Torah Wisdom through Process

Process guidelines for reading Scripture

1.   The Torah we read today is the result of a historical process.  Most Jewish and Christian scholars now believe the Torah had four independent sources (see the illustration, below).  As  Artson comments, “ It is at least as conceivable to perceive God giving the Torah through generations of Israelite sages as to portray God as dictating a book on top of a mountain.”   (God of Becoming, p. 49) 

2.  The giving of the Torah on Sinai is a symbol for an ongoing process without end,  not just a particular moment at a particular mountain.  Giving and receiving Torah is a series of events, from the first telling of stories to the final writings now found in the Torah.   Artson comments, “While some of the old stories and several of the laws strike us as horrific today, the very values that have emerged from the Bible sensitize us to hear those tales and practices with heightened awareness and new interpretations.“

3.  Faithfulness to the Torah calls us to enter into relationship with its stories, not believe them literally. This brings us to the process of interpretation: nowhere in the Bible does the text insist that we must believe the stories literally. Our obligation is to re-tell the stories, to affirm their significance, and to weave them into our lives and our generations.

4.  The Torah is meant to be the first word, not the last. In good Process fashion, the Rabbis of old speak of the Torah as an etz hayyim, a living tree or tree of life.  Just as a tree sinks its roots deep into the soil to provide stability and water to its leaves, just as it continues to add to its trunk and expand its foliage, so too does Torah grow and blossom in each age.

5.   Ethics takes precedence in the Torah. Understanding revelation through the perspective of Process Thought restores an ancient priority, often diminished in modern times – the priority of the ethical over ritual in Jewish tradition.  For instance, on Yom Kippur, the most ritually punctilious day of the year, the Rabbis selected Isaiah 58:1-12, in which the prophet berates his contemporaries for oppressing the weak and the poor while thinking that their precise performance of sacrifices somehow makes them right with God.

6.  A Process understanding of revelation accounts for the robust diversity in Jewish life and practice, across time and in different geographic locations. God meets individuals in the specificity of their own uniqueness at each particular moment; for each person, for every created event, there is a distinctive and unique lure, bearing new fruits on the Tree of Life.

Rabbi Artson ends his chapter on revelation in this way:

… Our task as seeking, questing people, every day of our lives, is to live in the presence of God and to mediate that presence to the larger world….

Halakhah – how we walk with God in this world  – is a process through which we can wrestle each other to achieve some measure of consensus. In good dipolar fashion halakhah is also how we can celebrate diversity while setting the limits necessary for our brit, our covenant, to thrive into the future.

….As with the Torah, it is impossible to say where the human element in halakhah stops and where the divine begins.  Rather, we can say that halakhah is the shared effort of the Jewish people and God to make the light of goodness, justice, compassion, and love visible in the world.  Just as light can only be seen when it bounces off a physical object, so too holiness can only be shared and encountered when it is embodied in social and communal structures.  (p. 55-56)





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