Carol Ochs, a wonderful teacher and spiritual guide, wrote an article in the current issue of The Reform Jewish Quarterly entitled: “Fostering a Relationship between Rabbi and God.” I had high hopes for the essay, but was very disappointed.
First Dr. Ochs says, “If we are to deepen the formation of a religious life in others, we must nurture a growing intimacy with God in ourselves. Oddly, we have to put aside the first question we may ask—What do we mean by God?— so that we can overcome the distance required for analytical thought and enter the closeness aspired to by a lover.”
This doesn’t make sense to me. Do we want to be intimate with just anyone? Is our “lover” an unknown quantity? Is there no place for reason in relationships? If we don’t define God how do we know that with which we are becoming intimate is God? If we don’t define God how can we say to a Jew who takes Jesus or Krishna as her lover that she is outside Judaism, or should this no longer concern rabbis?
Dr. Ochs goes on to say that rabbis and rabbinical students need to “return to our own personal experience of the presence of God. In this way we can wrestle with the question, “How do we relate to God, who is now the center of our reality?”
If we do not know what is meant by God, how can we speak of the presence of God? And if we do not what God is, how can we say God is now the center of our reality? And how are we supposed to return to the presence of God in the first place?
The bulk of her essay is a series of interpretations of lines pulled from the Torah, lines she finds to be “touchstones” on her “unmarked journey to a maturing relationship with God.” Despite her claim to the contrary these texts not content free, and do in fact assume a theology, one that I suspect most Jews no longer hold.
For example: “Although you intended me harm, God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Clearly God is a self–conscious being who has intentions and who somehow controls our lives and does so for our own good. Most Jews don’t think this way, which is why organized Judaisms that promote this theology have less and less impact on Jews.
What Jews (and everyone else for that matter) need is a way to encounter reality at a level that transcends and transforms the narrow mind (mochin d’katnut) of self and selfishness, opens us to the spacious mind (mochin d’gadlut) of Self and selflessness, and awakens us to the truth that Alles iz Gott (all is God), understanding God as the intrinsically creative source and substance of all reality.
If I were the head of a rabbinical college I would offer students shamanic training where they learned the ecstatic kabbalistic visualizations of Abulafia, the ecstatic dancing and nigunnim (wordless melodies) of the Hasidim, the dream work of Solomon Almoni, the meditation techniques of Nachman of Breslov and Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, and how to use these and other techniques to create services and life-transition events that had the potential to transform people.
Calling rabbis to God is great. But unless we give them the tools for meeting God—not the anthropomorphic god of the Bronze Age but the timeless God who is Reality itself—the call is going to fall on deaf ears.