|Rabbi Prof. Dr. Howard
I. Bogot, author of many books, had just published „a non-political, trilingual
invitation for children to discover that peace requires caring for all
peoples while accepting the challenge of making the world a better place“:
Shalom, Salaam, Peace, New York CCAR Press. In his lecture he explains
the principles of his approach.
Perhaps the best way I can
create a landscape through which we can travel together during this presentation,
is to tell you the story of Mendele. There was once a young man named Mendele.
He belonged to his small town orchestra, but was not a very popular musician.
Indeed, no matter what music was being played, Mendele was always two beats
behind. Whether the orchestra was doing Beethoven, Bach, or Mozart, Mendele
was always two beats behind, and when the music ended, he was still playing.
It was announced that the Crown Prince was going to pay a visit to the
town where Mendele lived, and everyone got very excited. Of course, the
orchestra would play some very special music for the occasion. The big
question was would Mendele play in time with the others? The big day came,
and the Crown Prince arrived. The orchestra struck up a fanfare, and began
to play the special music. And sure enough, Mendele was two beats behind.
No matter what the conductor’s signals, Mendele was not with him. It was
very frustrating for everyone. Then, just as the concert was coming to
a close, a most wonderful thing happened. The heavens parted, and through
the opening everyone could see and hear the heavenly orchestra ? and the
angelic musicians and Mendele were playing together… in perfect time. He
was two beats behind his friends on earth, because he was playing in time
to the heavenly beat. We have come together to study the environments of
thought and action in which ethics and spirituality are nurtured. For me,
the challenge is to explore the ways in which learners—especially young
children—can be educated to embrace Mendele’s internalised and natural
sense of “sacred time”.
I suggest we begin with some
assumptions concerning God-talk that reflect my study of Judaism. In classic
Jewish texts, I find two authentic ways to describe the essence of God.
Although significantly different, both types of God-talk promote a unified
Designative usage is best
classified as the traditionally, predictable theological point of reference.
Designative God-talk relates to a definition of God’s nature as an entity;
an otherliness. It is the foundation for the style of believing in established
faith communities. Believing, in this frame-of-reference, reflects an assumption
that a given proposition is informationally valid.
The designative use of the word God is, understandably, the frame-of-reference
in which the atheist declares that the statement, “God exists” is informationally
inaccurate. However, this is the only appropriate context for such a declaration.
dramatic and impressive valuing is the dominate usage of the word God in
the language of contemplation, prayer and other forms of religious experience.
It is connotative, in terms of expectations, rather than a denotation of
fact. Thus, God is a “code-word” for the hope and trust that people have
in a life (world) of optimistic options; healing not sickness, relief of
want, comfort rather than tribulation, triumph instead of adversity, friendship
in place of hostility and helpfulness replacing scorn. Rather than an entity,
God is a process that empowers messianic strivings, personal, interpersonal,
intimate and global.
To summarise, religious
Jews (including halachic, progressive, and humanist believers) describe
the nature of God from two authentic but, mutually-exclusive perspectives;
God-as-Entity and God-as-Process. God-as-Entity profiles an otherliness
that exists beyond human (or other aspects of life) realms of control and
total comprehension. [“God is the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent
Creator of the world.”] God-as-Process images a life-defining and alteringor
phenomenon that is accessible to humankind and understandable as well.
[“God is the oneness that spans the fathomless aeons of time.”]
The spiritual impact, of
these divergent views, is the same on Jewish ethical education: Avoiding
evil is insufficient. Each human person has the free-will to choose between
right and wrong. Just as God is “involved” in affirmative action for the
“good”, so should each individual. From the religious perspective, an ethical
Jew attains this status when she/he “has acquired, as far as this is possible
for the human person using intelligence honed by reason, the knowledge
of God.” (Maimonides)
Jewish God-talk has promoted
various models for ethical decision-making. Each reflects a perspective
that is best expressed in Hebrew. Let’s consider six.
1) Asher Kid’deshanu
(God) makes us unique by
means of mitsvot (commandments).
For religious Jews, who
believe in God-as-Entity, ethical mandates have been set forth as the revealed
will of an all-knowing, ever-present, all-powerful God. They are components
of the taryag mitsvot (613 commandments) in the Torah.
