God has burdened human beings with the task of being the carriers of God’s vision for human history. The law and the commandments express not only God’s legislative authority but also, and above all, God’s need for human beings.”
Despite the varieties of lifestyles and outlooks among Jews today, there are certain organizing principles that cut across many of these differences and underlie the sense of common destiny and interdependence that so many Jews feel. From my own experience, the concepts of relationship and memory are two such fundamental categories.
The Jewish concepts of God and of mitzvah (commandment) and the biblical narratives of creation and of history are interwoven into Jewish practice, producing a distinctive outlook that shapes Jewish identity.
RELATIONAL THEOLOGY AND COVENANTAL CONSCIOUSNESS
In contrast to the self-sufficient God of Aristotle, the biblical God was considered philosophically “scandalous” because of the notion of a God who was vulnerable and affected by human history. Aristotle’s God was totally unmoved and oblivious to human beings, whereas the biblical God was, as A. J. Heschel wrote, “in search of man” or, as Professor Lieberman remarked, “the most tragic figure in the Bible.”
The idea that divine perfection is a relational category involving interdependence begins in the biblical story of creation. The idyllic description of an omnipotent God, whose unbounded will is automatically realized in the material world (“Let there be … and there was …”), abruptly changes with the creation of human beings, who challenge and oppose the divine will. In the Bible, the development of the notion of covenantal history is related to the transition in the character of God from an independent, unilateral actor to a God who recognizes that only through human cooperation can the divine plan for history be realized.
Abraham is the first covenantal figure because of the presence of mutuality in his relationship with God. Abraham’s appeal to principles of morality—“Far be it from You … to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty.… Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Gen. 18:23–25)—reflects his unqualified belief in his intuitive sense of justice and love. His ability to judge God’s intended actions without having to “quote Scripture” reflects the dignity and dself-assurance of being in a covenantal relationship with God.