900.13a Conflict: Divine Presence / Man’s Freedom (pps.134-135)
hard cover page 134
Specifically, there is a contradiction between the Divine presence and man’s freedom.523 There is a proportionality between the level of God’s presence and the level of man’s nonfreedom.
In the presence of God, there is no freedom. No one who stands in God’s presence can deny him.
-Berkovits (on Buber)524
. . . the original religious experience of the encounter [at Sinai] had to be momentary in order to be endured by man; and even while it lasted, the Divine Presence could reveal itself only from behind some protective barrier, or else man could not have survived the “terror” of the Almighty.
-Berkovits (on Buber)525
Consequently, for the very existence of man, let alone for the freedom of man, various dimensions of contraction of the infinite Divine are necessary.
Every new act of emanation and manifestation is preceded by one of concentration and retraction. In other words, the cosmic process becomes two-fold. Every stage involves a double strain. i.e., the light which streams back into God and that which flows
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523 See Buber, as quoted in Berkovits, Major Themes in Modern Philosophies of Judaism, p. 108. “There is no trace of freedom or creatorship for man in the biblical encounter. The essential experience there is human worthlessness and powerlessness that, nevertheless, is redeemed by the love of God. Man may stand upright in the encounter because he is held up; he may hear because the spirit from God sustains him: he can speak because the dew from God revives him. The situation is not a dialogical one. Man is not a partner of God in the actuality of the I-thou. He is altogether a creature, if ever there was one. As long as the actuality of the revelation lasts, man has no freedom. He cannot deny his Thou, he cannot disobey him. Only when the encounter has passed, is he dismissed into a measure of self-hood and independence: only then can he deny and disobey.”
524 Berkovits, Major Themes in Modern Philosophies of Judaism, p. 116.
525 Berkovits, God, Man and History, pp. 145-146. Cf. Berkovits, Major Themes in Modern Philosophies of Judaism, p. 107. “Rabbi Joshua, the son of Levi, explained: ‘At the impact of each word at Sinai, their souls left the Israelites.’ For so we read, ‘My soul failed me when He spoke.’ (Daniel 10:8-9) But if their souls departed at the first Word, how could they receive the next one? â€”God brought down on them the dew with which He will quicken the dead and thus revived them. For so does the psalmist declare, ‘A bounteous rain didst Thou pour down, 0 God: when Thine inheritance was weary. Thou didst confirm it.’ (Song of Songs 5:6)According to the Bible, and to the biblical tradition, man can indeed not endure the encounter with God. It is true, as Buber says, that in revelation man is revealed to himself; but in exactly the opposite sense in which Buber understands it. It is man’s nothingness that is first of all revealed to him in the presence of God. He cannot but realize that, in his own right, he is indeed but ‘dust and ashes.’ He is not annihilated, but he is at the brink of nothingness. He is brought back into existence by the love of God. His I is returned to him as a gift of God.”
Cf. ibid., p. 106. “About his encounters with the Divine, Ezekiel reports: ‘I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spoke.’ The context shows that this falling upon the face is due to human weakness. The force of the vision saps the strength of the prophet. He cannot stand up and confront the Divine. Most inlpressively is the nature of the experience described by Daniel when he says: ‘So I was left alone and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me; for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength. Yet I heard the voice of His words: and when I heard the voice of His words, then I was fallen into a deep sleep on my face, with my face toward the ground.’ Far from entering into a relation of mutuality in the encounter with the Divine, man becomes aware of his utter helplessness in the presence of God.”
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