God’s Magnum Opus – An Introduction to Judaism

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GOD

Creator

There is a being who created this universe. He created matter, space and time. 

Sustainer

Not only did He create the universe, but it is dependent upon him for its continued existence. 

Supervisor

He is conscious and cognizant of all that happens. Not the slightest movement a grain of dust on the most distant of stars escapes his notice. 

Director

He is directing this world at every moment. He has a plan for the world as a whole and also for each and every one of us as individuals. He has a direction in which He is constantly focusing on an individual. He also has an end result at which the whole world will arrive. (This end result, we call moshiach) The path taken to this end results, however, is undefined. There are many paths: some shorter, some longer, some meander more and some less. Depending on the decisions we make, he responds in a manner that will keep us on one of these paths.

Imperative Existence

The creator exists because he exists. Whether or not he could have not existed is an unfathomable question. He does exist and therefore existence exists. He is, therefore he is. 

Primary & Secondary Existence

The form of his existence is of a completely different nature to all other existence. His existence is in no way dependent on any other existence. It is truly independent. It is because it is and will be because it will be. His existence is the only ‘primary’ existence. All other existence is ‘secondary’; its existence is entirely dependent, both practically, but more significantly, conceptually on his primary existence. 

This is the concept of the creator being infinite. He is primary to all of existence and thus spans all of existence. In Jewish thinking one of the names for the creator is ‘Hamakom’, the place. He is the place in which existence is rooted.

This creator, we call God.

MAN

Purpose of Existence

God created all of secondary existence for man. The whole world, and in fact the whole universe, is here only to serve man. The spiritual realms are also here to serve man. Every grain of sand, every gust of wind, every dust particle in the atmosphere, every star, every nova, every black hole, every proton, neutron and electron and every angel and spiritual force is here with the sole purpose of serving man. 

And man exists only in order to partake of God’s goodness. Man, of all creatures – both physical and spiritual – is created in a way that he is most able to take pleasure in God’s goodness. 

The reason God did this is as follows: God is perfect in every way. Part of his perfection is that he is a perfect giver. But in order to give, a beneficiary is required, and as he is infinite, there exists no beneficiary unless he creates one. Basically, we just got lucky. God’s essence demanded that he give, so he created us in order to give to us. This is not the selfish act that it could appear to be. It is required by his nature that he give (because giving is part of perfection) and he had, therefore, no choice but to create man. It was merely a natural extension of the nature of his perfection. 

To extend this idea, God does not have freewill in the way we understand freewill. He does not have options and choices. He is what he is and must be what he must be. His actions are dictated by the nature of his being.

To be limited to being infinite is, by definition, not a limitation.

God’s ‘Problem’

The greatest good that God can give, in fact the only good he can give is relationship with goodness – i.e. him. If we are to experience goodness, we must do so by relating to him. In order to have a relationship, any relationship, there must be similarity between the two sides of the relationship. If God is all giving and we are all taking, we will be completely incapable of relating to him. We may experience his goodness, but it would only be on a very superficial level, like a dog can benefit from and enjoy human goodness. This is God’s ‘problem’. How do you create a being that you want purely to give to, yet not make that being into a pure taker?

God’s solution is as follows: in order for us to fully experience (and not just benefit superficially from) true goodness, we must ourselves become like God – independent givers. Once we achieve this, we are able to partake of his goodness.

God’s wisdom dictated that this would be done through 2 separate realms of existence – this world and the next. As the Rabbis say, ‘this world is to do and the next is to partake of goodness’.

The period of time necessary for these different realms of existence is not equal. The time of this world is kept to a bare minimum as this world is only a corridor to the next. The next world is eternal.

Freewill

This world, therefore, is a world of freewill. A world in which we can firstly choose independence, then use that independence to choose to be Godly. 

