Tuesday, November 08, 2011

לא רעב ללחם ולא צמא למים

The Aramaic Targum on the Book of Ruth opens by saying that there will be ten serious famines prior to the coming of the Messiah. The last one will fulfill the vision of the prophet Amos (who lived not far from where I presently sit): הנה ימים באים נאם אדני יהוה והשלחתי רעב בארץ לא רעב ללחם ולא צמא למים כי אם לשמע את דברי ד or : 'Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of God' (Amos 8, 11).

There are, I believe, two sides to this prophecy.

Amos, himself, may have been telling the Jews of his day to appreciate the fact that there is prophecy in their midst, for a time will come when it will cease to exist. The Targum, though, was writing more than half a millennium after prophecy ceased. He lived in a world in which God hid His Face (as it were), a tragic reality that was reinforced by the destruction of the Temple, the Hadrianic Persecutions and the brutal aftermath of the Bar Kokhba Revolt. He yearned for God's word to make sense of the cruel, unjust reality in which he lived. Perhaps, he hoped that he was living in the End of Days, as evidenced by his generation's desperate need for unmediated Divine guidance.

That need, that spiritual hunger, grew ever more intense as the centuries unfolded and the Jewish historical experience grew more painful and heroic. In the wake of the cataclysm's and conundra of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, it has over flowed. It is, however, solely up to God as to when He will break His silence.

There is another side of Amos' prophecy, which is both timely and which is within our power to address.

Hungering for God's Word is another way of describing an overwhelming desire for God's Presence, per se. For two thousand years, up till the Emancipation (at least), Jews sought God and found Him through Tefillah and Torah, through Mitzvot and Ma'asim Tovim. In Amos' terms, God's Word allowed the Jew to connect with his Creator and feel His Presence. That sense of propinquity is what made him feel truly alive (cf. הל' יסודי התורה פ"א ה"א) and truly happy (e.g. ושמחת לפני ד' א). In the age of secularism, aka the 'Age of Disbelief,' God has been banished from the public square, from educated discourse, and Jews can no longer connect with His Word. For a long time, it appeared that they didn't really want to connect, either.

As I've noted here on any number of occasions, the latter is no longer true, at least as far as the Jews of Eretz Yisrael are concerned. The spiritual upsurge, the Jewish Renaissance, that has marked the past decade and a half has been truly inspiring. Even the secular media has been marked by 'not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of God.' The search for God and Torah are at the front and the center of contemporary cultural discourse and personal desire.

That desire, however, is all too often unrequited. The people might want God's Word, but God's Word is often inaccessible.

It is often inaccessible because large swaths of the Orthodox World are caught up in political considerations that make their own power and funding more important than spreading Torah and Sanctifying God's Name. Today's nefarious decision by the Religion Ministry to kill the Tzohar Marriage initiative is typical of this trend (as is the persistent delegitimization by the Rabbinical Courts of conversions and Divorces issued by Orthodox Battei Din both here and abroad). Couples wishing to marry כדת משה וישראל will now have to either contend with the unfeeling and gross bureaucracy that plague the established rabbinate (along with not infrequent graft), or will choose to marry in Cyprus or marry by proxy in Paraguay. These are couples who seek God's blessing on their marriages, but will have nowhere to find it.

God's Word is also inaccessible because, for the vast majority of Traditional and even Orthodox Jews, they can't understand it and there is no one to teach them. It is not of the lack of teachers or classes that I write. Rather, it is the inability of the overwhelming majority of rabbis and educators to convey the Torah in cultural terms that can command the respect and (hopefully) the assent of the inquirers after God's Word. There simply aren't enough representatives of Torah (men and women, from all types of professions) who can intelligently convey God's Word to those who hunger for it. The enormity of this tragic circumstance is difficult to convey. It is compounded by the fact that (with a few exceptions) the community prefers to ignore the severity of the situation. In the Rav's terms, the Lover is knocking on the Beloved's door (which is locked from the outside). The locksmith, however, refuses to awaken and allow her to enter.

I do not know if we are living in the end of days. Happily, I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet. I do know, however, that when the Day of God, the Day of Judgement arrives all of us who presume to be involved, observant Jews will be asked why we did not help the Jews of Israel (who, according to Maimonides, are the life blood of the Jewish People everywhere) to slake their thirst for God and His Word.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i think a better translation is prophet or prophets disciple.
what was the tzohar marriage initiative?