Finding the Reconstructionist God in the God of the Torah
At 1:30 p.m. Eastern time
Hosted by Rabbi Avi Winokur
From Parashat Ki Teze: On the High Holidays and Haggim we chant at the Torah service, Adonai, Adonai, El Rahum, v’ Hanun etc. from Ki Teze. In context, it is the culmination of a dramatic conversation between Moses & God after the golden calf episode. God asks Moses to go forward as if nothing untoward happened and Moses replies basically, “Are you kidding me!?! I need to see you to behold your Presence. Give me some reassurance. Don’t just give me this matter of fact, ‘Hey, let’s go time to break camp.’” God comes back with the famous line, “No human being can see me and live.” Moses insists, so God puts him in a cleft in the rock and passes before him so that Moses can see his back and proclaims “Adonai, Adonai, etc.” Then everything is cool, the covenant Is reaffirmed etc.
But just before this dramatic dialogue between God and Moses it says that God and Moses used to speak panim el panim/face to face as one person speaks to another, in clear contradiction to what God says to Moses several verses later. How are we to understand this? Not, I would suggest, as a theological problem, but rather as a truth about religious experience.
There are times when God is seemingly easy to access, like at a beautiful sunset, or the birth of a child, or a wedding, or hiking in Yosemite. God is so to speak “face to face.” At other times, it is not so easy, when times are tough, when we’re under pressure, or grieving or going through hard times. Then God is not so easy to see face to face, but rather God is El Rahum v’ Hanun, the God of compassion that we experience in a friend’s invitation to have coffee and in a congregant’s providing a meal when we can’t cook, or coming to visit us in the hospital, etc. God is not just in the sunset or waterfall, but also in hug of a friend and a kind a word. So, the two verses are only in apparent conflict if we read this literally. But if we reconstruct the verses to speak to our real experience the apparent contradiction dissolves. From the perspective of Reconstructionism’s skepticism with respect to supernaturalism and biblical literalism this idea that God acts through people or that we access God through people’s godly acts strikes me as a quintessentially Reconstructionist teaching.
Rabbi Avi Winokur is the rabbi of Society Hill Synagogue in Philadelphia, and long-time member of the RRC board. He graduated from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1991. He is the first graduate of RRC whose father was also a Reconstructionist rabbi.