God Is Disruption
The spiritual fuel of my work at Darshan Yeshiva is living in the mind of a God who disrupts everything
Note: this is based on an earlier post on PunkTorah.org of the same name.
By Rabbi Patrick Beaulier
In his book The God of Old, author James Kugel makes a surprising observation about how the ancient Israelites saw God in their lives. God, it turns out, was something like an obvious, tangible presence. God wasn’t an abstract concept that one had theological debates over. God just was. And sometimes this God was in our space, and in our faces, in the form of miracles, prophets, architecture, the weather, and all sorts of things.
As the author states on his website:
In the biblical world, Kugel shows, the spiritual and the material overlapped: everyday perception was in constant danger of sliding into something else, stark but oddly familiar. God was always standing just behind the curtain of ordinary reality.
Constant danger of sliding into something else, stark but oddly familiar?
Perhaps this is God and disruption.
A few examples…
God said to Abram (Abraham):
“Go! Go from out of your land, and from your clan, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. And I will transform out of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great…so Abram went, as the LORD had spoken to him” (Genesis 12:1-4).
The goal of any family in this time in history is to survive at best, and thrive if lucky. The best way to do this is to build up the family, clan and tribe. Marriages, business deals, sometimes ethnic identities, are forged to ensure that the bloodline will survive. This may seem barbaric, but remember that up until recently, royalty traded marriages, land, wealth and people in order to ensure that a family would continue. For God to tell Abram that he needs to sever his connection to his land, family, and the “father’s house” (which is a biblical metaphor for the safety of the heredity boundary developed over generations) is heretical in this time in history. It means to give up every piece of safety possible and to be completely without protection.
It means disruption.
And as we know, Abram goes. No worries. Not a single peep from him.
Because when you are disrupted to the point that you know you have to leave everything you have known to be true, for some kind of destiny that you are uncertain of, there is nothing that can be said. It’s sacred silence after great upheaval. It’s 1 Kings 19:11-12, “there came an earthquake…after the earthquake came a fire…and after the fire came a voice, calm, small.”
Sometimes when things turn your whole world around, the best thing to do is just go for it. That’s disruption.
Or perhaps another case. A man named Moshe (Moses) comes to understand himself and his God in a way he never had. In the third chapter of the Book of Exodus we find this exchange:
“God called to Moses out of the midst of the bush, and said: ‘Moses, Moses.’ And Moses said: ‘Here I am.’…God said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’…’I have seen the affliction of My people that are in Egypt, and have heard their cry…Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh, that you may bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.’”
And naturally, one replies:
“‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ God said: ‘Certainly I will be with you’…And Moses said to God: ‘When I come to the children of Israel, and will say to them: The God of your fathers has sent me to you’ and they will say to me ‘What is God’s name?’ What should I say to them?’”
God replied to Moses: “‘I AM THAT I AM’; and He said: ‘you shall say to the children of Israel: I AM has sent me unto you.’”
And God said moreover:
‘Thus shalt you say unto the children of Israel: “‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you; I AM THAT I AM is My name for ever, and this is My memorial to all generations’” (Exodus 3:6-15).
The idea of names in the ancient Near East is incredibly important. For a human being, knowing a god’s name means having some kind of powerful connection to it. This power can be channeled through rituals. By saying a god’s name, you are able to force, in a sense, the good graces of this deity. You can treat the deity less like a point of reverence, but like a cosmic vending machine. If I know the god’s name, and I push the right buttons and offer the right offering, everything will work out my way.
So when God says, “I am”, God is basically giving Moses the greatest literary rebuke in history. I cannot be controlled. This thing we are doing is altogether different from any experience had in humanity thus far. And yes, you are going to be the one to proclaim it to the world, speech impediment and all.
We have two great disruptions here, but they both come from the same place: what it means to connect to God is to be disrupted, to have the past challenged, and to move forward against the grain, against all reason, against the tribal/societal/cultural norm, so that the future can happen.
God pushes humanity forward, not backward. And as a Jewish educator, I certainly feel that push all the time.
For over a decade, I have worked in the Jewish Disruption Industrial Complex (not a thing, but it should be):
It was disruptive to start a blog where deeply spiritual Jewish convictions were combined with punk and indie culture PunkTorah
It was disruptive to suggest that Jewish live could be lived fully online. I remember being barbecued alive for having online Shabbat services at OneShul (of blessed memory)
It was disruptive to connect sincere conversion students with rabbis over the internet, and to pay rabbis for their time Darshan Yeshiva
And it was disruptive to hire Jewish educators from around the world, rabbis, cantors, and lay people, to rethink what the future of Jewish spiritual leadership would be Pluralistic Rabbinical Seminary (ahem, Tablet, you missed one!!!!)
The more I disrupt, the more I feel God’s presence in my life, because I am living in God’s spiritual orientation.
And look, I am glad there are people who see God in different ways. Not everyone needs to live a life based on the disruption that orients them forward. But that sense that God is moving us, that in every odd twist and turn, that in every groundbreaking new discovery, it’s the Creator of All who is saying, “think you know how this thing works? Just you wait!” I cannot say how powerful that is. That is why I get up every day and ask myself, “what will God want us to disrupt today?”
Post Script: I want to thank Rabbi Michael Bernstein who read the original version of this piece and said very, very nice things about it. That’s all :-)
If you like this article by Rabbi Patrick, consider joining him in FIRST STEPS: https://darshanyeshiva.substack.com/p/first-steps-a-simple-introduction
Disrupt and repair. Amen.