Judaism: Trust G-d

Are you needy? Never satisfied with what you’ve got? Dragged down by the constant advertising telling you what you ‘need’ and don’t have? If material satisfaction was the answer to all of humanity’s problems then surely by now, especially in the rich West, we should all be happy, content and spreading that wealth abroad to let others join us in our deep materialist satisfaction of human problem solving. But palpably this is not true.. and even if the theoretical elements were true, how would you ever know you’ve arrived? Just how much material gain IS satisfaction? So headlong in a fruitless and anxiety driven rush we lurch for the elixir of human striving, and in the process enslave countless millions to produce ‘things’ to satiate our lust for consumption. The Torah, in the sections detailing our walking in the wilderness, speaks to precisely this delusional hope in mankind. As we enter that wilderness the complaining starts; true, we didn’t want cars or TVs, just food (which might be understandable given the circumstances), yet the abundance of ‘blessing’ that the Lord gives in response to our whining illustrates an important point: He meets OUR perceived needs here, not what the true needs are.
This is precisely the human problem: we always want more. Greed, selfishness and personal gain at the expense of others drives us, our societies and cultures. As has often been commented upon, it lies at the very root of the system of Capitalism, and as the absolutely necessary philanthropic gloves come off, what is laid bare is ugly and crass. OUR needs, not what we truly need, sits at the heart of human discontentment. Instead of trusting G-d to provide, which is the basic Creational model set in motion at the beginning, we strive to provide what we feel we ‘need’, is our ‘right’ to have, possess and own. At whatever cost.
In Judaism we are taught to expect HIS provision every day, for what our daily needs truly are. He can be trusted and is faithful. That lesson we learnt in the wilderness and would be needed later as we experienced the fruit of our own labours in the Land: even what you have which is yours (or seems to be) is actually from HIM. IN this light we understand the prayer taught by Mashiach Yeshua ‘Give us this day our daily bread’. That is actually all we need.

Where is sin?

Sin. The word that has become so unpopular and out of fashion in today’s world. In a post-modern world where absolutes have become absolutely rejected and Liberalism has eroded the validity of holding and (dare we say) expressing personal views, sin as a concept and reality¬† is ready it seems to be put in a display cabinet at the Museum of Religion. Yet sin, and more importantly, knowing its location, actually sits at the heart of Judaism. And if Judaism has a message for the nations today (and it does), then that message must include the notion of sin, both its causes and effects.

So why am I asking where it is? The ‘locational’ aspect of sin is vital if we are to understand the core fundamental meaning structure of Judaism. At the very beginning as Chava was tested by the fruit of the tree it would have been very easy for her, and us today, to conclude that the seat of sin, of evil in our world, is external to mankind. It is ‘out there’, in the tree. Sin is something to be defeated in the world, outside of ourselves. Whole political philosophies and the collection of the world’s ‘isms’ are based upon such concepts: change the world and you’ll change mankind. This thinking has infiltrated our own thoughts today and and can be regularly heard as we blame anything, anyone and everything for our actions: I did X because of my family background, because of what I ate, because my bad school experience, because I was/am poor etc. If only we could change the world, the external forces arrayed against us we could improve everything! But right now we are all victims and everyone, everything else is to blame but me.

But that conclusion is one the Torah, and Judaism, rejects. When the judgement of G-d fell on the original situation with Chava and Adam, it was the humans who were condemned, not the fruit, the tree or anything else G-d had created. In fact, it was precisely because mankind did NOT take responsibility for the sin that judgement fell. We were judged because of our reactions to the ‘test’ placed before us; would we obey or rebel? Because we have free choice and a free will as part of the creational Image of G-d in all of us, it is our choices and decisions that are critical in any situation, not what is ‘out there’. Nothing can ‘force’ you to sin: we choose. That this is true is further substantiated in the next generations that follow, as G-d sadly regrets making mankind because ‘the intentions of his heart are evil all the time’. The wording is accurate ‘intentions of his HEART’. That is the seat of sin, of evil, it comes OUT OF man, not flows into him/her. It is how we react, choose and decide in each situation that determines sin and its effects in our lives and those of others. That we are predisposed to choose to rebel and sin is clear from human history.

