JStandard letters continue the debates on issues raised by Rabbi Dr. Tzvee Zahavy in his column, Dear Rabbi.
Jeff Bernstein • Letters
Many thanks for Rabbi Zahavy’s and Mr. Sutton’s thoughtful responses to my May 24 letter on the issue of the efficacy of prayer, particularly the Kaddish (“More on angels,” June 2). I would be grateful if any reader would care to respond to my question concerning the Kedusha: Why, in the Kedusha, does the Creator of the Universe need to hear words of praise from angels, beings who have no free will, and therefore no choice in the matter?
Shel Haas • Letters
“Our great minds are equally sure that God hears our prayers” illustrates how irrational those “great minds” were (“More on angels,” May 30). “Official theology”? According to a group of men of long ago that were unaware of the information regarding all aspects of life that is available today. The great Saadia Gaon’s writings illustrate his great reasoning powers. He could examine a problem from all aspects and then proceed to a conclusion. He professed that the Earth was the center of the universe. He obviously did not have the knowledge possessed in later years. Prayer answers a psychological need in humans. Sound from Earth is not heard in outer space. God is not limited to a particular place in a particular time. We do not listen to God’s messages. If God saw fit to enable the Temples built in Jerusalem to be demolished, finding them faulty in many ways, why do our people venerate what God has destroyed? God gave us the ability to think for ourselves. We have the past upon which to base our present and future. If the past has proven to be faulty in many ways, isn’t it time to acknowledge that conclusion and move on to approach the real path God has set forth for us. Justice, righteousness, and charity were the three themes expressed by our prophets as to God’s desires of mankind. All else, God said many times, is meaningless.
Emile Pincus • Letters
Thank you for printing the stimulating exchange between Rabbi Zahavy and correspondent Jeff Bernstein (Letters, May 24 and May 31).
Mr. Bernstein’s comments reflect a major tension inherent in modern religious life. There is an impressive intensity that he invests in solving the mystery of what to believe. However, his need to go beyond the emotional position — which, I submit, is a spiritual position — expressed in prayer, to an urgent need to find a factual type of reality seems misplaced.
The issue is not really whether the angels pray in Aramaic, or whether God needs our prayer, or indeed whether we really do intercede with God when we say prayers in memory of the departed.
There is a deep beauty and need that we humans experience when we try to give to others. When we remember the dead, and when we believe that they might actually need us to help them by doing so, in a way that they are unable now to help themselves; when we think of whatever they have given us, and how can we really express that to them today — religion gives us a means of expressing that. Others may believe they have found more meaningful ways of expressing that gratitude and debt. However, religion gets us started in the right direction, and provides a real reminder that we need to give something of ourselves to remembering those we owe to ourselves to remember on a recurrent basis.
What Judaism and prayers offer is an opportunity to adopt a posture toward life that is ultimately helpful for ourselves. A favorite image I have, on family yahrzeits: they are depending on me to remember them, to “do the right thing,” that just might help them. They’re cheering me on from the silent grandstand. Knowing that I might be doing something for them and that they need me and that actually I need them to need me makes the occasion and the observance “make sense,” which Mr. Bernstein insists upon. Perhaps these thoughts and imaginings will help.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Please continue to write in to Dear Rabbi to agree or disagree. Rabbi Dr. Tzvee Zahavy looks forward to reading more of your questions, insights and challenges. His monthly column is on page 47 - link.]