How to thrive as a Jew.

The Mashiach, the Jewish Messiah said ‘I have come to bring you Life, Life in all its fullness’. Who doesn’t want Life? Who would be so foolish to turn down such an offer? But this isn’t just any life, this is Life offered by the living G-d of Israel, His Life that when appropriated courses through our spiritual veins causing our lives, physical and spiritual to flourish and bloom. In it we discover our reason to live and purpose to exist at all. No one would disagree that we need that Life. Laying hold of it, appropriating it and even defining it however are more complicated challenges. Because one thing is true today: in our Jewish communities wherever we are we need more of the Life of G-d in our midst. This is not a Life that can be created artificially by emotion, deeper thinking or even by establishing more programmes for children, teenagers, young mums or trips for pensioners, as good as all those are. Being busier and more engaged creates more heat but not necessarily more Light. In a thought-provoking article in the Jewish Chronicle (UK 31.5.13) Simon Rocker in his essay on Judaism dares to ask the question ‘Can Jewish life thrive if God is on the sidelines?’ He notes that many Jews are merely following tradition, religious ritual, without believing in its divine origins. Judaism it seems is becoming increasingly a cultural club, a social unit which derives its validity and legitimacy from history alone, a vague sense of ancestry and ethnic descent rather than a definite calling into existence as a nation, a people by a G-d who planned for our geopolitical and theocratic space in time. Rocker, quoting Rabbi David Goldberg, highlights the absence of something that should surely worry us as Jews: “What had largely gone was the concept of a personal G-d who intervened in history and gave the commandments.”

So can Judaism and Jewish life thrive without G-d? Maybe we should be encouraging more observance of the mitzvot, will more observance mean more of G-d? I suggest that Torah has a different route in mind. The highest commandment is to love the Lord our G-d with all our hearts, minds and strength. Notable by its absence is the command to love Judaism, rather we are to love the Giver of Judaism, the Giver not the gift. Our faith as Jews centres around the G-d who gives revelation to us, to deny Him as first source is to effectively deny Judaism and condemn Jewish existence to a cultural backwater equal to other cultures. To love G-d first means we have to know whom we love. We cannot love an idea, a concept, a philosophy, nor can we love an impersonal force, demi-urge or absent clockmaker. To love is to know. To know is to have the basis of relationship. And the Prophet Jeremiah sums all this up thus; “they shall all know me, from the least to the greatest” Jer 31:34. To know G-d and have a personal relationship with Him is the pinnacle of Jewish existence and Life in all its fullness.

So, can Jewish life thrive without G-d? No. Judaism is about G-d, who He is and our relationship with Him. That this relationship forms culture is obvious, but to live with the end-product rather than the first source is to rob Jewish life of its power and transformational aspects.