The Light at the Heart of Darkness

by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Tyranny cannot destroy humanity. Moral courage can sometimes be found in the heart of darkness.


She is one of the most unexpected heroes of the Hebrew Bible. Without her, Moses might not have lived. The whole story of the exodus would have been different. Yet she was not an Israelite. She had nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by her courage. Yet she seems to have had no doubt, experienced no misgivings, made no hesitation. If it was Pharaoh who afflicted the children of Israel, it was another member of his own family who saved the decisive vestige of hope: Pharaoh’s daughter. Recall the context. Pharaoh had decreed death for every male Israelite child. Yocheved, Amram’s wife, had a baby boy. For three months she was able to conceal his existence, but no longer. Fearing his certain death if she kept him, she set him afloat on the Nile in a basket, hoping against hope that someone might see him and take pity on him. This is what follows:

Pharaoh’s daughter went to bathe in the Nile, while her maids walked along the Nile’s edge. She saw the box in the reeds and sent her slave-girl to fetch it. Opening it, she saw the boy. The child began to cry, and she had pity on it. “This is one of the Hebrew boys,” she said (Ex. 2:6).

Note the sequence. First she sees that it is a child and has pity on it. A natural, human, compassionate reaction. Only then does it dawn on her who the child must be. Who else would abandon a child? She remembers her father’s decree against the Hebrews. Instantly the situation has changed. To save the baby would mean disobeying the royal command. That would be serious enough for an ordinary Egyptian; doubly so for a member of the royal family.[1]

Nor is she alone when the event happens. Her maids are with her; her slave-girl is standing beside her. She must face the risk that one of them, in a fit of pique, or even mere gossip, will tell someone about it. Rumours flourish in royal courts. Yet she does not shift her ground. She does not tell one of her servants to take the baby and hide it with a family far away. She has the courage of her compassion. She does not flinch. Now something extraordinary happens:

The [child’s] sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call a Hebrew woman to nurse the child for you?” “Go,” replied Pharaoh’s daughter. The young girl went and got the child’s own mother. “Take this child and nurse it,” said Pharaoh’s daughter. “I will pay you a fee.” The woman took the child and nursed it. (Ex. 2:7-9)

The simplicity with which this is narrated conceals the astonishing nature of this encounter. First, how does a child – not just a child, but a member of a persecuted people – have the audacity to address a princess? There is no elaborate preamble, no “Your royal highness” or any other formality of the kind we are familiar with elsewhere in biblical narrative. They seem to speak as equals.

Equally pointed are the words left unsaid. “You know and I know,” Moses’ sister implies, “who this child is; it is my baby brother.” She proposes a plan brilliant in its simplicity. If the real mother is able to keep the child in her home to nurse him, we both minimise the danger. You will not have to explain to the court how this child has suddenly appeared.

We will be spared the risk of bringing him up: we can say the child is not a Hebrew, and that the mother is not the mother but only a nurse. Miriam’s ingenuity is matched by Pharaoh’s daughter’s instant agreement. She knows; she understands; she gives her consent.

Then comes the final surprise:

When the child matured, [his mother] brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter. She adopted him as her own son, and named him Moses. “I bore him from the water,” she said. (Ex. 2:10)

Pharaoh’s daughter did not simply have a moment’s compassion. She has not forgotten the child. Nor has the passage of time diminished her sense of responsibility. Not only does she remain committed to his welfare; she adopts the riskiest of strategies. She will adopt him and bring him up as her own son.[2] This is courage of a high order.

Yet the single most surprising detail comes in the last sentence. In the Torah, it is parents who give a child its name, and in the case of a special individual, God himself. It is God who gives the name Isaac to the first Jewish child; God’s angel who gives Jacob the name Israel; God who changes the names of Abram and Sarai to Abraham and Sarah. We have already encountered one adoptive name – Tzafenat Pa’neah – the name by which Joseph was known in Egypt; yet Joseph remains Joseph. How surpassingly strange that the hero of the exodus, greatest of all the prophets, should bear not the name Amram and Yocheved have undoubtedly used thus far, but the one given to him by his adoptive mother, an Egyptian princess. A midrash draws our attention to the fact:

This is the reward for those who do kindness. Although Moses had many names, the only one by which he is known in the whole Torah is the one given to him by the daughter of Pharaoh. Even the Holy One, blessed be He, did not call him by any other name.[3]

Indeed Moshe – Meses – is an Egyptian name, meaning “child,” as in Ramses (which means child of Ra; Ra was the greatest of the Egyptian gods).

Who then was Pharaoh’s daughter? Nowhere is she explicitly named. However the First Book of Chronicles (4:18) mentions a daughter of Pharaoh, named Bitya, and it was she the sages identified as the woman who saved Moses. The name Bitya (sometimes rendered as Batya) means “the daughter of God.” From this, the sages drew one of their most striking lessons: “The Holy One, blessed be He, said to her: ‘Moses was not your son, yet you called him your son. You are not My daughter, but I shall call you My daughter.'”[4] They added that she was one of the few people (tradition enumerates nine) who were so righteous that they entered paradise in their lifetime.[5]

Instead of “Pharaoh’s daughter” read “Hitler’s daughter” or “Stalin’s daughter” and we see what is at stake. Tyranny cannot destroy humanity. Moral courage can sometimes be found in the heart of dark- ness. That the Torah itself tells the story the way it does has enormous implications. It means that when it comes to people, we must never generalise, never stereotype. The Egyptians were not all evil: even from Pharaoh himself a heroine was born. Nothing could signal more power- fully that the Torah is not an ethnocentric text; that we must recognise virtue wherever we find it, even among our enemies; and that the basic core of human values – humanity, compassion, courage – is truly universal. Holiness may not be; goodness is.

Outside Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, is an avenue dedicated to righteous gentiles. Pharaoh’s daughter is a supreme symbol of what they did and what they were. I, for one, am profoundly moved by that encounter on the banks of the Nile between an Egyptian princess and a young Israelite child, Moses’ sister Miriam. The contrast between them – in terms of age, culture, status and power – could not be greater. Yet their deep humanity bridges all the differences, all the distance. Two heroines. May they inspire us.

Shabbat Shalom.

NOTES

1. “Seeing that she [Pharaoh’s daughter] wanted to save Moses, they [her handmaids] said to her, ‘Mistress, it is customary that when a king of flesh and blood issues a decree, even if the whole world does not fulfil it, at least his children and the members of his household fulfil it. Yet you transgress your father’s decree!'” (Sota 12b)
2. On the adoption of a foundling in the ancient world, see Nahum Sarna, Exploring Exodus (New York: Schocken, 1986), 31-32.
3. Shemot Raba 1:26
4. Vayikra Raba 1:3.
5. Derekh Eretz Zuta 1.

As taken from, http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/503409121.html

¿Es la Navidad buena para los judíos?

¿Es la Navidad buena para los judíos?
por Rabino Benjamin Blech

El mayor desafío para nuestra fe no es otra fe, sino la falta de fe.


Mis padres me dijeron muchas veces cuánto temían la temporada de Navidad.

Viviendo en un pequeño shtetl en Polonia, ellos sabían qué esperar. El sacerdote de la parroquia local daría su sermón lleno de improperios en contra de los judíos quienes fueron declarados culpables del crimen de deicidio, responsables de la brutal crucifixión de su dios, y por lo tanto justos merecedores de cualquier castigo que les fuera otorgado.

No es una sorpresa que la alegre época navideña significaba justamente lo contrario para los judíos vecinos. Los días que supuestamente debían ser dedicados a la “bondad hacia todos”, muy a menudo estaban llenos de pogromos, palizas, y violentas demostraciones antisemitas.

Gracias a Dios, aquellos días ya son parte del pasado. América es una tierra que predica tolerancia religiosa tanto por ley como por cultura. Los cristianos y los judíos son respetuosos de la religión de cada uno, y mientras que cada cierto tiempo un incidente aislado puede estropear las relaciones amistosas entre estas religiones, hemos en general aprendido a convivir en una sociedad pluralista.

Debido a las rarezas del calendario judío, Navidad y Januca pueden coincidir o aparecer en una variedad de diferentes permutaciones, pero casi siempre, tanto los cristianos como los judíos celebran sus respectivas tradiciones en diciembre.

La agresión de hoy en día es en contra de nuestros tímpanos, forzados a soportar las aparentemente interminables canciones de Navidad.

Y ese “conflicto de calendario” parecer molestarle a algunos judíos. Por supuesto, nuestro problema con Navidad no es nada comparado con el que afligía a mis padres en Polonia. La única forma en la que somos agredidos hoy día es a través de nuestros tímpanos, que se ven forzados a soportar los aparentemente interminables villancicos y canciones de Navidad que se han transformado en pan de cada día. No hay intentos de conversiones forzadas. Nadie nos hace poner una réplica en miniatura del árbol de Navidad en nuestros salones. Nadie nos golpea porque elegimos no saludar a otras personas con un alegre “Feliz Navidad”. Pero aún así…

Lo escucho todo el tiempo. Judíos verbalizando su descontento en contra de las exposiciones públicas de observancia cristiana. Judíos preocupados de que de alguna manera el Santa Claus de una tienda vaya a corromper a sus hijos. Judíos en el frente, protestando contra cualquier expresión de religiosidad que provenga de aquellos con un sistema de creencia diferente al nuestro. La Navidad, afirman ellos, es por definición una amenaza al judaísmo y al pueblo judío.

