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5.12.2017 Weekly Torah Portion

PostPosted: Fri May 12, 2017 5:24 pm
by RabbiMark
The Power to Bless

In her breakthrough opus, A Return to Love, Marianne Williamson famously declares: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

This assertion is utterly stunning. It affirms what, for many of us, is awkward to behold, namely, “we are powerful beyond measure.” (Wow!) Moreover, she claims that such power is “our deepest fear.” And she’s right. It can be strange to embrace our power. In fact, just thinking about my power makes me a bit uncomfortable. I can tell that I fear my own power because I’m immediately tempted to doubt and deny it:

How am I powerful? What does it even mean to be powerful? What is the evidence of my power?

I almost don’t want to know about my power, for when I do, I have to be responsible for it. Oy vey, what a burden!

Now I know that Marianne is a nice Jewish girl and, although her expertise comes from A Course in Miracles, she must be aware that the Torah also speaks of the fact that “we are powerful beyond measure.” The Torah speaks to our personal power in a puzzling law prohibiting profaning God’s name: “You shall not profane My holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people – I the Lord who sanctify you” (Lev. 22:32).

The puzzling part is that is it unclear what profaning God’s name means. It does not mean using profanity, with or without attachment to the word “God.” Profaning God’s name is actually more technical, associated with the word chilul, which literally means to “curse” God.

Yet before going further, first notice here that human beings have the power to “curse God.” This also means that the reverse is equally true – we have the power to sanctify God through blessings. One may wonder whether it is possible that God could be affected by our mere curses or blessings, but the Torah doesn’t ask whether it’s possible. It just is; we are inherently given the incredible designation of power to affect God through cursing and blessing.

But how do we affect God through curses and/or blessings?

Noting the public nature of the law, (i.e., “in the midst of the Israelite people”), the Rabbinic sages denote three general ways in which we curse God: 1) Doing something publicly (not necessarily intentionally) that could embarrass the Jewish people; 2) Literally cursing God publicly; and 3) Choosing to make a public spectacle of Judaism (often linked to matters concerning idolatry, sexual immorality, or murder).

In addition to this law, however, the Torah also gives us a case:
“There came out among the Israelites one whose mother was an Israelite and whose father was Egyptian. And a fight broke out in the camp between the half-Israelite and a certain Israelite. The son of the Israelite woman pronounced the Name in blasphemy …” (Lev. 24:10-11).

The case describes a half-Jewish man who profanes God after getting into a fight with a full-fledged Jew. Why they get into a fight, the Torah doesn’t say. But the Rabbis do. In one tradition, the Rabbis say that the half-Jew (who has no inheritance or tribe due to his Egyptian father) was being ridiculed and bullied for his status.

Here’s a person that is a partial member of the community – someone who has very little social power. He is not entirely accepted and is mocked for it. He understands his stigma and, instead of cursing or profaning the people and community, he curses and profanes God. It’s as if he is saying, “Something must be wrong with this God of the Jewish people.” Given his troubling and seemingly unjust situation, I can frankly relate to the impulse to curse God in frustration. But the lesson about our power to curse doesn’t merely stem from his outburst – it comes from what led to it.

The lesson here is that each of us – whether we like it or not – is imbued with the power of representing God. We represent the God of our religions, communities, families, and nations, and what any of us does characterizes the whole. When any of us alienate, disregard, or demean others, we are making a statement about those we represent and the God we serve; we are always either blessing or cursing our God. As Emerson wrote, “The Gods we worship write their names on our faces.” We are indeed powerful beyond measure because we are inseparable from the people and “Gods” to whom we are aligned.

Yes, owning our power means carrying awesome responsibility. Yet it also extends an awesome opportunity. We can choose to bless; we can demonstrate our integrity and bless the God we choose to serve.

Or, as Marianne put it:
“We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”