Monday, December 14, 2009

Judaism, a Theology of the Common Deed

"The gods attend to great matters; they neglect small ones..." Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 B.C.E.-43 B.C.E.), ancient Roman Statesman

Responding to one of the great figures in the Hellenistic world Jewish theologian, Abraham Joshua Heschel writes "In the theology of the common good, according to Aristotle, the gods are not at all concerned with the dispensation of good and bad fortune, or external things. To the Hebrew prophet, however, no subject is as worthy of consideration as the plight of man. Indeed G-d Himself is described as reflecting over the plight of man rather than as contemplating eternal ideas. His mind is preoccupied with man, with the concrete actualities of history, rather than with the timeless issues of thought."

In the Nevi'im, or Prophet's message, nothing that
has bearing upon good and evil is small or trite in the eyes of  G-d. The teaching of Judaism is the theology of the common deed. The Torah, or Bible, insists that G-d is concerned with the everydayness, the trivialities of life. Thus the great challenge does not lie in organizing solemn demonstrations, but in how we manage the commonplace. The prophet's field of concern is not the mysteries of heaven, the glories of eternity, but the blights of society, the affairs of the marketplace. He addresses himself to those who trample upon the needy, who increase the price of grain, use dishonest scales and sell the refuse of corn or wheat (see Nevi'im, Amos 8:4-6). The predominant feature of the biblical pattern of life is unassuming, unheroic, inconspicuous piety, the sanctification of trifles, attentiveness to details."

The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you
 until morning (Torah, Leviticus 19:13,18). Love your fellow as yourself; I am the Lord. When you encounter your enemy's ox or ass wandering, you must take it back to him. When you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him (Torah, Exodus 23:4-5).
-- taken from I Asked for Wonder, A Spiritual Anthology by Abraham Joshua Heshel

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