Notes on Terumah from study partners, a rabbi and a playwright —
For a religious culture obsessed with prohibiting (and obliterating) any graven image, how curious that winged golden statues be set above the ark. Even more fascinating is the statement that not from inside the Ark nor even from above it, but instead between the statues will God speak. this “in between” the two cherubim, two statues, two graven images, is the locus of the voice. As Martin Buber taught us, God is uniquely present in the space in between. And, as Kabbalists imagined, the Shekhina, the feminine, indwelling presence of God, resides between the cherubim.
Neither from one cherub nor the other, but from the space created between them — when they confront each other — issues the revelation. Only relationship can imitate life and growth and revelation. And relationship can be created only when one ego realizes that there is another ego of equal importance. It can only be discovered in the presence of another. You simply cannot get there alone, there must always be someone else; it takes two to tango.
Perhaps that is why the prohibition against idolatry does not apply here. Truth be told, we are all only lifeless graven images until we face another and, in so doing, bring our selves and the other to life. And from between that meeting the divine voice issues.
The Ark of the Covenant and Ezekiel’s wheel could both be called fantasy. But the second is a vision, and the first is a divine instruction. To say an instruction is beyond our understanding is not to say it is impossible of execution.
We say “I do not understand” of the natural world cheerfully, and endeavor to better understand ourselves and call it “science.”
To be dismissive of “natural” evidence is called “ignorance.” To dismiss the divine is called “sophistication.”
–Lawrence Kushner and David Mamet
While reading Five Cities of Refuge: Weekly Reflections on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (NY: Schocken Books, 2003), the deepest, most interesting spot to inhabit is often, much as Kushner notes above, “between” the offerings of these study partners. Several reviews note differences in the styles of the co-authors. Stan C. Denman of Baylor University notes, in
this review, that Kushner’s insights “often innovative and unconventional, stay within accessible distance from the text of study,” while Mamet’s sometimes seem more tangential, “against the grain of conventional erudition, often with favorable results.”
Denman also discusses a tendency in this book to focus on “‘we Jews’ and the particularities of Jewish ‘victimization.,'” a practice the reviewer believes will turn-off non-Jewish readers. In my reading, however, the “victimization” tendency appears almost exclusively in the comments of Mamet: God introduced the name “YHVH,” he tells us at one point, e.g., because “El Shaddai” was too Jewish. Kushner, on the other hand, (simply) reads the bible as a conversation between God and “Israel,” with any reader expected to take spiritual and ethical lessons from their position as part of that collective noun. And so, between — between their religious and more secular writing, between the particular and the universal, between them — we are privileged to witness relationship… the only place, Kushner says above, where the divine dwells.
Five Cities of Refuge is available in hardcover or ebook. At $21.00, this might not be at the top of everyone’s “must-purchase” list, but I recommend checking it out, if you’re able.
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The “Opening the Book” series is presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group pursuing spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.