Times of Israel, May 23, 2023
“As I understand Shagar, he is suggesting that revelation changes everything. But while Badiou suggested that the event changes everything by destroying what came before, Shagar suggests that what existed before the event is not destroyed, but transformed by it.”
With the conclusion of Passover last month, we now find ourselves in the period of the Jewish calendar known as the Omer, the 49-day span between the Exodus from Egypt marked on Passover and the giving of the Torah celebrated on Shavuot, which begins this year on Thursday evening, May 25. Jewish tradition considers these two holidays inextricably linked, the seven weeks between them seen as an incremental process of purification from the defilement of slavery to a state in which the Israelites were able to receive the Torah. In this sense, Passover and Shavuot are bookends, each representing a stage in the process of freedom.
But what if Passover and Shavuot are actually opposites — not compatible but in tension with one another? This is what Rabbi Shimon Gershon Rosenberg, known as Rav Shagar, argues in his homily “In the Name of the Father.” Rav Shagar was a student of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook and a widely read spiritual leader in the religious Zionist movement focusing on postmodernism and traditional Judaism. He died in 2007 at the age of 57.
Shagar’s essay is built on the work of French philosopher Alain Badiou, and specifically his notion of the “event” — an occurrence so unprecedented and revolutionary it changes everything. Shagar wants to contrast the event that is the giving of the Torah with the mere “enlightenment” (he’arah) of Passover. The enlightenment that is the Exodus might be extraordinary. It might even be miraculous. But it is not unique. Nothing new came into the world with the Exodus; it merely rearranged what already existed.
Revelation, however, is an event. The giving of the Torah introduces something that has never before existed, and thus shakes the very foundations of existence.
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