Elul Reflection for 27 Elul 5776

Recently Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky and I were in Indonesia. It was a surprising place full of unexpected diversity. Perhaps this helped provide a spark for a D’var Torah (based on the words of mystic Lawrence Kushner) that Rabbi Shoshana shared, based on a section of parashat Ki Tisa (Exodus 33:19-23). In the Torah, Moses asks to see God’s glory, and is told that no one can see God’s face and live; instead God will allow Moses to see his back.  Rabbi Shoshana taught that in actuality Moses only experienced an infinitesimal part of God’s back, because that was all that a human can comprehend, but that it was sufficient. She also taught that all peoples seeking God in their own ways also experience a different infinitesimal piece of God’s back. Each is true, and each is but a tiny part of the unknowable divine.

My memories of Bali’s many images of Ganesha also call to mind the following story, found in the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain traditions: Once a King brought six blind men together and asked them to determine what an elephant was like by feeling different parts of the elephant’s body. The blind man who felt a leg said, ‘the elephant is like a pillar’; the one who felt the tail said, ‘the elephant is like a rope’; the one who felt the trunk said, ‘the elephant is like a tree branch’; the one who felt the ear said, ‘the elephant is like a hand fan’; the one who felt the belly said, ‘the elephant is like a wall’; and the one who felt the tusk said, ‘the elephant is like a solid pipe.’ Each one insisted that they alone were correct. The king then explained to them: ‘All of you are right. Each one of you described a different truth about the elephant.'

The world will be a healthier place when we realize that we only have a very small piece of the puzzle, and that there are many truths, many ways to describe and experience that which is beyond any description or experience. These are good thoughts as we move towards the High Holidays.


--Rabbi David Kunin


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