Student Teaching in the New Millenium

Who Are You?

In Exodus on January 14, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Someone approaches.
Who am I, I hear him say.
I say, Who are You?

Someone coughs a bit.
Who am I, I hear her say.
I say, Who are you?

Someone drops its hood.
I see in it a copy.
Behold! A mirror!

Parsha Shemot

English: Moses and the Burning Bush, illustrat...

Moses and the Burning Bush, 1890 Holman Bible

And God said unto Moses: ‘I AM THAT I AM’; and He said: ‘Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel: I AM hath sent me unto you.’

Exodus 3.14

Rashbam says it means “‘I will be,’ forever” and ibn Ezra says it means “I [always] am.” Rashi says the same thing, poetically: I will be [with you in your suffering here] as I will be [with you in your suffering in the future]. So God’s nature, whatever that may be, is ongoing.

Maimonides says “The Torah speaks in the language of men,” and “if it could be supposed that He did not exist, it would follow that nothing else could possibly exist.” This agrees with the foregoing, and asks an intriguing question: is God the source of being? Suppose yes: is God the source of being in the beginning of Genesis, or the source of being in the beginning of every moment? At what moment did Creation occur? If Genesis is the beginning of time, could it have happenned at a moment? Could it have happened at every moment? Could it still be happenning right now, at this moment, and the next? Is every moment of our lives genesis? Is this why we read the Torah through every year?

But Maimonides also says: God is a “First Being who brought every existing thing into being.” This reminds me of the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle, who continually contemplates its own contemplation. I AM THAT I AM. This supports the commentators too, but does it not also ask if God is wholly self-absorbed? Perhaps a better way to ask the question is, is God self-aware? Are God’s behaviors part of the machine? Are they pure instinct, or stimuli leading to instinctual action? Are they pure expression, or considerations leading to pure expression?

If God is what God is, are we are what we are?  Are we for ever or ever dynamic?  If God doesn’t change state, how can he ever be a crown of glory, and for a diadem of beauty, unto the residue of His people; And for a spirit of judgment to him that sitteth in judgment, and for strength to them that turn back the battle at the gate (Isaiah 28.5)?  Is this statement and the LORD repented of the evil which He said He would do unto His people in harmony? (Exodus 32.14)

Do we make Torah more than mutter upon mutter, murmur upon murmur (Is. 28.13) or does God?  Or, is the creative activity necessary to turn “nothing into something” dependent on active collaboration between God and Man? Would everything God created in the beginning have substance if they lacked creation by God and naming by Man?

Moses learns from I AM THAT I AM who he is supposed to be. Did Moses speak with God in the fire, or himself? Did God speak with Moses from the fire, or Himself?

Who are you?

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  1. Thought-provoking!

    Your concluding remarks on Moses and G-d remind me of this book that I read, “I Am A Strange Loop” by Douglas Hofstadter. While I did not agree with the premise (that souls do not exist; rather, we invent ourselves through the our brains’ symbolic construct of “I” and all that that entails), it was one of the most insightful and intellectually stimulating books that I have ever read, heightening my interest in neuropsychology and reaffirming my desire to better understand the concept of neshama.

    I must write a disclaimer: Hofstadter, being a professor of cognitive science, makes a strong case for his argument, which can be much at odds with faith. Therefore, if one is interested in reading this book, but worried that it would undermine their faith, one would need to take this into serious consideration.

    • I’ll check that out! Have you read “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl? Incredible, wonderful, horrifying book. First hand account of his life in the camps, but he asks an indispensable part of this question.

      Frankly, my reading list is so long I’m on the lottery system right now. “Great Expectations” came out of the hat most recently.

      • You are not the first to suggest that to me, especially since I am writing on the Holocaust. I guess I will have to move that up on my list. I should probably try the lottery system, since my “Waiting to be Read” Shelf seems to be overflowing! I hope you enjoyed “Great Expectations!”

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