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Etz Chayim – the ‘Tree of Life’ – is the Hebrew name of Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue.
Moses said to God: Show me, I beseech You, Your glory. (Ex 33:18)
It is not only the Israelites who stood before Mt Sinai who needed reassurances from God. Moses himself needed to ‘know’ God, and even more, to ‘see’ God in what were still the early days of the great venture that had begun with a burning-bush and a mass emigration from Egypt. ‘Signs and wonders’ are needed at every step of the way as proof of God’s power to those who oppressed the Israelites and also for the Israelites that this God of Abraham and Sarah, Rebecca and Isaac, Jacob, Leah and Rachel did indeed exist.
The desire for the tangible, that which can be seen is irresistible. Our homes are mirrors to their residents and we cloth ourselves according to our moods and personalities. There is a certain security, even a confirmation of identity, found in symbols.
When we are uncertain we resort to the habitual, the familiar, the knowable, and the reliable. Hence the Israelites, not yet having processed their freedom from enslavement, still unsure of their next meal or of their water supply, already having been ambushed in the openness of the Wilderness, turn to a concrete – or gold – a symbol of security. Their spirit desires sustenance just as their bellies are sustained by manna, their thirst quenched from a rock, and their security gained by God’s wonders and Joshua’s sword.
The eigel maseicha, the molten calf that Aaron produces for them from their gold earrings is not an unexpected reaction to the disappearance of their human leader. It seems that he might have been consumed by the fiery, cloudy, Presence of God atop Mt Sinai.
The Golden Calf as it is better known may have provided reassurance in the past but it is not the future. The future is found in progression not conservatism. It is informed by traditions but not bound by them. For we who believe in the progressive revelation of Truth are given tools and seeds with which to begin our thinking, our exploration of the world around us. Yet it is our progressive thinking that will continue the furrow that will nurture the seedlings for us and future generations.
Ultimately, God is not found in institutions, in the concrete and tangible but in our progressive journey through life. Institutions such as marriage evolved and are still evolving. Yet the essence that underlies the institution is not marriage itself but love, commitment, sharing of values and ethics in a monogamous relationship: of kiddushin – the Hebrew word for marriage – of holiness.
That is why I believe that those involved in the Campaign for Marriage, vocal supporters such as the Pope today, the Archbishop or York, Dr John Sentamu and Cardinal O’Brien of the Catholic Church in previous weeks, have built a Golden Calf. They cleave to an institution, not to the essence upon which that institution is built.
It is because of my belief in progressive revelation; and my belief that God wishes to sanctify love, commitment, sharing of values and ethics in a monogamous relationship; that I fully endorse, together with Liberal Judaism, Reform Judaism, the Quakers, the Unitarians and the quieter liberal voices of the Church of England, the redefinition of the institution of marriage in Law to include gay and lesbian couples.
Our society is full of insecurities and uncertainties. The Campaign for Equal Marriage is logically not a contributor to that. Catholic Argentina, Portugal and Spain, have legalised same-sex marriage and Mexico and Brazil have done so in certain states. The Netherlands, Belgium, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, Canada and South Africa have all done so. The ills in their society and ours are not due to lesbian and gay couples wanting equal marriage rights. I urge you all to join me in signing the petition for the Campaign for Equal Marriage. Click here
Our society is full of insecurities and uncertainties and we have progressed enough to know that we do not follow a Golden Calf. Let us progress the essence of holiness so that we can get on with the really hard work of righting the ills in society.
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