Putting Principles Positively
“Put things positively,” we hear. Take the title of our last issue, “Nobody Needs to Convert to Judaism.” Turn it, we’re told, into the much more positive “Judaism Teaches that God Rewards Goodness Regardless of One’s Creed.”
So we should ask, for example, “Of all the world’s religions, are any more sensible and exceptional than following HaShem?” In a world dominated by “scientific” skepticism, atheism and neo-paganism, we should, so we’re told, emphasize the unique greatness of this path.
“You shall be holy because I HaShem your God am holy.”
“You shall love HaShem your God with all your heart.”
“You shall serve HaShem your God.”
“You shall walk in His ways.”
“I give you good guidance: do not forsake My Torah.”
What a pity – what a tragedy – that most people alive today will never read these words.
Most educated people, particularly Jewish people, think: “Why even look at a Bible when it’s full of nonsense? Who can treat it seriously if it means accepting what’s impossible? Burning bushes that don’t burn, plagues coming on-command, seas splitting open, Divine voices out of nowhere…?”
Only about a quarter of Jewish college graduates in America, according to a Pew Research Center poll released last year (April 26, 2017), believe in any god at all.
Yet the Torah itself reflects on the fantastic nature of its contents:
“Has there ever been any such thing as this great thing, or has [even] been heard like it? Did ever a people hear the voice of God speaking out of the fire, as YOU [“you” personally, individually] have heard … Has God assayed to go and take Him a nation from the midst of another nation, by temptations, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by an outstretched arm, and by great terrors… before your eyes?” – Deuteronomy 4:32-34.
God cherishes nature, including the ordinary course of nature. It’s His will, after all, ordained and maintained by Him. So He normally uses perfectly “natural” miracles to achieve His goals.
“Man cannot see God and live” (Exodus 33:20). HaShem can’t go around overawing us without damaging us – shocking us into cowed dependence, on the one hand, or goading us into rebellion (“if You’re so loving, why did You kill my beloved?”) But He will, very rarely, change nature, to answer some great need or manifest and publicize His power (Exodus 19:9; Deuteronomy 4).
Please consider these two points:
1) Every man-made religion – other than the ancient “nature religions” whose origins are purely legendary, like Voodoo or Shinto - comes from an alleged revelation to just one individual: Saul, or Paul, on the road to Damascus, for Christianity; Zoroaster; the man called the Buddha; Mohammed; L. Ron Hubbard, Scientology; Joseph Smith, Mormonism; etc. The one and only collective revelation in human history is the Torah’s. It wasn’t just Moses who stood at Sinai!
2) God doesn’t force belief in Him through miracles. The miracles of the Exodus were one-time only, and even then some people – Pharaoh, for instance - chose to discount the plagues of Egypt and the Parting of the Sea as completely natural events. Which indeed they were, no doubt: except that God timed them for His purposes. At Mount Carmel, centuries later, Elijah impressed the Jews by seemingly invoking a violent thunderstorm in the midst of a summer drought, but that didn’t impress Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 19:2).
Indeed, the Torah itself strongly cautions us against the uncritical acceptance of miracles. Rather, it’s up to every person to decide whether to follow Him or not.
Mainly, what God commends to the world, to “prove Himself” and validate the Bible, beyond the wondrous and utterly unique nature of Israel’s collective revelation, aren’t physical miracles but the celestial brilliance of its Teaching. HaShem’s prophet, speaking to all Israel, declares:
“This is your wisdom and understanding in the sight of the nations [“goyim”], that shall hear all these [Torah] statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation [“goy”] is a wise and understanding people… What nation is there so great that has statutes and judgments so righteous as all this Torah?” - Deuteronomy 4:6-8.
If any religion in all of human history deserves the benefit of the doubt, this is that religion.
Just ask yourself, what other Scripture and religion:
Is so protective of the rights of slaves, the poor, and foreigners, and strangers?
Is less haunted by ghosts and demons?
Is so concerned and protective of the welfare of animals?
So fosters literacy?
Features the world’s lowest levels of alcohol and drug addiction? (Mormons boast of even lower levels - by not counting those whom they cast out after being caught using drugs or alcohol.)
Sparked the genesis of Christianity, in all its varieties; Zoroastrianism; and Islam?
Has a cosmology – the creation of the universe out of nothing but God’s will – that actually makes sense?
Has a theology – the fact of a God Who is genuinely “with it,” involved with the world, kindly, compassionate, forgiving and all-knowing, Who is both imminent and transcendent, and greater than His Creation – that makes sense? (Who else has a God Who is actually worth worshipping?)
So emphasizes the fact of human free-will, and the power and effectiveness of repentance?
So discourages anything that might, in the mind’s eye, delimit God, as by portraying him as a physical, material Being – when nothing material can possibly be everywhere at once, timeless and eternal and all powerful – or a Being opposed by a Satan?
Contains a body of continuously realized prophecy (just consider the promises of progress, and the eternal story of Israel in the world)?
Contains a body of prophecy that’s accepted by other major religions?
Demands and expects more, not less, from “the best people,” than from others? “Through those who are near me I will be sanctified.” - Leviticus 10:3. “With the righteous, God is exacting even to a hair’s breadth.” - Talmud, Yevamot 121b.
Teaches the eternality of the human soul - without mixing it all up with ghosts, jinns, spells, magic, devils, or demons?
Goes back beyond Moses, and Israel, and Abraham, to Shem, and Noah, and the earliest true humans?
Is so reviled so often by history’s most awful characters, Nazis, Inquisitors, Cossacks, Crusaders, Hamans, Stalinists and other Communists, the Ku Klux Klan, and racists and xenophobes in general?
Welcomes questions -“no question is a bad question” – and debate?
Teaches that one doesn’t have to subscribe to any particular religion to be an exceptionally worthy good person and reap infinite rewards?
And so on… Simply put, the religion of this so-called “Old Testament” is far too real, substantial and exceptional for any genuinely thoughtful person to dismiss.
By Michael Dallen