Chapter II – “Jewish theology begins at Sinai, but God was before this event”
Sinai is commitment, creation of scripture, prophecy. Divine presence and efectivity is the horizon. It takes courage to live in the light of the truth of the covenant.We want to enter the language of revelation.
(This is a great existential definition sharply removing Sinai from the symbolic and human, but not going as far into the experiential-mystical as Rav Kook. One of the times Fishbane spoke at the local minyan, he discussed Rav Kook and it seemed like he was using the or penimi without the or makif. he shows nice use of Ricouer)
“The decisive turn to Sinai is made by the solitary spirit..” First, we move out of habit into commitment, then attentiveness to encounter. We return to community to formulate a life of justice and righteousness. Our model Moses could endure censural vastness and then return to work in the community unlike Elijah and Job who were lost in silent submission and did not formulate a covenant with God.
Three cords of Torah, Sinai is an ongoing spirit of Jewish living producing the Oral Torah and behind all the Torah is a broader Torah kelulah, a openness to Being. Behind the Torah was Sinai is an even deeper Torah kelulah which pulsates through reality, through Being. (Nice ability to avoid Heschel’s dichotomy of Torah from Sinai and Torah from Heaven).
Texts unfold into life by means of interpretation
Peshat is subjugation of self to text. But there is no one peshat. It is ever constructed in the acts of reading and speaking. Peshat is attentiveness to details of the text.
Derush – contemporary ongoing meanings, relationship words to each other, conjoined words, oral words- this is the oral Torah. Drush gathers textual cations into a vortex of instruction. It helps us become human and build character. Drush is a serious theological task. Mythic conceptions are not childlike crudities but creative imagination striving to grasp what is sensed.
Remez is finding the supersensual ideas of philosophy in the text. In great hands, like those of Maimonides he returns to the peshat and finds the openings to the higher truths in the text. Remez offer stairwells, or Jacob’s Ladder to high truths.
Sod – revealing and concealing of aspects of divinity. It seeks alignment with the language and energies of discussions of divine structures. We move beyond the text to a meta-communicative level. The eye for symbols, the ear for sounds, and the mouth for the recitation and mindful meditative life-rhythm.
Chapter III “Living within the covenant, we are challenged to actualize the principles of Sinai at every moment, through the bonds we forge with persons and things in the course of life.”
Halakhah is the gesture of the generations – ongoing practices cultivated and inculcated for the various spheres of life.
Fishbane calls God –“the life of all life” from a neoplatonic piyyut of Saadyah. This is his preferred term for God.
The second half of the chapter is on prayer and has lots of insights. Many of the paragraphs are poetic insights strung together. I need to teach it once in the context of other exhortations to prayer (Hirsch, Heschel, Rav Kook, Rebbe Reshab) in order to grasp the finer points.
“The phenomena of prayer responds to the vastness of sounds and sights which surround us in the natural world.”
(Most studies of Jewish prayer have parroted the work of Fredrich Heiler who has two types of prayer- petitionary and mystical. Moshe Greenberg on Biblical Prayer, Heinneman on Rabbinic prayer, Scholem on Kabbalistic prayer, Soloveitchik on Halakhic prayer have all used Heiler’s typology. But most Jewish prayer is actually Adoration, in which we praise to the King. Our prayer gestures are based on adoration to the King, and the Psalms we use are not petition but adoration.) Evelyn Underhill has a great book on Adoration produced almost the same year as Heiler.
Fishbane moves into the world of adoration using Gademer, Rilke, and the Psalms.
He presents four levels, a PARDES of prayer
Peshat- yes it is submission to the text—but also the silence before response, the articulation of human needs,, and a realization of the gaps and gifts of the world.
Derush-meaning in the present.Remez – higher wisdom and abstractions- he asks: what would they say?
Sod- reaching the unfathomable, toward the Transcendent, toward religious censura
He ends the chapter with a homily explaining gemilut hasadim as radical kindness.
(Great, contemporary Jewry can use a lot more on kindness and gemilut Hasidim) but then returning to Heidegger and Rosenzweig –we get “”Ultimately, the phenomena of hesed is the practice of death….successively divesting oneself.”
(If one sees oneself in a tight knit community then Miktav MiEliyahu offers a world of mashbia and mekabel were everyone is always giving and receiving. But if one is an isolated individual then there it is death to give.)