Monday, 24 August 2015

A month before Yom Kippur last year

This is the first thing I ever said out loud in public. I said it at Assif in London, on a Shabbat morning in late October 2014.  I spent months thinking about it. I was very nervous.  My voice shook as I clutched my notes. 

"In four weeks time, we will be standing together, after a long day of not eating or drinking; and together we will say seven times the mission statement of our people:

יהוה הוא האלוהים                         

And about 1000 years ago Maimonides must have stood with his community in Fustat, Cairo and said those words too.

I imagine he liked that part of the service, not because it meant Yom Kippur was almost over, but because he was a radical, take-no-prisoners, make-no-exceptions monotheist. 

He believed God was not clumpable in time or space and we certainly shouldn't pray to a clump of God limited in time or space because that would be idol worship.

There are no powerful angels, amulets or magical incantations for Maimonides. 

So what's left?

The more I study Maimonides, the more I see a more grown up version of the Judaism I practised before.

So when I was given chapter 7 on laws concerning repentance in his Mishneh Torah, I was puzzled to read this in Halachah 3.

What? It is worse to have the thought than do the deed?
That's not the Judaism of my childhood where you could think what you liked; you only get judged for your actions.  

The clue comes in the next paragraph: Halacha - 4

"Don't think that because of their past sins, penitents are lower than the righteous. This isn't so. Penitents are loved and dear to their Creator as if they had never sinned"

Listen to the Hebrew:

אהוב ונחמד הוא לפני הבורא כאלו ליא  חטא מעולם  

Notice the word he uses for God - Boreh- maker/creator

Of all the names he could have picked- Shekina, Ein Sof, Adonai, he picked Maker.

God made you. God made you perfectly. God made you a thinking creature who has free-will to think anything. 

And that's where it all goes wrong. With our crazy thinking.
Thinking you are separate from the whole.
Thinking you are better than others.
Thinking you deserve more than others.

 For Maimonides, those habits of thinking are worse than our one-off sinful deeds. 

The habit of thinking you are better than the next person or not connected to the next person, keeps you from doing better going forward.

Last Wednesday in Syria, Assad and his supporters thought that the people who oppose them are less than people. And from that mindset, it makes perfect sense to use chemical weapons to kill.

We have experienced ourselves the results of being thought of as less than human in the Shoah, with tragic consequences. 

We Jews too have crazy thinking at times. When we think that other people have less value than us. 

When we think there's more God in some land than others, when in fact God is in all land, all languages and all people.

When ever we see ourselves as the chosen people, rather than people who choose God.

For Maimonides, there's only one way forward -to attempt to understand God properly. 

and to take our place in this moment, in the infinity of God. 

Shabbat Shalom. 

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