Dear TEE community,
Discussions of the Ten Commandments often focus on their prohibitions against actions that harm other people, such as murder, lying, and adultery. We frequently pass over the opening injunctions against making an image of the Divine as obvious and without need for comment. But the assertion that God has no image is both astonishing and radical.
This week’s Torah portion includes a lengthy section warning the Israelites not to make an image “in any likeness whatsoever” (Deuteronomy 4:16). In case that isn’t clear enough, the text goes on to list a vast range of prohibited images ranging from the human to the cosmic.
I admit that at various times I have envied my Buddhist, Christian, and Hindu friends’ ability to use images for their devotions. Having something tangible on which to focus can be very appealing. As material beings, physical things can have a reality for us which ideas or emotions do not. When someone hugs me, I can feel their affection more clearly than when it is expressed in words alone. The invisibility of the coronavirus (away from a microscope) can make it difficult to grasp its possible presence in a supermarket or office.
Our ancestors lived in a world full of divine images. We have no idea why they chose such a radical departure from established practice. The Jewish mystical tradition teaches that God’s Presence is found in creation and perhaps the early Israelites believed that focusing on a single image would limit their understanding of a God that contained all being. I like to think that having no image of God encourages us to look for God in different ways, considering that the sacred can be present at any moment, without any need for a specific object.
Having an invisible God also teaches us that what is most important is often unseen as well: love, trust, hope, compassion. Like God, they are not something to be believed or disbelieved in, but experiences to be valued and nurtured through our behavior. As our physical distancing continues, actions of care and connection become ever more important. I appreciate all the ways our Temple members have found to stay in touch with one another and value the strength of our invisible, but strong, ties of community.
That having been said, I know the requirements of the pandemic have impacted people differently. I am doing my best to keep in contact with Temple members, but if you are feeling isolated or having difficulties please do not hesitate to call me: 716-876-5874. In addition, the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund allows me to make confidential payments to members in need and accepting this money permits others to benefit from performing the mitzvah of tzedakah.
Be well / Zei gesunt / Sano,
Rabbi Drorah Setel