Y yo pienso que ellos están equivocados.

Sí, América fue suficientemente sabia al proponer la separación entre iglesia y estado. Nosotros conocemos el peligro de gobiernos favoreciendo una religión por sobre otra. Pero la intención de los Padres Fundadores nunca fue negar la importancia de cualquier religión. Estados Unidos se identifica a sí misma como “una nación bajo Dios”. La creencia en un poder superior ha sido la fuente de nuestra bendición divina. Y como judíos, yo pienso que deberíamos reconocer que hoy día la amenaza más grande para nuestra fe no es otra fe, sino la falta de fe. Nuestro temor más grande no debería ser “aquellos que veneran de una forma diferente” sino “aquellos que burlonamente rechazan la idea de venerar a un poder superior”.

Hoy día nuestros hijos e hijas son amenazados por el espíritu del secularismo más que por canciones dedicadas a proclamar la noche santa. Vivimos en una época en la cual millones de lectores devotos devoran los trabajos récord de ventas de Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religión Poisons Everything (Dios No es Genial: Como la Religión Envenena Todo), tanto como The Portable Atheist: Essential Reading for the Nonbeliever (El Ateísta Portátil: Lectura Esencial para el No-Creyente).

Vivir entre cristianos que demuestran compromiso con sus creencias religiosas es, en mi opinión, un ejemplo mucho mejor para mis correligionarios que un estilo de vida secular determinado exclusivamente por elecciones hedonistas.

Rodeado de celebraciones de Navidad, nunca he tenido dificultad para explicarle a mis hijos o a mis alumnos que aunque compartimos con los cristianos una creencia en Dios, tenemos caminos diferentes en términos de observancia. Ellos son una religión de creencia y nosotros somos una religión de acción. Ellos creen que Dios se convirtió en hombre. Nosotros creemos que el hombre debe luchar por hacerse más y más parecido a Dios.

Nosotros diferimos en innumerables formas. Sin embargo la Navidad nos permite recordar que no estamos solos en nuestro reconocimiento del Creador del universo. Tenemos fe en un poder superior.

Preguntarse porqué no celebramos la Navidad es el primer paso en el camino de la auto-conciencia judía.

Para ser completamente honestos, la época de Navidad en América ha sido responsable de ciertos resultados judíos muy positivos. Esta es la época en la que muchos judíos, en virtud de la preocupación y compromiso de sus vecinos con su religión, se motivan a preguntarse a sí mismos qué es lo que saben de su propia religión. Comenzar a preguntarse porqué no celebramos la Navidad es dar el primer paso en el camino de la auto-conciencia judía.

A mis padres se les “recordó” que eran judíos a través de la fuerza y la violencia. Nuestros recordatorios son mucho más sutiles, sin embargo siguen presentes. Y cuando los judíos se toman la molestia de buscar la alternativa judía a la Navidad y quizás por primera vez descubrir los hermosos mensajes de Januca y del judaísmo, su encuentro forzado con la festividad de otra fe puede terminar concediéndoles la santidad de una festividad judía propia.

Así que esta Navidad, agarren un buen libro judío o asistan a clases de judaísmo y exploren las diferencias filosóficas claves entre el judaísmo y el cristianismo.

Pueden llamarme ingenuo, pero hoy día realmente me encanta esta época. Ya que en conjunto, todas las personas de buena voluntad se unen en la tarea de poner lo sagrado por sobre lo profano.

Según tomado de, http://www.aishlatino.com/iymj/mj/135819068.html?s=mm

No a la cremación

No a la cremación
por Rabino Benjamin Blech

No debemos hacernos a nosotros mismos lo que nos han hecho nuestros enemigos: quemar el último remanente y recordatorio de las personas que amamos.


Algunos se asustan ante la inevitabilidad de la muerte. Para quienes tienen fe en la tradición judía, que asegura que el alma continúa viva después que partimos de esta tierra, la muerte no es nada más que pasar de una habitación a otra, del pasillo al salón donde se realiza el banquete. La travesía que llamamos vida termina con nuestro nacimiento a la inmortalidad.

Tratar de entender la muerte implica entrar a un terreno que necesita indefectiblemente la fe como guía. Ningún mortal regresó alguna vez de la tumba para darnos un relato de primera mano. Sin embargo, la mayoría de los que creen en la Biblia, así como muchos de otras religiones, de alguna manera llegaron a conclusiones similares: hay vida después de esta vida. Los seres humanos somos una maravillosa combinación de cuerpo y alma. El alma tiene su fuente en Dios: tal como aprendemos en la historia de la Creación, Dios insufló en el cuerpo de Adam algo de Su propio espíritu. Por definición, Dios es inmortal. Y también lo es una parte nuestra, la parte que verdaderamente nos define, la parte que nos hace ser lo que somos, la parte que representa nuestra singularidad, la parte que es la clave de nuestra esencia y de nuestro ser.

La Torá comienza con la letra hebrea bet. En hebreo, esta letra significa dos. El primer mensaje de la Torá que nos cuenta la creación de este mundo alude a la existencia de un segundo mundo, el mundo que viene después de nuestra travesía aquí, en la tierra.

Es una verdad que exige cuidadosa atención en cuanto a la manera como dirigimos nuestras vidas y también debe guiarnos en la manera en que tratamos al cuerpo después de la muerte.

Lamentablemente, y con enorme dolor, debemos reconocer un fenómeno contemporáneo que trata de reemplazar el entierro judío con la cremación. Esta tendencia recibió especial publicidad hace poco, cuando Rona Ramón, la viuda del primer astronauta israelí, Ilán Ramón, antes de fallecer de cáncer de páncreas pidió en su testamento ser cremada.

Sólo tengo palabras de admiración hacia Rona Ramón. La manera en que vivió no puede más que inspirarnos. Lamentablemente, la forma en que decidió disponer de sus restos corporales es un trágico quiebre de la tradición judía, una tradición que se remonta a Abraham, el primer judío, quien estuvo dispuesto a pagar la fortuna que le pidieron para poder enterrar a Sara en la “Cueva de las Parejas”, el lugar donde de acuerdo con el Midrash también están enterrados Adam y Javá.

La razón que motivó a Rona a pedir ser cremada es angustiante. Rona tiene cuatro hijos, su esposo falleció cuando el transbordador espacial Columbia se desintegró al regresar a la tierra y sufrió la tragedia adicional de la muerte de su hijo en un accidente de entrenamiento cuando se estrelló el avión de combate F-16 que piloteaba. Con el terrible peso de estas tragedias, Rona concluyó que no deseaba que sus hijos y su familia se vieran obligados a pasar por otro funeral más. Eso es lo que ella escribió antes de fallecer.

No soy nadie para juzgarla ni criticarla. Claramente las tragedias de su pasado son responsables de su decisión personal. Pero creo que es necesario recordar lo que milenios de historia judía han considerado la forma más adecuada y respetuosa de honrar a nuestros seres queridos una vez que sus almas parten de este mundo.

Los judíos llevan a cabo un ritual simbólico ante el fallecimiento de los parientes más cercanos. Se llama kriá, y consiste en rasgar nuestra vestimenta. La gente piensa que el propósito es permitir aliviar el dolor físico, rasgar algo como una señal de enojo. Pero no es eso lo que explican los místicos de la cabalá sobre este ritual.

La relación entre la prenda y el cuerpo representa simbólicamente la conexión entre el cuerpo y el alma. 

La relación entre la prenda y el cuerpo representa simbólicamente la conexión entre el cuerpo y el alma. La ropa nos cubre, no es nuestra esencia ni nuestra identidad. Si la prenda que vestimos es rasgada, en verdad eso no nos afecta. Nuestro verdadero ser sigue intacto. Así también nuestros cuerpos son las “prendas” de nuestra alma. Son externos al alma, uno es independiente del otro.

La muerte es desprendernos de nuestra prenda externa. Pero es más que eso. Por eso los familiares de la persona fallecida cumplen la mitzvá de kriá, para afirmar que a pesar de lo doloroso que es perder a un ser querido, hay enorme consuelo en saber que el hecho de “rasgar la prenda” no disminuye en nada a la persona.

A pesar de que la muerte disminuye el significado del cuerpo, no debemos dejar de enfatizar el poderoso nexo que sigue existiendo incluso después de que la muerte interrumpe la conexión, entre los restos físicos y el alma. El alma le debe al cuerpo su vida en la tierra. Durante mucho tiempo los dos coexistieron en una relación mutuamente beneficiosa. Cuando el alma parte con la muerte, la tradición nos dice que esto ocurre en etapas. Ella (alma) duda antes de despedirse definitivamente de su compañero físico. Como un imán, el alma sigue sintiéndose atraída hacia el sitio de su antigua residencia. Ella permanece cerca del cuerpo y le resulta difícil aceptar la realidad de esta separación definitiva.

Prácticamente todas las religiones y culturas reconocen que la relación entre el cuerpo y el alma se extiende más allá de la muerte. En el judaísmo hay una sensibilidad particular respecto a la preocupación del alma para que se trate con respeto a su “prenda terrena” que le permitió cumplir su misión en la vida.

