Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5773
GOOD MORNING! What is the most important question in life? Perhaps: "Is there a God?" If there is a God, then there is every possibility that God created the world with a purpose and our lives have meaning. If there isn't a God, then all was created randomly and meaninglessly and the only meaning in life is that which we choose to impose upon our lives.
If there is a God, then there very well may be consequences for our actions; God may have a standard of behavior He expects us to live up to and if we don't, then to use the colloquial "there is hell to pay." If there isn't a God, then it is only the justice of mankind we need to be concerned about. As one wit put it, "If there is no God, then there is only one commandment, not ten: "Thou shall not get caught."
There are at least four possibilities: 1) we never think much about the question 2) we espouse believing in God without thinking about the consequences 3) we believe in God and think that how we decide to lead our lives is exactly how God wants us to live it or 4) we believe in God and believe in a Revealed document of God's will.
There are reasons why people do not believe or do not want to believe in God and resist investigating if there is a God: 1) because there is evil in the world; bad things happen to good people 2) they look at belief in God as a crutch for losers who can't make it on their own 3) if there is a God, it implies that there is purpose to creation, values to live by and ultimately restrictions. People do not like restrictions in their lives.
However, even if one has strong questions on how God runs the world or doesn't want restrictions in his life, it does not change the objective reality: Either there is a God or there isn't a God. Because one person believes there is a God or another person doesn't believe in God, does not make a difference as to whether God does indeed exist.
Does it make sense to pursue the question whether or not there is a God who is Creator, Sustainer and Supervisor of the Universe Who dispenses reward and punishment? Does it make sense to pursue the question whether the Torah is a revealed text from the Almighty instructing us how to lead our lives?
I once overheard a conversation with a person who proudly proclaimed, "I am an atheist!" The rabbi responded, "Fabulous! I have always wanted to meet a real atheist. Do you know that an atheist is a person who has evidence that there is no God. What is your evidence?" The young man responded, "Uh, I guess I am really an agnostic." The rabbi responded, "I am truly disappointed. I was really excited about meeting an atheist, but an agnostic is second best! Do you know an agnostic is a person who has evidence that one can't know whether there is a God? What is your evidence?" The fellow responded, "I guess I really just never looked into it that much."
Probably most of us have never looked into the questions that much or have thought out reasons why we believe, if we do. Actually, the first of the Ten Commandments is the source for the mitzvah "To Know There is a God". One is obligated to investigate the question and to clarify the evidence of God's existence. This is different than "faith." Faith is an emotional leap to a conclusion. Belief is a point on a continuum from "no knowledge" to "absolute knowledge." The more evidence we have of the existence of God, the stronger is our belief.
How would one go about investigating these 2 questions? For a book on "Is there a God?" I highly recommend Permission to Believe by Lawrence Kelemen. For a book on "Did God give the Torah?" I highly recommend Permission to Receive by Lawrence Kelemen. Both are available at your local Jewish bookstore, at JudaicaEnterprises.com or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242. Also, on ShabbatShalomAudio.com you can listen or buy Rabbi Noah Weinberg's lectures on "Evidence of the Existence of God" (4 part series that examines evidence for both questions) and "Can We Believe God Spoke at Sinai?" by Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg.
Torah Portion of the Week
Acharei Mot includes the Yom Kippur service where the Cohen Gadol cast lots to designate two goats -- one to be sacrificed, the other to be driven to a place called Azazel after the Cohen Gadol - the High Priest - confesses the sins of the people upon its head. Today it is a very popular epithet in Israel to instruct another person in the heat of an argument to "go to Azazel." (I don't believe the intent, however, is to look for the goat...)
The goat sent to Azazel symbolically carried away the sins of the Jewish people. This, I surmise, is the source of the concept of using a scapegoat. One thing you can truly give credit to the Jewish people -- when we use a scapegoat, at least we use a real goat!
The Torah then proceeds to set forth the sexual laws -- who you are not allowed to marry or have relations with. If one appreciates that the goal of life is to be holy, to perfect oneself and to be as much as possible like God, then he/she can appreciate that it is impossible to orgy at night and be spiritual by day.
The Torah portion of Kedoshim invokes the Jewish people to be holy! And then it proceeds with the spiritual directions on how to achieve holiness, closeness to the Almighty. Within it lie the secrets and the prescription for Jewish continuity. If any group of people is to survive as an entity, it must have common values and goals -- a direction and a meaning. By analyzing this portion we can learn much about our personal and national destiny.
* * *
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
"My ordinances you shall do, and My statutes you shall observe, to walk with them, I am the Lord, Your G-d." (Lev. 18:4).
What does the Torah mean "to walk with them?"
The Ksav Sofer, a famous Hungarian rabbi, commented that the words "to walk with them" mean that a person needs to walk from one level to the next level. That is, a person should constantly keep on growing and elevating himself.
It is not enough to keep on the same level that you were on the previous day. Rather, each day should be a climb higher than the day before. When difficult tests come your way, you might not always appreciate them. The only way to keep on elevating yourself is to keep passing more and more difficult life-tests. View every difficulty as a means of elevating yourself by applying the appropriate Torah principles. At the end of each day, ask yourself, "What did I do today to elevate myself a little higher?" If you cannot find an answer, ask yourself, "What can I plan to do tomorrow to elevate myself?"
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Rabbi Kalman Packouz
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