From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
How can anyone in the 21st century, who has witnessed and benefited from extraordinary technology, and advances in science and medicine, be solely committed to radical faith?
In Judaism, there is room for science and faith. Writing in his book, “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning,” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes for the secularist who denies the relationship. To Sacks, Judaism is the best means of reconciling the two, not to equalize them, but to demonstrate their respective roles in a world we’re still trying to understand. Sacks puts it this way, “Science takes things apart and asks, how does it work? Religion puts things together and asks, “What does it mean?” We need both.
Judaism isn’t unaware of human tendencies to be passionate about faith, but Judaism considers moderation to be an overarching value. In the Hebrew Bible, Pinchas and Elijah acted as zealots of faith, and were later rebuked by God for doing so.
About Pinchas and Elijah, the Biblical commentator, Rashi, explained, that “Pinchas … turned My (God’s) anger away from the Israelites by being zealous with My zeal,” and taught that Pinchas “executed My vengeance and showed the anger I should have shown.” Like Pinchas, Elijah was also rebuked by God. In I Kings 19, Elijah fled King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, he hid in the desert and “there was a great and mighty wind that split mountains and shattered rocks” but “God was not in the wind” that passed; “God was not in the earthquake” that shook the ground; “God was not in the fire” that burned and consumed everything. God was in the “still small voice,” the utter silence that followed all the noise. Elijah found God, not in great displays of fire or spirit, but in quiet thoughtfulness.
Today, radical and passionate views are pulling us towards the far left and far right. They’re polarizing us unnecessarily. The process and the effect are not at all Jewish. Such passion belongs to God, Whose own presence isn’t always found in Biblical torrents and earthquakes. Unfortunately, we’re still awed by lightning and rumbling, and uninspired and unmoved sufficiently by calm and silence. We would do well not to act passionately to destroy, convict, cancel, or ghost. We do better to move beyond the noise and clamor to find calm between us at home, in the workplace, and the community.
It’s been documented that when people with opposing views share their respective stories about how and why they arrived in America, what their parents and grandparents did to support their families, and what their hopes are for their own children and grandchildren, they find that their stories are not too dissimilar. They might differ in their origins and the language their stories are told in, but in calm conversations they learn that their struggles and hopes are not radically different.
Have you talked with someone who appears to have walked a different path than you? Did you hear their story? How is it different and where is it the same? If we find a common path, can we begin to walk closer together on it? Let’s find what we need for our future, not in periods of passion, but with those who will accompany us towards greater moderation and peace.