The Wisdom that is Present Wherever You Look
The word “Jew” is a derivative of the Hebrew “Yehuda.” The name “Yehuda” means thanks and acknowledgment (Genesis 29:25), and the calling of the Jew is to praise and acknowledge the goodness of God (Isaiah 43:21). The activity of thanking God may seem to be something that is not very relevant in our fast-paced modern lives. But in fact, thanking God is something that has the power to turn over every moment of your life. And the Scriptural prophets promised that the calling of the Jewish people will one day light up the world.
Most of mankind’s activities are devoted to acquiring happiness or to avoid the threat of pain. We work to acquire food to eat to escape the threat of starvation and to enjoy the pleasure of eating. We amass wealth in order to avoid the threat of poverty and want. We exert ourselves to protect ourselves and our families from all types of disasters. We seek love, security and stability and we attempt to avoid loneliness, vulnerability and confusion. We want guarantees for our future in this world and the next and we want to see those guarantees in writing and in our own possession.
The underlying assumption that stands behind all of these activities is that we have the ability to escape our state of dependency and establish ourselves to be independent. We think that when the money is in our bank account then we are no longer dependent on outside factors for our material well-being. When we have that medicine in our pharmacies then we will have our health in our hand. When our houses are built and our borders are guarded then we will possess our security. When we find that relationship then we will possess the solution to loneliness and emotional want. When we find the right spiritual connection then we will possess the assurances that will assuage our fears.
In other words, most of mankind’s activities are devoted to combatting the fact that we are dependent beings. We assume that by acquiring various possessions we can establish our own independence.
But this battle of life is a battle of futility. We will never become independent. We will never possess our happiness, our health, our security or a guarantee for our future. How can we possess anything if our very existence does not belong to us? All of our happiness, our security and our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being rest with God. Every minute that we experience existence is a gift from the One who created us all and it is a gift that we did nothing to deserve.
The calling of the Jewish people is to declare to the world that there is no point in fighting God. There is no point in trying to acquire what you can never possess. Instead of fearing the state of dependence, rejoice in the fact that your existence is in the hands of God. Recognize that every breath that you ever took and ever thought that passed through your mind stood on nothing but on God’s love for you. You will come to enjoy the love of God not only in your own life, but you will also delight in God’s goodness that is evident in the breath of every living being.
The mission of the Jewish people is to testify to the simple truth that every iota of existence belongs to God and to no one else. Everything always belonged to Him and everything will forevermore belong to Him.
The greatest opposition that the Jewish people encounter in their mission to bring this truth to their own hearts and to the world is the philosophy of idolatry in its various manifestations. Not only does the philosophy of idolatry oppose the foundational truth of the absolute sovereignty of God but it does so in the name of spirituality and religious virtue.
The philosophy of idolatry opposes the foundational truth of the absolute sovereignty of God on two fronts. On the one hand the call to worship an idol is an exaltation of a quality (or set of qualities) that is contained in the context of a finite existence. Be it the majesty of a mountain, the beauty of river, the serenity and solidity of a statue, the power of thunder or the miraculous powers of Jesus, these are all qualities that are perceived in the context of a finite existence. By exalting these qualities and claiming that these qualities justify devotion toward the entity in which they are found the idolater is denying that these properties can never truly belong to a finite existence. The idolater denies that any quality that is found in the context of a finite existence can only be an undeserved gift from the One Creator of all. Worship of an idol is a denial of the idol’s debt toward the Creator for its very existence.
There is another way that the philosophy of idolatry opposes Israel’s message of God’s sovereignty. The idolater is not only denying the idol’s debt to God but the idolater also denies the worshiper’s debt to God. If we truly recognize that every iota of our existence belongs to God then we would also recognize that the only question that is pertinent in the context of worship is: to whom does my heart belong? The idolater encourages the worshiper to turn away from that question and instead ask: where can I direct my heart and profit the most?
The primary message of Israel’s prophets is that God is the absolute Master of all. Instead of allowing ourselves to be overawed by the qualities that we perceive in various finite entities, we should recognize that these entities are beneficiaries of God’s benevolence. Instead of seeing our hearts as free to bend to the object of our choosing we should recognize that our hearts belong to the One whose love is sustaining our heart this very moment.
The prophets looked forward to the day when idolatry is eradicated from the minds of men. They looked forward to the day when all mankind recognizes and acknowledges that they are indebted to God for their very existence. Mankind will then beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks and they shall learn war no more. They will recognize that wealth and security can never be acquired. They will understand that happiness is feeling the love of God in every breath of life.
The calling of the Jewish people is to remain true to this message. If the word “kosher” (which simply means correct and proper) is going to mean that which is correct and proper in light of Israel’s calling before God then recognizing our debt to our Creator is kosher. A philosophy that exalts an individual without acknowledging that individual’s debt towards God is decidedly not kosher.
The beginning of wisdom is a reverence toward God (Psalm 111:10). This wisdom is not far off. The benevolence of God is evident in every blade of grass, every ray of light and every breath of air. What prevents us from seeing God’s sovereignty is our futile desire to be independent, to establish our own sovereignty. The songs of David draw us away from this illusion of self-sufficiency. David’s music gave expression to the joy that Israel experienced in accepting the fact of God’s mastery over every facet of existence. And Israel’s prophets gave the world hope for a future in which all of mankind experiences that same joy.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal