

How many people in your shul can do X or do Y

I start to shift a little uneasily.

Because I know that I have no good answer other than this.


Too share with you, friends, members of this community.

That we need to do better.

I talked about this on erev Shavuot when discussing the appalling treatment of our converts by mainstream Judaism.

They need to be more observant to be taken seriously, and we, as a community, need to do a better job of creating an observant community they can feel comfortable in.


There is, of course, a better reason – two better reasons – to take our oft-voiced commitments to Jewish life more seriously than merely making things easier for our converts – though that is important.

The first reason is this.


Our commitment to Jewish life gives us our authenticity.

It is the grounding for everything we say Judaism is.


We are only allowed to say that Rabbi Louis Jacobs was right, right about the historical development of Torah, right about the possibility of holding together both modernity and tradition, if we live out the life of one who is committed to that vision of Jewish life ourselves.

Our living a Jewish life – walking the walk – gives us the ability to talk the talk.

It permeates every part of our Jewish lives.


If I give a sermon on ecology – that is because how we understand and live Shabbat.

If I give a sermon, as I did last week, on the returning of the bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, that is because of how we understand the laws of pidyon shvuim – the return of captives.

If I give a sermon about … anything – it is because of the Torah, the Mitzvot – they are the bones and flesh of the body of Judaism.

And we cannot pick and chose, pulling out only the calls on our time and soul that we find easy enough, or gentle enough not to get in the way of the rest of our lives.

That's a Reform theology.

Our position is that the tradition needs to be taken with all its challenges and opportunities.

Authentic Judaism cannot be like picking cherries where we do and don't do what we feel like.


This is the first reason to take observance more seriously – without it we are inauthentic.


The second reason is this.

Without taking observance more seriously we can't understand what Judaism is really about.

The laws of Shabbat don't make any sense until they are lived.

And then, I believe, they begin to give of their truths.

From observance comes insight.

The Rabbis have a term for this process - naaseh vnishmah first we do, then we come to hear – to understand.


The first thing I say, when I rise in the morning is modeh ani – I am grateful to you, Living and Ever-sustaining Ruler –

And it shapes my day, it makes me, I hope, a grateful person, a person aware of the gifts I have been given, it seeps into the way I treat others.

And it's not a piece of wishy-washy self-help

It's a tradition that goes back to Sinai, and beyond.


A story is told of a Professor of Ethics who was a well known nasty person (most versions of the story don't use the term 'nasty person'). Eventually one of the professor's students plucks up the courage to ask him how it is possible for him to teach ethics and be such a nasty person.

The professor answers, 'What if I taught geometry would you want me to be a triangle?'

This sort of disconnect between behaviour and professed interest might be possible in a University, but it can't be a Jewish way.


The Jewish leader must be actively involved in Jewish 'do'

And we need to do better.


[1] BR 38:13

Friday, 11 July 2008

Seeing God

I want to give this Sermon, my first since back here at New London since the birth of our son, in honour of Harry.

Good luck little one, you'll need it.




I feel a certain sympathy for Bilaam, whacking away at his donkey while we, gentle readers, know far better.


It's a bit like watching poker on television – we know how the cards have been dealt.

We know there is an angel, standing, sword drawn, in the way.

It's only Bilaam who doesn't get it, who can't see.


And I'm drawn the point at which God opens Bilaam's eyes – vayigol adonai et inei  Bilaam.


The Rabbis[1] feign surprise – what was he previously blind? – they pretend to enquire

No, they respond – it's just done to tell you that what the eye sees is a power held by God.


This year, this week, this Rabbinic comment reminded me of what is surely the most powerful articulation of the miracle of childbirth in Rabbinic Judaism. It's from Kohelet Rabba[2]


It was taught; at the time a babe is formed in the womb, there are three partners in its creation; the Holy Blessed One, its father and its mother.

Its father implants the white in the child – the brain, the nails, the white of the eye, the bones and the sinews.

Its mother implants the red – the blood, the skin, the muscle, the hair and the black of the eye.

And the Holy Blessed One, may God's name be blessed, places ten things within the child. And these are they; the soul, the spirit, the lustre of the visage, the ability to see, the sense of hearing, the speech from the lips, the strength of the arms and the legs' ability to walk, wisdom, understanding, counsel and intellect and might.

And when the time comes to pass, the Holy Blessed One, takes back His part and leaves behind the parts of the mother and father before them. And the father and mother weep.


I want to talk about weeping, about seeing, about childbirth and about God.


So, here is Bilaam, one moment looking at a path ahead and being blind as to the reason for the stumbling blocks and the next seeing with eyes newly opened ….


We say every morning

Blessed Are You God pokeach Ivrim – who gives sight to the blinded.

The Hebrew pokeach, suggests something being peeled away, like a cataract – bringing into focus that which had been a blur.

