Every time I preach a sermon, the substance of which I had given to the men in the sermon seminar, I realize how much more difficult it is to speak from the pulpit than to teach in class. The more important the idea expounded, the greater the difference in the amount of care that has to be given to the development and illustration of it.
When I had distributed to the men at the sermon seminar the outline on How to Seek God, I was sure that I could give a repeat performance of it from the S.A.J. pulpit on Rosh Hashanah, without giving it any more thought.
When the time came for preaching it approached, and I looked over the notes, I realized that, while it succeeded in driving home the thought that we must look to those traits in man which are reflected in the divine attributes of Avinu Malkeynu, Moshiyenu [Heb. Our father our King, our savior ] to give us a sense of the reality of God, and that those traits are still only inchoate and that God is therefore to be sought in the future of man, I had not indicated how we can recognize godhood or divinity when we so experience it.
The need for answering that question led me to discover again, but this time with greater clarity than ever, that the moment we transcend our own egos and identify ourselves with one other person we are on the way toward God. God is thus the reality experienced as we-consciousness, in the same way as the self or soul is the reality experienced as I- or self-consciousness.
But, and this is the most important fact to reckon with, just as the true self or soul is rarely identified or experienced, because of our tendency to treat some particular drives or impulses and their satisfaction as constituting our true self or soul, so we mistakenly regard as the experience of godhood any one of the many self-identifications with others, with family, friends, city, state, nation or class, stopping short, far from the limits of mankind as a whole. All these experiences are valuable as on the way to God, but misleading and a source of evil, when considered as the reality of God. That is fundamentally the implication of the unity of God as proclaimed in our Shema.
Kaplan was tireless in helping his students even after they became rabbis. Every summer he conducted sermon seminars for Conservative rabbis in order to help them with their High Holiday preaching. He would give them ideas which they discussed together.
Here we see Kaplan being like the rest of us in thinking he can take his notes from the seminars after the passage of a month and simply use them to deliver a Rosh Ha-shannah sermon he had worked on before. Perhaps more importantly , he shares with us a thought from the sermon, that the connections we make with the other are the route to the divine. This thought is much more familiar from Buber or Levinas than from Kaplan but here it is simply and powerfully stated. Kaplan goes beyond the identification with the other and cautions us to remember that such identification is only the beginning of our search for the divine.
We might also note the last paragraph where Kaplan implores us to continue our search for the divine beyond the highest ethical ideals we hold.