Rabbi Eli Perlman delivrered this D’var Torah on Day 1 of Rosh Hashana – 5782
Whenever someone says that it was the Jewish People who introduced monotheism to the world, I wonder who came up with that mishigas! There have always been people who believed in all kinds of gods, from one god to many gods. The thing about this is that those gods were all created by human beings. They were created in the forms of statues made of wood or rocks or other physical representations of what they thought their god or gods looked like. What Avraham introduced to the world was a radical and yet very sophisticated notion that we did not create G*d, but rather that G*d created us. He postulated that G*d is a someone, not a something or a mere object. Avraham taught the world that G*d has preferences. G*d makes choices. G*d has opinions. G*d has feelings. This is so different than the material gods that had none of those characteristics. Those other gods are somethings; our G*d is a someone.
So then, who or what is this someone we call G*d? What do people mean when declaring their belief in G*d? Is it nothing more than a belief or a faith in a higher being? Is it a blind belief of something that does not exist in the real world? The more one believes, the more G*d is real to us. Conversely, the less we believe, the less G*d exists at all.
Occasionally I hear people say, I wish I could believe, but I do not. We all know that there are believers and there are non-believers. Some believe when they feel they need to and do not believe when they have no reason to. Some believe when things go great and do not believe when things go awry and vice versa. Some always believe and some never believe. When I hear a nonbeliever say, “You know, Rabbi, I am starting to believe in G*d”, I immediately think that the person must have just experienced either an awesome or a horrific event in their lives. Think about it … what else would cause a person to say that?
Getting to the subject at hand, what is G*d? Is G*d something to believe in or is G*d a fact? Is asking if someone believes in G*d the same as asking if someone believes in air or fire or water or people? Does it take only faith to accept G*d’s existence or is G*d as real as the sun, the moon, and the stars?
Answering these questions is what Avraham did. He wound up changing everything. Up until Avraham, people had faith that their homemade gods would do things for them. Avraham was the first, not to just believe in G*d, but more importantly, to understand that G*d was as real as everything that exists in the universe. Avraham based this on how everything got started. That is why the Torah begins with the words, “Bereishit Bara Al*him… In the beginning there was G*d…”
I do not know about you, but I find it very hard for the human mind to comprehend infinity. Science does not hold that the universe was always here. Scientists claim that the universe did not begin until something caused it to begin. What was it that started the universe? Our remarkable Torah answered this question millennia before Darwin roamed the earth in the 1800s. “In the beginning, there was G*d.” From G*d comes everything else. Whether it was a Big Bang or a little bang or two bangs or five bangs or, as the Torah suggests, seven bangs; whatever, it all started with something and that something is G*d who keeps that same Divine creation ongoing in the present.
Even though we do not know how to prove G*d, ignoring that G*d exists is no different than a blind person saying there is no such thing as red or blue or yellow; or a deaf person saying there is no such thing as soothing or joyful music. The Torah tells us that we can see the results of G*d, but we will never be able see G*d or to comprehend G*d’s ways.
As Einstein taught, the theory of evolution could never work without G*d. He would ask the evolutionists how the universe began? Most would respond that it began when something exploded. Professor Einstein taught that “For every one-billion particles of antimatter there were one-billion-and-one particles of matter. And when the mutual annihilation was complete, one-billionth remained – and that’s our present universe. G*d has never played dice with the universe.” He also taught, “Anyone who thinks the universe turned out like this by accident is a fool.”
The point is very simple. G*d was there and created the means to put everything else into motion. Einstein wrote that there are “strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies” between science and religion. He insisted that there is no possibility of a conflict between science and religion. The two may be distinct, but there are dependencies between the two.
So, it is not a question of belief, but acknowledgement that there is G*d. That is what Avraham gave the world. As the years went on, the Jewish view of G*d developed, becoming much more complete beginning with G*d’s Revelation at Sinai. The conversations that Avraham had with G*d and Yitzchok had with G*d and Yaakov had with G*d are all well documented and commentators have had a field day with each of them. It is from those conversations that we are introduced to G*d, but Moshe’s discussions with G*d teach us infinitely more. Compare how our Torah describes G*d with other documents and bibles whose idols are stone, wood, or even human. Those are based on faith while Jews acknowledge the reality of G*d.
I am not sure about you, but I find it hard to believe that other religions do not believe in intelligent design and reject evolution. According to our delicious Torah, evolution implies intelligent design. Why? Creation, as defined by Torah, defines an intelligent evolution of the universe.
