Elijah From the Stars


« Elijah »

Franz Rosenzweig is a prophet of the 20th century (there are not so many), whose name means ‘branch of roses’. Zebrased with inchoate intuitions, and seraphic brilliance, a short text of him astonishes me by its searing audacity:

« Redemption delivers God, the world and man from the forms and morphisms that Creation has imposed on them. Before and after, there is only the « beyond ». But the in-between, Revelation, is at the same time entirely beyond, for (thanks to it) I am myself, God is God, and the world is world, and absolutely beyond, for I am with God, God is with me, and where is the world? (« I do not desire the earth »). Revelation overcomes death, creates and institutes in its place the redeeming death. He who loves no longer believes in death and believes only in death.» i

The ambiguity of Revelation in relation to the Redemption, but also its invitations to openness, to invention, are staged here.

On the one hand, Revelation is addressed to the man of the earth, to the children of the clay, immersed in worldly immanence, immersed in the closed orbs of their minds.

On the other hand, it affirms the absolute transcendence of the Creator, opening worlds, flaring very backwards towards unheard-of beginnings, and accelerating very forwards towards an unthinkable afterlife.

Can we connect these two poles, seemingly opposite?

For Rosenzweig, Revelation is situated in time, that time which is the proper time of the world, between Creation and Redemption – the two figures, original and eschatological, the two ‘moments’ of the ‘beyond’ of time.

The unique role of Creation is inexplicable if we consider it only as a divine fiat. Why inexplicable? Because such a fiat displays neither its reason nor its why. It is more consistent with the anthropological structure of human experience (and probably with the very structure of the brain) to consider that even God does nothing for nothing.

An ancient answer to this riddle may be found in the Vedic idea of Creation.

In the Veda, Creation is thought as being a sacrifice of God.

Two thousand years later, this sacrifice will be called kenosis by Christians, and even later (in the Kabbalah of the Middle Age) Jews will call it tsimtsum.

The Vedic idea of God’s sacrifice – is incarnated in the sacrifice of Prajāpati, the supreme God, the Creator of the worlds, at the price of His own substance.

It is certainly difficult to conceive of God’s holocaust by (and for) Himself, willingly sacrificing His own glory, His power and His transcendence, – in order to transcend Himself in this very sacrifice.

How can a human brain understand God transcending Himself!

It is difficult, of course, but less difficult than understanding a Creation without origin and without reason, which refers by construction to the absolute impotence of all reason, and to its own absurdity.

With or without reason, with or without sacrifice, Creation obviously represents a ‘beyond’ of our capacity to understand.

But reason wants to reason and tries to understand.

In the hypothesis of God’s sacrifice, what would be the role of Creation in this divine surpassing?

Would God make a covenant with His Creation, ‘giving’ it, by this means, His breath, His life, His freedom, His spirit?

Would God give the responsibility for the World and Mankind to multiply and make this Breath, this Life, this Freedom, this Spirit bear fruit throughout time?

At least there is in this view a kind of logic, though opaque and dense.

The other pole of the cosmic drama – Redemption – is even more ‘beyond’ human intelligence. But let us have a try to understand it.

Redemption « frees God, the world and man from the forms imposed on them by Creation, » Rosenzweig suggests.

Does Redemption deliver God from God Himself? Does it deliver Him from His infinity, if not from His limit? from His transcendence, if not from His immanence? from His righteousness, if not from His goodness?

It is more intuitive to understand that it also liberates the world (i.e. the total universe, the integral Cosmos) from its own limits – its height, width and depth. But does it free it from its immanence?

It frees man, at last.

Does that mean Redemption frees man from his dust and clay?

And from his breath (nechma), which binds him to himself?

And from his shadow (tsel) and his ‘image’ (tselem), which binds him to the light?

And from his blood (dam) and his ‘likeness’ (demout), which structure and bind him (in his DNA itself)?

What does Rosenzweig mean when he says: « Redemption delivers God (…) from the forms that Creation has imposed »?

It is the role of Revelation to teach us that Creation has necessarily imposed certain structures. For example, it imposes the idea that the ‘heavens’ (chammayim) are in essence made of ‘astonishment’, and perhaps even ‘destruction’ (chamam).

But the truth is that we don’t know what ‘to redeem’ means, – apart from showing the existence of a link between Death, the Exodus from the world, and man.

We must try to hear and understand the voice of this new prophet, Rosenzweig.

He says that to believe in Redemption is to believe only in love, that is, to believe « only in death ».

For it has been said that « strong as death is love » (ki-‘azzah kham-mavêt ahabah), as the Song saysii.

Revelation is unique in that it is ‘one’ between two ‘moments’, two ‘beyond’.

It is unique, being ‘below’ between two ‘beyond’.

Being ‘below’ it is not inexpressible, – and being ‘revealed’ it is not as inexpressible as the ‘beyond’ of Creation and Redemption, which can only be grasped through what Revelation wants to say about it.

The Revelation is told, but not by a single oracular jet.

She is not given just at once. She is continuous. She spreads out in time. She is far from being closed, no doubt. No seal has been placed on her moving lips. No prophet can reasonably claim to have sealed her endless source foreveriii.

Time, time itself, constitutes all the space of Revelation, which we know has once begun. But we don’t know when Revelation will end. For now, Revelation is only ‘below’, and will always remain so, – as a voice preparing the way for a ‘beyond’ yet to come.

And besides, what is really known about what has already been ‘revealed’?

Can we be sure at what rate the Revelation is being revealed?

Can we read her deep lines, hear her hidden melodies?

Does she appear in the world only in one go or sporadically, intermittently? With or without breathing pauses?

Won’t her cannon thunder again?

And even if she were « sealed », aren’t the interpretations, the glosses, part of her open breath?

And what about tomorrow?

What will Revelation have to say in six hundred thousand years from now?

Or in six hundred million years?

Will not then a cosmic Moses, a total Abraham, a universal Elijah, chosen from the stars, come in their turn to bring some needed Good News?

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iFranz Rosenzweig. The Man and His Work. Collected writings 1. letters and diaries, 2 vol. 1918-1929. The Hague. M.Nijhoft, 1979, p.778, quoted by S. Mosès. Franz Rosenzweig. Sous l’étoile. Ed. Hermann. 2009, p. 91.

iiCt 8.6

iiiThe Torah itself, who can claim to have really read it?

« Although Thorah was quite widespread, the absence of vowel points made it a sealed book. To understand it, one had to follow certain mystical rules. One had to read a lot of words differently than they were written in the text; to attach a particular meaning to certain letters and words, depending on whether one raised or lowered one’s voice; to pause from time to time or link words together precisely where the outward meaning seemed to demand the opposite (…) What was especially difficult in the solemn reading of the Thorah was the form of recitative to be given to the biblical text, according to the modulation proper to each verse. The recitative, with this series of tones that rise and fall in turn, is the expression of the primitive word, full of emphasis and enthusiasm; it is the music of poetry, of that poetry that the ancients called an attribute of the divinity, and which consists in the intuition of the idea under its hypostatic envelope. Such was the native or paradisiacal state, of which only a few dark and momentary glimmers remain today. « J.-F. Molitor. Philosophy of tradition. Trad Xavier Duris. Ed. Debécourt. Paris, 1837. p.10-11