El cuerpo se lava cuidadosamente, a pesar de que muy pronto se va a desintegrar. Mientras es posible, se le debe tratar con la dignidad que se ganó durante su vida. El cuerpo mantiene su derecho a la modestia: sólo mujeres preparan el cuerpo de una mujer para su entierro y sólo hombres preparan a un hombre. El cuerpo se coloca en un cajón cerrado para que los observadores no recuerden la forma disminuida de un ser humano.

Honrar el cuerpo es una manera de manifestar nuestro respeto por el alma que sigue cerca hasta que está segura de que su compañero recibió el trato adecuado.

Todavía más llamativo es que la ley judía prohíbe comer, beber o cumplir una mitzvá en la presencia inmediata del cuerpo, porque eso sería como burlarse, porque él ya no es capaz de hacer lo mismo. El cuerpo puede no saberlo ni importarle, pero al alma sí. Honrar el cuerpo es una manera de manifestar nuestro respeto por el alma que sigue cerca hasta que esté segura de que su “compañero” recibió el trato adecuado.

Sin duda, es significativo que a lo largo de la historia aquellos que más quisieron poner fin al pueblo judío trataron de hacerlo a través del fuego. Ambos Templos fueron incendiados. Los nazis construyeron crematorios para llevar adelante su “Solución Final”. En hebreo, basura se dice ashpá, una contracción de esh pó, aquí hay fuego, porque la forma más común de liberarnos de lo que no tiene ningún uso es quemarlo. No podemos justificar hacernos a nosotros mismos lo que fue y continúa siendo el camino de nuestros enemigos: quemar y destruir el último remanente y recordatorio de las personas que amamos.

Nuestros enemigos árabes hace mucho entendieron la pasión y el compromiso judío por preservar la dignidad de los cuerpos que albergaron almas judías. Es por eso que exigen rescates exagerados para devolver los cuerpos de israelíes, cientos de terroristas palestinos a cambio de los restos de un solo soldado judío.

Rona Ramón quiso evitarles a sus hijos y a su familia el trauma de su entierro. En los próximos años sus seres queridos no tendrán ningún lugar físico en el cual guardar duelo, visitar o recordarla y de alguna manera estar con ella en su tumba. Esto hace que la cremación sea otra causa para llorar.

No nos atrevemos a juzgar a Rona Ramón, una figura heroica que sufrió pérdidas incomprensibles. Pero sí reafirmamos las poderosas palabras del Rey Shlomó: “Vuelva el polvo a la tierra de la que vino y retorne el espíritu a Dios que lo dio”. (Eclesiastés 12:7).   

Según tomado de, http://www.aishlatino.com/e/f/No-a-la-cremacion.html?s=mm

Did God Speak at Sinai?

Did God Speak at Sinai?



by Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith and Rabbi Moshe Zeldman

What supports the claim that God spoke to the entire Jewish people at the foot of Mount Sinai?


Who did God give the Torah to at Mount Sinai? Most people reply, “God gave the Torah to Moses.”

And what were the Jewish people doing while Moses was receiving the Torah? “Worshipping the Golden Calf.”

Correct answers – but NOT according to the Bible.

The above answers come from Cecil B. DeMille’s classic film, “The Ten Commandments.” Amazing the impact one movie can have on the Jewish education of generations of Jews. It’s a great film, but DeMille should have read the original.

The version found in the Torah is quite different. The Torah’s claim is that the entire people heard God speak at Mount Sinai, experiencing national revelation. God did not just appear to Moses in a private rendezvous; He appeared to everyone, some 3 million people. This claim is mentioned many times in the Torah.

[Moses told the Israelites]: ‘Only beware for yourself and greatly beware for your soul, lest you forget the things that your eyes have beheld. Do not remove this memory from your heart all the days of your life. Teach your children and your children’s children about the day that you stood before the Lord your God at Horev [Mount Sinai]…

God spoke to you from the midst of the fire, you were hearing the sound of words, but you were not seeing a form, only a sound. He told you of His covenant, instructing you to keep the Ten Commandments, and He inscribed them on two stone tablets.’ (Deut.4:9-13)

‘You have been shown in order to know that God, He is the Supreme Being. There is none besides Him. From heaven he let you hear His voice in order to teach you, and on earth He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words amid the fire.’ (Deut. 4:32-36)

Moses called all of Israel and said to them: ‘Hear, O Israel, the decrees and the ordinances that I speak in your ears today ― learn them, and be careful to perform them. The Lord your God sealed a covenant with us at Horev [Mount Sinai]. Not with our forefathers did God seal this covenant, but with us ― we who are here, all of us alive today. Face to face did God speak with you on the mountain from amid the fire.’ (Deut. 5:1-4)

The Torah claims that the entire Jewish nation heard God speak at Sinai, an assertion that has been accepted as part of their nation’s history for over 3,000 years.

DeMille’s mistake is such a big deal because the Jewish claim of national revelation, as opposed to individual revelation, is the central defining event that makes Judaism different than every other religion in the world.

How so?

History and Legends

Two types of stories are part of any national heritage.

The first kind is legends. Included in this category is George Washington’s admission to chopping down the cherry tree, along with his statement, “I cannot tell a lie.” Johnny Appleseed planting apple trees across America with his discarded apple cores is another legend.

Then there is history. For example, George Washington was the first president of the United States. William the Conqueror led the Battle of Hastings in 1066 in which Harold, King of England, was killed. The Jews of Spain were expelled from their country in 1492, the year Christopher Columbus set sail.

What is the difference between legend and history?

A legend is an unverified story. By their very nature legends are unverifiable because they have very few eyewitnesses. Perhaps little George did chop down the cherry tree. We can’t know if it happened. This does not mean that the legend is necessarily false, only that it is unverifiable. No one thinks legends are facts, therefore they are not accepted as reliable history.

History, however, is comprised of events we know actually happened. It is reliable because we can determine if the claimed event is true or false through a number of ways. One key to verification is the assertion that large numbers of eyewitnesses observed the specific event.

Why is the number of claimed original witnesses a principal determining factor in making historical accounts reliable? This can be understood through looking at the nature of the following series of claims and weighing their levels of credibility. The nature of the claim itself can often determine its degree of believability.

The Believability Game

Gauge the level of credibility of the following scenarios.

Some claims are inherently unverifiable. For example, would you believe me if I told you the following:

Scenario #1:

“Last week after dinner, I went for a walk through the forest near my house. Suddenly everything was awash in a tremendous light and God appeared to me, designating me as His prophet. He told me to announce this revelation to you at this time.”

Believable?

In theory this could have happened. It doesn’t seem likely, but you don’t know I’m lying. Would you choose to believe me?

Without any substantiating evidence, why choose to believe me? A foolish move, indeed.

Scenario #2:

Would you believe me if I told you the following:

“Last night while I was eating dinner with my family, the room started to suddenly shake and God’s booming voice was heard by all of us. He designated me as His prophet and commanded me to announce this revelation.”

Believable?

This could have happened too. If I were to bring in my family to confirm the story it would be more believable than the first story. You certainly don’t know if I’m lying.

Would you believe me? Would you fork over $10,000 dollars if I told you God commanded you to do so?

No way. There is still not enough evidence to trust my claim ― because it is very possible that my family is lying.

Scenario #3:

There is another type of claim that you can know is false. For example, would you believe me if I told you this:

“Do you remember what happened 10 minutes ago just as you began reading this article? Remember how the room started shaking, then the ceiling opened up to the skies, and you and I together heard God’s booming voice come down and say ‘Thou shalt hearken to the voice of Nechemia Coopersmith for he is my prophet!’ And then the room went back to normal and you continued reading. You remember that, don’t you?”

Is this believable?

This kind of claim is completely different. The two previous scenarios at least had the possibility of being true. You chose not to accept them because they were unverifiable. However this third scenario is impossible to believe. I’m claiming something happened to you that you know did not happen. Since you didn’t experience it, you know I’m lying. I cannot convince you of something that you yourself know didn’t happen.

I cannot convince you of something that you yourself know didn’t happen.

This first type of claim ― that something happened to someone else ― is unverifiable, because you do not know for certain that the claim is a lie. Therefore it is possible for a person to decide to accept the claim as true if he really wanted to and take that leap of faith.

However, the other type of claim ― that something happened to you ― you know if it is inherently false. People do not accept patently false assertions, especially those that carry significant consequences.

Sinai: An Impossible Hoax

So far we have seen two types of claims ― one is unverifiable and the other is inherently false.

Could the revelation at Sinai have been a brilliant hoax, duping millions of people into believing that God spoke to them?

Let’s imagine the scene. Moses comes down the mountain and claims, “We all today heard God speak, all of you heard the God’s voice from the fire…”

Assuming Moses is making it up, how would the people respond to his story?

“Moses! What are you talking about?! Boy, you sure had us going there for awhile. We may have even believed you if you came down and claimed that God appeared to you personally. But now you blew it! Now we know you’re lying because you’re claiming an event happened to us that we know didn’t happen! We did not hear God speak to us from any fire!”

If the revelation at Sinai did not occur, then Moses is claiming an event everyone immediately knows is an outright lie, since they know that they never heard God speak. It is preposterous to think Moses can get away with a claim that everyone knows is lie.

Revelation Claimed Later in History?

Perhaps a hoax such as this could have been attempted at a later period in history. Perhaps the claim of national revelation did not originate at Sinai, but began, for example, 1,000 years after the event was said to have occurred. Perhaps the leader Ezra, for example, appears on the scene, introducing a book purported to be written by God and given to a people who stood at Sinai a long time ago.

