By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Over the next few weeks I hope to address a number of thoughtful Jewish questions I received from a young college-age student from New Jersey. Here is #1:
Dear Rabbi Fried,
Since 11th grade, I have been bothered by the following question. I believe God is the only power and one is required to believe in Him and only Him. A Christian believes Jesus is a power and, therefore, we are required to believe in Him. The Boston bombers believe what they did was right because their victims don’t believe in Mohammed. How do I know I am not wasting my life?
I think a few questions are implicit in your question: Firstly, how do we know Judaism and its beliefs are any more compelling or truthful than the others you mentioned?
Secondly, if such diametrically opposed beliefs could coexist under the title of organized religion, perhaps the entire institution of organized religion is flawed?
Lastly, if the above are correct, perhaps you are wasting your time and life by investing it in the beliefs and practices of Judaism?
Let us address these questions in reverse order.
The notion of wasting your life is a relative question. Even if, for arguments sake, Judaism is a complete fabrication, those who espouse the mitzvos and Jewish beliefs live a very fulfilling, ethical and enjoyable life.
We encourage marriage, building a family, dressing nicely and making a good living. The laws limit your lusts and out-of-bounds desires by a code of eating certain, healthier foods and acknowledging God every time we eat.
Enjoying life and all its blessings are a theme of Judaism. One would be hard-pressed to show how such a person “wasted their life!” If, however, Judaism is true and one would neglect to heed its commandments, the person would be in far worse shape than the first scenario.
The existence of contradictory and even violent messages by organized religion should not come as a surprise, especially considering how the religions you mention were initially spread “by the sword” more than they were promulgated philosophically.
We often find that the institution of government is abused and utilized improperly as a power ploy, casting aspersions upon the individuals doing so, not on the institution of government.
The Torah itself explains what sets Judaism apart from other religions when it relates, after the Ten Commandments were given, Hashem said to Moshe, “so shall you say to the Children of Israel, ‘you have seen that I have spoken to you from heaven’” (Shemos/Exodus 20:19).
Similarly the Torah asks, “Has a people ever heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire as you have heard, and survived?” (Devarim/Deut. 4:33).
The Torah is teaching that what sets itself apart from other religions is that it came as a direct revelation from the Almighty to the entire Jewish nation. This is radically different than every other religion, without exception, that claims to have had a revelation from God to an individual or small group of individuals and that they are “passing on the word” to the rest.
In fact, Christians and Muslims believe that God spoke openly to the Jews at Sinai; they just contend that He changed His mind later and rejected the Jews. Please contemplate these ideas and let me know what you think!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.