Monthly Archives: January 2014

Crime and Punishment, and Vicarious Atonement

I started off writing about the falsehood of the doctrine of vicarious atonement that is so central to christian theology.  I don’t want to launch a polemic, so I deleted what I first wrote.  I will, therefore, only write to state what judaism has to say on the subject, and since Jesus was a jew, I will leave it up to the christian reader to decide, research, and apply.

The truth of the matter is that not only is vicarious atonement impossible, but it is also much less improving to the world than how G-d says that we are to make up for our fumbles:

STOP doing bad——-START doing good.  That is all that is asked of us to start back from scratch again!

This real instruction, from Hashem instead of Paul of Tarsus who invented christianity, is so simple and logical that it really should be just common sense, and is the essence of mercy and love–two qualities that emanate from G-d but are attributed in christianity to the vicarious atonement.  It is absolutely unnecessary though to use the middleman of such atonement. Ezekiel 18:20 says, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die; the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father with him, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son with him; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.”  This passage is implicitly stating that the righteous cannot die for the sins of the wicked.

As correction to this doctrine in christianity which leads to believe otherwise, the proper course correction is laid out in the verse that follows, “But if the wicked turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all My statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.”

Now, this could be taken to mean that in order to live, one would have to keep all the 613 commandments, at all times, without faltering.  This teaching, which is a common justification for the necessity of the vicarious atonement, would have to disregard a separate passage in the same book which states, “Again, when the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.”  Ez 18:17. We are told time and time again in this chapter of the book of Ezekiel, that a person’s soul is redeemed by the simple action of recognizing his fault and failure, and taking the necessary action to correct it.  This is what repentance is.

Repent!” This is cried time and again by John the Baptist, and preached by Jesus himself in the gospels of the christian scriptures.  It is almost as if they are presaging the false doctrines and misinformation that would later be taught by Paul and serve as the basis for modern christianity, which being so heavily based in the teachings of Paul instead of Jesus, ought to be properly called “Paulianity” instead.

“Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD; and not rather that he should return from his ways, and live?” Ez 18:23  Instead we are given the cure directly before this passage, “None of his transgressions that he hath committed shall be remembered against him; for his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.” Ez 18:22.  There is absolutely no reason for vicarious atonement, even if it were possible.  In fact, I can see no reason why it would even be desirable, as it does nothing at all to make the world a better place, but instead leaves one to feel let free from all of his missteps because somebody else took the punishment for him.

And this leads me to “crime and punishment.”  A friend wrote earlier on Facebook about how “jesus makes us free, we don’t have to punish anybody because of his sacrifice.”  There is absolutely no reason that anyone would “punish” anyone else for their sins in the first place!  When I asked what was meant, the reply was that, “there are consequences for actions,” and some other stuff after.  Consequences are not the same as punishment.  Consequences are the result of our actions.  Punishment is the attempt to exact justice in some way, by diminishing the faulty party.  Whereas “consequences” for a person’s iniquities are a natural response that occurs, “punishment” for a person’s iniquities can be handed out only by the one true Judge, the Endless One of Blessing.  Given this understanding of the difference in these terms, people have never been responsible for punishing others for their iniquities, and so it is not something that any vicarious atonement could ever make up for anyway!

This is all that I have to write on the subject right now.  I am not sure if anyone will ever even read it, and I kind of wrote it more for my own therapy than anyone else, so that I didn’t blow up my friend’s Facebook page with questions and conversation.

Keep in mind that the books of the bible are complete, and that excerpting one or two passages does not lend a complete understanding to the contents.  I suggest that you read this chapter (20) of Ezekiel yourself, and the rest of the book in order, for that matter.  And relax in the understanding that it is not possible for anyone to die for the sake of anyone else, but all that is really necessary is to stop doing bad, and do good instead.  It really is that simple.

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Kabbalah…Do or Don’t?

There is a lot of interest in Kabbalah these days.  From Madonna to Hasidic Jews, it seems at times as if the whole world (or at least the alternative world) is captivated by Jewish mysticism in one way or another.  In fact, a lot of the time, it seems like it has become so mainstream that people don’t even know its Jewish mysticism, and instead think that it is either a completely new religion, or that it is not religious at all and is just a type of “spirituality.”  My wife’s late grandmother (not jewish or religious in any way), may her memory be a blessing, even spoke of kabbalah lessons during the last year or so of her life.  This I see as one of the dangers of kabbalah, but the reason for the danger is thicker.

