General Jewish Spirituality

Being Reasonable

By nature, I am not a reasonable person. I have a lot of ideas, and lots of them are pretty “out there.” You might call them “outside of the mainstream,” if you were feeling charitable. More generally, the term “wacko” has been used.

Often, this works well for me. I sit back, toss in an idea as though it were a piece of raw meat to a group of tigers, step back and watch people dig into it, tear it apart, and generally play with it. In this manner, the ideas get tested, and I’m free to accept those that people seem to think workable, and reject those that are generally considered “bad.”

This way of playing with ideas becomes a problem, however, when I am in my role as rabbi, teaching. People seem to expect me to be reasonable. They expect me to reliably portray the “Jewish viewpoint” on issues, rather than my crackpot viewpoint. For instance, I am speaking this afternoon on a panel about Faith and Climate Change at Willamette University. I believe I have a creative and new idea, that speaks directly to the Jewish view of the imperfection of the world, contrasting it with original sin as the more typical Christian view. But, it’s a new idea, and I think it needs a little more review before being made public in quite so large a forum.

The essence of the idea is this: Imperfection in the world, in the Jewish mystical worldview, comes not from human fault, but from Divine fault. That God, in creating the world, attempted to fill the universe with Divine perfection, but the universe could not contain that perfection, and shattered. Our task, as humans, is to go around finding the shattered remnants of this first creating, and release the film of God’s holiness which continues to cling to them. If I’m reading this right, it suggests that the imperfection of the world comes from Divine action, to be remedied by human action. In contrast, as I understand it, Original Sin is the idea that human action created imperfection in the universe by eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, to be remedied only be Divine forgiveness. The two ideas are seem to be inversions of one another, so to speak.

I’m not sure I’ve got this logic right, but if so, I think it makes for some interesting speculation.

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