The Heart of the Matter



For much of my life I have racked my brain trying to understand where Judaism and chr*stianity essentially differ.  After all, Judaism is undeniably the religion of the Bible, the religion practiced by the ancient Israelites.  If chr*stianity is the divinely sanctioned successor to this religion then there should not be so much hatred, hostility, and misunderstanding between the two faiths.  Somewhere there must be an answer, and it must be simple and obvious when it is found.

Well, I no longer believe that chr*stianity is the Divinely-ordained successor to the religion of the ancient Israelites and so no longer have the need to reconcile it to the Torah, but not too long ago I stumbled upon something that I believe is precisely the very thing I had been seeking for so long.  I believe that I have discovered the point of friction between the two faiths, and while it cannot be a "bridge" as I once thought in my naive Judaeo-chr*stian stage, it illustrates just why Judaism remains the unsuperceded Truth of G-d.

Some time before Pesach I read an article by Rabbi 'Avi Shafran at Jewish World Review entitled "The Karpas Conundrum" (http://www.jewishworldreview.com/avi/karpas_conundrum.php3).  In this essay Rabbi Shafran mentions a most interesting debate among the ancient Sages:

The Talmud recounts that the students of Shammai and of Hillel spent two and a half years arguing the question of whether "it would have been better for humankind not to have been created."

And, intriguingly, they came to conclude that man would have been better off uncreated, and added only that now that we humans find ourselves here, we must strive to examine and improve our actions.

Heady stuff, no doubt about it.  But then he tells us:

The famed 19th century Torah-giant Rabbi Yisroel Salanter addressed the meaning of the argument and its result. Needless to say, he explained, the students of Shammai and Hillel were not sitting in judgment on their Creator. What they were in truth arguing about was whether mankind, with its limited purview, can possibly hope to comprehend the fact that G-d deemed it worthwhile for humankind to exist.

And they concluded that we cannot. We are unable to fathom what good the Creator saw in providing one of his creations free will. It is surely better that mankind is here, but why cannot be known.

Already the hair was standing up on the back of my neck.  Then I recalled the words of a CHaBa"D Chassid with whom I have corresponded on occasion: the reason chr*stianity erroneously believes a mediator between G-d and man is necessary is because it does not understand that behind the veil of the physicality of our world lies only the one true reality of G-dliness.

Bingo.

However mitigated it may be (and it is very mitigated in its more traditional forms) chr*stianity at its heart cannot allow G-d to deal with the evil in the world because it has its source in something outside His Providence.  All is not G-dliness.  Instead, a world of G-dliness was invaded and corrupted by an outside force, an evil counterpart of G-d with whom He is at war.  No wonder an elaborate "scheme of redemption" was necessary, its sheer necessity blowing away in the eyes of the chr*stian any appeals to the self-evident permanence of the Torah from its own words.  So what?  An evil force has invaded the world G-d created!  This must be dealt with, and anyone who doesn't see this is denying the obvious!

Now it must be understood from the outset that the response to all this is not that HaShem is just as evil as He is good or that He is indifferent to sin and evil.  Not at all!  G-d is good and His Law forbids sin and enjoins goodness, and in the end good will triumph over evil forever.  Neither does it mean denying the existence of Satan HaMashchit ("the Destroying Satan") or of the demons, who were created in the twilight of the first Shabbat and left unfinished, leading to their malice toward G-d and man.  Nor does it in the least detract from the temptation of Eve by the Nachash (the Serpent) in Gan `Eiden (under the influence of the Satan) or from the Satan's doing everything in his power to cause us to sin--in fact, to destroy us--along with his other jobs of accusing us before G-d, harvesting our souls at death, and acting as the guardian angel of 'Edom (the rebellious "Lucifer, son of the morning" addressed in Isaiah 14:12 was the King of Babylon, not the Satan).  In fact, while it is possible that Adam and Eve in the Garden were much as we are today, the majority of the Sages indeed seem to teach that prior to HaChei't HaQadmon (the first sin) they were in fact immortal and more in control of themselves in the face of the Evil Inclination.

What then, precisely, does it mean?

Simply this: that the free will that makes sin possible, and therefore in some way even sin and evil itself, have their origin ultimately in G-d--not for their own sakes, but rather in some way we cannot understand, ultimately for the good.  It is precisely because we can never understand how sin and evil serve an ultimately good and holy purpose that the schools of Hillel and Shammai said that from our limited perspective, it would have been better had we never been created at all.  But since we were, then somehow not only will it be for the ultimate good, but no snafu has occurred in creation (even with the first sin and the expulsion from Eden), no alien force has corrupted an originally absolutely perfect world (where sin would not even have been possible).  Instead this is all part of G-d's plan.  And because the possibility of sin and failure were built into Creation from the beginning (and because HaShem's status as remaining in ultimate absolute control of His creation has never been threatened or compromised), no radical "scheme of redemption" in which G-d immolates Himself (chas vechalilah!) was ever necessary.  No "ransom" was ever needed to "redeem" man from a "captor" because only the One G-d alone has ever been the L-rd, G-d, owner, and absolute ruler of mankind and the entire universe.  And the Torah, the very blueprint or "logos" of Creation, is the sufficient antidote to sin and evil and it is through our lifelong struggles to conform more and more closely to it--Jews via Torat Mosheh and non-Jews via the Seven Noachide Laws--that we fulfill the purpose for which we were created.

Perhaps the short way of saying this is that G-d created the possibilty of sin and evil so they might be defeated by goodness, and that the Torah is the way He intended this to be done.  And this Torah includes law, grace, repentance, forgiveness, atonement . . . everything that chr*stianity later claimed to have discovered for the first time.