Making distinct that which had impenetrably fuzzy.


It's a great blessing.

It reminds those of us who have never had to consider physical blindness of the gift of our sight.

But more than that, I believe, it reminds us of something spiritual.


Kol Haolam culo- say the Rabbis -  bhezkat sumim, ud she hakadosh baruch hu megalei eineyhem[3]

All the world, every bit of it, is considered blind, until the Holy Blessed one opens their eyes.


None of us see until our eyes are opened.

Not even Bilaam.

Indeed Bilaam's encounter with the Divine on the derekh, his meeting with God on the way, is almost a motif of the Bible.


An example from the passage we read on the first day of the New Year.

Hagar sits cradling her son, dyeing from the lack of water until

וַיִּפְקַח אֱלֹקִים אֶת-עֵינֶיהָ וַתֵּרֶא בְּאֵר מָיִם

And God peeled back the blindness from her eyes and she saw the well of water.

She's sitting blinded until that revelatory moment.

Her ability to see a well which, we are given to believe, was there all along requires the direct engagement of God.

To see is to experience the miracle.


What seems most remarkable to me, in those precious moments when I have experienced the peeling back of my own blindness, is the way that experience strips me of my grammar, my eloquence, my rationality.

This too is a motif of Genesis.


In another moment of revelation when Joseph finally reveals to his brothers that the great Egyptian vizier they have come to see is none-other than their own long-lost brother

וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל-אֶחָיו אֲנִי יוֹסֵף

And Joseph tells his brothers 'I AM JOSEPH'

 הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי?

Is my father alive?


 וְלֹא-יָכְלוּ אֶחָיו לַעֲנוֹת אֹתוֹ כִּי נִבְהֲלוּ מִפָּנָיו. 

And his brothers couldn't answer him because they were … the verb, nivhalu takes some teasing out – they are terrified, confounded, they are left stuttering in response.


This is what it is to see, finally, a reality hidden until revealed, as if by magic – revealed by means of the miraculous encounter with the Divine.

This is what it is to leave hezkat sumim – the presumption of blindness.


One last journey into the tales of our ancestors.


Jacob flees from the murderous intent of his brother Esau and falls asleep en route to Haran.

And there receives one of the greatest of all Biblical visions – a ladder set on the ground, it's top reaching the sky and the angels of God going up and down.

He wakes and again, his language is broken, you can feel, in the Hebrew the crashing impact of a moment's true sight in a lifetime's blindness.


וַיֹּאמֶר אָכֵן יֵשׁ יְקוָק בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה וְאָנֹכִי לֹא יָדָעְתִּי. 

Wow, there is God in this place and I, I didn't know.[4]

There is a stutter, a breaking in.

Jacob is nivhal – confounded.

He has seen.


There are, perhaps, two great traditions of God-talk in our faith.

One, the tradition that dates back to Maimonides and the great Medieval rationalists.

This tradition of God-talk is philosophical, it is theology in the true meaning of the term – the science of the divine.

This tradition of God-talk is committed to rigorous sober intellectual analysis.


But this dry, philosophical discourse has nothing to do with the experience of Bilaam, the sudden insight of Hagar, the confounding of Joseph's brothers or the experience of waking in the morning and knowing that God was indeed in the very place where I set my head to rest.

These Biblical encounters are connected to a totally different kind of God-talk, a shattering, ineffable, impossible reality that one only knows, that I only know because on those rare moments when my life has been most precious, when I have felt most alive, I too have seen.

I have known, I have felt, in my soul.


These are moments when, just like our ancestors, I've been confounded, nivhal, lost in enormity of what I have seen.


It's a little weird, this experience of the numinous.

We, those of us who have been touched by these moments of revelation can seem a little bizarre, a little unhinged.


There is a fabulous moment in the Book of Samuel when King Solomon seems to be touched by the experience of the Divine – and the good King dances over the hills and

'Then the people said to one another, what has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul off with the prophets?' (I Sam 10:11)

The people think their otherwise all-wise and serious monarch has lost it.

It's dangerous, playing with prophets, seeing with the spiritual cataracts removed, experiencing the confounding presence of the Divine.


I spoke with my brother yesterday afternoon and told him what I wanted to speak about today.

He was worried for me, worried that you, dear friends, might think me a bit unhinged; a little too 'off with the prophets' for a sober community such as this.

I hope he is wrong.

No doubt I will find out at Kiddush.

But I don't really care.

Rabbis should talk about the experience of God from the pulpit.

And in any case, I'm a new father.

And my experiences these past weeks, and most especially the experience of being present at the birth of our son, have been experiences of being broken into, experiences of having the blinkers of rationalism peeled away, experiences of leaving hezkat sumim, the presumption of blindness that afflicted Bilaam, that afflicts us all.


Harry was born at home.

