On God’s conundrum

God did not descend on Sinai 3,332 years ago to give us a history lesson. Nor did he attempt a biology lesson. God came down to Sinai to teach us one thing and one thing only, theology.

‘HAVING CHOSEN God, the Torah is God’s response to us.’ Pictured: The Yanov Torah, rescued from the Holocaust. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
‘HAVING CHOSEN God, the Torah is God’s response to us.’ Pictured: The Yanov Torah, rescued from the Holocaust.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
God did not descend on Sinai 3,332 years ago to give us a history lesson. Nor did he attempt a biology lesson. God came down to Sinai to teach us one thing and one thing only, theology. (Theology is a fancy word for how God relates to us and how we relate to Him.) The theology takes the form of law, lore, narrative, and poetry. But it is still just theology. These are all just different means and methods of teaching us about God and how to create a relationship with Him.
But God had a problem. How does he communicate His divinity and infinity to the finite mortal puny mind of Man? How would it be possible to even put into words the eternal ideas He wished to convey? It would be like us humans trying to talk to an ant.
God had two choices. He can remain silent and rob us of a relationship with Him. When asked, “God, why do you remain silent?” He would answer “I am paralyzed by the impossibility of using human words and ideas to encapsulate my message!” Or God can compromise both Himself and His message and by doing so, create a relationship with His creation.
God chose the latter. The entire Torah is a translation of the mind of God into words, terms, and ideas that humans can understand. But like any translation, it falls far short of the original source material. It meant that God needed to dumb down, and dare I say, distort His message in order to allow us to receive it.
Let’s unpack the implications of this. It means that the reason the Torah was given in Hebrew was that this was the language the Israelites spoke. Hebrew is no better than any other language. The reason we call Hebrew the ‘Holy Tongue’ is because the Torah was given in it. Not the other way around. It was God’s choice of Hebrew to reveal the Torah that made it holy. Had a group of ancient Japanese samurai came up with the God idea, God would have appeared to them at Mt. Fiji and spoken in Japanese to them. But they did not.
This reminds me of the old rhyme. The first part, at least, is attributed to William Ewer:
“How odd of God to choose the Jews!
Not odd, you sod, the Jews chose God!”
It would be more accurate to say that the Jewish people are the “Choosing People” instead of the “Chosen People.” We made the active and fateful choice to seek out God, not the other way around.
Having chosen God, the Torah is God’s response to us.
The word Torah means teaching. You can’t teach unless you speak in the language of the students. This is why the Torah speaks in the language of an agrarian economy. That was what was familiar to the people who stood at Sinai. It’s not that God demands of us to live in farms, but that was the world with which he was communicating with and therefore God needed to reference their world in order to make sense and be relevant to them.
Understand this: We are Jewish today because we come from a long and unbroken line of Jews for whom the Torah was the most important, precious and relevant legacy they had. If there was even one generation for whom the Torah was not relevant and it did not speak to them, the Torah would not have been given to the next generation and it would have been forgotten.
Therefore God needed to speak in language and terms that was relevant to both the nomadic tribes that stood at Sinai and the generation that sent a man to the moon.
How does He do that? He creates into the Torah a means of being relevant in every generation through Rabbinic Judaism.
God allows Himself to freeze His ideas into human words because He can rely on Rabbinic Judaism to update His message. Rabbinic Judaism is the corrective lens with which we read the Torah. God writes, “An eye for an eye.” Rabbinic Judaism comes along and “corrects” it by telling us not to poke out anyone’s eye, but rather states that monetary compensation is in order. The Torah tells us that the rebellious son should be taken to the city gates and stoned, the rabbis tell us this never happened and should never happen. In other words, we should think of the written Torah text as hardware. Hardware never changes, it always remains the same. But the system updates sent us from the cloud allows us to make the hardware more usable. Rabbinic Judaism serves as the periodic system updates for Judaism.
It is through the wisdom of Rabbinic Judaism that we can apply a millennia-old tradition to the modern world and still find it relevant. It has been said before that when we pray, we talk to God; but when we learn Torah, it is God that is talking to us. Rabbinic Judaism allows us to decipher the coded message and understand what God is saying to us even today.

The writer holds a doctorate in Jewish philosophy and teaches in post-high-school