I was recently asked by Rav Ari Ze’ev Schwartz of the Society of Independent Spirituality: Can you say a little about the educational and spiritual goals of your weekly articles? What do you want your readers to experience when they read these articles? How do you yourself experience these goals and articles? Here is my response.
Nathan Lopes Cardozo
Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo is the Founder and Dean of the David Cardozo Academy and the Bet Midrash of Avraham Avinu in Jerusalem. A sought-after lecturer on the international stage for both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences, Rabbi Cardozo is the author of 13 books and numerous articles in both English and Hebrew. He heads a Think Tank focused on finding new Halachic and philosophical approaches to dealing with the crisis of religion and identity amongst Jews and the Jewish State of Israel. Hailing from the Netherlands, Rabbi Cardozo is known for his original and often fearlessly controversial insights into Judaism. His ideas are widely debated on an international level on social media, blogs, books and other forums.
Recent articles by Nathan Lopes Cardozo
Is God really perfect as we always maintain? God Himself tells Moshe Eheyeh asher eheyeh—I will be what I will be. Not “I am what I am” as the Septuagint mistranslates. But how can that be? It means that He is not yet what He should be and that He never will be. Apparently He is incomplete, because He seems capable of changing and moving toward perfection, but He will never be able to actually reach perfection. God is trapped in a contradiction. So, is God a verb? Always “godding”? Always imprisoned in a becoming mode? What then is God? An unending trial to be God?
In last week’s Thoughts to Ponder (no 623), we published the first half of an interview with Rabbi Cardozo. At the end of his observations, Rabbi Cardozo discussed the codification and dogmatization of Jewish Law and religious beliefs as they took place in the diaspora and showed that these developments did not do justice to—and in fact opposed authentic Judaism. Here is the continuation of his arguments.
The Beauty of the Jewish tradition is that it is not always precise and consistent, because ife is not clear-cut or coherent. We need flexibility to work out the different opinions so that Jewish Law and beliefs stay fresh and thriving. The moment we codify or dogmatize it all, we destroy it.
We are in desperate need of bold ideas that will place the Torah in the center of our lives and make us receptive to God’s presence through a daring new encounter with Him. Let it be heroic. Not staid and comfortable, but painful and hard-won; a deep breath in the midst of the ongoing conflict ever-present in the heart of humankind.
To be righteous, with the full awareness that nobody will ever know the real story, and to have one’s deeds condemned, is one of the most painful human experiences and is a great tragedy. Only the knowledge that the One Above knows the real story, and the conviction that it is more important that others benefit from one’s deeds than to be assured of the recognition of one’s real intentions, gives the ultimate feeling of spiritual satisfaction for which the tzaddik strives.
Judaism suggests that at certain times God sends emanations to this world so as to awaken human beings to act, just as Pharaoh received his dreams in order that Joseph’s imprisonment would come to an end.
The Torah teaches us to erase Amalek’s memory by doing everything in our power not to give cause to hostile feelings within ourselves toward other nations.
We are not asked to dream the inconceivable. We are asked to dream what is actually achievable. It is the Halacha that rescues us from unrealistic dreams, substituting them with those that are viable. Mount Sinai and the giving of the law replaced impossible dreams with those that are within our grasp.
When even God can’ make a “mistake”, and admit it, we can rest assured that it is nothing less than honorable to act similarly.
If one invests in one’s faith by singing God’s praises during times of prosperity and good health, then, in the loneliness of difficult and sorrowful times, one may be able to continue believing in God’s faithfulness even when there is little evidence of such Divine allegiance.
Young people are developing a fresh approach to what Judaism is really all about—open to new adventures. They are keenly aware that one cannot inherit Judaism but only discover it on one’s own through an often difficult spiritual struggle, and even warfare.
Moshe asks God to reveal His name to him before he conveys the message to the Jews that He will redeem them from Egyptian bondage. God refuses to do so, and His answer is astonishing: “I will be Whoever I will be.” I am not a “what,” or a “when.” I am not even a “who.” There is no term you can use to describe Me. Any attempt to give Me an image is a serious violation of My very being. Any conclusive explanation of My deeds is idol worship. I permit you to describe Me in human terms only as long as you know that any such description will ultimately break down. No word can ever contain Me.
Must we believe that the whole universe was created only to test man’s moral and religious conduct? Is it not be more logical to conclude that God’s reasons for creating the universe are much greater and more significant than the problem of human behavior?
Learning Torah requires human authenticity; it means standing in front of a mirror and asking yourself the daunting question of who you really are, without masks and artificialities.
On Simchat Torah we begin reading the Torah all over again. Even the greatest Torah scholars once again come to the conclusion that they need to reread it, since they failed bitterly the previous year. After all, we only start reading the first words and already we get stuck, unable to understand the actual meaning; and we can never really get beyond that place. While in the non-Jewish world the whole point is to finish a book, in Judaism we are all just perpetual beginners.
Running our world by remote control has not been good for our souls; and walking on the moon has not helped us to know our next-door neighbor any better. On the contrary, technological progress has robbed us of our own humanness. It is therefore most meaningful that one item has maintained its constancy. It carries a text that has had greater influence in the world than any other we know of. It has changed the universe as nothing else has; it encourages people to move, to discover, and to develop. But it is written on parchment, by the hand of a person, holding a quill, as if to say: Be yourself. Don’t get run over by the need for progress.
The call of the hour on Yom Kippur is this: a full day is given to us to realize that our lives are undeserved. Life is only great when it is earned through a dignified response.
It is Divine humor that tells us to live with absurdity, and supreme holy witticism that asks us to live with laughter. We are asked to enjoy the journey and realize that there is no arrival.
Every ordinary act should be turned into a kind of mitzvah, a spiritual challenge, making it a dignified encounter with God. On Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur we are reminded that our deeds must redeem God’s presence and rescue Him from oblivion. In doing the finite we must be able to perceive the infinite.