Let us go back to the Jewish perspective on human history.
Adam was created with a Godly soul. In eating from the tree, he contaminated that soul. He did not make it evil, unredeemable other than by the blood of another. But he sullied it. It is my personal belief that God (in the back of His mind so to speak) had in mind for this to happen. It has opened up for humanity incredible vistas of freewill and human potential. Without Adam eating, a Moses or an Abraham would not have been possible.
The soul that Adam was left with, whilst sullied, remained holy and uplifted. For 18 generations from Enosh (Adam’s grandson) until Abraham, humanity descended further and further into the material world and away from its spiritual essence. It descended into Idolatry and Pagan practice. Until Abraham. Abraham recognized One God and strove to teach the world his ideas. Ultimately he was unsuccessful – one man against an entire world. But he found success in his son and his grandson. The choices that he, his son and grandson made lifted their souls once again to a level that Adam was at after he left the garden. Their soul was changed in reality, not just in how they acted. And this different soul was passed on genetically to their descendants. This soul can, of course, still retreat back, but it took 18 generations the first time and would take something similar a second time around.
God did not want for this soul to be restricted to the descendants of Abraham. However, it would require, as it did with Abraham, serious conscious choices on behalf of an individual to make the necessary changes. He recognized that this would not happen without some level of external input. So He appointed the Jewish People with this task. It was the only choice, really. The Jewish People had attained, through choices of their ancestors, this level. Now they were the ones who could bring others along also.
However, there is an important caveat.
It requires meaningful freewill decisions for a person to make that level of spiritual change. So we certainly cannot convert by the sword (as other religions have done in their history – even if they might conveniently forget that they have). But we also cannot coerce or encourage. There is only one choice – lead by example. The Jewish People were given a Torah, a guidebook to Godly existence – and told to live by it even in the most adverse of circumstances. Even if it meant suffering and dying to uphold its values, that is what they must do. And this, of course, is the best way to teach the world. And the way that we have taught the world. The most significant values of Christianity and Islam come from Judaism, from Jews. The world watched us live and eventually began to learn.
Our living of Torah has, however, been far from perfect, and so their learning has been far from perfect. There is still a great deal of confusion. The Christians believe in original sin – mankind is essentially evil. They believe in a painful Hell – in spite of a loving God. They believe there is no hope for a person outside of Christianity. The Muslims believe in forced conversion, in global Jihad and have a deep lack of sense of value for human life. Things are not right and we, the Jews, accept this as our responsibility. Had we lived properly, we would have lifted the collective soul of humanity in the way we are meant to. It is not too late for that – and still the goal that we strive for, or should be striving for if we would but understand it.
We cannot encourage conversion because it requires a level of sincerity greater than encouragement can provide. It requires a person to find it ‘on his own’ so to speak, as Abraham did. Though each individual has an easier time than Abraham, given that Abraham had nowhere to go. An individual today has the Jewish People to go to. We are reluctant to convert because we require that sincerity, we want to confirm it – for the sake of the convert, not for our own sake. We would do a convert no favours to convert him if he was not ready to undertake the great challenge of being a Jew. We are not looking to promote our religion. It’s not about strength or rightness in numbers. It’s about sincere care for every individual. And wanting each person to make the right choice in the appropriate way.
If there is a shortcoming, as I have said, it is in the example we set. Were we setting the right example, we believe that non Jews would come flocking to convert with complete sincerity. And we would welcome them with open arms. Given our own weakness, only few come and we need to be confident that those that do know what they are getting themselves into. If there is anything to change, it is our own commitment, our own sincerity, the way we live our lives and example that we set. That is where we are letting the world down. God wants all of His children at the dinner table, but, they all walked away and only a few have returned. Those few are charged with bringing the others back. Unfortunately, they are not doing the job properly and so the others are not coming back. God will not take away their freewill and force them. His table will remain open and He will be patient – with us and with them.
There are those who do return. My father in law, for example. He saw the Jewish People and was impressed. He had no issue with it being a hard road to conversion because he wanted to test his own commitment and sincerity. He did not want to be a Jew if he was not up for it. In the end, he made his own personal choice to return to the dinner table. It is the only way possible. There are no shortcuts, no quick fixes. The mess took 18 generations to create. It will not be solved with some holy water or some words. It requires soul wrenching changes, painful and challenging decisions and struggle for the rest of a person’s life.
Any non Jew who understands and appreciates this will be welcomed by the Jewish People with open arms.