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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review March 5, 2004 /12 Adar, 5764

The highest presence is absence

By Rabbi Hillel Goldberg

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In matters of the spirit, Nothing=Something — lots of something


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | This week's Torah portion unfolds this paradoxical concept through — appropriately — the absence of Moses.


The strongest human presence in the Hebrew Bible is Moses. From the time of his first appearance in the first portion of the second book of the Pentateuch, which records Moses' birth and first stages of growth, until the last chapter of the Pentateuch, which records Moses' death, he is mentioned by name in every single Torah portion — 42 in all — with one exception: this one.


The name of Moses is found nowhere. "And you shall command the Children of Israel" — the opening verse in this portion — refers to Moses, but does not mention him by name. Neither do all similar verses in this, the seventh portion of Exodus.


Like the exception that proves the rule, Moses' single absence from the books in which his presence is otherwise overwhelming allows us to peer piercingly into his essence. Absence is the indispensable essence of Moses and all critical actors in the human drama — the pious person, the saint; the ordinary human being, created in the image of G-d; and even G-d Himself.


And absence is the essence of holiness.


Saul, the first King of Israel, is the paradigm of the saint, the pious person, the exemplar of character. Saul is humble and self-effacing — absent.


When Samuel the Prophet first intimates that Saul will rise to high station, Saul replies quizzically that he is but a member of the smallest tribe of Israel and of the youngest family in that tribe. When Samuel shortly thereafter seeks to anoint Saul the first King of Israel, Saul is in hiding. He is described by the memorable phrase which has become a metonymy for the Jewish understanding of piety: nechbah el ha-kelim, literally, "hidden within the vessels" (II Samuel 10:22). Inwardness, modesty, avoidance of honor, embarrassment over status — absence — Saul embodied. It is all this that the pietistic tradition in Judaism idealized and that the saints of Judaism emulated. The saint is the opposite of the celebrity. He is absent.

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When some learn of a pious person through his devotees, they exclaim, "Why haven't we heard of him!" Saintliness is not a commodity, subject to the laws of marketing and distribution. It is not the goal of a saint to be heard of - it is the success of the seeker after piety to locate him, the failure of the moral voyeur to expect to be informed of him.


G-d Himself is an absence, philosophically speaking.


To attribute any positive attribute to G-d, no matter how lofty, is to limit G-d, to reduce and attenuate His presence. To say, for example, that G-d is omniscient is to regard G-d as a knowing being, only more so; putting G-d essentially on the same plane as any other knowing being. Similarly, to say that G-d is omnipotent is to regard G-d as only quantitatively, not qualitatively, different from any other powerful being. All other positive attributes similarly limit G-d.


The only way not to limit G-d is to describe Him by what Maimonides and others term "negative attributes." To place no limits on G-d, to describe Him as unlike any other being, is to describe what G-d is not - to say, for example, that G-d is invisible, incomprehensible, unnameable, ineffable. The attempt to describe G-d positively is the attempt to describe G-d's essence, and this is impossible. In His essence, G-d is G-d only by virtue of what He is not — by virtue of His absence.


The human being — any human being — is, by virtue of being created in the image of G-d, an absence.


If one may not posit any positive attribute of G-d, is there not an unbridgeable gap between Him and humanity? If we have preserved, by a theology of negatives attributes, the purity of G-d, have we not also removed the possibility of all human contact with Him and rendered Him irrelevant? Judaism's answer to these questions is this: G-d's essence is unknowable, indescribable, indivisible, but G-d's actions — the expressions of His will — are knowable. If human beings can never know G-d's essence, they can draw close to Him by obeying His will. G-d both preserves His private essence and communicates His will, through the Bible. G-d has no positive attributes and expresses His concern for humanity by revealing His commandments.


Similarly, the human gesture must be twofold: concealment and revelation, privacy and interaction, inscrutability and disclosure. G-d combines an ultimate, essential mystery with ethical activity. The human being must combine the protective privacy of an ultimate boundary with communication. This is a form of imitateo Dei.


Just as G-d is resistant to final theological curiosity, the human being must retain a private, individual essence. The human being must resist being a mere composite of characteristics, be they economic, social, physical or psycho- logical. To be fully human, a human being must possess an element of absence.


That one person cannot fully know another is a measure of human dignity — and holiness.


What is holiness? It is kedushah. Etymologically, this denotes separation, restraint, withdrawal. Holiness is the limit that G-d's will places upon the unrestricted revelation of human desire. Holiness is not eating certain foods, not acquiring property by certain means, not indulging in intimate relations at certain times, not saying certain things about others. Holiness incubates absence: the absence of partaking, of acquiring, of indulging, of speaking, on the criteria of G-d's will.


Such is the message of this Torah portion, first hinted at by the absence of Moses and further highlighted by the mysterious "breastplate of judgment."


The breastplate of judgment, a small, pouch-like garment worn by the High Priest, is mysterious by virtue of its strange juxtaposition. Its crafting is described alongside all of the other priestly garments, themselves preceded by a description of, and forming an integral part of, the most externalized and majestic expression of religion in the Pentateuch: the Tabernacle. Amid the pageantry and physicality of the priestly garments in the Tabernacle, the small breastplate of judgment, with its mysterious procedure, conveys the presence of G-d intensively.


The breastplate of judgment was folded in two, with its front half containing 12 settings, holding 12 stones, one for each of the 12 tribes of Israel, with the letters spelling the name of each tribe engraved on its stone. Inside the fold was a parchment on which Moses wrote the ineffable name (or names) of G-d.


Inside, hidden, unpronounceable: the absence of G-d went by the metaphor, Urim ve-Tumim. As the High Priest inquired of G-d, individual letters of the tribal names lit up. This luminosity was signified by Urim, literally, "lights." The High Priest's correct arrangement and deciphering of the letters was signified by Tumim, literally, "completeness," i.e., the correct arrange- ment and deciphering of the Divine message. The hiddenness of the Urim ve-Tumim yielded G-d's will in the form of specific answers to specific questions. The absence of the name of G-d, folded between the two sides of the breastplate of judgment, yielded the awesome sense of G-d's presence. It was evoked by His provision of unerring guidance.


This mysterious mode of G-d-man communication was awesome. How much more awesome does it appear by virtue of the absence of Moses from this portion — Moses, whose communication with G-d was still more intense, "face to face, as a man would speak to his friend" (Exodus 33:11). In focusing on the importance of absence — the presence that inhered in absence - this portion provides both a definition and a motive for holiness: for the special holiness of the saint, and for the holiness available to every person, each in imitation of G-d Himself. His highest presence is absence; so, too, man's.

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JWR contributor Rabbi Hillel Goldberg is executive editor of the Intermountain Jewish News. To comment, please click here.

© 2004, Rabbi Hillel Goldberg