Crisis In God: Wisdom of Kahana
It took a long time to get back into writing mode as many of you can tell. Not so much from the fact that I was buried neck high in work because I’m pretty much used to that, but because I was having somewhat of a spiritual dilemma. As a result, I still haven’t returned to the Journey Unto Shiloh series of articles, which I will do at a later date because of an interesting discussion I had with my middle son; the one that is studying as an orthodox scholar and working on his PhD in religious studies. Now I give my son full credit for being bright, intelligent and an asset to the rabbinical orthodoxy though they may not appreciate his insights and strength of faith as much as I do. It’s why I named him Evan, for the Hebrew rock or stone. A rock like an anchor but a stone that gets into your shoe, making you trip and fall if you do not pay it attention. The dilemma I refer to concerns the debate regarding restoration of the sacrificial cult, which I raised in an earlier article. Now I have written that although I do not know its true purpose, I do know that God in the Torah has demanded that we sacrifice. Perhaps not as much as the later practices in the Temple, but the morning, evening and burnt offerings are definitely decreed from God through Moses. Therein lays the first of the moral dilemmas. We now live in a world where animal sacrifice is considered unnecessary, inhumane and for the most part, associated with pagan ritual and no longer associated with the true faith in God. Strange that the majority have arrived at the conclusion that what God had originally ordained, is now to be considered anti-God. There is an irony there. Only it was what my son raised next that sent me into this downward spiral of spiritual despair.
THE SECOND DILEMMA
What he proposed was not so much a question but a representation of the failing of us as a spiritual people, the Chosen Light, the Sons of God, so to speak. My son suggested the following, that the sacrifice was merely an appeasement of our primitive past, in order to permit a smoother transition and appreciation that personal prayer was far more meaningful to the Almighty and all that He desired. In other words, God had given us a placebo, a pacifier, something to occupy our hands if not so much our hearts, until we developed a conscience. I know that he was expounding the Rabbinical viewpoint, but in so doing he triggered a series of questions that pestered myself as a Karaite for the longest time and brought about my avoidance of putting pen to paper. To further establish his point, he raised the issue of capital punishment, and whether or not I thought God actually wanted us to go out and stone heretics, slaughter sodomizers, spill the blood of those working on the Sabbath, etc. etc? The natural and normal response of any ‘humanist’ is certainly not as I don’t want to see anyone die. Probably a major reason that in my daily work I am dedicated to saving lives, as many as I possibly can. If this evolvement into a humanistic society was God’s original intent, then why are the laws in the Torah anything but merciful when we examine them closely? The entire foundation of our birth as a people, the killing of the firstborn in Egypt, the drowning in the Reed Sea, the swallowing into the bowels of the earth in the thousands in Korah’s rebellion against Aaron, the destruction of hundreds that danced around the golden calf, and the ordering of those caught scrounging for food on the Sabbath to be put to the sword, a passing of sentence from Moses’ own lips, demonstrated that the faith that God delivered unto us had little to do with ‘humanism’ and everything to do with complete surrender to the Lord’s will, bathing us in blood. That is the true dilemma, because Judaism has in fact has now created the God of Israel in man’s image and not the other way around. The Almighty is no longer so powerful, no longer unforgiving, and certainly no longer the God described in the Torah if we submit to this revisionist viewpoint of what God really wants. If I was swayed to believe that Yahweh was nothing more than a deceiver, a trickster, playing with our minds, pulling our strings like marionettes in order to get us to do what he wanted, with the intent that He never really wanted it but only said so in order to have us cooperate, then it forces me to rethink the essence of God in His entirety.
To have us sacrifice, even though the performance was meaningless but to do so because the Lord considered it too difficult to wean us of the practice immediately does not make sense in the context of an omnipotent, all-knowing, all-seeing God that can perform miracles and change the lives of an entire people in the blink of an eye. If He truly wanted only prayer and not sacrifice, then He would have decreed it so at Sinai and not played games for a thousand years of letting us continue in a foolish practice. After all, this was God and as the Torah shows us many times over, if God commands and we fail to listen and obey, then we will be stricken down. As Aaron’s sons who committed the sin of offering ‘strange fire’ were killed by the hand of God, He could have easily done the same to any that sacrificed after He banned it. But He did not! Instead the Almighty glorified the sacrifice and had Moses elevate it to a spiritual level beyond most other religions of the time. Similarly, if the Lord did not want capital punishment, the laws passed down to Moses could have easily been reduced to punishments more befitting such as exile, lashes, amputation and the like. Yet, the laws were strict, were severe and were intended to keep a stiff-necked people under control and living in a socially and morally responsible cooperative, a feat not achieved in our so called ‘civilized’ societies of today where we’ve filled our prisons with those that have committed the most heinous of crimes and will do so again as soon as they are paroled. They know it, we know it, but most of all God knew it. There is the conundrum that we must all face. If we as Jews, and all those of my readers who are Children of Jacob but not born of Jewish stock, are wanting to consider ourselves true followers of Yahweh, then how can we proclaim such a thing if we are to insist that the Laws of God are mutable, malleable and all along He intended for us to change them. What does this all mean in the context of Judaism, whether we call ourselves Karaite or Rabbanite. You see, it’s easy for us to say we don’t light candles on the Sabbath or we do light candles. Similarly, we can make distinction between having a blue thread in our fringes or wearing all white ones. Furthermore, we can debate those that kneel on the ground to pray versus those that sit upright in their comfortable chairs but what does that all mean in the context of religious practices ‘supposedly’ intended to evolve? Is that how we define our differences if we are not willing to practice all that is deemed too difficult to follow in today’s society because the Torah pronounces laws that are not ‘humanistic’ by nature. We all suffer that dilemma whether we are willing or not to admit it. We label ourselves, proclaim distinctions in our faith so that we can point at our differences, yet when it comes to actually following the laws as handed down by God we are all guilty of sorting the wheat from the chaff and only following those which do not land in the too difficult basket. How are we to reconcile our choices with what was/is expected of us? Which all leads me back along the path to my third dilemma but I have given you enough to digest without introducing that now. I’ll save that for the next time I write, which I promise will not be so long in coming.
Avrom Aryeh-Zuk Kahana