Could someone get away with this kind of hoax? For example, would you believe the following:

“I want to let you in on a very little-known, but true fact. In 1794 over 200 years ago, from May until August, the entire continent of North America mysteriously sank under the sea. For those four months, the whole continent was submerged and somehow all animal, plant and human life managed to adapt to these bizarre conditions. Then, on August 31, the entire continent suddenly floated up to the surface and life resumed to normal.”

Is there a possibility that I’m telling the truth? Do you know for a fact that it is a lie? After all, it happened so long ago, how do you know it didn’t happen? Maybe you learned about in school and just forgot about it.

A significant event with many eyewitnesses cannot be perpetuated as a hoax.

You know that North America did not sink hundreds of years ago for one simple reason: If it did, you would have heard about it. An event so unique and amazing, witnessed by multitudes of people would have been known, discussed, and passed down, becoming a part of history. The fact that no one has heard of it up until now means you know the story is not true, making it impossible to accept.

An event of great significance with a large number of eyewitnesses cannot be perpetuated as a hoax. If it did not happen, everyone would realize it is false since no one ever heard about it before. Thus, if such an event was indeed accepted as part of history, the only way to understand its acceptance is that the event actually happened.

Introduced Later?

Let’s assume for the moment that the revelation at Mount Sinai is really a hoax; God did not write the Torah. How did the revelation at Sinai become accepted for thousands of years as part of our nation’s history?

Imagine someone trying to pull off such a hoax. An Ezra figure shows up one day holding a scroll.

“Hey Ezra – what are you holding there?”
“This is the Torah.”
“The Torah? What’s that?”
“It’s an amazing book filled with laws, history and stories. Here, take a look at it.”
Very nice, Ezra. Where did you get this?”
“Open up the book and see what it says. This book was given thousands of years ago to your ancestors. Three million of them stood at Mount Sinai and heard God speak! God appeared to everyone, giving His law and instruction.”

How would you respond to such a claim?

The people give Ezra a quizzical look and say,

“Wait a second, Ezra. Something is a little fishy here. Why haven’t we ever heard of this before? You’re describing one of the most momentous events that could ever happen, claiming that it happened to our ancestors – and we never heard about it?”

“Sure. It was a long time ago. Of course you never heard about it.”

“C’mon Ezra! It’s impossible that our grandparents or great-grandparents would not have passed down the most significant event in our nation’s history to some of the people! How could it be that no one has heard about this up until now?! You’re claiming all my ancestors, the entire nation, 3 million people heard God speak and received a set of instructions called the Torah, and none of us have heard about it?! You must be lying.”

If one cannot pull off a hoax with regard to a continent sinking, so too one cannot pull off a hoax to convince an entire people that their ancestors experienced the most unique event in all of human history.

Everyone would know it’s a lie.

For thousands of years, Sinai was accepted as central to Jewish history. How else can this be explained?

Given that people will not fall for a hoax they know is a lie, how could national revelation have been not only accepted ― but faithfully followed with great sacrifice by the vast majority of Jews?

The only way a people would accept such a claim is if it really happened. If Sinai did not happen, everyone would know it’s a lie and it would never have been accepted. The only way one can ever claim a nation experienced revelation and have it accepted is if it is true.

Sinai: The Only Claim Of National Revelation

Throughout history, tens of thousands of religions have been started by individuals, attempting to convince people that God spoke to him or her. All religions that base themselves on some type of revelation share essentially the same beginning: a holy person goes into solitude, comes back to his people, and announces that he has experienced a personal revelation where God appointed him to be His prophet.

Would you believe someone who claims that God appointed him a new prophet?

Would you believe someone who claims to have received a personal communication from God appointing him or her as God’s new prophet?

Maybe He did. Then again, maybe He didn’t. One can never know. The claim is inherently unverifiable.

Personal revelation is an extremely weak basis for a religion since one can never know if it is indeed true. Even if the individual claiming personal revelation performs miracles, there is still no verification that he is a genuine prophet. Miracles do not prove anything. All they show ― assuming they are genuine ― is that he has certain powers. It has nothing to do with his claim of prophecy.

Maimonides writes:

Israel did not believe in Moses, our teacher, on account of the miracles he performed. For when one’s faith is based on miracles, doubt remains in the mind that these miracles may have been done through the occult and witchcraft…

What then were the grounds of believing him? The revelation on Sinai which we saw with our own eyes, and heard with our own ears, not having to depend on the testimony of others… (Mishna Torah – Foundations of Torah 8:1)

A Bold Prediction

There are 15,000 known religions in all of recorded history. Given this inherent weakness, why do all of them base their claim on personal revelation? If someone wanted their religion to be accepted, why wouldn’t they present the strongest, most believable claim possible ― i.e. national revelation! It’s far more credible. No one has to take a leap of faith and blindly trust just one person’s word. It is qualitatively better to claim that God came to everyone, telling the entire group that so-and-so is His prophet.

Why would God establish His entire relationship with a nation through one man, without any possibility of verification, and still expect this nation to obediently follow an entire system of instructions, based only on blind faith?

Yet, Judaism is the only religion in the annals of history that makes the best of all claims ― that everyone heard God speak. No other religion claims the experience of national revelation. Why?

Furthermore, the author of the Torah predicts that there will never be another claim of national revelation throughout history!

‘You might inquire about times long past, from the day that God created man on earth, and from one end of heaven to the other: Has there ever been anything like this great thing or has anything like it been heard? Has a people ever heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fires as you have heard and survived?’ (Deut. 4:32-33)

Let’s consider the option that God did not write the Torah, and its author successfully convinced a group of people to accept a false claim of national revelation. In this book, the author writes a prediction that over the course of history no one will ever make a similar claim. That means if such a claim is ever made at some future time, the prediction will end up being false and his religion is finished.

How could the author include in the book he is passing off as a hoax the prediction that no other person will ever attempt to perpetuate the same hoax when he just made that exact claim? If he could do it, he can be certain that others will too, especially since it is the best possible claim to make. If you are making up a religion, you do not write something you know you cannot predict and whose outcome you would think is guaranteed to be exactly the opposite.

However, aside from the Jewish claim of Mount Sinai, it is a fact that no other nation has ever claimed such a similar national revelation.

Let’s summarize two primary questions:

1. Out of 15,000 known religions in recorded history, why is Judaism the only one that claims national revelation, the best of all claims? Why do all other religions base themselves on the inherently weak assertion of personal revelation?

2. If Judaism’s claim is indeed an example of a successful hoax that falsely asserts national revelation, the author just got away with passing off the best possible claim, and others will certainly follow suit. Why then would he predict that no one else will ever make a similar claim, a prediction he knows he cannot foresee, and whose outcome is likely to be the exact opposite?

There is one simple answer to both questions. A national revelation ― as opposed to personal revelation ― is the one lie you cannot get away with. It is one event you cannot fabricate. The only way to make this claim is if it actually happened.

If the claim is true, the people will believe it because they are agreeing to something they already know. Either they personally witnessed it, or their ancestors collectively passed down the account as part of their nation’s accepted history.

If the claim is false, it’s like trying to convince you that God spoke to you or your parents and somehow you never heard of it. No one would ever accept such a claim.

Therefore no other religion has ever made the best of all claims, because it is the one claim that can only be made if it is true. One cannot pass national revelation off as a hoax.

When inventing a religion, the originator must resort to personal revelation, despite its inherent weakness, since it is a claim that is unverifiable. The originator can hope to find adherents willing to take a leap of faith and accept his or her religion. After all, no one can ever know it is a lie. [Of course, no one can know if it’s true either.] This simply cannot work with national revelation since it’s the one claim that everyone will know is a lie.

It’s no wonder that all other religions are based on ‘personal’ revelation.

Only Judaism can claim national revelation since the Jewish people is the only nation in the history of mankind who ever experienced it.

Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the other major religions of the world both accept the Jewish revelation at Sinai, including the Five Books of Moses in their Bible, and hold the Sinai revelation as a key component of their religion.

When starting their own religions, why did they build upon the Jewish claim? Why didn’t they just deny the revelation ever happened?

The answer is that they knew that if national revelation can never be fabricated; so too, its validity can therefore never be denied.

Now it is understandable how the Author of the Torah can confidently predict that there will never be another claim of national revelation in history.

Because only God knew it would happen only once, as it did ― at Sinai over 3,000 years ago.

As taken from, http://www.aish.com/h/sh/se/48943936.html

Black Christmas: December 25 in Jewish History

Black Christmas: December 25 in Jewish History
by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller

For generations, Jews have faced danger on this day.


For centuries, Christmas, along with Easter, was a time of terror and danger for many European Jews. Christians would sometimes turn on the Jews in their midst, blaming them for supposedly killing Jesus, and often attacking and even killing Jews with impunity. Throughout Jewish history, December 25 has seen some low points in Jewish life.

Many aspects of Christmas observance grew out of ancient celebrations of the Roman Saturnalia holiday, in which ordinary moral rules were suspended.  In the days of the Roman Empire, Jews were often taunted during this period.  One popular pastime was to force Jews to run naked through the streets of Rome for the amusement of others on December 25. These practices continued into modern times: in 1836 the Jewish community of Rome sent a letter to Pope Gregory XVI begging him to stop the abuse of the Jewish community on Christmas, in which rabbis were forced to don clownish outfits and run through the streets while spectators threw things at them.  Pope Gregory refused to intervene.

