157/929 Settlement – An existential threat. Devarim 4

The value of being in transition which we encountered in the last chapter, is found in chapter 4 to form the core of Jewish theology and history.

Moshe repeatedly emphasizes God’s invisibility. Why is that so important to dwell on at this moment? The desire for a tangible, concrete god is the desire for certainty, for something clear and defined and unmoving. It’s a desire so strong that, apparently, it can even bring some people to worship insects (see verse 18). An invisible God, on the other hand, is conceived of differently by every worshipper; everyone heard God, the Midrash says, according to their own strength and ability. Though God is immutable, our understanding of Him can and should be ever shifting. To freeze God into one image is idolatry.

What’s more, if you freeze your conception of God (perhaps in the middle ages, or in 19th century Europe), your religious experience freezes as well, and things begin to get old fast. “Venoshantem ba’aretz”. Maybe those BDS folks are on to something. Settlement is the greatest existential threat to a religious life – getting comfortable, expending most of your energies maintaining what was instead of imagining and striving for what ought to be. When it gets bad enough, the only possible remedy is de-settlement- exile to the four corners of the earth. For there, we will have to once again seek out God actively, ┬áto return to a dynamic faith experience of yearning and striving.

It’s the cycle of Jewish history in a nutshell, and we find ourselves now in its most challenging phase. It is the challenge of resisting the ease and comfort of ‘venoshantem‘, of insisting on movement when it seems so tempting to rest, on continued striving when some would claim that we’ve made it. If we want to remain here, we dare not settle for any less.

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This is a blog reflecting on the daily chapter of Tanach of the 929 project. Learn more at 929.org.il

About the Author
Avidan Freedman is the rabbi of the Shalom Hartman Institute's Hevruta program, an educator Hartman Boys High School in Jerusalem, and an activist against Israeli weapons sales to human rights violators.
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