Imagine, if you will, a person who learns that there is a thing called an automobile, and that it is something that can carry a person down the road.  Then, without even having a clue about how to drive, he goes out and buys the world’s fastest and most expensive sports car and hits the streets of San Francisco.  This is about the same thing as one who delves into kabbalah without having first the proper knowledge and practice in torah to utilize it properly.

To put it another way, kabbalah is like the frosting of a cake, and torah is the cake.  One who eats only frosting is bound to get sick.  So too, a person who learns and practices only kabbalah will end up with a spiritual bellyache.

It is no wonder that kabbalah is as intriguing as it is.  For many disenfranchised Jews of the last 40 years kabbalah has shown them that the very spiritual experience that they sought out in disciplines like Buddhism, and Hinduism was already present in the Judaism of their ancestors.  Such a comfort was this, that many of these Jews have come back to Judaism, with a heavy influence on kabbalah.  Unfortunately, most of these jews were not raised in torah judaism, and so the foundation for such practices was not well formed, and learning since their return to Judaism has either been incomplete or tempered by kabbalistic views.  This can often have the effect of diminishing importance of torah learning and observance as such things take a back seat to the excitement and clear ethereal nature of mystic practices.

So, what then is the problem with such things?  As jews, our contract with the Almighty is to keep torah, and although there are certainly mystical teachings that may be drawn from torah, the observance of torah is to be done in the physical world, in the natural rather than the supernatural.  Without the strong grounding in such observance that is provided by years of learning and practice in torah, kabbalah threatens to keep one’s head in the clouds without keeping their feet on the ground, and turns torah observance into a question of subjective morality and relevance.

This, perhaps, is the reason that the sages from ancient to present have stated that it is ill advised at the least, and forbidden at worst, to teach kabbalah to a jew that is less than forty years of age–and this is considering that said jew has always been torah observant.

So what then is my suggestion for one who is interested in kabbalah?  Be patient.  Learn the foundation of torah, and how to implement it.  We all can probably agree that getting a credit card without income, let alone the knowledge and discipline to keep it up to date, is a bad idea.  In the same way, kabbalah isn’t inherently bad, or evil, but it is a further tool of a much larger spiritual discipline.

If you are interested in learning further, I suggest learning torah from Rambam (Maimonides), whose very straight forward and practical teachings are a mainstay of torah learning for application.  I also suggest the book The Gerus Guide, the only step-by-step guide to orthodox conversion in the world, which can be purchased at http://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?keyWords=the+gerus+guide&categoryId=100501  Whether you are a non-jew interested in conversion, or a jew interested in furthering observance, this book is a very, very good guide for you, which does not expect that you can jump in all at once.

For Rambam, consider Mishneh Torah, which can be purchased with english translation on amazon or at any online jewish bookstore such as:

http://www.feldheim.com, http://www.artscroll.com, http://www.eichlers.com

First and for most though, one should be well versed in the tanach (hebrew bible).  A good translation can be had in the Stone Edition tanach, which has commentaries as well to explain some of the classic teachings of the text.

If you have any questions, I can provide more links or give personal advice on good places to look or start.

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Paro’s (Pharaoh’s) Hard Heart–Giving–New Years

Picture it!  Egypt!  1200 (ish) BCE!  Moshe comes to Paro, repeatedly, demanding in the name of G-d to, “Let my people go, that they may worship me!”Ex 17:16 and further.  From the start, however, we are told that “I [G-d] will harden Paro’s heart.”  This would at first seem to be a violation of free will, for, how can a man choose if G-d has changed his heart to not choose?  The twelfth century torah scholar, Rabbi Shlomo Itzhak (Rashi), offers up an interpretation.  He tells us that at first, Paro was presented with the choice of letting b’nei yisroel (the children of Israel) go, lest Egypt suffer plagues.  He refused to do so, and even said at points that he would and then turned on such a declaration to retain them.  After he had chosen time and again to not make the choice proper for him and his people, as well as b’nei yisroel, he gave up his right to choose.

