A Rabbi’s thoughts….
Judaism has always been understood to be a religion of revelation and not discovery. What that means in practice is that the source of all our Jewish understanding, commandments and traditions is from Heaven. As G-d spoke, so we know. Had He not shown us the way of righteousness, truth, love and mercy, we simply would not have known, nor yet worked it out for ourselves. Another way of looking at it is that if Judaism was a man made invention, a human conceptualised faith system, then it certainly wouldn’t have been designed in the way it is. For one, in the first set of 10 ‘commandments’ there would be one approximating ‘Thou shalt eat X every day’ (replace the X with whatever food you enjoy) – at least if I had written them! That they, the commandments, have stood the test of time and have influenced the legal and cultural basis of so many nations and empires over time is yet one more testimony to the enduring ‘other-worldly’ nature of Judaism. Even the strongest of human empires and the values they represent eventually fall apart, yet the Kingdom of G-d endures, as do the people of G-d, the Jewish people.
But having qualified the origins of Judaism, I want to add one caveat: what truth is to be had can be seen and valued precisely BECAUSE it is enduring and seen to have real value. It becomes tried and tested, eventually to the point whereby mankind can go on to make the somewhat audacious claim to have ‘discovered’ some eternal truth and reality, when in fact it has been as clear as the sun in the sky for an eternity past for those of faith. And it was one such claim, a ‘breakthrough’ moment for Prof Stephen Hawking this last week caught my eye. An eminent and influential man, his word carries weight. He is to be congratulated for his recent discovery of truth, and above all his willingness to publish it too. I quote from the article published on the mashable.com website (31st July 2016) link below:
“In a Guardian essay, the world-renowned physicist made the case for a more comprehensive and generous definition of wealth “to include knowledge, natural resources and human capacity.” ……. “We will need to adapt, rethink, refocus and change some of our fundamental assumptions about what we mean by wealth, by possessions, by mine and yours. Just like children, we will have to learn to share.” …… He goes on to explain how he came to see money “as a means to an end” but never as an end in itself. It’s an attitude that is becoming more widespread, he wrote: “People are starting to question the value of pure wealth. Is knowledge or experience more important than money? Can possessions stand in the way of fulfilment? Can we truly own anything, or are we just transient custodians?”
I am genuinely glad that Prof Hawking has published this questioning and probing analysis of the current human condition and its fruitless pursuit of happiness through wealth creation. With humility of course we have to acknowledge that such thoughts pre-date his conclusions by many thousands of years. As Jews we have known for a very long time that wealth in itself does not and can not buy happiness. Such transient things can only enhance the mere brevity of human life in comparison with eternity, and only highlight the otherwise empty void in our spirits and souls. Wealth is good, but it isn’t G-d. This point exactly was made by Mashiach (Messiah) Yeshua 2000 years ago when he said ‘you cannot serve G-d and mammon’. Laying up treasures in Heaven, he concludes, was a much sounder investment. The reason? Because where our treasure is, there will be found your heart. If G-d is your treasure beyond all comparison, then that’s where your heart will reside. Real wealth depends on what we give, not what we collect. In German there is a saying that it is better to give with a warm hand than a cold one, a thought that Judaism itself could have penned. The joy of giving, knowing that blessings are shared and not stored, fills the eternal investment banks of Heaven.
So I am glad that Prof Hawking has seen the light. It is sad that it has taken so long, but maybe we as Jews should take heart too. Maybe the world does and will eventually begin to join the dots and begin to seek G-d and His revelation. Maybe they’ll be pleasantly surprised at what they’ll find.