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Haftara for Vayikra 5777: The Narcissist’s God
‘If triangles had a god, they would give him three sides’.
— Charles de Montesquieu
Isaiah 43:21 – 44:23
God speaks through Yishaya telling the Jewish people in the Babylonian exile that they have burdened Him with their transgressions. They are asked to plead their version of the story in their own defence. They are told to remember God, their redeemer and creator.
Speaking of the future, God promises to pour forth His spirit upon the people and His blessing upon future generations. He is the first and last, the one and only God and can be trusted to fulfil His promises. There is a strong renunciation of idolatry emphasising its self-serving, self-worshipping nature.
Although the idol makers have fashioned their own gods, God has fashioned Israel, and they must not forget this. He will cleanse them of their iniquities and bring them close to Him again.
Of the many binary divisions of human kind one is between those who can fall in love and those who cannot. There are of course those who respond to sexual attraction, social and familial expectations, they get married, have children, they go through life, and may even become infatuated, but they never really experience love. They may believe that they do.They may interpret love through a sense of romance or heightened emotion, but real, existential love is an experience beyond the self, that comes from a different dimension entirely. We have the ability to experience that dimension.
Our world, and everything that we encounter in it, is basically the same. Whatever, whoever and wherever, no matter how many light years we may travel, the universe and everything in it is made up of the same particles and the same basic elements.
We may think that we are falling in love when in reality we are attracted merely to a different but similar arrangement of particles to the man or woman you see in the mirror.
How then if we live within the limitations of only seeing what we already understand, can we hope to experience life and love in ways that are beyond our familiar dimension?
There is only one entity outside the universe that is truly beyond us and that is God. Only when we experience the Divine in something or someone do we truly have the ability to transcend. God is in the elements of the world that rise above human design, conscious mastery, effort and control. God is not in lust, but He is in love. He is not in the machine, but He is in us. He is not in design but He is in art.
We connect with God when we let go and allow His presence to manifest without ulterior motives.
One who serves [God] out of love occupies himself in the Torah and the mitzvot and walks in the paths of wisdom for no ulterior motive: not because of fear that evil will occur, nor in order to acquire benefit. Rather, he does what is true because it is true.… (Rambam)
Some will never come to this experience because they are constantly judging and manipulating their circumstances and situations. They leave no room for anything other than their own projections. They cling to reason because it can be easily understood. They hold fast to the physical world because it is predictable and consistent. But reason and the physical universe alone do not sustain us. They act rather, as kindling for the soul. The people who allow for such kindling and in turn for their souls to be set ablaze, have the ability to experience God and in that to truly connect beyond themselves and fall in love. Even in idol worship if one bows not to the god but to the beauty expressed in it, we are exempt from culpability! We are not then bowing to a design of our own but to the expression of God Himself expressed through it.
When a person serves a false deity out of love – i.e., he desires an image because it or its service is very attractive…If he serves it out of love…he is not held liable. (Rambam)
This struggle is as old as humanity itself. But there has been a fundamental shift in its dynamic. It used to be that we admitted to wanting a deity. But we had to be the ones who created it. We admitted to the beauty and value of love, but instead we tended to opt for lust, companionship and self-serving, mutual arrangements and called them ‘love’. We knew that the Divine was our goal but we closed ourselves away from our ability to truly experience it.
Unfortunately, with the age of the Enlightenment we stopped even pretending that we cared. The state of the formal religious structures that had been set up to at least feign a connection with God had become worn and decrepit. Churches abused their powers, rabbis manipulated more than they taught and all used fear in order to hold the human heart in their firm grasp. The faith of the people had been abused. This trend of manipulation in the name of God ran for some time. Indeed, it has been a prominent tactic of control for most of human history. The god or gods may have been different but the plan was always the same: bring masses of people into submission by playing on their fears in the name of what is good and holy.
The priests never asked themselves, “Where is God?” The holders of the Torah ignored Me;
The rulers rebelled against Me.… (Jer., 2:8)
With the triumph of reason, we, in revolution, raged against the confines and toppled the old regime. The West now finds itself in a post-religious world. This world is also a post-idolatrous world. We have supplanted our idolatrous projections with reliable, testable and falsifiable science and rationality. Yet, as a result of our newfound distrust of what we cannot measure or succinctly explain, we also rejected entire worlds of reality that we cannot access through such means. In throwing out the dirty bathwater we threw the baby out with it. We have allowed ourselves to reduce the world to its working parts and stopped trusting our experience of the emergent, holistic phenomena that come out of them, that connect is to something beyond ourselves. We have reduced art to design, songs of love to songs of sex and free thought to intolerant, academic dogma.
We have also grown more narcissistic. We have come to know more than ever before about the mechanics of our world and thus gained enough hubris to believe that we can be the gods, and as such, we alone suffice as the only available objects of love.