Freewill is a double edged sword – our greatest gift and our greatest challenge. Life in this world without freewill is not worth living. You might as well just be enjoying the next world, albeit on a shallow level. Freewill means that we can choose to be whoever we want to be. Almost nothing is beyond us – we have the power to bring the dead back to life, to bring peace to the world, to communicate with animals, to rebuild the garden of Eden – if we choose to do so. We also have the power to kill, to make war and to destroy our world – should we choose to do so. The decisions required for the latter are much easier than those required for the former. That is why most human beings make the choices that they do.

The purpose of freewill is twofold. Firstly, it makes us independent so that God can give to us as independent beings (otherwise he is just giving to himself). But it also gives us the opportunity to use that independence in a Godly way so that we can learn to relate to God on increasingly deeper levels.

Body and Soul

In order to make freewill a reality, there needs to be a part of human beings that by nature moves away from God and a part that by nature moves towards God. The latter is easy. A soul that is God-like in nature will naturally move towards God. But what about moving away from God? That is a bit trickier. Perhaps this is God’s greatest creation – the yetzer hara or the body. It is a part that wishes to escape God, escape reality. It only wants the comfort of nothingness. It wants the ease of the grave, but is willing to take refuge in temporary graves if it can’t get the real thing.

The two parts are finely balanced so that choices which are made are meaningful ones.

No one has more freewill than anyone else. From the quadriplegic in a hospital bed to George Bush in the Whitehouse, each has equal opportunity to choose greatness. And equal opportunity to choose evil. Every one of us can be a Moses. Every one of us can be a Stalin.

Freewill is most often expressed in action, but not is not limited to action. In fact, actions are only the superficial expression of freewill. Its ultimate expression lies in decisions that affect character and attitude.

Changing the World

We have before us three avenues through which we can change the world around us.

1. Action: we can choose to interact with our world and change it through our interaction

2. Prayer: we can choose to yearn for something. God takes seriously our requests and will give to us based on the level or commitment to what we want.

3. Teshuva (return to self): Through choosing to change ourselves, we change the world. The material world is very much affected by the spiritual world. The reason that we do not have all that we want and all that we need is that it would not be best for us in our lowered spiritual state. If we break out of that state into an enlightened spiritual state, we can make ourselves into vessels that are ‘worthy’ of receiving God’s goodness. For example, the man who develops the character of humility within himself is a more fitting vessel to contain God’s wisdom

In reality, teshuva is the operative element in the other two. By strengthening our commitment to something through prayer, we change our spiritual state – teshuva. Equally, by expressing our commitment through action, we change our spiritual state – teshuva.

This is why a quadrapalegic has the same ability to shape and change the world as George W. Bush. In a way, it is easier for him, because he is not distracted by the easiest, but least powerful of our means of changing the world – that of action.

All three of these human powers work on the level of good and the level of evil. All three can be used in the pursuit of moving towards or away from God.

God responds to human decisions, be they good or be they bad.

THE JEWISH PEOPLE

God wanted and wants his world to be aware of him and live in a Godly fashion. As I said, it is what will provide every human being with fulfilment – the purpose of creation in the first instance. 

He wanted a world that would choose to appreciate this on its own, but this did not happen. Starting with the very first man, the world chose to move away from God. It moved into pursuing the desires of the body. And as society degenerated, individuals found it harder and harder to make meaningful decisions in the new Godless environment. Few they were who were able to go against the tide and live in a way that God had planned in his creation – Mesushelach, Chanoch and Noach were such men.

Abraham was such a man also. Amongst his many greatnesses was that of being an ‘ivri’ or Hebrew; someone who stood for what he perceived as right even when all of society said that he was wrong. He knew there was one God when the whole world was convinced of many powers. He knew that being good was the goal of life when all of humanity was steeped in self-indulgence. He knew that life is a struggle for Godliness when the whole world viewed it as pursuit of material interests.

He also knew that knowledge is responsibility. Hoarding wisdom is as wrong as living without it in the first place. Wisdom must be shared. We share this world and share responsibility for each other. To live in the way God wants, while the whole world moves away from God, is a contradiction in terms.