It was Josephine, me and a couple of midwives and when this gorgeous, wrinkled, pink bag of skin and bones emerged alive, and healthy, a baby boy.

As he arrived in his mother's arms, in my wife's arms.

And as I held the two of them for the first time, I saw.

I was confounded.

I was unable to put a sentence together.

I tried to thank the midwives and all I could do was sob at the miracle I saw, the miracle folded into the tiny body before me.


And all the joy and happiness collided with all the fears and fragility.

And I saw.

And I was confounded.


There are three partners in the creation of a child

And the Holy Blessed One, may God's name be blessed, places ten things within him. And these are they; the soul, the spirit, the lustre of the visage, the ability to see and the sense of hearing, the speech from the lips, the strength of the arms and the legs' ability to walk, wisdom, understanding, counsel and intellect and might. And when it comes to the time to pass, the Holy Blessed One, takes back His part and leaves behind the parts of the mother and father before them. And the father and mother weep.


We weep at the beginning and we weep at the end.

Maybe this is the real meaning of that special morning blessing, the one that that praises God pokeach ivrim who opens up the eyes of the blind.

Maybe it's a prayer about the way true sight leads us to tears.

Maybe it's a prayer about the ability to cry; to cry tears of joy when we are lifted higher than any rational discourse can lift.

Maybe it is also a prayer about the ability to cry, to experience the bitterness of loss, deeper than any philosophical discourse can explain.

Maybe this is a prayer about the ability to be confounded, broken in on, lost.

This ability to cry is what lifts our lives beyond the humdrum and into the miraculous.


I had another powerful experience this week, at a Bet Din.

We had a number of candidates for conversion come before us.

It is always an incredibly intense day. These are people for whom being accepted into the Jewish community is immensely important. It's a very sacred and often a very emotional space.

One of the candidates, not anyone associated with this community, came from abroad.

Her English was poor, and she said something about prayer I hadn't fully understood.

I wanted her to clarify.

'How did' I asked, 'she understand the notion of 'One God?''


There was a pause, she started to cry and eventually said, 'It's everything.'

And I cried too.

If this was a Talmudic tale it would continue vtikabel otah miyad – and you should receive her immediately.

Because she got it.

And through her getting it, I got to share in what she had seen, understood.

And we received her immediately.


These experiences don't come often in a life.

But they are the deepest experience of faith.


And yes there are other ways to commit to Jewish life.

There are other ways of doing God-talk, the philosophical, rational theology of Maimonides and those who trace their approach to the Divine to the great super-rationalist of our tradition.


But we should never be afraid of the moment of bursting through.

We should never be afraid of the experience of true sight in all its confounding, blinding, dumbing enormity.


For it is in these fleeting moments of the experience of the world, as it truly is, that we come to know God.


May they come to us all.


Shabbat shalom


[1] Tanhuma 10, Bmidbar Rabba 20:15

[2] Kohelet Rabbah 5:12

[3] Torah Shleimah footnote to Bmidbar 22-169 citing 'b'leket'

[4] Using the translation of Fox who makes the 'redundant' anochi central to the experience of awakening.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Been a-publishing

It’s been a while since I posted.

I’ve been involved in a more primitive form of sending out Torah into the world.

I’ve edited a journal - Quest.

I’m really proud of it. There are some terrific articles and it takes forward the vision of Judaism I believe in. For more information see www.newlondon.org.uk/quest

The new volume contains contributions from leading Judaic scholars; Professors Marc Saperstein (Traditional Jewish Preaching on Social Justice), Neil Gillman (On Teaching Theology) and Alice Shalvi (The Plight of the Anchored Woman) as well as younger voices Rabbis Elliot Cosgrove (Rabbi Jacobs as The New Rabbi) and Melissa Weintraub (Does Torah Permit Torture?). The lead article is an important reassessment of the relationship between ‘Truth’ and ‘Faith’ by senior rabbi of the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg.

Copies of the Quest Volume III are £5 (plus £1 p&p). To order contact the Synagogue office on 0207 328 1026. or email office@newlondon.org.uk

Extract from Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg’s Article – Religion and Truth

There are many signs that religion is moving back in from the margins to the centre; it refuses to be confined to the invisible domain of the private conscience where it had been thought by some that it could be stowed away harmlessly at a safe distance from public affairs. From many corners religion is now on the way back, making its emboldened bid for the political centre stage, the military centre stage, even, something unheard of since theology lost its dominance to the natural sciences at the rise of the modern era, the central intellectual stage. In this turning tide I find myself in the strange position as a rabbi, whose allegiance should be clear, of asking myself who I’m more afraid of, the secularists or the proponents of the rising faiths.

