Only BaMidbar, in the emptiness and silence of the desert, that the authentic Word can be heard—a Word stripped of all distractions. Naked, without any excuse. But it can be heard only by a people of the wilderness; a people who are not rooted in a substance of physical limitations and borders; a people who are not entirely fixed by an earthly point, even while living in a homeland. They are never satisfied with their spiritual conditions and are therefore always on the road, looking for more.
What gives us the right to bring a child into a religious covenant by way of circumcision, without his consent? Circumcision, after all, to be Jewish means to be part of a nation that is rooted in a covenant that asks Jews to risk their very existence for the sake of a moral and religious mission. How can we commit children to a lifelong mission that they may not wish to fulfill? On the other hand, what right do we have to bring children into the world without giving them a higher mission? What right do we have to throw children into this turbulent jungle, filling them with anxieties and uncertainties, without giving them a clue as to their higher purpose?
Living Judaism must be able to stand up against ideas that are highly un-Jewish and at the same time be open to new ideas. But this can be achieved only by fostering a notion of spiritual dissent rooted in eternal ideas that have the capacity to re-invent themselves. It can be accomplished only by radical thinking and audacity informed by deep learning and faith.
When contemplating the re-establishment of the State of Israel after nearly 2000 years of exile, no Jew should believe that the land is guaranteed to remain theirs forever. It could easily be taken away, as it has been in the past. If its inhabitants do not behave properly. If they hide behind the claim that they are observant or moral, while in fact they are fighting each other and disobeying the ethical dictates of God, the Book of Amos makes it clear that the State of Israel will not endure. Nor can we hide behind the abundance of Torah learning today to save us.
In the old days, it was a privilege to be mature. It was something people strived for. It meant maturity of attitude, well-considered opinions, and a great amount of experience and knowledge of how to deal with the problems of life. This is no longer the case.
Nothing is more dangerous for a person than to remain spiritually stale, and we are therefore required to count the 49 days of the Omer. In order to prepare ourselves for the upcoming celebration of Shavuot and the giving of the Torah, we are asked to climb a ladder of 49 spiritual steps, each day adding another dimension to our souls.
Contrary to what is commonly believed, the story of the Exodus was mainly one of Divine silence, in which only occasionally a word of God entered the human condition. While Pesach Haggada relates the miracles, the “empty spaces” in between tell us of a frightening Divine silence of some 38 years. And just as our forefathers must have often wondered where God was all those years, so do we. But just as they made it through, so must we.
We need to ask ourselves a pertinent question: Is our aversion to sacrifices the result of our supreme spiritual sophistication, which caused us to leave the world of sacrifices behind us? Or, have we sunk so low that we aren’t even able to reach the level of idol worshipers who, however primitive we believe them to have been, possessed a higher spiritual level than some of us who call ourselves monotheists?
The divine instructions relating to the building and the architecture of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) are laid out in great detail; not even the smallest nuance is excluded, and nothing is left to human imagination. Preciseness stands out, and every pin and string is mentioned. This is in total opposition to the spiritual condition and devotion required of every Israelite when helping to erect the Mishkan, which called for personal input, creativity and inspiration. How do we reconcile these contradictions: formality versus spontaneity; total commitment to the letter of the law versus unprecedented emotional outbursts of religious devotion? Are such notions not mutually exclusive and irreconcilable?
While I greatly admire Rabbi Soloveitchik’s essays such as The Lonely Man of Faith, I wonder why he never addressed some of the issues that keep many people away from Orthodoxy, such as the issue of Torah Min HaShamayim and Bible criticism. It may be true that the Rav avoided the issue of Bible criticism out of principle. But if so, then he was out of touch with reality. At the time, Bible criticism was a major topic of discussion, as it still is. This subject is of utmost importance, and if anyone could have dealt with it head-on it was the Rav.