Let me use an analogy. A father has 10 sons and one of those sons loves his father deeply and wants to make his father as happy as possible. After all, his father did bring him into the world and provide for all of his needs. If that son is good and loving and serves his father with a full heart, but all of his brothers do not, his father will not be happy. For a father, one out of ten is not good enough, no matter how good the one is. (For a true father, even nine out of ten is not good enough. It’s not a game of odds. Each child is precious.) The only way for that son to make his father truly happy is not only to serve him, himself, but also to encourage and educate his brothers to do the same. The son who truly loves his father will reach out to his brothers. The son who is interested only in himself, not his father, will be happy to be the favourite.

Abraham understood that loving God meant reaching out to people. Not just reaching out to people, but taking responsibility for them and changing them.

The Jewish people was devised as a macro Abraham. The Jewish people was to be to nations what Abraham was to individuals.

God had a task he needed doing, that of moving the world back towards Godliness, and He chose the Jewish people to carry it out. 

Let’s understand here. The Jewish people were, and are, spiritual as well as physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They inherited their spiritual genes – a nation that wanted to live with God, that wanted to serve God in repayment for his incredible goodness and, by so doing, find the fulfilment that this brings. Such a nation could not help but have, as a national goal, the focus of being a light to other nations. Such a nation, by definition, must teach the world about God. It was obvious, then, that this nation should be chosen by God for such a task. It was not a matter of God displaying any sort of favouritism. It was merely a self selecting process.

God did not just appoint us to this task; he made a covenant with us to do so. To understand this, let’s look at part of the prayer service that we say on all Festivals – the festivals, of course, being a time that we refocus ourselves on our national destiny ‘…and he called us by his great and holy name’. It is the climax of the section defining our relationship with God, yet seems a little enigmatic. What exactly does it mean?

God tied our destinies together. Until the Jewish people were appointed as his nation, a non Jew looking for God in a real way could have his own personal relationship. He could worship and serve God in his own way, teach others in his front garden and be a good person in his living room. Mt Sinai changed the reality of the world. For a non Jew to live with God properly, he now must also have a relationship with the Jewish people. The Jewish people represent God in this world. If a non Jew wishes to relate to God, he must go via the Jewish people. 

This is not an elitist concept. Any non Jew can choose to become a Jew. It is a responsibility much more so than it is a privilege. 

The way this was meant to happen and has actually happened are slightly different, which can cause some confusion. I will talk first about what was meant to happen. (This was the ideal scenario, though the result could have been the same through slight variations.)

The Jewish people would be forged in the smelting pot of Egypt. They would leave with the fanfare of great miracles and take a very short route to Israel. Moses would have entered the land at the head of the Jewish people. The Canannites would have been destroyed through miraculous means and a Temple would have been built. The Jews would begin to live a life of Godliness, while building a ‘modern’ political state that had relationships with its neighbours and the broader world. Nations of the world would have been completely and utterly unable to ignore this country. The contrast between ways of life would have been too stark. They would have come to learn and sent emissaries; they would have come to sacrifice in our Temple; they would have met with our sages and leaders and learned to live in the way that God wished and wishes them to. This would, quite quickly, have heralded the messianic era, which is the era in which the world is functioning as it should – albeit post the Garden of Eden. A world which is focused on attaining Godliness – and nothing else.

This was the ideal scenario, but as we all know, this is not what happened. 

The Jewish people made the mistaken decisions that they did – most notably the golden calf and the spies. They chose to move away from God because such close proximity was just too overpowering. Who can live with God looking over his shoulder 24 hours a day?

As such, the level to which God related directly to the Jewish people diminished. (God always responds directly to our decisions.) They did not enter the land straight away. They were no longer worthy of Moses as a leader. They had to fight the Canaanites. It all became much less Godly and much more mundane – which was exactly the path that the Jewish people had chosen (they just hadn’t been real with the downsides).

