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September 29, 1989 - Image 40

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-09-29

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• 4





Worshipers symbolically cast their sins into the water as they pray on the seashore at Tel Aviv.

Soul Searching

As we approach the High
Holy Days, a leading scholar
explains the history and concept
of a spiritual reckoning,
individually and collectively.



lthough the term
"soul-searching" is
relatively new — it
dates only from the Middle
Ages — the concept of a
spiritual reckoning is as old
as Jewish culture itself.
The sages called soul-
searching "world-
reckoning," in accordance
with the concept that it is
really a reckoning of broad
generalities and of major



principles, an audit encom-
passing a whole world. True
soul-searching must always
be subjective, substantive,
thorough and fundamental.
In Jewish culture, which is
basically a culture of values
grounded in the belief in
good and evil as definable
and substantive values,
"thou shalt" and "thou
shalt not" are not merely
rules of social behavior.
The Jewish world view, with
its exacting standards and
qualities, actually requires

this accounting, both of the
community (the world com-
munity or the community of
Israel) and of the individual
within that community. In
the Bible as a whole, and in
particular in the Torah, soul-
searching is primarily on a
large scale, whether it is the
weighing of a nation or of
the whole world.

Biblical Precedent

Perhaps it is not surpris-
ing, then, that the first' ex-
ample of true soul-searching
in the Scriptures is one made
on a universal scale and ap-
parently by God Himself:
"The Lord saw that the
wickedness of man was
great on the earth and that
every imagination of his
heart was only evil continu-
ally. And the Lord was sorry
that He had made man on
the earth, and it grieved
Him to His heart. So the

will blot out
Lord said,
men whom I have created
from the face of the
ground...for I. am sorry that
I have made them.' "
In spite of the theological
problems inherent in this
passage, it is still a classic
example of soul-searching, a
general reckoning in which
deeds are assessed and the
decision is in accordance
with the conclusion reached
during that assessment.
Thus, this first instance of
soul-searching — and its af-
termath, the Flood — con-
tains all the elements essent-
ial to the process: review,
recognition of offense, regret
(or, in the case of man, re-
pentance) and remedy.
Elsewhere in the Scrip-
tures we find other exam-
ples, no less powerful, as in
the stern admonitions of
Leviticus 26:3 and
Deuteronomy 28:30. In all

these exhortations, one ele-
ment is outstanding: When-
ever man errs and sins,
whenever the prevalent no-
tions appear impervious to
reproof and new ideas, there
is nothing like calamity and
disaster to bring the nation
to its senses, to encourage
soul-searching. This is em-
phasized again and again by
all the prophets, both in the
historical books of the Bible
and later, in explicit calls to
The dramatic instance of
Ezekiel 3:16 and -the even
more dramatic Chapter 33
describe the prophet's role
as the "watchman of Isra-
el." The watchman on his
lookout post is not only
meant to observe events —
his ability to do so is, of
course, the raison d'etre for
his appointment to the task
— he is primarily expected
to give warning of ap-
proaching danger, to arouse
attention to forthcoming at-
tack by all the means at his
In the same way, the role
of the prophet is not merely
to warn of approaching ca-
tastrophe. (Paradoxically, a
"successful" prophet is one

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