And Hashem God made for Adam and his wife garments of skin, and He clothed them. –Genesis 3:21 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
Not only did God Himself make them comfortable garments, He Himself clothed them to show that He sill loved them, despite their sin. -R’Bachya
If Judaism had relied exclusively on the human resources for the good, on man’s ability to fulfill what God demands, on man’s power to achieve redemption, why did it insist upon the promise of messianic redemption? Indeed, messianism implies that any course of living, even the supreme human efforts, must fail in redeeming the world. It implies that history for all its relevance is not sufficient to itself.
There are two problems: the particular sins, the examples of breaking the law, and the general and radical problem of “the evil drive” in man. The law deals with the first problem: obedience to the law prevents evil deeds. Yet, the problem of the evil drive is not solved by observance. The prophets answer was eschatological…”Behold, days are coming, says the Lord, and I will form a covenant with the house of Israel…not like the covenant that I formed with their forefathers…I will place My law in their midst and I will inscribe it upon their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:30-33). “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you, and I will take away the heart of stone out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit within you and bring it about that you will walk in My statutes and you will keep My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
-Abraham Joshua Heschel
God in Search of Man : A Philosophy of Judaism (p. 379)
Creation, existence, devotion, obedience, sin, failure, humiliating shame, but still love.
The story of Genesis is the story of humanity. We are born into the universe and spend our lives trying to understand who we are and why we exist, and then we attempt to live up to what we believe is the purpose of our lives. Those us who have an awareness of God and a faith in our Creator strive to connect to the object of our faith and to join with Him in creating acts of holiness in the world around us.
I acknowledge You, for I am awesomely, wondrously fashioned; wondrous are Your works, and my soul knows it well. My frame was not hidden from You; that which I was made in concealment, which I was knit together in the lowest parts of the earth. –Psalm 139:14-15 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
But we fail, not all the time, but often. How like Adam and Eve we sometimes feel shame and stand naked and exposed in our transgressions against Him.
But love and the struggle to continue in the face of our failures for the sake of Heaven is also the story of Genesis.
Man’s ability to transcend the self, to rise above all natural ties and bonds, presupposes further that every man lives in a realm governed by law and necessity as well as in a realm of creative possibilities. It presupposes his belonging to a dimension that is higher in nature, society, and the self, and accepts the reality of such a dimension beyond the natural order. Freedom does not mean the right to live as we please. It means the power to live spiritually, to rise to a higher level of existence…Freedom is an act of self-engagement of the spirit, a spiritual event. -Heschel p. 411
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. –Galatians 5:1
The irony in Paul’s words is in how the church has misunderstood them to believe that the Torah was slavery and that grace and “lawlessness” was the only freedom. In fact, we are declared free the first moment we touch the hem of the garment of God and acknowledge that we are not chained to the laws of an earthly existence. In the spiritual person’s freedom, we escape the shackles that secular man rattles proudly in our faces as evidence of his emancipation from “religion”.
Religion becomes sinful when it begins to advocate the segregation of God, to forget that the true sanctuary has no walls. -Heschel p. 414
The mysterious forbidden fruit and the deceit of the serpent are failure, sin, and slavery, but God’s love for us and our bond with Him are our continued freedom. For Christians and Jews and Muslims and all the other traditions struggling to understand the nature of man and God, even “religion” can become a barrier when it becomes an idol in our lives and a greater force than God Himself. For Jews, Heschel (p. 415) says something even more startling.
Even the laws of the Torah are not absolutes.
Only God is absolute and the Torah, the mitzvah, the prayers, all of them exist as the interface by which we connect with God to perform His will, but like the stars in Heaven and the great seas, they are creations, not the Creator.
The ultimate concept in Greek philosophy is the idea of cosmos, of order; the first teaching in the Bible is the idea of creation. Translated into eternal principles, cosmos means fate, while creation means freedom…The essential meaning of creation is, as Maimonidies explained, the idea that the universe did not come about by necessity but as a result of freedom. -Heschel pp.411-12
Christianity, in depending on the Greek philosophy imposed on church’s understanding of the New Testament due the original language of the text, accidently or perhaps deliberately filters out the Jewish meaning of the teachings and wonder of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul said in Galatians 5, we are not possessed by God nor owned by the Master, though our Master he is, but we are free of the weight of human frailty and sin. We are free to allow ourselves to be clothed in not only righteousness but in the performance of the mitzvah, joining as humble partners with God in the task of repairing the world and preparing the way for the coming of the Messiah.
The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!” –John 12:12
As the people in Jerusalem spread palm branches in the road, paving the way for the entry of Christ, so by our faith and our deeds do we pave the road for his return, in triumph, glory, and splendor, for as sin has made man a slave on earth, the King of Kings will break our bonds and we shall be free under his reign and under God.
Hashem, what is man that You recognize him; the son of frail human that You reckon with him? –Psalm 144:3 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. –John 3:16
We must continue to ask: what is man that God should care for him? And we must continue to remember that it is precisely God’s care for man that constitutes the greatness of man. To be is to stand for, and what man stands for is the great mystery of being His partner. God is in need of man. -Heschel p. 413
After the failure at Eden, we continue to ask ourselves why God loves us. We try and comprehend beyond our own small ability to reason, that God’s love is boundless and timeless and does not depend on our ability to adequately love Him, for we have no such power. In our weakness, He is strong and gives us strength to love an unknowable God. However, we must grasp onto that strength, lest we fail and fall away.
Man’s survival depends on the conviction that there is something that is worth the price of living. -Heschel p. 422
This is especially true of the Jewish people, but it is no less true for the rest of us.
In trying to understand Jewish existence a Jewish philosopher must look for agreement with the men of Sinai as well as the people of Auschwitz. -Heschel p. 421
We must cling to our God as tightly as possible for only in that attachment may we remain nourished in His love and find our way along the path. Only with God can we survive the failure of humanity and achieve the glory for which we were truly created, both for the Jew and the Gentile.
Israel is the tree, we are the leaves. It is the clinging to the stem that keeps us alive. -Heschel p.424
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. –John 15:5
If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.
Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. –Romans 11:17-22
The antidote to the cruelty of this broken world is kindness and love, not just to those who are kind and loving to us, but to everyone, because God loves everyone, the sinner and the saint alike, with equal passion and devotion, for we are all devoted sons and daughters but we are also prodigals and wayward.
We cannot hate what God loves. Rabbi Aaron the Great used to say: “I wish I could love the greatest saint as the Lord loves the greatest rascal.” -Heschel p. 424
Both Christians and Jews await the return of the Messiah and the hope of the world to come, though each tradition denies the validity of the other’s interpretation. God is God and He is One, in spite of how we misunderstand and misconstrue. A Christian waits for the end of Revelation and a Jew waits for this and remembers.
We remember the beginning and believe in the end. We live between two historic poles; Sinai and the Kingdom of God. -Heschel p. 426
A person of faith is caught between two realities; the one we live in now and the one we hope for, when God will reign and tears and dread are banished forever. We cannot ignore one for the other. We cannot live in the present without the hope of the future, but we cannot look at the end of the tale without realizing that it will never occur unless we work with God here and now to bring the Moshiach. We live in the echo of Genesis while awaiting the sound of the final Shofar of Messiah. In between, we have palm branches to gather in order to prepare his way.