I think that we have all had moments in which we have done this.  I know that I have had arguments in which the point of the issue didn’t even matter anymore, rather, the only thing that mattered was to be right–or in some cases just that the other person wasn’t.  After a while of back and forth, its as if an external force takes over and there is no choice left, life just continues to happen with or without your input!  I have seen the same thing happen time and again in regard to many different quarrels or misunderstandings, and the outcome is almost always devastating, and usually for both parties involved.  Think of the bad divorce that you had, when you didn’t even want the house, car, or–G-d forbid this should be the case–kids, but you so wanted to show how badly you were hurting that you took the whole ship down with you, and didn’t even offer any lifeboats.

We must be very careful about hardening our hearts, in all circumstances.  Sometimes, perhaps, we must temper them though.  I once had a friend, who I would work for at times, we would work on cars, our families would hang out together; we had gotten pretty close.  He and his wife divorced, and he started seeing a friend of mine from high school.  Everything seemed great!  They had a wonderful time together–or so it seemed at least–and eventually moved in together.  We fell out of touch for a couple of years, as they had moved away from the area, but as far as we knew everything was fine with them.  Now, this friend had been called many things, by many different people over the years, and I had always defended him, even if passively.  My friend who he was seeing contacted us one day, after they had broken up.  As it turned out, this “friend” of mine who I had so steadfastly defended on so many occasions, actually was crazy.  Clinically crazy!  He was suicidal, manipulative, and perhaps even homicidal.  He ended up in prison, for something or other, and I have never heard from him again.  This is not the first case in which a tempered heart–one that is not closed in apathy, but one which heeds the input of others–would have been very healthy.

On the other hand, I have had people whom others derided often, who have ended up being very good and close friends, and nothing like what others would have led me to believe if I had listened.  So we see that this pendulum can swing either way.  IF we harden our hearts to everyone, we will have no one to care for, and no one who cares for us.  And even worse, doing something with frequency breeds habit in it.  Perhaps this is the real lesson of G-d hardening Paro’s heart.  If, for those of us who believe in G-d, we are to say that G-d bestows upon us the knowledge of right and wrong, we must say that it is by virtue of a relationship with the Creator that we are given this gift, after all, gifts aren’t given in any way shape or form without some kind of a relationship.  But if we deny the blessing of warning, time and again, we might as well resign ourselves to failure–or, insanity, as is often said, “repeating action in expectation of different outcome is the definition of insanity.”

By now you may be wondering what any of this has to do with “giving.”  It is simple: in order to exercise a non-hardened heart, we must give.  We must give of ourselves, our hearts, our souls, and our resources.  The Shema, the central jewish prayer declaring the oneness of G-d, says this almost exactly.  “And you shall love the Lord your G-d with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all the goodness that is to you.”  That last part is difficult to translate, but it has come to be taught by the rabbis that it refers to “all your monetary resources.”  Now, this does not mean that you should give away everything you have, for if you do that you will have nothing more to give.  We can give to others by supplying our own needs, so that we do not use the resources of those who need them more, and at the same time dedicate portions of “the goodness that is to us” to helping others.  If you see a person with a sign out, why not give them the change in your pocket?  Sure, they might use it to go and buy booze or drugs, this is always a possibility–then again, there is a possibility that you may do this with the majority of your paycheck!  There is also the possibility, however, that they will use it to buy food, medicine,  shelter, or even to help others.  Now, perhaps there is something to be said for not giving over and over again, to the same person with a sob story which never changes.  But one thing is almost certain: if you harden your heart and don’t give, before long you will find plenty of reasons not to give, even if your conscience is telling you you should.

And really, what is a few dollars anyway?  In fact, I firmly believe that EVERYONE should set aside ten percent of their income (and money gifted them) to give to those in need.  This needn’t be a homeless person, or even an official charity.  How about paying for somebody’s groceries?  When you are paying your utility bill and the person in front of you is trying to bargain with the company just to get the lights back on, put some money toward their account after they leave (so as not to embarrass them).  Give of your time too.  Take time out of your day to listen to that sob story, and don’t just offer a few coins, but give some kind words too.  Take it from one who has been in a lot of tough places, not all sob stories are untrue.  Life is hard sometimes!

So this is my request for world as we enter 2014 in the secular calendar:  Give!  I promise you, no matter how small the action seems, if we all do love G-d by loving our fellow man with “all your heart, and all your soul, and all the goodness that is to you,” we will make this world a better place.

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