Looking at the Psalms, and the other types of Jewish prayer that followed it, there are three ways to address God.
One choice is to use collective language—one example of this could be “Our God and the God of Our Forefathers” (Hebrew: Eloheinu v’Elohei Avoteinu).
Another option is to keep this God for yourself, made famous in the Psalms and subsequently by Jesus with the well-known phrase, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1).
The one that most people are aware of, however, refers to God not only as the collective God but as the master of the entire world. The classical blessing formula in Hebrew begins with “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe” (more literally, “King of the World”)
The standard Hebrew school student thinks that all three are the same, and at this point the unquestionable monotheism of the Jewish religion makes the idea that they could be different out of the question.
From a literary standpoint, however, the three are not the same.
A successful God requires a successful formula.
Human beings have a need for individualism—looking to themselves—and also one for empathy—looking at the community, or the entire world.
The same way that human compartmentalize different feelings, in that same way humans need to compartmentalize the people and the aspects of divinity with which they trust their feelings. Given the need for these “drawers”, it is not surprising that the Zohar gives the paradigm of the Ten Sefirot, or detectable aspects of God, each with attributes, Bible characters, and even colors.
Aristotle referred to the human species as zoon politikon—often translated as the “social animal”, the one that needs to make cities, towns, villages for communal benefit. Those who do not conform with this need for creating these communes are labeled by the Greek philosopher as either beasts or gods.
But the idea of the zoon politikon is a sandwich of an “animal” and the thing that “socializes”, indicating that humans are contradictory beings by nature. The human is not merely an animal and not just a thing that socializes, it is a creature with a tension between them, one that uses its tension to create civilizations.
The aspect of politikon is tied with the empathy—for one’s tribe, for one’s family, and later on for all of humanity.
The aspect of zoon is tied with individualism—in which all other animals are competitors for similar resources.
These two things create a very confusing mix, and the same confusing mix was ported into religions throughout the world as well.
Religious thoughts in many traditions has entwined the being of God to the being of humanity.
But God is no social animal—instead, God is a supreme being that exists for their collective betterment.
When that same God is called upon in the Psalms and in the Siddur, He is the God of zoon, the God of politikon, “My God”, “the God of our Forefathers”, and “King of the Universe” all at once.
Each person who offers a prayer can keep God, but sharing Him is not only possible but necessary—a social God for a social animal.email print