Religion & Beliefs

Your Greatest Stumbling Block

I’m creating an SIQ-test. It stands for “Spiritual IQ”. So far, I've only written one question: What was the greatest impediment to Jewish spirituality in all of history? A. Idolatry B. The destruction of the Temple C. Persecutions D. False … Read More

By / June 5, 2007

I’m creating an SIQ-test. It stands for “Spiritual IQ”. So far, I've only written one question: What was the greatest impediment to Jewish spirituality in all of history?

A. Idolatry B. The destruction of the Temple C. Persecutions D. False messiahs E. Economic prosperity F. None of the above

What do you say? I vote for F, none of the above. This is because I believe that the greatest stumbling block to Jewish spirituality in all of Jewish history was… A guy named Michelangelo. Well, it wasn’t really him as much as something he created: Michelangelo gave us (quite literally!) a cartoon image of God. Do you know what I’m talking about? The Sistine Chapel image of God creating Adam? God is depicted as an old man with a long white beard:

So for the past 500 years we have been saddled with this cartoon image, and the word “God” has become for many associated with the old man and long white beard. If you think about it, though, didn’t Michelangelo have a point? After all, it says in Genesis that God made Man in His image….So doesn’t that mean that God looks like us? Well, no. The God that Jews have always imagined is an Infinite, unknowable…something. I don’t even want to say “being” because the word “being” like any word, begins to define or limit God and we’re talking about something that is non-definable, not finite, a.k.a., infinite. So, when Moses asks to see God in Exodus 13, God says, “No one can see my face and live” – this limit of human perception is consistent with an Infinite God. A close reading of Genesis leads to an even deeper idea about God. Genesis describes humanity as made “in the image of God”. So according to the Torah, it is we who have God’s characteristics, not the other way around. Yes, God has a “hand”, but our hand is only an image of that. We don’t know what God’s “hand” looks like because our entire perception is trapped within the framework of this physical realm, and God is transcendent.

Therefore, the only way for us to glimpse what is meant by God’s hand is via some kind of transcendental technique, such as meditation. That’s what Micah and Isaiah and other sages were doing when they glimpsed God. But they weren’t seeing God’s essence, only a spiritual projection that is more subtle than this finite world (which is also a projection) but not God’s true essence, which is likened to seeing God’s face.

In other words, God isn't anthropomophic. We are theomorphic.

I’ll end these holy thoughts with two tools, one practical and one amusing. The practical tool is a superb on-line test you can take at beliefnet.com to determine your religious affinity. It is remarkably well-designed; someone put a lot of thought into it. Here’s the online test. After you take it, please share your results in the comments section below. My own results were a surprise, which I'll share after a few other people get a chance to comment.

The amusing tool is this video series on youtube – the later episodes are not quite Jewish, but the first one (below) is universal. If you subscribe to my Friday Table Talk blog then you saw this already.

Roll over Michelangelo. The God of the 21st Century wears black-rim frames and sports a goatee. Tomorrow: What’s a mitzvah and what difference does it make?