Friday, July 17, 2009

Religious Audacity

How audacious can one be towards God? How much can we demand of Him? There is a Talmudic passage in Berachot 31b-31a which is quite striking. It recounts several biblical personalities who 'threw words heavenwards'. The word 'hitiach' is used in Torah connoting shooting of an arrow and in Talmudic parlance as speaking out audaciously to God (see Kohut, Haaruch under 'tach'). Hannah 'threw words heavenwards' as it says 'and Hannah spoke on God (instead of to God). Elijah and Moses follow in description as they metaphorically twisted God's arm. The average individual is prescribed from emulating these personalities in Talmud Megila 23, 'one should never throw words heavenwards...'.
So is it ever allowed? Does a person in extreme circumstances reserve the right due to turn heavenward, expectantly? angrily? accusingly? Jeremiah lashes out to God in Lamentations, the kinnot we recite on Tisha Bav. Rav Soloveitchik explained that were it not for Jeremiah's audacity we would never be able to utter those words even on the night of the destruction of the Temple.
And so, at certain times, under certain extraordinary conditions we too call out to God, scream out to God and even demand from God, answers, salvation, justice, peace.

I wonder if psalm 130 doesn't have an underlying sense of audaciousness when the psalmist calls out to God from the depths.
God, listen to my voice, let your ears be attentive to my supplications. If you are counting sins, God, who will listen? For with You there is forgiveness, so that their may be fear and awe.

When speaking to God out of humility and fear one does not boldly call out, demanding to be heard and then repeating the demand again; one does not then provide an explanation for God. The tenor of the psalmist bespeaks of someone who is outrageously rude and sacrilegious, or, alternatively, one in pain, suffering, and truly needs to hear God.
When in the depths, deep in pain, suffering physically or, perhaps worse, psychologically, your boundaries are blurred, your moral conduct is shaky and you focus only on relieving the pain. Such an individual seldom involves himself in the spirit; the opposite is usually true. You look for relief in any way possible and try to numb the pain.
The Psalmist teaches us another path. He acknowledges that his words to God might cross a line, but to God they ultimately remain. Jeremiah turns to God and screams 'how' but knows the reason for destruction--our sins Hannah calls out to God seeking justice, Moses and Elijah too.
Our mission is to maintain our respect, love, and boundaries towards God, but sometimes when life takes us on a path so painful, the best thing is to follow the psalmist and turn to God cautiously asking Him to hear our voice and relieve our pain.