On Dec. 25, 1100, Baudouin de Boulogne, son of a French count, was crowned King of Jerusalem after a wave of bloody Crusaders rampaged through Europe. The Crusaders attacked and massacred Jewish communities in their path. When they reached the land of Israel, they crushed dissent and killed thousands of Jewish and Muslim residents in the area.

In 1312, anti-Jewish riots broke out in some Germanic lands on Dec. 25. In 1369, the King Frederick III of Sicily passed a decree on Christmas that all Jews in his kingdom had to wear a special red badge at all times. In 1881, Jews were blamed for a stampede in a crowded Warsaw church on Christmas Eve that killed dozens of people. In the ensuing violence, mobs rampaged through the streets, attacking and killing Jews for three days in a massive Christmastime pogrom. Two Jews were murdered, 24 were hospitalized, many Jewish women were raped, and over a thousand Jews lost their homes and businesses.

Even in modern times, the Christmas season has been linked to some anti-Jewish sentiment. The KKK was established on Dec. 24, 1865; through the years it killed and terrorized countless Jews, as well as African Americans. Following the lynching of the Jewish businessman Leo Frank in Georgia in 1915 (widely thought to be the work of the KKK), over half of Georgia’s 3,000 Jewish residents fled the state.

The Roonstrasse Synagogue

On Dec. 24, 1959, the Roonstrasse Synagogue in Cologne, West Germany was daubed with a swastika and the words “Juden raus” (Jews out). The attack sparked a wave of hate in West Germany; Jewish synagogues were desecrated and an elderly Jew received a death threat.

In the face of this hatred and danger, some Jewish communities responded by instituting rules minimizing their exposure during the Christmas season.

It was common for Jewish schools to close on Dec. 24 and 25 for the pupils’ safety. Many European Jewish communities prohibited their members from going outside on Christmas, lest they be attacked. Jews often stayed indoors with their windows and shutters closed.

Some other Jewish customs became indelibly associated with Dec. 24 and 25. Many Jews stayed up all night on Dec. 24, lest their homes be attacked or burned. In some communities, people adopted the custom of not learning Torah that night, lest passersby see a light on and decide to attack the home. Some Jews had a custom of reciting the Aleinu prayer out loud on Dec. 25 to ward off danger. A Yiddish proverb summed up the danger to many Jews during the Christmas season: Niti iz a beyzer layd, or “Christmas is a severe burden”.

These strictures and traditions have all but died out today now that Jews enjoy unprecedented safety and security, even during the Christmas season. We’re more likely to regard eating Chinese food as a Jewish activity on Dec. 25 than barring our doors and closing our shutters.

In memory of the countless Jews who came before us and feared this day, however, let’s not forget their customs and traditions entirely. This Dec. 25, let’s spare a thought for the many Jews whose lives were lost on this day.

As taken from, http://www.aish.com/ci/s/Black-Christmas-December-25-in-Jewish-History.html?s=mm

Saying No to Cremation

Saying No to Cremation
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

We should not do to ourselves what our enemies have done to us – to burn the last remnant and reminder of people we loved.


For some, the inevitability of death is frightening. For those who have faith in Jewish tradition which assures us of the continued survival of the soul after our taking leave from Earth, death is nothing more than moving from one room to another, from the corridor to the main banquet hall. The journey which we call life ends with our birth into immortality.

To understand death is to enter a realm that of necessity requires faith as a guide. No mortal has actually ever returned from the grave to give us a first-hand account. And yet most believers in the Bible as well as those of many other religions have somehow come to very similar conclusions: There is life after this life. Human beings are a wondrous combination of body and soul. The soul has its source in God; as we are told in the story of creation God blew into Adam’s body some of his spirit. God by definition is immortal. So too is a part of us, the part which truly defines us, the part which makes us who we are, the part which represents our uniqueness, the part which is the key to our essence and our being.

The Torah begins with the Hebrew letter beit. In Hebrew that letter means two. The very first message of the Torah, which tells us of the creation of this world, hints at the existence of a second world – the world to come after our sojourn here on earth.

It is a truth which demands careful attention for the way in which we lead our lives. More, it must guide us as well in the way in which we deal with the body in the aftermath of death.

Sadly, and with great pain, we must take note of a contemporary phenomenon which chooses to replace Jewish burial with cremation. This trend recently received much publicity when Rona Ramon, widow of Israel’s first astronaut Ilan Ramon, asked to be cremated in the will she left before her untimely death two weeks ago of pancreatic cancer.

I have nothing but the greatest admiration for Rona Ramon. The manner in which she lived her life was inspirational beyond measure. Unfortunately, the way she chose to dispose of her corporeal remains was a tragic break with Jewish tradition, a tradition going back to Abraham, the first Jew, who gladly paid the fortune demanded of him in order to bury Sarah in the “Cave of the Couples” and a place where according to the midrash Adam and Eve are buried as well.

It was heartbreaking to read the reason that motivated Rona to request cremation. A mother of four when her husband perished as the Columbia spaceship disintegrated upon its ill-fated return to earth, she had to survive the additional tragedy of the death of her son in a training accident after the crash of the F-16 fighter pilot he was flying. With the heavy weight of these tragedies of the past upon her, Rona concluded – as she wrote before her passing – she did not want her children and family to be forced to go through yet another funeral.

It is not for me to judge her or God forbid to offer criticism. Clearly the tragedies of her past were responsible for her personal decision. But I believe it is necessary to remind ourselves what millennia of Jewish history have identified as the most fitting and respectful way to honor our loved ones once their souls have departed.

Jews perform an interesting symbolic ritual in response to the death of our closest relatives. It is called kriah – making a rip in one’s garment. People think the purpose is to allow physical release, to tear something as a sign of anger. That is not the way the mystics of the Kabbalah explain this ritual.

The relationship between garment and body symbolically parallels the connection between body and soul.

The relationship between garment and body symbolically parallels the connection between body and soul. Clothing covers us; it isn’t our essence or our identity. If a garment we wear gets ripped it doesn’t actually affect us. Our true selves remain intact. So too, our bodies are the “garments” of our soul. They are external to it; one is independent of the other.

Death is the rending of our outer garment. But it is no more than that. That’s why the mourners perform the mitzvah of kriah, to affirm that as painful as the loss of a loved one may be, there is great comfort in knowing that “the ripping of the garment” hasn’t diminished the actual person.

Yet much as death diminishes the significance of the body, we shouldn’t fail to emphasize the powerful linkage that remains even after death severs the connection between the physical remains and the soul. The soul owes its life on earth to the body. For a long time the two of them coexisted in a mutually beneficial relationship. When the soul departs at death, tradition tells us it does so in stages. It hesitates before bidding final farewell to its physical partner. Like a magnet, the soul continues to be drawn to the site of its former longtime residence. It stays close to the body, finding it difficult to accept the reality of ultimate separation.

Almost all religions and cultures acknowledge the relationship between body and soul that extends beyond death. In Judaism there is particular sensitivity to the soul’s concern for respectful treatment of “the earthly garment” that enabled it to carry out its life’s mission.

The body is carefully washed, even though it will soon disintegrate. For as long as possible it needs to be accorded the dignity it earned during life. The body retains its right to modesty; only women may prepare a female body for burial and only men a male. The corpse is to be put into a closed coffin so that onlookers not are left with the memory of a diminished human being.

Honoring the body is a way of showing our respect for the soul that remains close by until it is assured that its material partner received proper treatment.

More striking still, Jewish law forbids those in the immediate presence of the dead to eat and drink or to fulfill a mitzvah – because that would be mocking them, inasmuch as they are now incapable of doing the same. The corpse may not know or care, but the soul of the departed does. Honoring the body is a way of showing our respect for the soul that remains close by until it is assured that its material partner received proper treatment.

It is surely significant that throughout history those who most wanted to bring about the end of the Jewish people sought to do it through fire. Both temples in Jerusalem were put to the torch and burnt. The Nazis built crematoria to carry out The Final Solution. In Hebrew the word for garbage is ashpah – a contraction for aish poh, “fire is here,” because the most common way to get rid of the useless was to burn it. We cannot justify doing to ourselves what has been and continues to be the way of our enemies – to burn and to destroy the last remnant and reminder of people we loved.

Our Arab enemies have long understood the Jewish passion and commitment to preserving the dignity of bodies which housed Jewish souls. That is why they have demanded exorbitant ransoms for the return of Israeli bodies, hundreds of Palestinian terrorists for the remains of even one Jewish soldier.

Rona Ramon wanted to spare her grieving children and family the trauma of her burial. In years to come her loved ones will have no physical place to mourn, to visit, to remember and in some small way to be with her at graveside. That makes her cremation another cause for tears.

We dare not judge Rona Ramon, a heroic figure who endured loss beyond comprehension. But let us reaffirm the powerful words of King Solomon, “And the dust will return to the earth from where it came and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

As taken from, http://www.aish.com/sp/ph/Saying-No-to-Cremation.html?s=mm

Two Concepts of Teshuvah

by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

THE SEDRA OF NITZAVIM IS ALWAYS READ ON THE SHABBAT BEFORE ROSH HASHANAH, when our thoughts are directed toward teshuvah – the great mitzvah of the ten days that begin with Rosh Hashanah and culminate on Yom Kippur. Where, though, in the Torah itself do we find the mitzvah of teshuvah? On this, two of the greatest sages of the Middle Ages, Maimonides and Nachmanides, differed fundamentally.

