Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bible Reading: Exodus 19:1-8

In the third month after their departure from the land of Egypt, on its first day, the Israelites came to the desert of Sinai. After the journey from Raphidim to the desert of Sinai, they pitched camp.
When Israel was encamped here in front of the mountain, Moses went up the mountain to God. Then the Lord called to him and said, "Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob; tell the Israelites: You have seen for yourself how I treated the Egyptians and how I bore you up on eagle wings and brought you here to myself. Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine. You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. That is what you must tell the Israelites." So Moses went and summoned the elders of the people. When he set before them all that the Lord had ordered him to tell them, the people all answered together, "Everything the Lord has said, we will do." Then Moses brought back to the Lord the response of the people.

There are two things that I would like to point out to you in commentary of this wonderful passage from the Book of Exodus, one is a minor point and one is very important.

The minor point is to notice that God uses symbolic imagery when he said that he "bore you up on eagle wings." Obviously God did not send big eagles to carry them; the Bible documents how they all walked, and a lot of walking the Israelites would do, for many years. God is using the image of eagle wings to describe symbolically how his power would raise the refugee Israelites above all hardships, both those they had already faced (being pursued by the Egyptians) and any hardships to come. I point this out because some people are kind of crazy when they say the Bible must be taken literally word by word, without even recognizing when God himself is using symbolism. So the next time someone quarrels with you that all of the Bible is "literal," feel free to cite that passage and ask them if God meant he sent literal eagles with really big wings, or if God was speaking using a glorious analogy and imagery. There is a huge difference between the Bible being totally true and accurate (which it is) and arguing that words have no flexibility of normal human discourse as God translates the untranslatable into human terminology. Thus you are to believe that this conversation took place, and these words were spoken, but not be a knuckle headed nudnik who then says, "Oooooh, God must have sent really big eagles for the Israelites to fly around on!" I hope this example is helpful in regaining some common sense, which early Bible readers had and these past two generations seem to totally lack.

The second and really important point is that God told the Israelites that they would be "a holy nation," but specifically: "a kingdom of priests." That means that each and every Israelite must have personal sanctity, though not literally be priests who serve in the temple, obviously.

Chosen people, are you still "a kingdom of priests?" If so, why do I meet so many who introduce themselves as "cultural Jews?" How can the modern day nation of Israel call itself God given when it is of such a secular mindset?

This is the heart of the problem and why many Muslims call Israel "the Zionest entity." The government of Israel is not the same as being the government of a population who are "a holy nation" and "a kingdom of priests." I am not being harsh here, and if I were speaking to you in person you would see that my demeanor on this subject is to be gentle and concerned. But I think that today, on this very holy day, you all need to think deeply about this.

When you read the link I have placed on this blog from Chabad, you read quotations from a Rebbe, of revered memory, who clearly still thought like "a priest" among a "holy nation." I've commented before that one of the great gifts that continues to this day is that orthodox scholarly Jews "get" (get being slang for "comprehend") God. They get it (being a people of God) and they get God. They understand, as much as one can, what God is "like," drawing on their centuries of personal relationship with God. "Born again" Christians like to say they have a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ." Well, let me tell you, believing and orthodox Jews sure have a "personal relationship with God."

But even many orthodox Jews have gotten confused in their own heads regarding politics of the country of Israel. That is why I always hedge and say "orthodox and scholarly Jews." I mean those who continue to love the word of God, and recognize and value their relationship with him, and thus maintain their individual role as "a priest" among a virtual "holy nation." I say virtual because the holy nation of Israel is dispersed and uneven, ranging from those with priestly orientation toward God through the lukewarms, and all the way to cold hearted and cynical seculars who are simply culturally and politically Jewish. The nation of Israel is not the "holy nation" that God described and blessed, any more than any nation on earth is a Christian holy nation. In both cases the holy nation is virtual, comprised of the faithful around the world, and only as pure and valid as the most honest and whole hearted of the believers.

Somewhere along the line, in modern times, many Jews have become "a politician," or "a warrior," or "a cultural Jew with secular beliefs" rather than "a priest," the priests that God chose when he consecrated the entire Chosen People as a nation. Everyone who traveled with God during the Exodus, and who remained faithful through the generations, turning only toward him in their belief, were his "priests," whether they were in the profession of priesthood or were just the average family members among the Chosen.

I worry about the nation, the country, of Israel, and whenever I look at it, I have to look hard to hear or see the "priests" among them. Interestingly, it is in New York and its environs that I've seen among the Hasidim and others, those who still think like the priests of God, and who feel in their hearts like the priests of God. Creating a political structures and rattling weapons, regardless of the real or perceived provocations, does not a holy nation of priests make. Rage and defensiveness is too easily raised in the hearts of many of Israel, including the most devout. I am not saying that one must be Christian "wimps" who "turn the other cheek." But I am saying that you will have no peace until you make your peace with God and return to being a people who are defined first of all by their love of God and their "priesthood" in the hearts of individuals toward God. When the people of the country of Israel regain and reclaim their own sanctity in the eyes of God, then they will find that the components of secure peace with the Palestinians and their neighbors will remarkably fall into place for them. God never took his love and his designation of the Israelites as his "holy nation" from them, but instead, the modern Israelites have turned their eyes away from God, and make no genuine effort to hold on to their continuing consecration as his holy nation of priests. (With the exceptions I have noted).

I hope you find this helpful and I will hope along with those of you who truly believe to find yourselves in good places within the Book of God this year.