Often during my recent ten weeks in Germany I shared in Christian Churches and school classrooms the underlying principle of our religion. It is an ideal of which many Jews are not aware.
So involved do we become in the details of an event– whether it be a Sabbath Eve service, the High Holy Days, a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, food preparations for Chanukah or Passover, or getting the kids dressed for Purim–that we remain unaware of Torah’s revolution in human thought that underlies everything we do as Jews.
In the pagan world, from which Judaism evolved, people thought of gods as super human forces that possessed great power. The purpose of worship was to appease these various deities. Worshippers made their offerings in the hope that the god or goddess would not use its power to hurt them or, conversely, in the hope that the god or goddess would use its power to help the petitioner in some way.
Torah posits an entirely different idea about God. We claim that there is one God, not many and that God is invisible with no shape or bodily form. Most Jews know these things.
What many cannot articulate, though, is that our God has an entirely different agenda than the objects of pagan worship.
In our tradition God’s primary interest is how human beings treat each other.
God’s primary goal is that we create–on the earth that God has entrusted to us —a just, caring and compassionate society.
Almost every religion offers a “Golden Rule” type saying. But our tradition insists that every Jewish act should reinforce that vital principle.
As the Sabbath and festivals of the year, as well as the joyous and sorrowful events of our lives, come and go, we should ask ourselves: How can I best connect this observance with that central ideal for myself, my children and for my grandchildren?
We should strive to make a direct connection between every Jewish event and the idea of God who wants us to use our talents to make a better world.
If we succeed, we can put to rest concerns for the Jewish future.
If we succeed, our people will thrive as “לאור גוים (L’or goi-eem) a light to the nations (Isaiah 42:6)” that will brighten this ever-darkening world.