For religious Jews, who
believe in God-as-Process, ethical mandates are self-selected as obligations
through the study of and confrontation with classic Jewish texts, Jewish
group-life norms and Jewish historical experience, as well as the ideals
and traditions of Jewishly identified loved ones and leaders.
2) Hinei Mah Tov
uMah Naim, Shevet Achim Gam Yachad
How good and pleasant it
is for people to live together in mutual respect.
In order for an individual
Jew’s behaviour to reflect ethical character, that person must strive to
achieve unity with God. is in the Universe as manifest in the laws of Nature.
In order to condition oneself to embrace and experience the morality of
God-in-the-natural-world, a Jew’s ethical decisions must promote social
3) Chai Bahem
Live in the mitsvot.
Every Jew’s response to
the mandates of Torah must have a rational focus. Ethical decisions are
those that negotiate a „golden mean“ between excess and deficiency. This
balance is the source of true happiness. (Maimonides)
4) V’ahavtah L’reiachah
Love your neighbour
as you wish to be loved.
It is the ethical duty of
every Jew to act in ways that do not impose on others the tyrannies that
the individual has rejected for her/himself. Tyrannies that are barriers
to a person acquiring a consciousness of freedom are unethical.
5) Kol Yisrael Areivim
Each Jew is responsible
for every Jew.
“The laws of morality...are
an outcome of national character. They are a fruit which ripens little
by little through the ages...not in accordance with a system laid down
and defined at the outset. They change constantly of their own accord,
reflecting change in the nation’s circumstances, character and need.” (Ahad
A Jew’s ethics (as revealed
in decision-making and behaviour) should be a reflection of Am Yisrael’s
“national character”. Jewish “national character” can, at the present time,
be partially understood through the study of the Basic Laws enacted by
the State of Israel and the published resolutions of Jewish organisations
in the Diaspora.
6) Betselem Elohim
The human person is created
“in the Divine Image.”
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh („I will
be that which I will become“) profiles God as potential to be actualised.
contrast to the “stage names” of God as Adonai or El Shadai, the essence
of God, in Jewish thought, is existence. Thus, Jewish ethics constitute
individual and group initiative, advocacy and strivings to nurture a “godly
existence” for all creation.
This sixth and final model
for spiritually enriched Jewish ethics is the educational foundation for
the children’s book, Shalom, Salaam, Peace. Although nurtured by the universal
application of many models of Jewish ethics, the impact of Betselem Elohim
is the most poignant. Thus, an overview of the book’s textual imagery,
as related to a “godly existence” is appropriate as an example of an educational
strategy for connecting spirituality and ethics. Hopefully, this book will
help every learner to discover the Mendele within. I’ll quote the text
and then share a very brief comment relating the words to God-image ethics.
1) “rainbow highways
in the sky”
Just as the biblical rainbow
signifies God’s promise to refrain from destroying the earth, regardless
of its evil doers, as an act of CHESED (dependable lovingkindness), so
every individual must establish a covenant with self and others. of us
must promise to nurture, rather than destroy, protect rather than endanger,
promote rather than discourage and, in all ways, be optimistic.
2) “joy-filled eyes that
once saw only sadness”
GEULAH (redemption) reflects
the image of God as redeemer. Every individual can be a redeemer: another
to feel good about him/herself self and others cope with stress weakness
and sustaining self-esteem vulnerability and dealing with fear.
3) “when love is everywhere,
a hug, a kiss, a handshake, a smile, a gentle touch”
“When a stranger settles
with you in your land, you shall not oppress the individual. That person
shall be treated as a native born among you, and shall love (AHAVAH) that
man or woman as yourself, because you were strangers in Egypt...I am Ehyeh
Asher Ehyeh.” (Lev. 19:33-34) Love is not an indiscriminate expression
of affection. Love requires empathy, an ability to be sensitive enough
to one’s own needs that it is possible to intuit the needs of others.
4) “happy children feeling
sometimes sacred, surprised and angry, but always safe”
The implication that people
can have EMUNAH (confidence) in God is profiled in the reference to God
as Tsur Yisrael (Rock of Israel). is the gift of confidence. Our sensitivity
to others, the willingness to be a loyal friend, the readiness to forgive
and the capacity to be a thoughtful and trusting confidant are all attributes
that foster feelings of safety.
