Theological Reflection: To Be a Jew is to Be Human

In a world filled with wonder, love, at times pain and loss–and above all mystery–we embrace each other, celebrate together, and encounter what life brings-on each moment of breath. In such a world, each of us is a reflection of the Divine, the presence that allows us to inhabit a world that is in constant need of perfection in the face imperfection, where we are always susceptible to breakage and impermanence. To be a healing presence–by giving to others kindness, compassion empathy and love–is for me one of the essentials of being a Jew and a being human.
My spiritual tradition is Judaism, a tradition rich in its understanding of the human condition, one filled with teachings that enable human beings to be sustained and, even more, to thrive in the midst of uncertainty and pain. Central to my understanding of my tradition is the celebration of life, L’chaim, the celebration of existence itself. Life is a divine gift, and as I have learned, exalted because we are “created in the Divine image.” In this respect each of us is possessed by a uniqueness that reflects the Divine. Each of us, according to one of the teachings of Judaism, is likened to an entire universe, vast, deep and, critically, above all worthy. So much so that our Sages, of blessed memory, taught that the destruction of one human being is tantamount to the destruction of an entire universe.
To further elaborate, while the world is a manifestation of Divine Will, it is nevertheless imperfect and in constant need of perfecting. To perfect the world is the task of human beings who are commanded to make the world a better place, not just for some, but for all. This effort, one of perfecting the world, originates in the mystical tradition of Kabbalah, and is called Tikkun Olam, literally, “repairing the world.” In this context, every person has the possibility and the opportunity, through his or her actions, to make the world increasingly whole, while at the same time restoring to the Creator the Divine Sparks—fragments of the Divine Essence–that were scattered throughout the universe at the moment of creation. If you will, the restoration of the Divine Sparks bring about, in the mystical tradition of Kabbalah, the healing of the Creator who became estranged from itself when some of those Divine Sparks were lost. Thus human action—human behavior—heals God, and God reciprocally heals the world. Here action is met with response, and repose is met with action. In this scheme both humans and God are partners in healing each other; in contributing to the wholeness and completeness of the other–and ultimately of the world.
At this point, it is worthwhile to briefly summarize a significant theological issue: the state of the world and the human condition. The world according to the Jewish understanding is not perfect: it exists in the material realm, where change is ongoing within the cycle of generation and decay. All things, especially human beings, have a finite existence in which accident, illness, healing are all possible, and where death is certain. In this respect Judaism teaches that the world was deliberately left uncompleted, so that human beings and God would together—in partnership–engage in continuing the act of creation. This ongoing process of completing creation is the essence of Tikkun Olan, the “repair and healing” of the world.
Let me now turn to the question of how I understand myself, an imperfect being, in the context transcendence. I am, like all other human beings, imperfect for reasons I have already elaborated. My imperfection does not however mean that I need to remain where I am at this point of my development. I have the possibility of perfecting myself through education and action in the world–by joining others and engaging in “Tikkun Olam.” My conviction of having “possibilities” emanates from my realization that I am a being created in God’s image– that my existence is in some sense a reflection of the Divine Presence, the source of all potential. I understand that I am part of something greater than myself; and I intuit that I am never alone in our vast universe, even at moments of great despair. And above all, when I wake in the morning, live my life during the day, and finally go to sleep at night, I experience a profound enveloping presence of something that I can’t express in words—the ineffable—which manifests itself as the world I live in both in the material and spiritual realms. I experience what I call the Mystery through my senses, by my intuition and, perhaps even more, by my imagination. I name that Mystery, God, and as I utter the word, I understand that for me the Mystery requires that I personalize it because of my human need to name and give concreteness—substance–to what gives rise to the miracle of my existence.
God, the Mystery is ever-present and manifests itself in the world though me as an individual by informing my actions in this world! In this context, Reconstructionist theology, the theology propounded by Mordecahi M. Kaplan, lends to my understanding of God as the ever-present Divine Force, the energy if you will, that works through human beings. When we are aware and open to it, the Divine Force works through us as individuals and imbues us with a sense of deep purpose, love and caring for ourselves and others, as well as the desire to work with others to elevate the condition of humanity. In this respect I would add that the Divine Force works though our consciousness to create conscience, the faculty that enables us to recognize the Divine Image in each other. The Divine Force, now working through our conscience, evokes within us the desire to collaborate with others as a community to perfect, make the world better by healing and constantly repairing it. It is the Divine Force that impels us to engage in “Tikkun Olam,” the effort to repair the world.
My community, the Jewish people, has made a vocation of allowing the Divine Force to flow through its collective-self for millennia. Cultivating a unique collective conscience, reflected in its vast sacred literature and way of life, the Jewish people has responded to the Divine imperative to live and act with a sense of possibility and hope, recognizing that all human beings are created in God’s image, and that life is sacred—God’s gift. It is this compelling collective mentality that operates in the life of a people who recognize that while there can never be a perfect world, there needs to be a constant effort to perfect the world by healing it, making it better for all human beings.
I return to what I began with as an explanation of how my beliefs inform my being a Jew and a being human. Simply, I want to be a healing presence in a world of imperfection, pain and hurt, a world where each of us as transient being is a reflection of the Divine Image, beyond all worth, imbued with possibility.

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