10/30/2006

Midrash Bono

The Gemara in Pesachim (88a) relates how each of our Patriarchs related to God’s Place:

Said Rabbi Elazar: What does Isaiah mean when he says, "And many peoples will go and say, 'Come let us go up to the Mountain of G-d to the HOUSE of the G-d of Jacob!'" ? Why the G-d of Jacob and not the G-d of Abraham and Isaac? The answer is: Not like Abraham, who saw it as a Mountain ("as it is said this day, On the Mountain HaVaYaH is seen" -- Genesis 22:14). And not like Isaac, for whom it was a Field ("And Isaac went out to meditate in the Field" -- Genesis 24:63). But like Jacob, who called it a House: "And he called the name of that place Beth El, the House of G-d" (Genesis 28:19).

The Gemara is describing three fundamentally different ways of relating to and ‘finding’ God: Abraham had to scale a mountain, to go where no man had gone before. Isaac inherited it, it was part of his property, but he still needed to invest in it in order to make it productive. Jacob was able to expect a certain degree of familiarity and comfort, but also structure (this is one potential read of the Gemara).

It was interesting, listening to my CD of U2’s ‘The Joshua Tree’ in the car this morning (I needed a change from S&G), I noticed the following in the lyrics to ‘Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”:

I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you

I have run I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
Only to be with you
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for

Are Bono and the chevre suggesting that those ancient paradigms for approaching God are insufficient? It’s clear that this song has religious overtones (“I believe in the Kingdom Come /Then all the colors will bleed into one /But yes I'm still running. /You broke the bonds /You loosened the chains /You carried the cross /And my shame”), and according to Wikipedia, is about finding spirituality. I doubt, though, that Bono learned this particular Gemara, but it still seems to enrich my understanding of this Gemara. Perhaps there's something universal about 'mountains, fields, and walls' to the language of spirituality. And perhaps Bono does have something to contribute to our spiritual vocabulary.

It's situations like this that can convince one either that goyishe music should be avoided like chazer or that it truly has what to contribute to our religious world. I, for one, believe that Bono can be the spice in R' Ashi's cholent. Either way, it's incredible music.

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