Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Who Asked You God?

I recently heard an interesting tale found in the Talmud, a Jewish rabbinic commentary on Jewish law, ethics, customs, and history. The tale is called the Oven of Akhnai (or Akhni) and it centers around the "kosherness" of a recently purchased oven.
[I am retelling most of this story from memory as I heard it so I apologize if I get any of it wrong. You can find the original tale here in the Talmud, P.140]

The local rabbis were debating whether or not a recently purchased oven was kosher for use. They debated on what the Law says and finally voted that it was not kosher, except for Rabbi Eliezer who voted that it was. He brought all the evidence he had before the other rabbis and they still kept to their vote. So Rabbi Eliezer pointed towards a carob tree and said "If I'm right, let this carob tree prove it!" And sure enough the carob tree uprooted itself and moved 100 cubits away agreeing with Rabbi Eliezer's argument. The rabbis were not impressed and responded "what does a carob tree know of the Law."

So Rabbi Eliezer pointed towards a stream and said "If I'm right, let this stream prove it!" and miraculously the stream began to run backwards. The unimpressed rabbis again responded with "what does a stream know of the Law."

So then Rabbi Eliezer pointed towards the walls of a school and said "If I'm right, let this wall prove it!" And sure enough the walls cracked and began to crumble. Rabbi Yehoshua chastised the walls saying "You keep out of this! This is a debate among scholars," and the wall did not fall out of respect for Rabbi Yehoshua.

Rabbi Eliezer finally pointed towards the heavens and said "If I'm right, let it be proven from Heaven!" And sure enough the Heavens opened up and a voice (a female voice) proclaimed," Why do you quarrel with Rabbi Eliezer, who is always right in his decisions!"

Rabbi Yehoshua stood up and said, "What does God know about the Law." [He actually said "It is not in heaven" but it sounds funnier the way I heard it.]

The whole point to the story is that the interpretation of the Law is in the hands of Man (or at least in this story specifically the Jews). God gave them the Law at Sinai and intended for them to never EVER forget it. When Rabbi Rami told us this Mishna in class he quoted the line, "It is better for man to remember my Law and forget Me than for them to remember Me and forget my Law."

What does this tell us about ourselves and how we view God? What does this tell us of our past and future interactions with the Divine? When God sent down a revelation, within the monotheistic traditions, it was for a purpose: to bring Humanity back to Him. But when that revelation was passed into our hands WE decided how to interpret it because God did not send an interpretation manual along with the revelation. So man gets to work, and we spit out interpretation after interpretation. We have so many that we begin to take sides and splinter into factions defending a certain view.

"We have the Light."
"NO! We have the Light!"

The first round of debating stagnates and new interpreters spring up to take their place, putting their spin on it. This repeats itself ad nauseum.

Now in the present we have thousands of interpretations on God's revelations. The Light has been splintered into thousands of pieces. Have we lost the original meaning or did WE give the first revelations meaning? I believe we (global we) can reclaim the Light God entrusted us with. I believe that we each have a splinter, a shard of truth, and if we share our pieces we can strengthen the Light. This may not happen in the next 50 years or the next 1000 years but as long as we consider ourselves brothers, despite whatever pieces we may have then there is hope the Light will regain its original splendor.

Then God will sit back and look at all the work we have done and say "that it was Good".


Anonymous said...

"It is better for man to remember my Law and forget Me than for them to remember Me and forget my Law."
----Where is this quote from??

Sam Morales said...

It is from the Mishnah.

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