This understanding brings us back to the uniquely Jewish view of G*d as the original being. Think about it. How could a random spontaneous combustion start such an intelligent design? This universe had to be set in motion, not by a something, but by a someone who is free to decide what to do when creating the universe. That someone must have a personality and that someone is G*d.
This concept is the basis of G*d’s Revelation at Sinai. This could easily be the biggest contribution that Jewish thought has brought to the world. I repeat, it is not that Avraham introduced monotheism to the world. Avraham introduced the world to the fact that G*d is not an object; not a something; G*d is a someone! G*d is a someone with opinions and feelings. G*d chose to create the universe.
Based on what I just said, why? Why did G*d create the universe? What caused G*d to choose to do this? If G*d was always here, why choose to create something as complex as the universe at all? Why was G*d not happy living the easy life of not having to worry about anything? What was missing in G*d’s existence? What did G*d need that was not there?
I figure if G*d wanted us to know, we would have been told, so therefore, as Jackie Mason would have said, “It’s none of your business. The answer is up to you. I thought I knew, maybe I knew…”
In all seriousness, the question changes from being whether there is a G*d to why did G*d create the universe? The question is, what does G*d need? Since we all understand that G*d chose to create the world, why make that choice? Clearly, there had to be something G*d needed or there would be no reason to choose to create anything at all. To achieve that something, if I can steal the words from Fiddler on the Roof, “There must have been a vast eternal plan.”
This is where belief comes in. We can only guess by looking at history to begin to understand this. Since I am not a Kabbalist, I will not be able to answer it from a mystic’s perspective. I am, however, a theologist. I can assure you that there is no factual religious answer to this either. Ironically, there is a solid scientific answer to this question.
The science of the creation of the universe was set in motion by a decision rooted in need. Everything in nature is driven by needs. Only the human adds the complication of wants. We want lots of things we do not need. That is not true with anything else in the universe. Earthquakes and hurricanes and tornadoes do not just happen, they need to happen. Therefore, the only reason for creation was a need its Creator had.
This further proves the existence of G*d. Anyone who says they believe in G*d is talking nonsense because it is like saying I believe there is a moon and a sun in the sky. They exist whether I believe in them or not. Asking, “Do you believe in G*d?” makes no sense. Understanding the notion of what G*d needs is the only relevant question. The answer to that is what do we believe G*d needs from us. This is the key question during these ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. What did G*d need from creation, and by extrapolation, what does G*d need from us? That, by the way, is the question that our entire TaNaCh, our entire Jewish Bible, is trying to help us answer.
Since the evolution of the world followed an intelligent design, what is its purpose? What is our purpose? Why are we here? These questions cannot be answered unless we understand why G*d created the universe in the first place. If I do not know the purpose of my existence, then how can I really know myself? This is a great question to ask this time of year: “How can I truly know myself? If I do not know myself, how do I know how to improve?”
As I said, all of nature is motivated by needs. The only creature that shares free will with G*d is the human being. So why do we have such a hard time understanding why we are here? Do we not have any idea how we fit in G*d’s eternal plan?
Did you hear about the guy who sued his parents for giving birth to him without his consent? It is true. I am not kidding. Is this guy Mishuga? I have no idea, but by bringing this lawsuit, this clown wound up opening a real Pandora’s box. His suit has inspired many copycat lawsuits.
While thinking about this guy, I realized that my parents gave birth to this rabbi with no input from me at all, but here I am. I was not consulted. I had no say in the decision. Why do I have to be here today, forced to live during one of the worst pandemics in history and have to lead High Holy Day Services in person and VirJEWally? I have had to withstand the pain of having two hips, one knee, and a shoulder replaced and three surgeries on my ankle and leg. I had an appendectomy, my tonsils and adenoids removed. The worst thing, and I mean the worst thing is, I have gone bald. What were my parents thinking? Why did they have me and put me into this position? There is only one answer: so that we could be here, together in this world to share it with our G*d, our Creator.
Let us face it, G*d owns the game ball. We know that if G*d does not want to play, the game is over. That is why we are so dependent on G*d. That is why we pray. That is why we shower G*d with praises. That is why we believe that doing these things will make everything turn out the way we want them to, even though they hardly ever do. That is the trouble with belief. We believe what we need, even though belief is rarely based on reality. This is true even for the most observant and religious Jews. They suffer just as much as the most secular of Jews, in fact, sometimes even more.
