Magazine article Tikkun

The Nature of God, Torah, and Art

Magazine article Tikkun

The Nature of God, Torah, and Art

Article excerpt

Forthcoming shows by Helene Aylon:

*25/25. Februaryy 12-March 13, Project Artaud, San Francisco (group show).

Gravity. June 4-August 4, Whitney Museum, Stamford, Connecticut Branch (group show).

In this age of spiritual quest, many people are searching to discover the nature of God. Is "Her really a he, that "Father-in-the-Sky" we learned about as children? Our minds, informed by feminism and environmental consciousness, reject this notion. Yet the alternatives are not clear, and we scramble to find an understanding more in line with our experience.

Judaism holds the belief that the Divine has many "faces," or names, but is ultimately indefinable. We humans cannot ever fully know who or what God is. We're like a group of blindfolded people trying to describe an elephant, each patting only part of its body. One of us describes it as thick-skinned and muscular, and another as watery and rounded. The best we can do is name what we experience, acknowledging that the Holy is beyond comprehension.

Because of this understanding, God is given many names in Judaism. Almost all of them are male, reflecting the patriarchal roots of the religion. But many people are discovering the female Godname Shechinah, the in-dwelling One, the One that sustains and nourishes. I've been to services where the language in the liturgy is feminized and this name is substituted for all the masculine Godnames. Some feel more spiritually open with this language, moving beyond old, negative images of God. I've also participated in services where only androgynous God-names are used, such as Yah, or Creator, or Holy One, or Makom (Place), freeing everyone from the either-or choice of God's gender.

The exploration of God-names points the way to a deeper understanding of the nature of the Divine. Names are not just neutral tags; they help us begin to experience the subtle balance of energies that are hinted at in Jewish mysticism, the balance of male and female, transcendent and immanent, beyond and within. If we center our questions about God's nature on the exploration of God-names and what they emanate, we can be led to a rich, subtle, and nuanced spirituality.

But a problem remains-what are we going to do about the way God is represented in the Torah? Even if we find meaning in the different Godnames and agree that God ultimately is indefinable, we still are confronted with the Torah God.

The Torah, we are told, is where God's words are repeated, His laws listed, His desires made known (always male, always capitalized). According to traditionalists, God dictated the entire Torah to Moses, who passed it on to the Hebrew people. The Torah is understood as the place where God's nature is most fully and concretely revealed.

And what is this nature? The answer is not easy for many of us to accept. Although the God of Torah has flashes of compassion for the Hebrew people and saves them from destruction again and again, He is warmongering, sexist, and chauvinistic. We're given explanations for God's temper tantrums-they're developmental (God Himself is in a process of moving from immaturity to maturity through the Torah) or they're object lessons for humankind (God comes down to our level and acts with human emotion so that we can relate). But we're still left with a queasy feeling. This is not the God of our mystical experience.

What are we to do? Some of us reject the Torah entirely, and never read it-except passages in the Haggadah at Passover. Or we consider it to be an interesting story that has little to do with our own experience of Ultimate Reality. …

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