In the Kabbalat Shabbat Siddur used by the Congregation I grew up in Rio de Janeiro there was a meditation after the Amidah that I used to love. It paraphrased a passage from Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “Man’s Quest for God”. The passage reads:
“The divine symbolism of human beings is not in what they have – such as reason or the power of speech – but in what they are potentially: a person is able to be holy as God is holy. To imitate God, to act as God acts in mercy and love, is the way of enhancing our likeness. Human beings become what they worship. “Says the Holy One, blessed be God: A person who acts like Me shall be like Me.” Says Rabbi Levi ben Hama: “Idolaters resemble their idols (Psalms 115:8); now how much more must the servants of God resemble God.”
I remember being a young teenager the first time I actually paid attention to that meditation. I was so moved by it that I asked my rabbi if he could help me find that book. My rabbi at the time was both surprised and delighted that I wanted to read Heschel, and shared Man’s Quest for God with me. Truth be told, I am not sure I understood most of what I was reading at the time. The passage from the Siddur, however, always stayed with me. I am struck by the power of the idea that to be created in Tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, means that I have to act like God, in holiness, mercy and love. The power of speech, reason, or any other characteristic that differentiates human beings from animals is not what made us be made in the likeness of God. It is our actions, the way that we behave in the world. More than anything, the sentence “Human beings become what they worship” continues to be a guiding light for me. This sentence makes me think about myself and the people around me, and the way that the “gods” we worship have a tendency of stamping their likeness unto our faces. As a Jew, I have in my possession the tools to always follow in God’s ways, and to live in this world with God’s likeness reflected in my whole being.
The tools I possess as a Jew are numerous. They are delineated in the Torah, the Talmud, the Responsa literature and the honest discussions among rabbis and teachers in our own time. They all stem from that moment of Revelation that we, as a people, experienced at Mount Sinai. That is the moment of Matan Torah, of the Revelation at Sinai, where we all heard and interpreted God’s message. On May 28, in the evening, we will start our celebration of Shavuot, a holiday that among other things honors that moment of encounter between God and the Jewish people. It is a fantastic opportunity to rededicate ourselves to acting like God, to imitate God in God’s actions and holiness. This year, let us take Heschel’s words into our hearts and make Shavuot the beginning of a journey in which we remember that we represent God in this world. We represent God when we study our texts and in the way we act in our world. When we study and participate in services we are renewing our covenant with God, linking ourselves to our ancestors by learning our texts. When we stand for the rights of the oppressed, when we make sure that all segments of our society are cared for, we act with hessed, with loyalty to the covenant we made with God at Sinai and renew each year. When we respect our fellow human beings, also created in the image of God, as the Tzelem Elohim that they are, we are truly acting in the likeness of God. In the first chapter of Pirkey Avot, the Ethics of our Ancestors, we read that the sage Shammai used to teach: “Make the study of the Torah a matter of established regularity; speak little, but do much; and receive all people with a cheerful face.” If we follow Shammai’s words, we will definitely become true worshipers of God, worthy of the honor of being created in God’s image.
This year, we will not be physically together to study in preparation for Shavuot. We will be gathering to study together through zoom. We will study passages from Abraham Joshua Heschel’s books that explore the themes of Torah, Law, and Revelation. The zoom information is found at the end of this email. I hope you will join me for study. Unfortunately, you will need to get your own cheesecake or ice cream…
Tikun Leil Shavuot – Thursday, May 28 at 6:00pm:Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82969096440?pwd=THdiNmxQSDhZTEpmTDRsZXF1TElTUT09
Meeting ID: 829 6909 6440
Rabbi Lia Bass