Magazine article Tikkun

The God of a Talmudist

Magazine article Tikkun

The God of a Talmudist

Article excerpt

THE BABYLONIAN TALMUD (MENAHOT 29B) SAYS THAT when Moses arrived at the peak ofMount Sinai to receive the Torah, he found God attaching the flourishes to the tops of the letters of the Torah scroll. Moses demanded to know why, with all of Israel waiting for the Torah, God was tarrying with this bit of rococo. God replied that in the future there would arise a sage by the name of Akiva who would derive great wisdom from these jots and tittles.

In this telling, the Torah that Akiva teaches is way beyond Moses's grasp, and God's decisiontouseMosesasthe lawgiver is inscrutable.

The practice ofTalmud- the documentation and interrogation, reading and constructing oflegal difference and distinction- is not mythic storytelling, but it is grounded in this mythos. This practice, which splits hairs and has caused the hair-pulling of many mystics, is exactly what Akiva taught. The practice is grounded not only in the mythic encounter ofMoses with God and Akiva but in Creation itself. Creation is separation and distinction- light from darkness, upper waters from lower waters, land from sea. This is the practice of law- distinguishing categories, creating new categories, creating the world of pure and impure, forbidden and permitted, just and unjust. It is in the practice of the shaMa ve-tarya (the give and take oflegal and intellectual discourse) that the Kingdom of Heaven, the province of the just and The Just, is created. The God of a talmudist, or at least this talmudist, is the God that generates and is claimed bylaw, the God that is implicated in and is therefore open to be judged by the categories of law writ large. …

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