Although we sense that there is more there than just the neurons firing, the personalities interacting and the details coalescing, at the same time we distrust this truth because it is immeasurable in any physical terms. We avoid the intangible, thereby depriving ourselves of the genuine transcendence that we seek in our souls. We refuse to share, relinquish control or move beyond the certainty of the familiar.
We gamble, drink, take drugs, watch pornography, eat and shop in the hope that perhaps we might, through those base experiences, find the transcendence that they are inherently incapable of bringing us. We look in all the wrong places for something different and new while having a phobia of the different and new. We hope in vain that we will in the next drink, photo, hit, piece of cake, or outfit, find a morsel of nirvana that we can savour. Maybe this time we will touch something real and find a connection to something beyond ourselves — even if it is only through the lowest part of ourselves. But time and again we are left bereft, because in reality we never leave the cell of the self. In a vicious, solipsistic cycle, again and again we are driven to try and we are left either obsessed or hateful or both.
There is no greater prison than that of the ‘personal’ where, no matter what we do in terms of our attempts to connect with others we, in the end, are only ever chasing our tails.
The haftara for Vayikra emphasises the narcissism inherent in our lives and the charade we play by calling our gods ‘God’ (or ‘Hashem’) and our replacing of love with our selfish social arrangements.
Yishaya equates our service of God with meeting our other personal needs.
The craftsman in wood measures with a line and marks out a shape with a stylus; He forms it with scraping tools, Marking it out with a compass…For his use he cuts down cedars; He chooses plane trees and oaks. He sets aside trees of the forest…All this serves man for fuel: He takes some to warm himself, And he builds a fire and bakes bread. He also makes a god of it and worships it, Fashions an idol and bows down to it!
When reason becomes doctrine it necessarily excludes that which is outside of it. Yet, we do not pay any mind to the fact that what we are holding fast to in our new god of reason is the age-old worship of ourselves and nothing more.
Part of it he burns in a fire: On that part he roasts meat, He eats the roast and is sated; He also warms himself and cries, “Ah, I am warm! I can feel the heat!” Of the rest he makes a god—his own carving! He bows down to it, worships it; He prays to it and cries, “Save me, for you are my god!”
They have no wit or judgment: Their eyes are besmeared, and they see not; Their minds, and they cannot think. (44:13-18)
It is in answer to this that Yishaya proclaims there is only One Who subsumes and is external to it all. Only One who we look for in all of His expressions.
Thus said God, the King of Israel, Their Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts: I am the first and I am the last, And there is no god but Me. (44:6)
We can and do fall in love when, knowingly or not, we are open to this truth. Anything else is the ‘selfish’ and ‘personal’ masquerading as love.
This divine light shines bright in the eyes of human beings and it is a light that can be dimmed and even extinguished by us. We grow blind to it when we see people as objects. It is a splendour that radiates from the great works of art and envelopes us in beautiful music. It is the deep soulful pain of the delicate and poignant state of the human condition and in the epic experiences of life’s trials. All of these are portals to the empyrean and access points to the delight of true connection. They are the windows through which we find the light that God created on the first day — His greatest and most intimate expression. Yishaya implores us to find it and through it, fall in love and see God in the universe.
Rabbi Joseph Dweck
 Mishne Torah, Teshuba, 10:2.
 ibid. Aboda Zara, 3:6 – Although there is no liability post-facto, the act is prohibited.
1a Olah (literally “uplifted”, referred to as ‘burnt
offering’): Bulls. (1:1-9)
1b Olah of sheep and goats (1:10-13)
2a Olah from birds (1:14-17)
2b Mincha (grain based offering) wheat meal (2:1-3)
2c Mincha baked unleaven loaves or matza (2:4)
2d Mincha of pan fried wheat and olive oil (2:5-6)
2e Mincha of deep-fried wheat and oil; rules (2:7-13)
2f Omer, a Mincha of first barley grains (2:14-16)
3 Shelamim (lit. “peace”) offering: cattle (3:1-5)
4 Shelamim from sheep (3:6-11)
5 Shelamim from goats (3:12-17)
6 Chatat (literally “sin”) offering: of the High
7 Chatat of the community (4:13-21)
8 Chatat of a ruler (4:22-26)
9 Chatat of a commoner: goat (4:27-31)
10 Chatat of a commoner: lamb (4:32-35)
11a Chatat of others: reluctant witness, impurity,
unfulfilled vow (5:1-10)
Bring lamb/goat. Poor bring two turtle-doves or
11b Chatat of others. The even poorer can bring
an offering of fine flour (5:11-13)
11c Asham (lit. “forfeit”) offering: due to
accidental ‘meilah’ – misappropriation (5:14-16)
12 Asham of one who doubtfully committed a
(chatat--punishable) offence (5:17-19)
13 Asham for breach of trust (5:20-26)
Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS