Faith and Works – Reading Reality
The concept of faith in Judaism means maintaining a loyalty to truths that were demonstrated to our nation over and against the allures of the world which threaten to obscure these truths. Our nation came face to face with the God of justice, kindness and morality and we pledged our hearts to him. The glamor of the material world tends to hide the truth of God from us and distort our view of reality. The work of faith is then to maintain loyalty to these truths and to make sure that our view of reality remains steadfast and true.
How do the attractions of the world distort our view of reality?
There are two basic ways that our desire for pleasure honor and power can warp our read on life. The obvious way that our understanding of reality can become warped is when our bias compels us to read the facts on the ground in a way that agrees with our personal preference. When the members of a sports team argue with the referee they usually believe that they are telling the truth. Their partiality towards their own team makes them see that the facts on the ground occurred in a way that is favorable for their own team.
But there is another, perhaps more insidious way, that our attachment to the pleasures of this world distorts our view of reality. Sometimes it is not a question of what actually happened but rather our leanings will distort our interpretation of an event from one extreme to the next.
Imagine a practical joke being played on someone. Some people would consider the occurrence to be entertaining. They may go home and tell their spouses and children about the funny event that they witnessed. The mother of the victim of this practical joke will probably not see this event in the same light at all. She will most likely read this event as a callous act of cruelty – which it probably is.
There is a struggle going on inside of every one of us. On the one we have a desire for justice, a love of kindness and we appreciate holiness. On the other hand we crave for physical pleasure, honor and power. From the standpoint of our desire for justice, when we witness an act of injustice, we find it repulsive. From the standpoint of our yearning for holiness any act of immorality is abhorrent. But from the standpoint of our desire for physical pleasure immorality and injustice are not abhorrent at all; we may even find them attractive.
As we go through life, every one of our thoughts, words and deeds, will empower either one side of our personality or the other. Either we are strengthening our sensitivity to truth, our love for kindness and our appreciation of holiness. Or we diminish these at the expense of our desire for material pleasure, honor and power.
A person who has developed a very strong sensitivity to his or her own enjoyment of physical pleasure will read the world through the eyes of greed and self-indulgence. The reality of the God of truth and holiness will fade into the background and will be more difficult to perceive. The pleasure offered by any given attraction of this world will tower over any negative feelings of wrongdoing that might stand in the way of acquiring this pleasure. The acquisition of this pleasure will be defined in the mind of this person as something positive and worthwhile.
But a person who has developed a strong sensitivity towards justice, love of kindness and holiness will see the acquisition of this same pleasure in a completely different light. In the eyes of such a person the acquisition of something which violates the precepts of justice and holiness is repulsive and abhorrent. For such a person it is much easier to maintain loyalty to the God of justice and holiness. A person who lives with a strong sensitivity to God’s truth will find it easier to see the reality of God through the allures and the attractions of the material world.
A person who is attuned to the quality of kindness will see in an act of compassion a deep and abiding beauty. A person who is focused on satisfying their own desire for pleasure may see the same act of compassion as a foolish act of weakness. A person who is attuned to the Godliness inherent in every human being will see people in a very different light than the person who can only measure people by what they have to offer in terms of instant gratification.
By observing God’s holy law and by practicing the precepts of justice and kindness we empower the side of ourselves that takes pleasure in truth. By living with the works of God’s holy law we strengthen our faith and we make it so much easier for ourselves to see the reality of God beyond the illusion of the fleeting pleasures of this world.
“With what can the youth purify his way? By observing Your word.” (Psalm 119:9)
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal