Thursday, August 12, 2010

Living as an Innocent

I recently read a news item where it was reported that the noted basketball super-star Lebron James paid a rabbi, reputed to have mystical abilities, a 6 figure fee so he would advise him on business decisions. According to the article, the rabbi, who heralds from Israel, and speaks no English, sat-in on investment proposals made to James and counselled him on where to place his money.

Making use of religious personalities,symbols,and amulets as a means to discern the future and influence the course of our lives is not new. But is it kosher? Just because we make use of items within the tradition rather than say tarot cards and rabbis instead of fortune tellers, does that in itself make it okay?

The Talmud teaches that one is not permitted to use 'psukim', verses in the Torah,repeated over and over, as a kind of religious device to, by dint of the 'magic' in the verses, bring about healing and prosperity.

This week the Torah is explicit in forbidding us from making use of soothsayers and fortune tellers to predict our future. But the Torah goes one step further. It tells us "Tamim t'hiyeh eem Hashem Elokecha", freely translated that means "You shall be innocent with the L-rd your G-d". The Haamek Davar explains the Torah's call to be 'tamim' by saying that even where we feel the need to know, we should remain innocent and trusting. And G-d will do as He sees fit for us.

The implication of the Hamek Davar's understanding of the verse is that its not enough that we do not make use of secular powers to know and direct the future. Even utilizing sources within the faith towards that end compromises our challenge to be 'tamim' and trusting in G-d and His direction.

So many who embrace the outer clothes of religion do so with the idea that religion will serve as some kind of magical potion to ward off evil and protect.They use prayer, study, rabbis, as if they are simply charms to guarantee against unwanted things. Sometimes they even become passionate in observance and most meticulous. Yet their practice feels almost primitive in its expectation that somehow if one does this or that one can be certain of his/her future.In their minds, Judaism provides the ingredients, which if rightly combined, can control the course of events.

Now its true that the Torah itself encourages us to pray for our needs. But prayer is not meant to manipulate the heavenly forces but rather to put ourselves in a new place with G-d, so that his mercy will devolve on us. Prayer is never meant to force the hand of G-d. And so too when we seek the counsel and prayers of great Rabbis. We do not expect them to be witch-doctors, with the powers of demi-gods. We simply ask for their prayers to be added to our own in beseeching G-d's, in whose hand our future rests, help.

Neither of the above practices compromises Hashem's call to us to be 'tamim'. We remain innocent and trusting in Hashem's will and decision. We simply are doing what He told us to do, appealing to Him so that he may give us the 'good' He intends for us.

Lebron James's Rabbi seems a far stretch from the 'tamim' of which we speak. The rabbi is not giving a 'bracha' to this Black basketball super-star. He is using his mystical powers to tell him what he otherwise would not know. And not about his moral conduct, but about investments that will make him money.It seems to me, he is using religion as a magical tool rather than as away to enhance one's spiritual self and draw near to Hashem. It is using religion against itself and its purpose.

It is not easy to be a 'tamim'. It is not easy to surrender ones natural instinct to want to both know and predict the future. The Torah tells us that in the ideal we will be given a 'Navi', a prophet so Hashem can tell us what we need to know. But for the rest, for all those personal matters of consequence not on the national agenda, we need to find the courage and faith to let go and let G-d be G-d.

Religion practiced as a means to manipulate the forces out of our control that they be good to us is a tainted religion.In the ideal, the goal of the religion we practice should be to give us the strength to live with all the unpredictability of life as an innocent, as a 'tamim', and be happy with our G-d.

Shabbat Shalom

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