Today in #TorahInATimeOfPlague we take a look at chapter 3,
“Loving God Through Life and Death: An Embodied Theology of Loss” by Aviva Richman.
This is a short but intense chapter that also includes discussions of pregnancy loss. (I usually don’t add content notices for pandemic & death because these are kind of assumed by the title of the book itself – but here I felt that this particular topic related to death might be unexpected, so I’m mentioning it.)
Aviva Richman talks about imitating God. The Bible says to walk in God’s ways, but what does this mean? We can’t really do a lot of things that an almighty deity might do, like end a pandemic, for instance.
One traditional interpretation is that we imitate God by acts of chesed (lovingkindness).
This goes back to the Mekhilta d’Rabbi Yishmael around 1700 years ago.
“Abba Shaul says: I will be like God. Just as God is merciful and gracious, so you should be merciful and gracious.”
Because it is late at night here in Kansas, I will mention that the question does arise… should we imitate God’s anger too?! Richman says that the traditional sources do not even consider this possibility. E.g., the Talmud lists God’s caring acts as ones we should imitate.
Of course this is helpful in a pandemic. We care for each other and imitate God this way. (Sounds great by me!) But is that the only way we can imitate God, Richman asks. God is described as giving life and death. Ok, we can imitate the giving life part, but what about death?
Now, this doesn’t mean we should literally mete out death, that would be terrible. It means that we should accept and acknowledge death, learn to hold it within us as we hold life.
One traditional concept that relates to this is that the Talmud also calls the uterus a grave (kever in Hebrew).
Pregnancy loss was different in the ancient era than it is now.
“[B]efore the advent of ultrasounds, people would not automatically know that a pregnancy had been lost, and they could have carried a lost pregnancy for many months before miscarriage or stillbirth.”
This can still happen today in certain specific circumstances, and it happened to the author, who relates her experience – which I will not summarize here, but it can be read in the book.
“When we are overwhelmed by loss, rather than bury it out of sight, we can be challenged and comforted to know that part of what it means to actualize our divine potential, our tzelem Elohim, is to participate in the divine work of holding death alongside the life that remains.”
Whew. I felt that this chapter was very deliberately less abstract and more embodied than the preceding ones, but I could immediately relate them to each other and the concepts of plague and disasters.
There is also a discussion of how it relates to theodicy that I skipped, because there was plenty about theodicy the last time around. Just illustrating that it all ties together 🙂
Thank you for following along! Next time we get to David Zvi Kalman discussing “The Natural Disaster Theology Dilemma”. (What is that?! …You’ll see)
It will include a discussion of gay sex. And on that cliffhanger we stop for today…