In Genesis 2:7 the Holy Torah, written by HaShem 974 generations before the Creation and dictated to Mosheh letter by letter, puts an extra letter yod in the word vayiytzer used to describe G-d's formation of Adam.  The reason there are two yods instead of one is precisely to teach us that G-d Himself created man with two yeitzers--the yeitzer hatov (good inclination) and the yeitzer hara` (evil inclination).  However much man's nature was disordered after eating the fruit of the tree, both yeitzers were there from the start, placed there by G-d.  Compare this to the chr*stian concept taken to its ultimate conclusion by a tiny and obscure Baptist denomination: that G-d placed only the good inclination in man but Satan came along afterwards and gave him the evil one, making man as he exists today the product not of one, but of two creators!

At this point, a word of caution is in order.  It is one of the supreme ironies of religion that the chr*stians whose worlview differs most radically from Judaism are the ones friendliest to it, while those who make this same "Jewish" anti-dualist argument against their radical Protestant opponents are the most hostile to Judaism.  For in fact the ancient classical forms of chr*stianity, whose very legitimacy is built upon this dualism, afterwards reject it.  How could they not?  For after rendering the Holy Torah useless by appealing to the disorder that came upon G-d's perfect creation, they then insist (against their Fundamentalist Protestant rivals) that the "salvation" chr*stianity brought to the world must be appropriated through a lifetime of struggle with and obedience to the "new law."  Therefore, traditional chr*stianity finds itself trapped in hypocrisy, insisting that the Satan's corruption of the world rendered the Torah useless but that the healing of this disorder (which is nowhere evident, as the world remains in the same disordered state it was thrown into after the first sin) can only be appropriated through a legal/ritual system which is very much like the Torah, except that it is not the Torah but a "replacement" for it.  As I have insisted before, traditional chr*stianity finds itself in the uncomfortable position of preaching Protestantism to the Jews and Judaism to the Protestants, though its adherents do not seem ever to have noticed this.

Radical Fundamentalist Protestants, on the other hand, though having a worldview more radically divergent from Judaism, nevertheless are more internally consistent, as they merely follow chr*stianity's foundational rhetoric to its inevitable conclusion and insist quite logically that if the Torah given by G-d amidst lightning and thunder on Mt. Sinai is insufficent to heal creation's wound, then all the more so is any other system cooked up later by men after the closing of the Biblical (even the "new testament") canon.  At the same time, though they regard it as useless for salvation (as they regard any such system), they are drawn to the Holy Torah precisely because it is the only such system that is truly and authentically Biblical.  Is it not possible that the Biblical orientation of Fundamentalist Protestants may one day overcome the radically un-Biblical worldview their logic forces on them because of their assumption of the truth of chr*stianity and their misunderstanding of the nature of their own weaknesses?  I believe that it is.  There was no greater proponent of radical G-d/Satan dualism, Calvinistic total depravity, and passive reception of salvation than this very writer, and I was led to reject this position not by any sudden change in my self-perception or interpretation of my own many weaknesses but merely by my growing knowledge that this concept is not that of the Bible (though logic dictates that it it should be, it isn't even the concept of authentic, historical chr*stianity).  The Orthodox Jewish world should be encouraged by the fact that this radically dualist community ignores the ancient chr*stian communions and insists on "putting Humpty-Dumpty together again" by mixing their version of chr*stianity with Jewish ritual and symbolism.  Unfortunately, this sign of spiritual hunger is almost universally interpreted as an evil missionary plot against Jews and is attacked and discouraged instead.  It appears that for some time to come Fundamentalist Protestants will be learning their Hebrew from foolish "Jewish-chr*stian" renegades rather than from sound Torah Jews who are reaching out to them to nourish their starving souls with truth.

One more word of caution is necessary.  My condemnation of "dualism" should not be interpreted as meaning that the Torah worldview does not have a very dualistic outlook of its own.  It rejects only the metaphysical dualism that sees in our sinful world a "war in Heaven" between a good and an evil god.  Judaism does indeed teach that there is very much a war to the death between good and evil, but this war is not in Heaven but here on earth and in every human heart.  No one who is familiar with the commandment to exterminate the Seven Nations of Canaan, with HaShem's utter loathing of the depravity of `avodah zarah (pagan worship), with the Qabbalistic concept of the good side and the "other side," with the war between Israel and 'Edom/`Amaleq, and with the idea that 'arur Haman (cursed be Haman) automatically means barukh Mordekhai (blessed be Mordecai), could possibly not understand that G-d Himself is at war with evil.  But in some mysterious way, the very possibility and thus existence of evil plays a role in the ultimate triumph of good and the vindication of the truth that the only reality is G-dliness.  And it is the Holy Torah through which the world was created and of which all human history is merely the unfolding that this victory will be secured.  May this vindication happen soon!

One final irony may be noted, and it is perhaps the ultimate irony in all this religious confusion.  If there were any people in history whom one would expect to believe in an evil counterpart to the One G-d it would be the Jewish people.  Throughout their history (a history longer than that of any other nation or religion) they have been targeted for extermination with such a regularity and systematic fiendishness that one would naturally conclude that their G-d has an enemy.  But amazingly, they are the one people who insist on telling the world that their One G-d is the only power there is (though the Satan indeed tries to foment their destruction, G-d forbid, as is his job).  And it seems that the more they proclaim this truth the more the rest of the world wishes to prove to them otherwise.  Yet the more "proof" Israel has been given (and they've been given more than anyone else ever has!) the more they insist on the absolute Oneness of G-d and that this G-d alone is the only true reality.  May they never falter in that mission, and may its successful fulfillment happen soon, speedily, and in our days.  'Amein.

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