Here is Maimonides’ account:

With regard to all the precepts of the Torah, positive and negative, if a person transgressed any one of them, either wilfully or in error, and repents and turns away from his sin, he is under a duty to confess before God, blessed be he, as it is said, “When a man or a woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to do a trespass against the Lord, and that person be guilty, then they shall confess their sin which they have done” (Numbers 5: 6-7). This means confess in words, and this confession is a positive command. How does one confess? The penitent says, “I beseech you, O Lord, I have sinned, I have acted perversely, I have transgressed before you and have done such and such, and I repent and am ashamed of my deeds, and I will never do this again.” This constitutes the essence of confession. The fuller and more detailed the confession one makes, the more praiseworthy he is.

According to Maimonides, teshuvah has its origin in the Temple and its sacrifices, specifically those brought for transgressions (sin offering, guilt offering etc.). Part of the rite for such offerings was a verbal confession – vidui – on the part of the wrongdoer. The conditions for the sincerity of such confessions were an acknowledgement that one did wrong; remorse or shame; and a determination not to repeat the offence in future. These are the fundamental elements of teshuvah.

There are obvious questions. If teshuvah is linked to the sacrificial order, what happened to it once the Temple was destroyed and the sacrificial system came to an end? What of teshuvah outside Israel and outside the confines of the Temple? Maimonides answers these questions in his Sefer Hamitzvot (positive command 73) by reference to the Mekhilta. The Mekhilta uses various textual warrants to show that confession is in fact a separate command in its own right, and applies with or without a sacrifice, in and outside the land of Israel. Verbal confession, vidui, is the outer act, teshuvah its internal correlate.

NACHMANIDES LOCATES TESHUVAH in a completely different source, namely in today’s sedra. Moses, having set out the terms of the covenant and its attendant blessings and curses, then says this:

When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your G-d disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the Lord your G-d and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your G-d will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where He scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your G-d will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous then your fathers . . . You will again obey the Lord and follow all His commands I am giving you today. Then the Lord your G-d will make will you prosperous in all work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and crops of your land. The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as He delighted in your fathers, if you obey the Lord your G-d and keep His commands and decrees that are written in this book of the law and turn to the Lord your G-d with all your heart and with all your soul.

The next verse continues, “For this command which I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.” Which command? Nachmanides says: the command of teshuvah. Why so?

The most striking feature of passage above is that it is a set of variations on the Hebrew verb lashuv, the root of the noun teshuvah. This is almost entirely lost in English translation. All the underlined phrases – “take to heart”, “restore your fortunes”, “again” and “turn” – are, in the Hebrew text, forms of this verb. The Torah often repeats a word several times to emphasise its significance as a key-word: sometimes three or five times, but usually seven, as in the present instance (taking “restore your fortunes,” ve-shav et shevutekha, as one composite phrase). Thus Nachmanides is quite right to see the subject of the passage as teshuvah. What, though, is teshuvah in this context?

In the Torah sin is something more than a transaction in the soul, or even an act of wrongdoing narrowly conceived. It is an act in the wrong place. It disturbs the moral order of the world. The words for sin – chet and averah – both have this significance. Chet comes from the same verb as “to miss a target.” Averah, like the English word “transgression,” means “to cross a boundary, to enter forbidden territory, to be in a place one should not be.” Only when we understand this does it become clear why the deepest punishment for sin in the Torah is exile. Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden. Cain was condemned to be an eternal wanderer. We say in our prayers, “Because of our sins we were exiled from our land.” Because a sin is an act in the wrong place, its consequence is that the one who performs it finds himself in the wrong place – in exile, meaning, not at home. Sin alienates; it distances us from G-d, and the result is that we are distanced from where we ought to be, where we belong. We become aliens, strangers.

Hence the double meaning of teshuvah, most clearly expressed in our sedra, but found throughout the entire prophetic literature. It has both a physical and spiritual dimension, and the two are inseparable as if bonded by superglue: it means the physical return to the land and the spiritual return to G-d. Teshuvah is a double homecoming.

WE CAN NOW SEE how deeply different are the approaches of Maimonides and Nachmanides. For Maimonides sin-and-repentance are part of the world of the priest (torat cohanim). They belong initially to the Temple and its service. When an individual or group sinned in biblical times, they brought a sacrifice and, as a token of their contrition, confessed their wrong. The supreme example of this was the service of the High Priest on Yom Kippur, when he made atonement “for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel” (Lev. 16).

For Nachmanides, sin-and-repentance are part of the broader sweep of Jewish history. They belong to the world, not of the priest but of the prophet (torat nevi’im), the figure who heard the voice of G-d in history, warned the people that public wrongdoing would lead to defeat and exile and who, when the exile eventually occurred, summoned the people back to their vocation as a prelude to their return to the land. Every individual act of teshuvah recapitulates, in some way, this larger pattern of return. Teshuvah in this sense is less atonement than homecoming – a subtle difference, but a difference none the less. It has nothing to do with the Temple and everything to do with a sense of the divine call (“Where are you?”) within the events that happen to us, whether individually as personal fate or collectively as Jewish history.

The primary feeling of sin in priestly consciousness is guilt; in prophetic consciousness it is a sense of alienation (“alienation” became a key word in both Marxism and existentialism: for the former as a symptom of the capitalist system in the industrial age, for the latter as the mark of “inauthentic” existence; Judaism, more ethically, links it with bad conscience, the knowledge that we have not acted as we should). For the priest, teshuvah is integrally linked with the idea of sacrifice and leads to atonement (kapparah). For the prophet, it is associated with behavioural change (teshuvah as “returning” to the right way) and leads to healing, mercy, forgiveness and restoration. For the priest, atonement relates primarily to individuals, whereas for the prophet (as in the words of Moses above) the reference is often to the people as a whole. It is individuals who sin and repent; it is the nation that undergoes exile and return.

How does Maimonides interpret the passage in this week’s sedra that Nachmanides takes as the source for the mitzvah of teshuvah? He reads it, simply, not as a command but as a prophecy and promise:

All the prophets charged the people concerning teshuvah. Only through teshuvah will Israel be redeemed, and the Torah has already given the assurance that Israel will, at the end of its exile, finally repent and then be immediately redeemed, as it is said, “When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your G-d disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the Lord your G-d and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your G-d will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where He scattered you . . .”

This difference of interpretation goes back to the Geonic period, three centuries earlier, when R. Hefetz read the passage as did Nachmanides, and R. Shmuel Gaon like Maimonides (Otzar haGeonim, Sanhedrin, 514).

THERE IS NO DOUBT WHATSOEVER that Maimonides and Nachmanides were both right. Priest and prophet were not in conflict: they were two voices in a single conversation, two perspectives on a complex reality. When the Second Temple was destroyed and both the priesthood and prophecy came to an end as functioning institutions, both traditions merged into the institution of teshuvah as we have it today.

On the one hand Yom Kippur retains strong links with the service of the High Priest in Temple times. We read the details of that service during Musaf; we perform vidui, confession, in various ways; we make a point of giving tzedakah (financial sacrifice substituting for animal sacrifice). On the other, during the morning we read one of the greatest of all prophetic calls to repentance (Isaiah 57-58), with its insistence that fasting is nothing – a mere ritual – without ethical conduct:

Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen :
To loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
To set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?

We read another great example of a prophetic call to teshuvah, that of Jonah, just before Neilah. Neilah itself ends with the words, repeated seven times, “The Lord He is G-d” – the climax of one of the great prophetic confrontations, between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, when the people publicly abandoned idolatry and proclaimed the kingship of G-d. It is wondrous how these two strands, priestly and prophetic, have been woven together so seamlessly in our liturgy.

So teshuvah is two things: a religious-metaphysical experience of sin and atonement (Maimonides), and an ethical-historical drama of exile and return (Nachmanides). For nearly two thousand years, the former predominated while the latter was no more than a distant memory and a pious hope. The Temple was gone, and so too were the prophets. But whereas there was a substitute for the Temple (the synagogue as mikdash me’at, “a temple-in-microcosm”) there was no real substitute for Israel as a nation-among-nations in the arena of history.

In the course of the twentieth century, that changed. Jews returned. The state of Israel was reborn. The promise of the prophets, millennia ago, came true. Yet the word teshuvah – in the sense meant by Moses in this week’s sedra, and by Nachmanides in his construal of the command – has not yet been fully realised. There has been a physical homecoming to the land, but not yet a spiritual homecoming to the faith. Among a section of the population, yes; among the people as a whole, no. That challenge rests with us, our contemporaries and our children. The words of the prophets, never less than inspiring, have acquired a new salience. How it will happen, we do not know, but that it will happen, we do know, for we have G-d’s promise: that the faith of Israel will be reborn just as its land and state have been. May we live to see it, and work to be part of it.

As taken from, http://rabbisacks.org/nitzavim-5767-two-concepts-of-teshuvah/

¿Cuáles son los valores judíos?

Vivimos en un mundo próspero de 7 mil millones de personas; hay menos muerte por causa de la guerra y la pobreza; y nuestras vidas son más largas y saludables que nunca. La tecnología, los avances médicos, el comercio global y las comunicaciones siguen empujando hacia adelante.

