Be-har & Be-hukkotai
For the week of May 12, 2007 / 24 Iyar 5767
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 25:1 - 27:34
Haftarah: Jeremiah 16:19 - 17:14


Author's Intent

Do men make their own gods? Yes, but they are not gods! (Jeremiah 16:20)

I have a friend who is a university English professor. I was somewhat surprised when he explained to me that the general approach to studying literature today disregards the author's intent. Instead, the goal of literature is to get in touch with what the text means to the reader. Personal interpretation has become infinitely more important than what the writer of the work had attempted to communicate.

Maybe I am overly influenced by my own upbringing (elementary and secondary education in Canada starting in the early 1960's through the mid-1970's), but I thought if there was some way to ascertain the intent of a written work, then that would establish its meaning. I can accept that I may be affected by the work in a way that the writer didn't anticipate. But that is more a matter of application, not interpretation.

The reluctance today to seek original intent stems from the popular philosophy of relativism. According to this worldview, life is what you perceive it to be. There is no actual reality to get in touch with. Everything then becomes a matter of perception alone.

I find this way of thinking lacks integrity. Do people who claim to think like this actually expect others to treat their communications in the same way? If I receive a written message from someone, is it for me discover what it means to me or is it assumed that I will interpret the message in keeping with the author's intent.

The sooner I come to grips with the way things really are, the sooner I will live life in the way God intended me to. The sooner I adjust my perceptions to reality, the better it will be for me and for others in my life.

The words of Jeremiah from this week's Haftarah, confront relativism. People make gods; they create values and ideals; they establish principles and ways of thinking. But no matter how elaborate or impressive the things that we make might be, that which is false is false. Only what is really true is true.

A false god is a false god. It doesn't matter if it has been in the family line for generations or if others paid a high price for it. It is still false. It may take a long time before the truth is known, but its day of reckoning will come.

What I believe or you believe about life or God or truth or whatever, means nothing apart from its reality. Do not believe the lie that truth can't be known. The only ones who want you to believe that, are those who also want you to believe their lies.

Like all literature, the universe too has an author - an author who designed it with an intent - an intent that can be known. Whatever meaning people derive from the universe, it is about time we came to grips with its author's intent.

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