In Sacred Attunement, which is a Jewish approach to theology, Michael Fishbane speaks of the response to the Torah in terms of emunah or steadfast faithfulness.  He refers to Isaiah 26:3:

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

Emunah is the root of the word interpreted as a mind stayed.  The mind stayed on God is the goal of Hebrew theology and piety.

Fishbane reminds us that he holds to three levels of Torah.

First there is the Torah of all or the heavenly Torah.  He speaks of this poetically as the divine vitality behind evolution and everything else.  It is a form of Torah because Torah is instruction about God and we must let the whole universe instruct us about God.  Our ability to perceive is poor, but still by paying attention we may receive instruction from life itself because God infuses this world even though we only sense it at the borderline between mystery and the tangible universe.

Emunah in regard to this is learning what we can say, but mostly what we must unsay. That is, you cannot equate God with any of the objects presented to the mind.  God is always beyond that.  So rejecting idolatry in worship and thought is central here.  When you say something about God, you must also unsay anything that would objectify God in the world.

Second there is the written Torah.  This brings us back to the encounter with God at Sinai. But the Mosaic revelation continued in the spirit of Moses for centuries and generations thereafter.  It shaped the Hebrew Bible.

Emunah here respects this tradition both in its original form and in the forms that later scribes and prophets gave it as they adapted it to new circumstances.

Then there is the oral Torah, the interpretations and judgments of sages and rabbis reflecting on the world and the Sinai tradition down through the ages.  Faithfulness here means to allow this wisdom to instruct and guide you in the full course of your life.

The goal of all this faithfulness is to cultivate a readiness for Sinai, which is not just a past event but the personal encounter each of us has with God.  The people (Exodus 19:11) and Moses (Exodus 34:2) had to “get ready” for the encounter at Sinai.  This readiness involves having a quiet heart and a settled spirit.

The world around us may seem absurd and futile as the author of Ecclesiastes saw.  But the person with the calm heart before God overcomes that sense.  Fishbane asks whether the fact that we will die like animals (Ecclesiastes 3:19) negates the call to “choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:19).  Without denying the accumulated natural experiences that might tend to nullify life and meaning, the “covenant self” that says “amen” to God and neighbor will note the divine life pulsing through the universe and the Hebrew tradition and seek to enhance life.  “It strives to transform the amoral vastness into a site of sacred value. . . .”

Emunah or faithfulness is a way of walking in the world without evading death and corruption, but yet upholding the values and God-mindfulness that stem from the Sinai experience.  Sinai, after all, was in the midst of the desert.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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