By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Author’s note: This week we shall continue, as in the past column, to address the thoughtful questions submitted by the Dallas student Jonathan W. via his teacher Rabbi Israel Lashak of DATA/NCSY
The problem of religious diversity:
a). Is it fair and right for God to let millions of innocent children get indoctrinated into religions like Islam? Some of those children then believe they should become suicide bombers in the name of Allah. Why doesn’t God help prevent such tragedies by revealing himself more clearly to such people?
I’m not asking the Jewish God to force people to believe in him as their Father, just to give them clear evidence of it, similar to a DNA paternity test. One way he could do this, for example, is to line up all the stars to display the Shield of David, along with the 10 Commandments for all to see.
b). Also, he could communicate with people directly through regular mail, voicemail or even email, if he cared to. But it looks like this only happens in the movies like “Bruce Almighty.” Since most people are of different religions, it seems as if God does not care to develop a personal relationship with most people.
c). Here’s another way of framing the same question: In monotheistic religions, God is regarded s the ultimate father figure. But what kind of father lets some of his children go their whole lives without ever learning his true name? Whether it’s Yah-weh, Christ, Allah or something else, God seems conspicuously silent.
Thanks again for your penetrating questions, which reflect much thought and introspection into core Jewish concepts.
The world we live in is referred to in Hebrew as olam hazeh (this world). The word for world, olam, comes from the root alam (hidden). What does “the world” have to do with hidden?
The answer, explain the sages, is that the almighty “hides” Himself in this world. It doesn’t mean God is not present in the world, rather He is completely present but in a hidden way. One must seek Him out to find Him and create a personal relationship with Him.
The reason God chose to be present in a hidden way is a very important one: to enable us to have free will. Free will is one of the very basic tenets of our belief system; without it, man would be a type of robot and not be liable for reward or punishment for any of his deeds, bad or good. There would be not room for Torah for man to perfect himself and the world, for life itself as we know it and God willed it.
If God would make Himself present in a very obvious way, the choice between good and evil would not be an even or fair one. The option to do good would be overwhelmingly compelling, reducing us and our choices to robotic ones.
The same is true with respect to the Torah itself, if the truth of Torah were written across the Heavens. Although you are correct that this would not constitute physically forcing all to accept it and one could conceivably deny it anyway, the choice would not be even or fair.
Only through the olam, by way of obfuscation of the existence of God and the Torah, do we have the opportunity for free will and hence the reward endowed to those who seek out the truth and find it.
One time, and one time only, did God see fit to reveal the truth of His existence and the existence of Torah, by speaking directly to the Jewish people at Sinai in a way the entire world could hear. That one direct revelation to the entire nation, (which, by the way, is accepted by Christians and Muslims as well), was meant to last throughout world history.
Our job and the job of the rest of the world is to embrace the truths revealed openly at that time to all of mankind. That is our, and the entire world’s, free choice. If the leaders of certain sects choose to ignore the truth of Torah, which teaches that life and love are supreme, and choose instead a path of hatred and lauding death, that is their free choice.
It is not God’s job, despite his love and best wishes for all of mankind, to miraculously set them straight. That would defy the purpose of creation.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at email@example.com.