Pero este progreso sólo es posible gracias a los valores en común que tenemos como humanidad y sólo es bueno cuando nos ceñimos a ellos. Valoramos la medicina cuando valoramos la vida, el comercio nos beneficia cuando mantenemos nuestra palabra; la tecnología es beneficiosa sólo cuando la usamos para construir un mundo mejor, más justo y con mayores oportunidades y libertades para todos; las comunicaciones globales tienen valor sólo cuando queremos compartir nuestras ideas y colaborar con los demás.

Estos son algunos de los ejemplos de los valores judíos que contribuyen para que tengamos un mundo mejor:

A semejanza de Di-s

Es un mundo muy grande y aun así no hay dos personas iguales, que piensen, se vean y vivan de la misma manera. Aun así, la Torá asegura algo muy osado: que todo ser humano es creado a imagen y semejanza de Di-s.

Niño o adulto, hombre o mujer, pobre o rico, discapacitado o no, miembro de tu pueblo o extranjero, el Autor del universo nos insufla un alma a cada uno de nosotros. Cada ser humano es a su manera, única e irremplazable, un representante del Creador dentro de su creación; lo que quiere decir que la vida de cada persona es sagrada.

Los sabios judíos enseñaron: “Quien termina con una vida, destruye el mundo entero. Quien salva una vida, salva el mundo entero”.

Esta es la única medida que podemos tener para la vida humana: cada una vale lo que el mundo.

Los derechos del individuo

Una ciudad es sitiada y el enemigo declara: “Dennos a uno de los suyos y los dejaremos en paz”.

¿Qué es lo correcto?

Los sabios judíos enseñaron que no tenemos permitido entregar la vida de ningún inocente, aun cuando el objetivo sea salvar otras vidas. ¿Por qué? Porque la Torá no nos permite dar la vida de un inocente aun cuando ello beneficie a una mayoría.

Durante la mayor parte del siglo XX, las potencias estuvieron en disputa. No era sólo un conflicto de poder, sino de ideologías. De un lado, estaban los que creían que el estado estaba por encima de los individuos: una persona podía ser desposeída de todo lo que tenía y una comunidad podía ser exterminada si era por el beneficio estatal. Del otro lado, estaban aquellos que creían en el derecho de cada persona a la vida, a la justicia, a su propiedad y a decidir cómo y dónde vivir.

El experimento del siglo XX ha mostrado claramente que el camino de la Torá es, de hecho, el único que permite una sociedad viable.

Justicia social

Abraham, el padre del pueblo judío, creía tan fervientemente en la justicia que incluso puso a prueba a Di-s cuando Éste le informó que iba a destruir a Sdom y Amorá, las dos ciudades del pecado. Abraham lo discutió: “¿Qué pasa si hay personas justas en esas ciudades? ¿Acaso no deberías salvar esas ciudades por causa de ellos? ¿Acaso el Juez de toda la Tierra no hará justicia?”.

La justicia es el trabajo de Di-s: él creó el mundo y de él depende que funcione correctamente. Por eso es un gran privilegio que nos haga sus socios en esta tarea tan vital como divina.

“Justicia, justicia perseguirás”, nos manda Di-s en la Torá. Y como los sabios judíos enseñaron: “El mundo perdura gracias a tres virtudes: la justicia, la verdad y la paz”.

Para un judío, buscar la justicia es una manera de buscar a Di-s. En la mañana de Iom Kipur, el día más sagrado del calendario, los judíos leen al profeta Ieshaiau, quien dice lo que Di-s necesita de las personas: “afloja todos los lazos que atan injustamente a los hombres, libera a los oprimidos, rompe todos los yugos. Comparte tu pan con los hambrientos, lleva a tu casa a quienes no tienen hogar, cuando veas personas desnudas, vístelas, no rechaces a las personas necesitadas”.

Arreglar el mundo

¿Los humanos pueden hacer del mundo un lugar mejor?

Durante la mayor parte de la historia, las personas sabias se rieron de esta idea y muchos consideraron al mundo como un lugar oscuro y maldito. Nadie se imaginaba que pudiéramos lograr un cambio permanente. Todo es circular, decían, a veces prevalece lo bueno y, otras, lo malo.

Pero la Torá de los judíos ve el tiempo como una gran historia que se dirige a una era de paz y sabiduría en la Tierra. Cada persona tiene el deber de dejar el mundo mejor de lo que lo encontró. Con nuestras acciones, todos somos los constructores del mundo que vendrá.

Los judíos llamamos a esta idea tikún, que significa ‘arreglar’ el mundo y hacerlo aún mejor de lo que el Creador lo hizo.

Di-s creó todo a partir del amor. Ama este mundo y sostiene a todas sus criaturas con amor. Nos da la posibilidad de asociarnos a él en la creación del mundo a través de la mejora y la armonización de nuestro planeta.

La tierra de Israel

Israel es la tierra del pueblo judío, prometida por Di-s como una herencia eterna. Los libros sagrados de los cristianos y musulmanes están de acuerdo en este particular.

Pero, al mismo tiempo, Di-s también dijo a los judíos que debían respetar al extranjero que vivía entre ellos. Incluso si esa persona no respetaba los rituales y no era un miembro de la tribu, el extranjero debía ser tratado con dignidad, ya que los judíos y los no judíos son igualmente responsables de cumplir con las leyes básicas que incumben a toda la humanidad.

En el siglo XVI, Europa se convirtió en el campo de batalla de la intolerancia religiosa. Las personas creían que aquellos que no estaban de acuerdo con sus creencias eran herejes y que debían convertirse a su religión, o ser asesinados. Pero cuando volvieron al camino de la Torá, la Biblia hebrea, aprendieron que ese no era el modo: Di-s quiere que hagamos la paz con los demás y eso sólo es posible cuando aceptamos las diferencias.

Entre los judíos siempre hay distintas opiniones. A los judíos nos gusta mucho discutir asuntos importantes. Por experiencia, saben que sólo mediante la diversidad de opiniones y el debate se puede llegar a la verdad. De hecho, el Talmud, uno de los textos judíos más estudiados y fundamento (junto con la Biblia) de las leyes judías, es una compilación de discusiones de los sabios.

Las personas deben respetar las leyes de sus países y aceptar que hay una autoridad final, el Autor del mundo. Pero forzar a los demás a ser iguales va en contra del plan de Di-s de tener un mundo diverso y hermoso.

Monoteísmo

¿Cuál es la diferencia entre tener un Di-s, muchos dioses o ninguno? ¿No podemos apoyarnos en la razón humana y en el instinto como guía para vivir en paz con los demás? La historia responde a estas preguntas con un resonante “no”.

Esto es especialmente así luego del siglo XX, cuando la nación más educada del planeta, aquella que se enorgullecía de sus avances en ciencia, cultura, filosofía y ética, cometió los crímenes más atroces contra la humanidad. Y no lo hizo por locura o revancha, sino con la razón fundamental de lo que consideraban ciencia pura. Millones de personas inocentes fueron esclavizadas o gaseadas hasta la muerte porque simplemente fueron consideradas inferiores.

La naturaleza y la razón humana no son esencialmente malas. Naturalmente los seres humanos se preocupan por los demás y se indignan con las injusticias. La razón humana ha producido mucha sabiduría, pero la mente puede ser fácilmente engañada. Cuando la moral se vuelve inconveniente, encontramos la manera de esquivarla; cuando la ética se interpone en nuestro camino, encontramos razones para cambiar las reglas del juego. Y cuando se trata de personas que están fuera de nuestro clan, tribu o sociedad, determinamos con facilidad que no son humanos como nosotros y logramos justificarlo todo.

Por todo esto es vital que aceptemos una sola Autoridad, sobre todo en nuestra sociedad globalizada, que no sea ni humana ni elegida por los hombres y cuya palabra sea eterna e inmutable.

La paz del mundo

La paz, ¿es mejor que la guerra?

Aunque cueste creerlo, no hace mucho tiempo las personas creían que la guerra era un mejor negocio. Era la manera en la que los hombres y las naciones demostraban su poder. Aquellos que protestaban contra la guerra solían ser considerados tontos y locos.

Pero hace más de 2600 años, los profetas judíos Ieshaiau y Mijá profetizaron un tiempo en el que las naciones elegirían no ir más a la guerra y el mundo se llenaría de paz.

De hecho, para los judíos, la paz, Shalom, no es una palabra más, sino uno de los nombres de Di-s.

Recién a partir del final de la Primera Guerra Mundial, las personas empezaron a entender que la humanidad, con su vasto arsenal de armas tecnológicas, no podía permitirse más la guerra. Luego de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, las naciones del mundo crearon una gran estructura, la Organización para las Naciones Unidas (ONU), con el objetivo de discutir la paz y no la guerra.

En una de las paredes de las oficinas de la ONU están talladas las palabras de Ieshaiau y Mijá: “Forjarán sus espadas en rejas de arado y sus lanzas en hoces; no alzará espada nación contra nación, ni se adiestrarán más para la guerra”.

Que ese tiempo llegue pronto, mucho antes de lo que nos podamos imaginar.

Según tomado de, https://es.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3247477/jewish/Cules-son-los-valores-judos.htm

The Future of the Past

by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

The scene that brings the book of Genesis to a close is intensely significant. Joseph’s brothers were terrified that, after the death of their father Jacob, Joseph would take revenge against them for selling him into slavery. Years before, he had told them that he forgave them: “Now, do not worry or feel guilty because you sold me. Look: God has sent me ahead of you to save lives” (Gen. 45:5). Evidently, though, they only half-believed him.