So, why do rabbis teach us that if we observe all the Mitzvot and live according to G*d’s will, we will be rewarded in the world to come? Believe it or not, that did not originate with us. This is the kind of thinking that other religions have shoved down our throats over the millennia. The fact is, there is not a single shred of evidence that supports this. If this was true, none of us would have to ask why do good people suffer, and the evil ones receive rewards? We answer this by saying that our proper rewards and punishments will come in the afterlife.
To be crystal clear, to this kind of thinking I say, “horse feathers”. As a minority, we have been exposed to this absurd way of thinking about G*d’s system of reward and punishment and it has corrupted our Jewish thinking. On this Rosh Hashanah, perhaps it is time to wake up. We need to reject those foreign notions. To be clear, they were designed to control us and the way we live our lives by political despots who took over their religions.
So, what is the Jewish view of G*d? Let us flip everything we have been brainwashed to think and throw it in the trash bin where it belongs. First, while it is true that you and I have needs, let us consider something that might really blow our minds. What am I talking about? Remember the question I asked about why G*d decided to create the universe? What was G*d missing? The answer is that G*d also has needs. G*d was all alone. G*d chose to create the entire universe for us to give the kind of companionship G*d needed. G*d created a universe in which we and G*d are mutually dependent on each other. Why else would G*d choose to create us? Nothing else makes sense.
Here is another interesting question. How did you and I become the needy ones if G*d needed to create us? Why do we need to eat and sleep and drink to satisfy G*d’s needs? Think about it. We need those things because that is how G*d created us. So, this character who says he is suing his parents because they gave birth to him without his consent may have a justifiable reason, but how can anyone blame our parents. They were not asked whether they wanted to be born either. Eventually, our complaints must be aimed at none other than G*d and G*d alone.
Do I sound like a heretic? Not in the Jewish way of thinking. We are to approach G*d and say, “G*d, you created me with a need to eat. Give me a way to find sustenance. You created me with a need to find shelter from the elements, so give me a way to find shelter. You gave birth to me, so give me what I need to help me survive.”
That is why G*d says, “If you follow my Mitzvot, I will give you; you will have; you will be.” At no time does G*d promise that the good will flourish and the evil will suffer because G*d’s indebtedness to us is not a reward, it is as much a responsibility as any parent has for a child. No matter what we do for our parents, some of us will prosper, and some of us will not. Some will be rewarded in life, and some will be punished.
Even so, it is still up to us to make it work. We have everything we need, but we need to put the pieces together. The TaNaCh tells us how. The Jewish Bible has the roadmap. We must ask and thank G*d for what we need to exist. We must ask and thank G*d for our health.
On this Rosh Hashana, let us make sure that two things happen. First, let us rethink how we view our familiarity and relationship with our G*d. Let us understand that it is G*d who needs us just as much as we need G*d. Other religions have reversed this understanding to control their followers. They use religion as a whip. You better do as we say because you are dependent on G*d and we know the way. Some even put layers of ministers and even a human god-like character between their followers and G*d. These leaders teach their followers that they are closer to G*d than they are. They teach their followers that if G*d turns on them, they are in big trouble. They are going to be damned to hell forever.
This is so not Jewish even though, sadly, there are some rabbis who do teach this. This comes from early Polish Christology. It is disgusting how much we have been infected by this absurd kind of thinking. It is simply and unequivocally not the Jewish way. More importantly, unlike those ministers, no rabbi, including the most respected all the way down to me, are closer to G*d than anyone else is. We are all Jews; we are all G*d’s creations and we are all equal in the eyes of G*d.
I once met a minister who was a super nice guy. I could not help but like him. During one of our conversations, he asked me if I believed in Jesus. He did not ask me in an accusatory or judgmental tone at all. He genuinely wanted to know.
I did not want to hurt his feelings, so I answered him this way: “I do not know much about Christianity, but I am not so egotistical that I expect my G*d to send his son to die for my sins. My sins are my own responsibility to resolve. My G*d is a living G*d I can serve, not because I need G*d, but because we need each other. It is kind of like what President John Kennedy said, he should rest in peace: “Ask not what your G*d can do for you, ask what you can do for your G*d.”
What I said stopped him in his tracks. After standing in silence for what seemed like eternity, he said, “You know, I never thought of our relationship with G*d that way.”
So, I ask you on this New Year 5782, that we work hard to make sure G*d understands how much we love and want to help each other satisfy our needs. That is, after all, our purpose here on earth. Let us make sure we know that G*d needs us as much as we need G*d. Let us welcome G*d into our lives like we never did before.
Shana Tovah -Amen.