5) “when dreams become
workers working, hungry tummies fed” „when daffodils, cactus, oak trees,
palms, wheat and raspberries grow in fertile soil” „when all enjoy unlettered
landscapes with fresh air, clean lakes and sparkling streams” “when there’s
always time for reaching, resting, healing, climbing, playing, writing,
painting, hammering, rhyming, dancing”
God is responsible for MAASEI
V’REISHIT (works of creation). People must take responsibility (as in the
relationship between a lessor and lessee) to care for all Creation. Caring
for the environment is an aspect of TIKKUN OLAM (repairing the world).
TIKKUN implies “repairing” the quality of human life; emotional, psychological,
social, political and economic aspects.
6) “when fences with
unlocked gates encircle bows, arrows, swords, tanks, land mines, missiles
and hand-guns recycled to playground toys”
“Nation shall not lift up
sword against nation, nor experience war anymore.” (Isaiah) is the God-inspired,
anti-militaristic peace message expressed as prophetic idealism. This concept
of Olam HaBa (world-to-come) is the ethical SHELICHUT (mission) which qualifies
every individual as an Eved Adonai (servant of the Unique One).
7) “when friends are
short, tall, thin or chubby, light skinned or dark with straight or curly
ADONAI ECHAD (God is a Unique
One) is described as using a single mold to “mint” the creation of all
humanity. This midrashic allegory profiles the common denominator that
is shared by all humankind, the God-image inheritance. The ethical implication
is each person’s responsibility (guarantorship) and embrace of every person
(Kol B’nai Adam Areivim Zeh LaZeh).
8) “when wishes come
true for those who want to live in houseboats, tents, apartments, mud huts,
palaces, tree houses, homes of stone, brick or wood” “when grandmas, grandpas,
infants, toddlers learning how to walk, men, women, girls, boys,
college students carrying books and folks with disabilities like those
in wheelchairs, treasure life and are treasured too”
The prayer Baruch Atah Adonai
Elohenu, Melech HaOlam; Shehecheyanu, Vekiy’manu, Vehegiyanu, Lazman HaZeh
challenges humanity to exalt God’s giving of life, providing support and
enabling us to pursue messianic time. The categorical imperatives that
are implicit for the realisation of sacred time provide the context for
transforming moral commitment into ethical realities.
9) “we know what peace
The fact that “God’s name
is Peace” and the verbal root of the Hebrew word SHALOM expresses fulfilment
and completion, as in the drawing of a circle, challenges the religious
ethicist to pursue both microcosmic and macrocosmic messianism. Peace is,
obviously, not just the absence of conflict. Peace, as a Jewish ethical
concept, is Divine Images imitation mobilised within each person. acknowledged,
these images of God become the canvas on which all peoples, families, religions,
governments and societies paint a landscape of perfection.
When I finished preparing
these musings for you, I really felt that we had the chance to educate
a global generation of Mendeles. But, there is one more story to consider.
According to Jewish legend, when the angels discovered that human beings
would be created with the Divine Image, they were very disturbed. The angelic
Board of Directors decided to hide the Divine Image to sustain their unique
relationship with the Holy One. An angel suggested that the Divine Image
be hidden on the top of the world’s highest mountain. This was countered
with the observation that explorers in hot air balloons would easily discover
that hiding place. But the reality of jet planes ruled out hiding the Divine
Image on the wind and, when it was suggested that the Image be hidden in
the deepest part of the sea, the angels received a little reality therapy
when reminded that submarines were quite efficient. The angels became very
depressed. Now they were convinced that human beings would soon take away
their political clout in the heavenly realms., joy returned, when one of
the most perceptive angels proclaimed: “Let’s hide the Divine Image inside
each human being. They’ll never look for it there!”
Example: So as not to even suggest that information related to Moses in
the Chumash supports the assumption that he (Moses) redeemed the Hebrews
from slavery, Moses is not mentioned in the halachic Haggadah. God is the
designated Redeemer. Indeed, the first of the Ten Commandments states this
designative information, explicitly.
Note: From the perspective of the Orthodox Jewish philosopher, Samuel Raphael
Hirsch, the ultimate realisation of Torah results from a Jew’s response
both to God-generated teaching and the natural revelation of an individual’s
Please note that rabbinic commentaries suggest that the neighbour is a
person who is contributing to the welfare of society.