Their fear was based on the fact that, as is clear from the earlier story of Esau, sons were not allowed to take revenge against their brothers in the lifetime of their father. Esau had said, “The days of mourning for my father will be here soon. I will then be able to kill my brother Jacob” (Gen. 27:41). That is what the brothers now feared: that Joseph had not really forgiven them but was simply waiting until Jacob died.

That is why, after Jacob’s death, the brothers sent word to Joseph saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father” (Gen. 50:16).

So Joseph had to tell them again that he forgave them:

“Don’t be afraid,” said Joseph. “Am I in place of God? You intended to harm me but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen. 50:19–20)

The episode is moving in itself, but it also resolves one of the central questions of the book of Genesis – sibling rivalry: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers. Can brothers live peaceably with one another? This question is fundamental to the biblical drama of redemption, for if brothers cannot live together, how can nations? And if nations cannot live together, how can the human world survive?

Only now, with the reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers, can the story move on to the birth of Israel as a nation, passing from slavery to freedom.

These words of Joseph, though, tell us something more. I have previously argued that the entire drama Joseph put the brothers through when they came to buy food in Egypt – accusing them of being spies, and so on – was to test whether they had done teshuvah. Did they realise the wrong they had done in selling Joseph and had they really changed as a result? At the height of the drama, as soon as Judah said he would stay as a slave so that his brother Benjamin could go free, Joseph revealed his true identity to them and forgave them. Judah, who had proposed selling Joseph as a slave, had completely changed. He had done teshuvah. He was now a different person.

Yet something more is revealed in this last conversation between Joseph and his brothers. It concerns the most paradoxical of all rabbinic statements about teshuvah. It was said by one of the great baalei teshuvah, penitents, of the Talmud:  the third-century sage known as Reish Lakish. Originally a highway robber, he was persuaded by Rabbi Yochanan to give up his lawless ways and join him in the house of study. Reish Lakish repented and became Rabbi Yochanan’s disciple and colleague (and also his brother-in-law: he married Yochanan’s sister).

Perhaps speaking from his own experience, he said: Great is repentance, because through it deliberate sins are accounted as though they were merits, as it is said, “When the wicked man turns from his wickedness and does what is lawful and right, he shall live thereby” (Ezekiel 33:19).[1] This statement is almost unintelligible. How can we change the past? How can deliberate sins be transformed into their opposite – into merits, good deeds?

The quotation from Ezekiel does not prove the point. If anything, it does the opposite. The prophet is speaking about a person who, having undergone teshuvah, now does good instead of evil – and it is because of his good deeds, not his earlier evil ones, that “he shall live.” The verse says that good deeds can overcome a previous history of wrongdoing. It does not say that they can turn bad into good, deliberate sins into merits.

Reish Lakish’s statement is intelligible only in the light of Joseph’s words to his brothers after the death of their father: “You intended to harm me but God intended it for good.” The brothers had committed a deliberate sin by selling Joseph into slavery. They had then done teshuvah. The result, says Joseph, is that – through divine providence (“God intended it”) – their action is now reckoned “for good.”

Not only is this the source of Reish Lakish’s principle; it also enables us to understand what it means. Any act we perform has multiple consequences, some good, some bad. When we intend evil, the bad consequences are attributed to us because they are what we sought to achieve. The good consequences are not: they are mere unintended outcomes.

Thus, in the case of Joseph, many positive things happened once he had been brought to Egypt. Eventually he became second-in-command of Egypt, overseer of its economy, and the man who saved the country from ruin during the years of famine. None of these consequences could be attributed to his brothers, even though they would not have happened had the brothers not done as they did. The reason is that the brothers neither foresaw nor intended this set of outcomes. They meant to sell Joseph as a slave, and that is what they did.

However, once the brothers had undergone complete repentance, their original intent was cancelled out. It was now possible to see the good, as well as the bad, consequences of their act – and to attribute the former to them. Paraphrasing Shakespeare’s Mark Antony, the good they did would live after them; the bad was interred with the past (Julius Caesar, act III, scene 2.). That is how, through repentance, deliberate sins can be accounted as merits, or as Joseph put it: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” This is a hugely significant idea, for it means that by a change of heart we can redeem the past.

This still sounds paradoxical. Surely time is asymmetrical. We can change the future but not the past. We can choose what is yet to be, but, in the words of the sages, “What has been, has been,”[2] and we cannot alter it.

We now see, through Joseph’s and Reish Lakish’s words, a revolutionary idea. There are two concepts of the past. The first is what happened. That is something we cannot change. The second is the significance, the meaning, of what happened. That is something we can change.

The great truth about the role of time in our lives is that we live life forwards, but we understand it only looking back. Consider an autobiography. Reading the story of a life, we see how a deprived childhood led to the woman of iron ambition, or how the early loss of a parent drove the man who spent his later years pursuing fame in search of the love he had lost.

It might have been otherwise. The deprived childhood or the loss of a parent might have led to a life dominated by a sense of defeat and inadequacy. What we become depends on our choices, and we are often free to choose this way or that. But what we become shapes the story of our life, and only in hindsight, looking back, do we see the past in context, as part of a tale whose end we now know. If life is like a narrative, then later events change the significance of earlier ones. That is what the story of Joseph and his brothers is telling us, according to Reish Lakish.

Joseph was saying to his brothers: by your repentance, you have written a new chapter in the story of which you are a part. The harm you intended to do me ultimately led to good. So long as you stayed the people prepared to sell a brother into slavery, none of that good could be attributed to you, but now you have transformed yourself through teshuvah, you have transformed the story of your life as well. By your change of heart you have earned the right to be included in a narrative whose ultimate outcome was benign. We cannot change the past, but we can change the story people tell about the past. But that only happens when we ourselves change.

We can only change the world if we can change ourselves. That is why the book of Genesis ends with the story of Joseph and his brothers. It tells on an individual level the story that the book of Exodus tells on a national level. Israel is charged with the task of transforming the moral vision of mankind, but it can only do so if individual Jews, of whom the forerunners were Jacob’s children, are capable of changing themselves.

Teshuvah is the ultimate assertion of freedom. Time then becomes an arena of change in which the future redeems the past and a new concept is born – the idea we call hope.

Shabbat Shalom.

1] Yoma 86b.

2] Pesachim 108a.

As taken from, http://rabbisacks.org/future-past-vayechi-5779/

A New Look at Einstein’s Changing Views of God and Judaism

Albert Einstein was often asked about his views on God. In the 1920s and 1930s, he insisted that he was not an atheist and that he believed “in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.”

Yet in 1954, near the end of his life, Einstein wrote a letter to philosopher Eric Gutkind – that sold at Christie’s Auction House recently for $2.9 million – that borders on belligerent toward God, Judaism, and the notion of a “chosen” people:

“[t]he word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends…. For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.”

For those of us who claim Einstein as “one of our own” and feel connected to our own Jewish identity, his “God Letter,” as it is called, is likely to make us feel uncomfortable. How are we to reconcile our embrace and celebration of Einstein with the content of this letter?

Quite simply, we must not – for lack of a better word – deify him.

Einstein may have been a brilliant scientist and great humanitarian, but he was not a theologian. As physicist Brian Greene remarked in an interview for WNYC, the National Public Radio station in New York City:

“The fact of the matter is, Einstein’s expertise in physics and in the ability to understand the force of gravity and the nature of space and time and matter and energy doesn’t give him any special insight into the nature of God.”

In that same radio interview, I said that it’s all right for Einstein to say different things about God and Judaism at different times in his life; as a human being, his life and experiences made him change his perspective.

As a scientist, Einstein had a passion and a drive to join together disparate theories. Indeed, for much of his life, Einstein was looking for a ““unified theory”” that could bring together quantum mechanics and gravity. That’s part of the job of science –– to find connections and explanations for a variety of phenomena. Think of Newton and his laws of motion, or Maxwell discovering the relationship between electricity and magnetism, or, yes, Einstein and his most famous equation linking matter with energy. A bedrock principle of science is that the universe makes sense, and we can help figure it out. A single, simple explanation for everything would be deeply satisfying.

That principle bleeds into how we view religion, as well. We want there to be a “unified theory” of our lives and of God, since that will help us make sense of the tragedies, the losses, and the setbacks we experience. It can feel deeply unsatisfying when we can’t figure it out.

Yet that’s not how religion, or even our understanding of God, works. Theology isn’t static; our views on God change throughout our lives because our experiences often lead us to reexamine who we are and how we understand ourselves. 

To me, the most important question about God isn’t “Who is God?” or “What is God?” but rather “When is God?” When do we find moments of transcendence? When do we find moments of deep connection? When do we bring more compassion, kindness, and justice to the world? These aren’t simply intellectual questions; they are questions that are at the core of who we are as human beings.

Einstein was one of the most brilliant thinkers in history, changing the way we understand the universe. But as a human being, he was subject to contradictions, limitations, and life’s challenges…just like the rest of us.

Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman is the founding director of Sinai and Synapses, an organization that bridges the scientific and religious worlds, and is being incubated at Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. His writings about the intersection of religion and science have been published in the books Seven Days, Many Voices and A Life of Meaning (both published by the CCAR Press). He is an internationally sought-out teacher, presenter, and scholar-in-residence.