Extract from Professor Alice Shalvi’s Article - The Plight of the “Anchored” Woman

Unfortunately, the rabbinical courts of Israel, which are only Orthodox and at present dominated by haredi judges (dayanim), very seldom avail themselves of the halakhic means at their disposal. Even before ruling that there should be a divorce (the least binding of the five options), they first recommend that the couple try to resolve their differences, on the grounds of domestic harmony (shalom bayit). Such a recommendation is seldom practicable and it becomes ludicrous when the grounds for demanding a divorce were primarily family violence and spouse abuse. In fact, it may place the wife in danger if she has nowhere to go other than the couple’s home (or to a women’s shelter). Yet the courts continue to bid the women to “Give him another chance!”

Extract from Rabbi Dr Elliot Cosgrove’s Article - Rabbi Jacobs as The New Rabbi

[While applying for the position of Rabbi] for the New West End, Jacobs had also submitted an application to serve as Rabbi of Golders Green Synagogue, a pulpit that would eventually go to Rabbi Eugene Newman. In a strained exchange, Halpern communicated the following to Jacobs: At the outset I ought to say that your preaching at the New West End made a bad impression here. They felt you should have not gone to such a shul – if you are genuinely interested in spreading the ideals of Jewish life. Not that community but you and your family would be changed if you went there - and not for the better…You know that I speak plainly with you and regard you as a member of the family …You have a very promising future in which you could B’EH [God willing] do excellent work. But you may be tempted to follow easier paths and false friends by allowing yourself to go after jobs that you should avoid. The New West End, in my opinion, is such a job….Think over what I have written, talk it over with Shula, and act for the best. Five days later, Jacobs withdrew his name from consideration at Golders Green, explaining that “after careful consideration, I have come to the conclusion that I would prefer the New West End.”

Extract from Rabbi Professor Marc Saperstein’s Article - Traditional Jewish Preaching on Social Justice

On Yom Kippur, 10 October 1894, Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler, preached in the Great Synagogue of London on ‘The Sinners in Zion’ (referring not to the Land of Israel but to his own community). He began by contrasting contemporary preachers, who tend to deal ‘too much with generalities’, with the prophets of old who ‘spoke with a plain bluntness that could not be mistaken, aye, with a grand passion of scorn and hate for all that was evil and corrupt. It is this plain speaking, this direct practical application, which invests their admonitions with such undying sublimity’. After discussing his Text from Isaiah 33:14–17, he proceeds to the application, addressing very directly, with a vehemence and rhetorical power not generally associated with this diplomatic personality, the prevalent sleazy business practices of his time: Can they persuade themselves that they despise the gains of oppression, who try to exact the utmost toil out of their labourers and employees in return for the scantiest wage, the barest pittance that can keep body and soul together—not a living but a dying wage? Or they who take advantage of the necessities of their workmen and women, compelling them to labour on the Sabbath? Or they who are money-lenders, and who claim usurious rates of interest from the victims whom they have entrapped, who corrupt youths by advancing money and pandering to their vices and follies? Or they who defraud unsuspecting creditors who have trusted to their debtors’ honesty? Or they who remove goods before bankruptcy, and thus flagrantly defraud and rob? ‘I do know’, he goes on to say, ‘that there are unhappily Jews who are guilty of these practices, which are denounced in the public press and universally condemned. I should be shamefully remiss in my duty were I to forbear from severely castigating such practices. . . If Isaiah were in our midst, how would he thunder forth his denunciations!’

We Just had the Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary Speaking at New London

Those who missed Arnie Eisen’s Rabbi Louis Jacobs Memorial lecture missed a treat. Beginning with Kant’s definition of ‘enlightenment’ the Chancellor unpacked the importance of living a life of Mitzvah – Jewish obligation.

For Kant enlightenment is the ‘emergence from self-imposed immaturity.’ ‘Immaturity’ being the ‘inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another… “Have courage to use your own understanding!”’ taught Kant, that, for him ‘is the motto of enlightenment.’

In contradistinction the Chancellor spoke of a parent getting out of bed to tend a screaming child – an image that, perhaps obviously, I related to immediately. This striving against self-interest, this ‘taking guidance from another’ is, Eisen suggested, a far richer form of life than pulling the pillow over your head. Well, I go along with that. But Chancellor Eisen offered one word which framed, for me, the importance of a life of obligation above a life of Kantian ‘Enlightenment.’ The single thing that saves those of us who live lives of obligation from the charge of being ‘unenlightened’ is ‘love.’

Love is about relationship. It is about being willing to allow oneself to be shifted, tugged and pulled without always having to analyse every last jot of logic. Love is, by definition, a leap of faith. When we love, when we leap, we fulfil the call of the pre-Rabbi Antigonos of Socho, ‘don’t be like servants who serve the Master in expectation of receiving a reward, rather be like servants who serve the Master without the expectation of receiving a reward.’ (Avot 1)

We need, in this world and even in this wonderful community, a little less of Kant’s enlightenment and a little more loving and leaping.

Shabbat shalom.

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