Tolstoy and the Golden Calf Part Two
Mar 7th, 2012 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Portion of the Week
“Very well,” I said to myself. “So there is no God like the one I have imagined; the only reality is my life. There is no such God. And nothing, no miracle of any kind, can prove there is, because miracles exist only in my irrational imagination.”
“But where does my notion of God, of the one whom I seek, come from?” I asked myself. And again with this thought there arose in me joyous waves of life. Everything around me came to life, full of meaning.
But my joy did not last long. My mind continued its work. “The concept of God,” I told myself, “is not God. A concept is something that occurs within me; the concept of God is something I can conjure up inside myself at will. This is not what I seek. I am seeking that without which there could be no life. Once again everything within me and around me began to die; again I felt the long being to kill myself. (Leo Tolstoy, Confession)
We posited in “Tolstoy and the Golden Calf,” that the sin of the people was their inability to commit to a single choice. It was the sin of ambivalence. I read the above words of Tolstoy and do not sense ambivalence as much as I hear the voice of someone committed to a choice; the choice to have a meaningful relationship with God. Even the person who is completely committed to such a relationship will struggle with his human limitations. He will wonder how much of his conception of God is only a “concept.” But, as Tolstoy wrote, “a concept is something that occurs within me; the concept of God is something I can conjure up inside myself at will.”
I cannot read the words, “This is not what I seek. I am seeking that without which there could be no life,” without respect for his quest.
The people were so disturbed by just a delay of a few hours of Moses returning to them that they began to look inward and wonder how real was their a relationship with God. “How can I feel so destabilized by an extra few hours of Moses being absent if I choose to believe in the God I have experienced since the Exodus?” It was not ambivalence that lay at the core of their sin, not even doubt, but fear of their inability to maintain the relationship they had with God without Moses being constantly present.
Oh yes, they appreciated Moses. Yes! They wanted Moses to be present. They did not want a relationship with God that was so dependent on a single human being.
To be continued…
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