Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Debating With God

Jack White, of Whites Stripes, is quoted in the August issue of Paste magazine saying, “I’m not looking for so–in–so’s opinion, not even my own. I just want to know what the truth is. I mean that’s what I’m looking for. In my opinion there is no way God looks at things from 14 different angles. I see God as knowing only one truth, and that’s it. Everyone can sit around and have their manly and earthly opinions about things, but I doubt there’s much debate going on in heaven.”

Putting aside the most obvious: Jack’s opinion that having opinions is a waste of time is a bit self-defeating, let’s state the next most obvious: Jack White is so not Jewish.

Jewish heaven is a never–ending debate about truth. What makes it different from Jewish life on earth is that in heaven you get to debate with God. The Jewish ideal, as I mentioned a few blogs ago, is, Elu v’elu d’vrei Elohim Chayyim: all opinions seriously offered in service to truth, no matter how contradictory, are the words of the living God. We Jews cannot imagine a God so small as to have only one truth.

I am not saying that with God everything goes, but that with God everything goes–with. Not that good and evil don’t matter, but that good and evil need one another; each goes–with the other just as front goes–with back, up goes–with down, in goes–with out, convex goes–with concave, right goes–with wrong, and Homer goes–with Marge. (Yes, I just saw the Simpsons movie with my son, Aaron. Excellent.)

God is beyond our knowing. The word itself may simply be a placeholder for that reality we can intimate but never really articulate. But the mind of God, mochin d’gadlut, spacious mind, is not other than your mind, used properly. When you can hold conflicting truths in your mind at the same time; when you can live with and within paradox without reducing it all to one truth; when you can be at home with not–knowing and see all opinions as nothing but opinion, then you are operating from spacious mind and getting a tiny glimpse of God’s mind.

Judaism is good at getting into the mind of God. This is what I most love about Judaism: not the rules, rites, and religion, but the mindset that is at home with paradox. No, not just at home with it, in love with it. The classical model of Jewish learning (Jews don’t say “study” which implies a fixed body of knowledge to be internalized, but “learning” implying an unending process of discovery) is called hevruta or partnered–learning. You sit with a text and a partner and debate multiple meanings of what you are reading. The task of the partner is to never let the other come to final conclusion. There is always more learning to discover. So you debate. And when you run out of things to debate and think you have found THE answer, the rabbi comes over, pulls the rug out from under you both, and sets you on another voyage of discovery.

So while I like Jack White’s music, I am not moved by his theology. God is bored with answers. God loves questions.

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