If external things were the real problem and root of sin, then the only solution would be to destroy creation. But G-d made it good. Even at the time of Noach when this solution seemed to be the only one available, Noach nevertheless impressed G-d with his faith and ability to take a righteous stand amongst evil and sin. His faith; the faith of one man, stopped the destruction of the entire creation! It demonstrated once and for all that sin is not ‘out there’ but is in the heart, and if in the heart and nature of man, then it can be overcome too by faith (choosing what G-d wants) and the power of G-d. If we understand WHERE sin is, then we have a powerful redeeming message to preach and teach: change IS possible; salvation IS real.

In other forms of Judaism one can often hear about the innate ‘goodness’ of man. This flies in the face of the theoretical and real human situation as presented in the Torah. In fact, to take such a position undermines sacrifice itself which is a core component of Judaism. Sacrifice is for PEOPLE not for objects because that is where sin resides. The core idea of sacrifice proves this basic premise once and for all: sin is in the human heart, it is internal and not external, and that is where the changes need to happen, not on the outside.

Being in the world but not of the world is a foundational component of Judaism as outlined by Mashiach. We cannot flee this world, nor are we called to. Our mission as Jews is to redeem it with a message of hope that change IS possible and righteousness CAN stand through faith.

Maintaining a false dichotomy

Many years ago I remember an elderly man talking to a group of school children in a synagogue explaining to them that at the heart of Judaism was ‘deed not creed’. He went on to say that Judaism isn’t about what you believed, but how you acted. In essence, he concluded, as long as we adhere to the Shema, the rest is commentary. The children seemed to be impressed with these ‘wise’ words spoken by a Jewish man of such wide life experience. They troubled me then, and still do. Yet we still find such ‘parolen’ casually marshalled together to defend our faith against those who seem to espouse a merely faith-framed religion. The words have become a part of a demarcation zone, handed down and rarely challenged, Even an eminent Rabbi of Benjamin Blech’s standing cannot resist the inevitable draw of this statement (p48, Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Judaism) when he concludes ‘Judaism places deed over creed’.

Pause for a moment and consider this: as long as we do the ‘right thing’ what we believe is unimportant? Now, to be fair, I know that no Rabbi ever means that when these words are spoken, but to say them utterly undermines the reality of the Torah and the full revelation given to us by G-d. It is precisely because we believe and have faith that we act in a certain way. Just one example will suffice: it is logical for a pantheist to worship a tree because the a priori belief is that deity is resident in all the natural order and objects. Belief frames actions. Avraham was willing to leave his home nation and family (action) because of his nascent faith and trust (belief) in the One true G-d who had revealed Himself to him. So for Moses Mendelssohn to state ‘There is not in the Mosaic Law a single command ‘Thou shalt believe’. Faith is not commanded. Only actions are.’ (ibid p48) is to miss the point completely. The reality of this false deed/creed divide is seen even in the first commandment: ‘I am the Lord your G-d who brought you out of Egypt’, in other words a bold statement of historical, verifiable deeds which revealed the nature and character of our G-d; a statement and action that actually demands a response from us. And that response as an act of belief and faith is to keep the commandments that follow. Belief, faith, trust always precede action. These precede it because they frame our response to G-d and who He is, how He has revealed Himself to us. The commandments only make sense (the deeds) once we have established who we worship (the creed). As the leader of the first Messianic Jewish Din in Jerusalem said 2000 years ago ‘some will say ‘you have faith, I have deeds’, Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds’. Indeed as we know from the Scriptures ‘without faith it is impossible to please G-d’. Belief, faith, trust, accepting the yoke of Torah, all these and more connect in the spiritual realm to generate the deeds that follow true faith and belief. To act kiddush hashem is to fundamentally demonstrate the false dichotomy of the deeds v. creeds paradigm. Avraham believed G-d and had faith. Let us construct a Judaism that reflects this reality today in faith AND deed.