This week I had the opportunity to teach this wonderful passage of Levinas again. Levinas exhorts his reader to have a mature faith and get rid of one’s primitive and childish views of God. A person needs to understand that God does not promise anything or follow one’s magical thinking about God. He asks: “What kind of strange magician did you project as the inhabitant of your heaven.” Only an empty heaven allows one to take on the responsibilities of justice in this world. Only a heaven empty of childish perceptions allow an adult’s God can have an inner sense to fight evil and seek good. The eternal covenant is a Divine demand for goodness and justice, the deepest significance of the covenant between God and Israel.
What is the meaning of the suffering of the innocent? Does it not witness to a world without God, to an earth where only man determines the measure of good and evil? The simplest, most ordinary response would indeed be to draw the conclusion that there is no God. This would also be the healthiest response for all those who until now have believed in a rather primitive God who awards prizes, imposes sanctions, or pardons mistakes, and who, in His goodness, treats people like perpetual children. But what kind of limited spirit, what kind of strange magician did you project as the inhabitant of your heaven – you who today state that heaven is deserted? And why are you still looking, beneath an empty heaven, for a world that makes sense and is good?
Yossel son of Yossel experiences, with renewed vigor, beneath an empty heaven, certainty about God. For his finding himself thus alone allows him to feel, on his shoulders, all of God’s responsibilities. On the road that leads to the one and only God, there is a way station without God. True monotheism must frame answers to the legitimate demands of atheism. An adult’s God reveals Himself precisely in the emptiness of the child’s heaven. That is the moment when God withdraws Himself from the world and veils His countenance. “He has sacrificed humankind to its wild instincts,” says our text. “And because those instincts dominate the world, it is natural that those who preserve the divine and the pure should be the first victims of this domination.”
But by the same token, this God who veils His countenance and abandons the just person, un-victorious, to his own justice – this faraway God – comes from inside. That is the intimacy that coincides, in one’s conscience, with the pride of being Jewish, of being concretely, historically, altogether mindlessly, a part of the Jewish people. “To be a Jew means… to be an everlasting swimmer against the turbulent, criminal human current… I am happy to belong to the unhappiest people in the world, to the people whose Torah represents the loftiest and most beautiful of all laws and moralities.” Intimacy with this virile God is attained in passing an ultimate test. Because I belong to the suffering Jewish people, the faraway God becomes my God. “Now I know that you are truly my God, for you cannot possibly be the God of those whose deeds are the most horrible expression of a militant absence of God.” The just person’s suffering for the sake of a justice that fails to triumph is concretely lived out in the form of Judaism.
Translation from the VBM shiur of Tamir Granot- Read full Version Here
This coincided with the web announcement of a great conference on Difficult Freedom, Levinas’ early Jewish writings. First published in 1963, with a second edition appearing in 1976, Difficile Liberté is considered Levinas’ most accessible book and constitutes an excellent introduction to his work: philosophy, Biblical and Talmudic commentary, a traditional yet new approach to Judaism, and an educational mission.
« Readings of Difficult Freedom» is the largest international conference ever devoted to Levinas and his work. For an entire week, more than 180 speakers from 41 countries will present and discuss the ideas presented in Difficult Freedom. In addition, during the entire conference week there will be lectures and debates in a number of cultural centers in Toulouse as well as screenings of movies and documentaries. The conference and events are all open to the public.