Are God’s words lifeless or lifelike?

If Moses said: “You are the children of the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 14:1) and God said “Israel is My son, My firstborn.” (Exodus 4:22) does this mean that Jews either as individuals or as a people are Divine? Of course not.

No Rabbi from the most Orthodox to the most Reform has ever taken these verses of the Torah literally.

What about Jesus? Didn’t he call himself the Son of God? No! According to the Gospels, Jesus frequently referred to himself as the Son of Man. It was others who called him a son of God and most of them meant it the same way Torah means it i.e. a holy man or a holy people.

The term son/child of God should never be taken literally. It is a metaphor. God’s words must always be interpreted or God’s words become lifeless.

To say that every verse must be interpreted is not being disrespectful. To the contrary. It means that we have to give some thought and study to each verse in a Divine text.

We cannot read Torah the way we read the newspaper. Jews dialogue with Torah. She challenges, inspires and questions us, and we examine and embrace her.

The Jewish mystics asserted that each verse in the Torah is capable of being interpreted in seventy different ways. Throughout the generations Rabbis have offered different meanings and views of Torah verses but according to the Talmud God said, “Both these (views) and those (views) are the words of the living God.”

God lives because of the ongoing interaction between the Divine revelation and its adherents. Without this dialogue the text would be a dead letter text and we would lack spiritual vitality and growth.

If this interactive dialogue between Jews and God seems strange, consider my words:

I know God exists like a perfect circle exists: limited to only one shape with an infinite number of sizes.

But is God alive? A personality, continually changing, interacting, caring, loving, teaching, learning and growing.

A perfect God is irrelevant because human lives are asymmetrical and messy.

A God who creates and cares; demanding and forgiving, inspiring and comforting, distant and close; like the God of Abraham is my God.

Divine revelation should always be taken seriously. Divine revelation should never be taken literally, in a simplistic way that contradicts reason, morality or other texts.

Some verses were meant for special historical circumstances or conditions. Some verses have to be understood in the light of other verses.

And all verses have to be interpreted with the guidance and insight of the many generations of commentators who have preceded us, as well as the best understandings of our own age. Here are some examples of Midrash (the interpretive process at work) for “sons of God”.

Sons in Hebrew frequently means children. Women are as close to God as men.

Children indicates a very close loving relationship unlike that of King and subject. Millions of people can love a King but a King can’t love millions of people. God can.

First-born son indicates that God will send prophets to other nations in later generations.

First-born refers to the historical fact that Torah is the oldest of the living holy books that have come down to us. The older Epic of Gilgamesh text that mentions the man in the ark had been dead for more than 15 centuries.

The Torah says Israel is God’s first-born but not God’s only child. Just as parents love all their children so too does God love all nations and religions. Just as parents can have many children who look different one from the other so too does God’s revelation appear in different forms in different religions, and within each religion there are different interpretations of God’s revelation. Yet the first born is unique.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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