Drash on Parashat Behar-Bechukotai 2013

Rabbi Adi Cohen
Temple Sinai
Wellington, New Zealand

“And I don’t want the world to see me
’Cause I don’t think that they’d understand
When everything’s meant to be broken
I just want you to know who I am”   (Iris – Goo Goo dolls)

A few months ago I had a lovely conversation with one of our elder congregants about God, faith and religion. One of the first issues to come up was that he had lost his faith because he “does not believe in the Biblical God who sits on a throne up in the sky over the clouds”. “Great,” I replied. “It appears that we have something in common, both of us don't believe in the same God.” I think that all rabbis around the world are familiar with this kind of conversation. The majestic God that was imprinted in peoples' minds during their childhood days, attending religious school, simply doesn't fit into their adult mind frame. Asking hard questions never intimidated our sages. On the contrary, for them it was the highest form of learning, as long as one strived for answers. In the last few years there have been some very good attempts to bring modern liturgy into the religious discourse. How do we talk to God? How do we pray? Mishkan T’filah is a great example for that.

In our week’s parasha we find the same challenge, only this time it is about one’s relationship with God as a precondition to the liturgy and to worship. In the parasha, God promises blessings to the Children of Israel if they follow God’s law, and warns about the curses that will befall the people if they do not observe God's commandments. The challenge I would like to address relates not to our relationship with God, but to God’s relationship with us.

On page 625 in Mishkan T’filah, the first verse of Adon Olam was translated:

“You are the Eternal God, who reigned before any being had been created;
When all was done according to Your will, then You were called Ruler.”

The translation, in this case, in order to de-gender God, changes the theological meaning of the verse.  The literal translation should have been: “Master of the universe Who reigned before any being had been created; When all was done according to His will, then He was called Ruler.” God needs us to crown God as our king. Is it as simple as that?

Can it be that in order to be “Sovereign of the universe” God needs us “to be there” for God?

We are no longer the tribe of people standing in the desert facing a new religion and establishing a new ethnical group. What does it means to be there for God today? Do we have a personal commitment towards God “to be there”? Can we understand “hashgacha eeshit” as us watching over God instead of other way around?

Do we have the courage to talk about new theology side by side to new liturgy?

How can we not?

Shabbat shalom.

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