Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Judaism in a "Nutshell" - What is Judaism "Exactly"?


What is Judaism really all about? When did it begin? Is it just another religion?

Judaism, contrary to popular belief, is not in fact a religion. One may feel the need to call it a way of life, but it goes far deeper. Before we can begin to understand what Judaism is, we need to agree on one thing. Without this, there is simply no way to progress, to appreciate Judaism, and to be prepared for what it demands of every single Jew – and even of every non-Jew.

A story is told of an atheist. While he had no belief in G-d, he was a master artist. A perfectionist if we could go so far as to say! He approached a learned Sage on an occasion and began insulting him for his belief in G-d. “Do you really believe there is a G-d?” he asked. “Do you really believe there is Someone who created the world? Someone who watches over us, expecting we behave in life according to a certain code? Someone who knows what we do every moment and will bless us for the good we do and who cares if we don’t behave ourselves?! Surely the world came about through a Big Bang! There must have been a cataclysmic explosion of sorts that made everything, bringing all into existence!”

The Sage told the atheist-artist to return the next day, as he needed some time to think over these serious questions. The next day, the artist returned expecting plausible answers – if not more – to his intricate questions. The Sage presented the most exquisite painting to the artist – as a gift! He was overwhelmed at the beauty of the painting. Every detail of a life-scene had been painted to perfection. People could be seen walking… buildings, perfectly painted. The faces of people reflected well who they were. The buildings – even clearer than the real thing!

“Who was the artist who painted such a beautiful image?” asked the artist. The Sage replied, “There was none. A funny thing happened to me yesterday. After you left, I had thought over your question. I had placed a large piece of paper on my table – where all my own paints were, and had thought best how to answer you. I was just about to write down my thoughts on the page, when suddenly, as I bumped the table, the paints spilled all over the canvas. What you see is the result!”

Insulted at the Sage’s answer, the artist explained to the Sage that such beautiful images cannot just happen of their own accord. There certainly must have been an artist who painted such an amazing image! “Likewise,” replied the Sage, “This world too could not simply have come about through some sort of mystical explosion. Rather, in this situation too, there must be an Artist behind the creation. And He must certainly have had good reason to create things in the perfect state as He has.”

Truth or myth?! To begin the road to connecting with the Creator, means before anything, the real approach of realizing that there certainly is a Creator – Someone who has brought creation into existence, just the way He wished – for just the reasons He wants it to be this way. It is really perfect – although missing just a few pieces. Things we need to fix on our own.

We could liken His creation to a fruit or a nut – “coated” and covered over by a hard shell with the luscious fruit inside. Of course, the fruit is perfect just as it is. But it has a layering over it which must be removed before enjoying the sweet taste inside.

So too has the Creator made His world. Everything good can be found in it. But before this good is revealed, there is much work needed to remove the outer layer (there for the good of the fruit of course!) and finally enjoy the sweet fruit hidden beneath the shell and peel created deliberately by the Creator for very good reason.

Who better to remove the shell than the very first man who G-d would create to attend to His world. He failed, breaking the shell into fragments which concealed even more of the tasty fruit. The task would be given to his children. But his son would destroy things even further, and so life continued right until the time of Noah. Noah well knew what the Creator wanted, and did his share to correcting the world, but his generation rebelled, leaving the world in a gigantic mess! And so, the Creator allowed Noah to be saved – together with his family, in the hope that he would repair everything. The task was too great, and Noah erred too. Life continued with each generation doing its best to correct the flaws each had added to the other.

One man took the task of world-refinement most seriously. His name was Abraham. Abraham realised that there was only One G-d in charge of the universe. Acknowledging Him, and trying to convince others of their important role in creation, he began the path that all Jews would follow – serving their Creator, bringing goodness and kindness to the world, and encouraging all the other nations to come closer to G-d. Naturally, whoever wished to could take part in the process of refinement, but seeing the task ahead, all eventually dropped out one by one, until the mission of the refinement of the world would be passed on to Isaac, then to Jacob and his twelve children. They would enter into Egypt – the nakedness of the world itself, a place filled with the most polluted impurity possible. It was there that they would become slaves serving another “god” called Pharoah. Having achieved much refinement there, however, they were taken out by Moses – the servant of G-d, and lead through the desert for 40 years, until ultimately entering the Holy Land. During their trek, they would pass through Mount Sinai, where they received the Torah – the ultimate guide of life. The guide that would teach them everything necessary to do, in order to perfect the world.

With the Torah, G-d gave additional commandments to the nations of the world too. Commandments which had already begun on the first day of creation. While a total of 613 commandments were given to the Jewish people, 7 commandments were given to the rest of the world. A deal had been made with the world. The task of the Jewish people would be to bring refinement into the world through the observance of all 613 commandments. The nations were by no means exempt from their own task, which required the complete observance of 7 commandments.

And so, the history of Jewish life continued, as Joshua lead the Jewish people into the Land of Israel. There would be Judges and Prophets who would lead the Jewish people. There would be Kings and other leaders who would advise – some for their good, and others for their downfall.

The Jewish people would experience the freedom of building a Temple, and seeing its destruction because they had drifted off the path set out for them. G-d granted them another Temple, but through their drifting off the path, losing touch with their obligations, this Temple was destroyed as well. From here, it would be a long wait until the Final Temple would be rebuilt.

This Temple will be miraculous in nature. It will be built by the Righteous Redeemer, a man steeped in Torah as King David himself was. A man who does not depart from the Torah, neither to the left, nor to the right. A man filled with kindness, who brings only good things to the world. Only peace.

What does this mean to each of us? Right now, every person has the obligations imposed upon him. Those who are Jewish, must observe the 613 commandments given to them. Through these commandments, the outer shell concealing G-dliness in the world is stripped away revealing the “tasty fruit” inside. But let no non-Jew feel he is exempt, that he is any inferior – that he has no duty. He too must do what is necessary – 7 commandments (the 7 commandments of Noah, as they are known.) Through these, he too takes part in the rectification of the world, something which began 5769 years ago.

We are all to take part in this process to ultimately bring redemption to the world, where we will all be blessed with a goodness – the likes of which none of us has ever seen or known about before.

There is no fallacy – nor is there any myth. There is just One G-d. He has given the world rules to live by. Through them we get a glimpse into His desire. They fill each person with a sense of satisfaction at life – and a sense of accomplishment. They fill him with a sense of purpose. A sense of love and goodness about everything. They bring peace to oneself, and peace to the world.

Most of all, they bring all to realise the necessity of understanding that life is nothing – without the Torah.

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