The battle to be a light to the nations now became that much more difficult, because we were no longer strong in ourselves and because we were no longer living with God at the level we had been doing so pre calf and spies.

Our task of changing the nations became much more complex – because we, ourselves, were not the nation we were meant to have been.

Instead of the movement of the world in the direction of God being a one way street, the scenario became more sophisticated. We did not set the example we were meant to, so the nations did not learn. The Jewish people was still not a nation that could be ignored, but the choice of how to respond to it was much less obvious than it should have been. There now became two distinct paths that a nation or individual could take.

Any nation or individual that loved God, would naturally love the Jewish people. And any nation or individual that hated God, would hate the Jewish people. This was, I believe, planted in the psyche of the nations of the world at Mt. Sinai (though needn’t have come to the fore in its negative sense had the Jewish People done what it was meant to have done). Subconsciously, they associated God and the Jewish people. A nation that wishes to move further from God, must disassociate itself from the Jewish people and, vice versa. This is true also for individuals. 

Hence you have Adolf Hitler whose quarrel with the Jewish people does not seem in any way based on the experience of Jews. And it is not. It is based on subconscious knowledge. And at the other extreme, you have Bible belt Christians of America who love the Jewish people, but again have very little experience of Jews.

This covenant is an eternal covenant. Even if we Jews were to begin worshipping the devil, the non Jews would still relate to us as God’s emissaries. Where we lead, the nations will follow – be it to heaven or be it to hell. And if we choose not to lead – as we are doing today – the nations will still follow. Jews are very much news.

Let’s skip through over 3000 years of history until today very quickly. I could talk about the descent of the Jewish people to where it has landed today. And it was a very definite and clear path that it took to where it is. But how and why are not so relevant. What matters is what.

The new Jewish people – post Moses – was still meant to struggle to build a model state. A state that would stand out as a beacon in a dark world, that would be a state of high morals and deep wisdom. It would be generous to its neighbours, expansionist in its policies and sharing in its vast spiritual resources to all who were needy. It would show the way and, gradually, the world would follow. It would be a slower process than God had in mind originally, but it could still work.

Galus

For 500 years, there were ups and downs – the ups being times like that of Chizkiyahu, Yoshiyahu and Shlomo, the downs being times like that of Achav, Yeravam and Menashe. 

Finally, it became clear that the Jewish people would not accomplish its mission in the proscribed method. And God formulated a radical new response: exile. 

There are a number of goals that exile achieves.

Firstly, it is a humbling experience. It forced the Jewish people to fully examine who they were and where they had been going. It is easy to fool yourself that things are OK inside when they are OK outside. But when you have been thrown out of your land, even the most stubborn of people could surely not argue that all was well with the Jewish people. God was not happy and this was now abundantly clear. It forced, therefore, a major national soul searching.

Secondly, exile means you are now amongst the non Jews. Part of the reason the Jewish people were misled in the first place was in their desire to be more like the non Jews. They wanted the comforts of non Jewish life. They didn’t want the challenges that Judaism had to offer. They wanted to escape the responsibility. Now they were amongst the non Jews. It’s like when a dog wets, you rub his nose in it to show him what he has done. You want to be like the non Jews, God says, well here they are; you are surrounded by them. Let’s see just how like them you really want to be. It was a shocking experience for the Jewish people. That which looked so enticing from afar, when experienced close up, was absolutely abhorrent – and deadly.

Thirdly, the Jewish people are compared to an olive. The more you squeeze, the more goodness comes out. They are good under pressure, complacent when things are good. If they could not live up to what they were meant to be when all was well, perhaps they could do so when all was not well. The Talmud tells us to beware of the children of paupers for from them arise wise scholars. The Jewish people was made into collective paupers. Perhaps it would help them see a little more sense.

