A Different Kind of Theology

Ekev 5780 Parashat Ekev Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites
This week’s Torah portion, Ekev, is part of Moses’ long speech given before the nation only days before he parted from them.  In this speech, Moses goes from a historic survey of their forty years of wandering through the desert to directives and guidance on how the nation should build its national and private lives in the land they are about to enter, the Promised Land, the Land of Israel.
A Different Kind of Theology

Here are Moses’ words:

Behold, to the Lord, your G-d, belong the heavens and the heavens of the heavens, the earth, and all that is on it…For the Lord, your G-d, is G-d of gods and the Lord of the lords, the great mighty and awesome G-d, Who will show no favor, nor will He take a bribe. He executes the judgment of the orphan and widow, and He loves the stranger, to give him bread and clothing. You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

(Deuteronomy 10, 14-19)

At first reading, it looks like Moses is jumping from one topic to another.  First, he talks about the infinite and inconceivable power of G-d, and then he moves on to talk about G-d acting in accordance with moral values that obligate us – the Jewish nation – as well.

The Talmudic interpreter, Rabbi Yohanan, discerned the connection between these two topics:

Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Wherever you find a reference in the Bible to the might of the Holy One, Blessed be He, you also find a reference to His humility adjacent to it. Evidence of this fact is written in the Torah, repeated in the Prophets, and stated a third time in the Writings.

It is written in the Torah: “For the Lord your G-d is the G-d of gods and the Lord of lords”, and it is written immediately afterward: “He executes the judgment of the fatherless and widow”

(Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Megillah, 31)

Rabbi Yohanan sees this principle as a phenomenon that repeats itself.  G-d’s strength and power is inextricably connected to His humility, and to the moral values of compassion, justice, and benefitting others.

This principle reflects the theological concept that characterizes Jewish faith: Reality is not happenstance; occurrences are not coincidental.  Neither the global ones nor the national or personal ones.  What happens in the world is for a reason and the reason is good. The power that runs reality is not apathetic to moral issues.  Goodness rules, and there is no control given to anything but justice.

We can see a beautiful expression of this concept in the prayer “Nishmat kol chai” (The soul of every living thing) said in shacharit morning prayers on Shabbat.  In this prayer, we express amazement about G-d’s power and greatness.  “Who is like You, O G-d?”  And here, man might ask himself:  What amazes me?  What excites my spirit? Let’s look at the way the prayer is phrased:

“Who is like You, O G-d, Who delivers the poor from one that is too strong for him, the poor and the defenseless from one who would rob him”.

And again the cry of wonder:

“Who is like You, who is equal to You, and who can be compared to You, O great, strong and awesome G-d, G-d the Most High, the Owner of Heaven and Earth?!”

Two connected exclamations.  One exclaims wonder about morality and compassion, and the other about G-d’s power.  Judaism believes that both these exclamations fit together: Goodness rules the world.

The practical implication of this theological perspective is far-reaching.  Firstly, the understanding is that power and control should not be disconnected from morality.  Secondly, there is faith in persistently striving for moral goodness and providing man with hope and trust in good deeds.  Indeed, justice does have a chance of winning!

Judaism believes that theology is not research of the godly, but a message that is directed to humanity.  Faith calls upon us to act in a certain way.  “Love the stranger”, “Love your fellow as yourself” – these are the implications of the commandment “And you shall love G-d, your G-d”.

Today October 26, 2021

End of prayer time:
Mid day:
A Different Kind of Theology

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Interesting Facts

The Western Wall Plaza hosts approximately 60,000 people. It symbolizes the Jewish link to Jerusalem and serves as the synagogue closest to the remains of both Holy Temples.
The Western Wall's visible stones tell of its history from the time of the Holy Temples' ruin. The original Herodian stones are distinct from the others in size and in their unique borders.
The building style of "grading" used when layering the Western Wall's stones, teaches us that the Temple Mount's walls were not perpendicular but marginally sloping.
A Different Kind of Theology

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