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GENESIS | 1:2 void — … the Torah announces many, many times that G-d ca...

… the Torah announces many, many times that G-d cares a great deal about whether we obey the commandments. Only then would it make sense for G-d to promise generous rewards for doing so and threaten excruciating punishments for failing to do so, and only then would G-d bother to establish law for us in the first place as an act of love. G-d in Search of Man is the title of a book by 20th-century Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel, and it correctly suggests, as he demonstrates in the book, that classical Judaism portrays a G-d who is very much interested in what human beings do. G-d does not need any physical sacrifice, as the pagans of old thought, but G-d “rejoices in His creatures,” as the Psalmist says. Psalm 104:31  The Rabbis were nevertheless able to step back from this theological foundation of the commandments to maintain that even without the religious reasons to obey them, there are good reasons of self-interest to do so – namely, that Jewish law calls us to become our higher selves, to improve our character and our human relations. The Rabbis thus sound in these passages as if they were speaking to many 21st-century Jews!  On the other hand, the Rabbis asserted the exact opposite claim too. You should obey the commandments not for your own benefit, but for G-d’s.  G-d, in fact, cares very much that Jews observe the commandments – so much so that G-d has made the continued existence of the world contingent on whether Jews fulfill the Torah’s commands: “What is the meaning of the words, ‘The earth feared and was still’ Psalms 76:9?’ …Before Israel accepted the Torah, the earth was afraid, after they accepted the Torah, it was still …. For the Holy Blessed One stipulated a condition with the earth: If Israel accepts the Torah, you may exist, but if not, I will return you to the state of being unformed and void [as before Creation, according to [this verse].” Shabbat 88a  “G-d said, ‘If you read the Torah, you do a kindness, for you help to preserve My world, for if it were not for the Torah, the world would again become ‘without form and void.’ … The matter is like a king who had a precious stone, and he entrusted it to his friend and said to him, ‘I pray you, pay attention to it and guard it, as is fitting, for if you lose it, you cannot pay me its worth, and I have no other jewel like it, and so you would sin against yourself and against me; therefore, do your duty by both of us, and guard the jewel as is fitting.’ So Moses said to the Israelites, ‘If you obey the Torah, not only upon yourselves do you confer a benefit, but also upon G-d,’ as it is said, ‘And it shall be a benefit for us.’ Deuteronomy 6:5 [The Midrash takes “us” in this biblical verse to mean G-d and Israel, and the word tzedakah – “righteousness” – it takes to mean benefit, which led to its later, more familiar meaning as charity.] Deuteronomy Rabbah, Nitzavim 8:5  To believe that G-d would never have created the physical world without the Jews’ acceptance of the Torah – that is, to take this rabbinic comment literally—not only tests the limits of our credulity but is disgracefully chauvinistic. Furthermore, it flies in the face of Judaism’s appreciation of people of other faiths being in the Noahide covenant with G-d. The comment, though, can have credible meaning, indeed, very important meaning, if we read it in the context of other things the Rabbis said. The first chapter of the Mishnah’s tractate Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) contains two passages that suggest that the Rabbis thought that the continued existence of the world as we know it functionally depends on the foundational values embedded in Jewish law: “Shimon the Just … used to say: ‘The world stands on three things: on Torah, on worship, and on acts of kindness’” 1:2; “Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel taught: ‘The world exists on the basis of three things: on justice, on truth, and on peace’” 1:18. It is not the physical world that depends on these values inherent in Jewish law. Without Torah, we would not have the gift of G-d’s guidance for our lives; without worship, we might think that only we matter, making it impossible to escape the self-centered way in which we are all-too-prone to think and act; and without acts of kindness none of us would be able to survive, either physically or emotionally.  Similarly, without justice and a government that enforces it, people would “kill each other alive,” as another passage from Avot [3:2] proclaims; without truth, nobody could know whom or what to trust; and without peace, as the Rabbis say elsewhere, none of the blessings of life matter.  Numbers Rabbah 11:7 In the Jerusalem Talmud, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel continues his teaching thus: “And all three are intertwined: when justice is done, truth is served, and peace ensues.” Ha-Am, Al Parshat Derakhim, 3:30 It is in this sense that the world—and especially human societies—depend upon these values underlying Jewish law. DORFFLGP 174-77


Source Key (i.e. FENDEL: Fendel, The Ethical Personality)DORFFLGP
Word (i.e. bless)void
Pages(See end of excerpt)


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