Evangelical Christians have emerged as Israel’s most reliable defenders. But aside from stalwart defense of the Jewish state, there is something that we in the Jewish community can learn from our Evangelical brothers and sisters.
Last week I wrote about the mental health pandemic and why it has exploded now. In essence, our fragility stems from a feeling of worthlessness and aloneness caused by unrealistic societal expectations that make us feel like failures. Simply stated, our culture makes us feel that we’re never good enough. And losers don’t feel happy.
There are two sources of human self-worth. It will come from either the earth or heaven.
Self-worth from the earth is a game of accumulation. We feel good about ourselves because we are progressing in one of five essential, terrestrial spheres: money, beauty, fame, power, and influence. Those with beautiful possessions find happiness in what they own. Those with money feel accomplished. And those with important networks feel impregnable.
But there are two problems with self-esteem that comes from terra firma. First, it’s a game of competition, such that no matter what you achieve, someone always has more; and second, what the earth gives, the earth takes away. Money is made and lost. Beauty comes and goes. And all the cosmetic surgery in the world still won’t stop you from aging.
Hence, even the very rich and famous can often seem miserable. Not because money can’t buy happiness or love – only a fool would have thought that possible to begin with – but because the money and power and fame only magnify, rather than assuage, insecurity.
The self-esteem that comes from heaven is different. Knowing that we are children of God, endowed with a spark of the divine, is what gives us a permanent and unassailable position of value.
And here is where we get to the principal goal of religion, whose first purpose is to inform humanity that it is created in the image of God. As such, all of humanity is special. All have a royal aura.
The past few decades have seen the decline of Catholicism in the West and the rise of Evangelical Christianity, especially in America. Because no Christians emphasize more fully than born-agains that the worshiper has a personal relationship with Jesus (whom Christians embrace as the deity, which Judaism emphatically rejects), no branch of Christianity is blossoming faster. This feeling of a personal relationship with the divine is what people seek.
In an age where we all hear the whispers of a culture that tells us we’re small, Evangelicals continually hear a drumbeat saying that they are big. In a society where men and women are told that money and fame will gain people’s respect, Evangelicals hear a constant murmuring that they are the apple of God’s eye.
Now you understand the secret of why born-again Christians – the largest and most influential voting bloc in the United States – find it so much easier to reject our increasingly unhealthy culture. It’s not the culture per se that they are rejecting but its value system. They don’t believe that self-worth comes from what we accrue on earth; rather, it comes from our connection to heaven.
How bizarre that even as Christianity is the daughter religion of Judaism, based almost entirely on Jewish ideas and following a rabbi who was murdered by the Romans for opposing Roman rule (see my book Kosher Jesus), we in the Jewish community, who could never accept the divinity of Jesus, need to be reminded about proximity to God from our Christian brothers and sisters.
I am a passionately Orthodox Jew and would not contemplate living any other way. And I reject completely Saint Paul’s argument that Judaism gets lost in the minutiae of the law. To the contrary, the law, Halacha, is God’s will, and we achieve closeness to God by following his commandments.
But I also recognize that we need to be reminded that the purpose of fulfilling the mitzvot is to grow closer to God. We in the Jewish community have to hear that the source of our self-worth is being children of God, and it’s a message the Torah requires us to spread.
And because this is religion’s most important and most universal message, that explains why it’s found in the very first chapter of Genesis. God created humans in His image. And they are significant because they possess a fragment of the infinite.
The value of self-worth that comes from earthly accumulation has another toxic characteristic. As possessions, money and fame are ultimately finite, the sense of self-worth they can bestow is likewise finite. And as such, the more our fellow man accumulates, the more we feel that he has taken some of our share. Hence the phenomenon of human jealousy and the need to bring down our neighbor’s achievements. The more they succeed, the more we fail. Gore Vidal expressed it best when he said that every time a friend of his succeeded, a part of him died.
But celestial self-worth, the feeling of significance that comes from being connected to God, is infinite, like a candle that can light an infinite number of other candles without ever being diminished.
When Moses complains to God that he cannot alone assume the burden of leadership, God establishes a quorum of 70 elders who will also be prophets, along with Eldad and Meidad. Joshua, Moses’s attendant, is furious that others have Moses’s gift, because he feels that the great prophet will be diminished. Moses says to him, “And would it were that all of God’s people are prophets.” And God then took from Moses light and shared it with the elders.
Joshua’s miscalculation was to believe that Moses’s value and authority derived from terrestrial sources, such that if others had his gift, he would be diminished. But Moses as “a man of God” derived his value from the infinite and could therefore share without ever being minimized.
The rest of us must learn the same.
Let’s join with our Christian brothers and sisters to create an America where all feel that “it’s not by bread alone that man lives; rather, it’s by the word of the living God that man shall live,” gain self-worth and strong mental health.
The writer, “America’s rabbi” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author or 36 books, including most recently Holocaust Holiday: One Family’s Descent into Genocide Memory Hell. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @RabbiShmuley.