Thursday, 10 July 2008

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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