A small portion of the Jewish people did reawaken to its national destiny and returned to build another republic under the leadership of Ezra and Nechemia. But it was not as the first was. It was only a small portion of the Jewish people and it lacked the force, the manpower and the cohesion of the first. It lasted another few hundred years and, obviously, God thought it still had the ability to achieve its mission or He would not have tolerated it for that long.

But this too fell apart. It descended into political Judaism and internecine violence. The Romans came and merely mopped up the mess we had made.

And so we come to the exile of Edom – our present exile. I believe that, apart from the other reasons stated for exile, there is a further purpose to this exile.

This is fundamentally different to the Babylonian exile in that Babylon was mostly an exile from Israel whereas Edom is mostly an exile from God. Even today, with the land of Israel returned to us, we remain in exile in our own land. God has ‘hidden his face from us’. He has made it that we no longer experience him in day to day life. I think there are two purposes for this.

Firstly, it gives us a longing for God that we came to miss through familiarity. The Jewish people, perhaps, needed to fall so low that it knew that its only hope lay in God.

But secondly, I have my own theory. That the Jewish people needed to move away from Judaism for historical reasons. 

The Jewish people accepted Torah on Mt Sinai. But how could they not? They had left Egypt amidst miracles, seen a sound and light show like no other and heard God himself talk. There was no choice in the matter. A relationship like this, though inherently weak, can work and God was hoping that it might. But it did not. Now we need to build a different relationship with Torah, a stronger relationship than the first time around. We need to move away from Torah and come to realise just how lost we are without it. We need to abandon our lifeblood and realise that without it we are dead. That is, albeit on a small scale, what we see happening in our generation. This didn’t happen in Babylon because Torah was never abandoned. But our generation has the potential – and perhaps it is the first in Jewish history with this potential – to choose Torah because we know it is exactly what we need. The exile has created this environment for us and surely this was one of its purposes. It is the one ray of light in an otherwise bleak time in Jewish history.

State of the Union

In spite of all the mistakes we have made. In spite of our running headlong from God from day one of our existence, we have accomplished much. The very existence of a Jewish people in this world has an incredible influence. The kiddush Hashem of our very being is enough to change the world. And change the world, we have. The world is now basically monotheistic. No one, except for small and isolated tribes seriously believes that idols have power. Even religions like Hinduism have been influenced by monotheism. More and more they have come to believe that they are praying to one god through their idols, as opposed to praying to the idols themselves. Although technically still idol worship, it is miles ahead of pagan society.

The world, as a whole, understands some fundamental values – peace on earth, love for humanity, universal justice and education, struggling for personal truth… The world accepts these as values and pays lip service to them. And this is, almost exclusively, due to Jewish influence – both conscious and subconscious. The world knows these values, believes in them, talks of them, but… the world has not yet assimilated them as the foundations of its societies. 

And therein lies the remainder of our mission.

The Future

The future is clear, but no less challenging as a result. The JP must rebuild itself. It must be reawoken and reintroduced to its mission. It is still a nation that is capable of great things – even of bringing this world to its ultimate perfection. But it does not realise that it is. It has been sold down the river by the West’s lies of materialism, liberalism and relativism.

But Jews have been at the forefront of almost every great revolution in the Western World this century. Jewish revolutionaries spearheaded the Russian revolution in complete disproportion to their relative numbers in Russia. Jewish lawyers fought at the heart of civil rights movement and Jews were passionately involved in the feminist movement.

Jews will fight to make things happen. They are idealists. The Talmud tells us that they are ‘tzmayim laasos rtzon konam’ – thirsty to do the will of their creator. They have a thirst that will not be satisfied until they understand God and are fighting to bring Him to this world. Jews who do not know that may fight for civil rights, for communism, for success in business, for new vistas in medicine, physics and mathematics – but it will never satisfy them. It is not what the Jewish soul is seeking and will always, ultimately, leave them feeling empty.

The cause of the Jew is the cause of ethical monotheism. And it is the only cause that will ever satisfy him.

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