Blog Eiqev Av 23 5779 בלוג עֵקֶב, כ”ג אב תשע”ט

Ask yourself…Where am I? Am I a strong believer in the Creator or do I follow a religion?

My desire over these past years by saying “Yes to the Creator and No to Religion”, is to bring you back to the basic principles of the Torah. Every religion consists of man-made responses based on their understanding of God or their own personal deities. The Creator gave us a basic constitution to live by, His Ten Sayings, to which Moses is specifically referring in this portion Ekev. As I mentioned last week, Moses is not speaking about the 613 rulings in Torah called the Teryag, תרי”ג gathered by the rabbis. This was done to protect the people from breaking the original Ten.

In the last parashah, Israel was called “Am Segullah” – עַם סְגֻלָּה, a peculiar people, also known as the Chosen People, but Moshe is warning us here not to think too highly of ourselves, or that we are better than others. Quite the contrary, we were the least of all the peoples so that the credit for our successes would go to the Bore Olam. Over time, most religions in their battle for the top position, have pushed man to the forefront forcing the Creator into the background. He wanted us to live an honest and decent life and to be an example to others.

When we read the Torah, it appears as if the Creator is setting up conditions… “if you obey me you will be blessed but if you disobey, you will be punished.” However, the Creator is unlike the blood-thirsty pagan gods who needed appeasement, waiting for the people to fail as they pointed the finger of judgment at them. He is telling Israel that He set down the principles by which we could live in peace and harmony together but if we chose not to abide by them, we would reap the consequences of our own actions. Religion allows their followers to pass the guilt onto someone else. They try to butter-up their gods so that they would be good to them. If you believe in the Creator, understand that He knows you better than you know yourself. Only He knows the true intentions of your heart.

Moses is telling the people that all the Ten Commandments are equally important and that there needs to be a balance in our lives. A very important aspect in Biblical Judaism is the concept of Teshuva, returning to the Creator. When we break a commandment, it is not enough to simply say we are sorry; we need to make it right. Sometimes we think that He has abandoned us, but it is we who have turned our backs on Him and His principles. We need to turn back…to do teshuva.

How can we apply His principles to our lives? We need to major in majors, not in minors. Religion has made minors more important. The Creator gave us the Ten Commandments…these are the majors. The middle two Commandments which relate to loving ourselves, are the hinges between the first two Commandments – about having a relationship with the Creator and the last five, about having a relationship with our neighbor. You can’t have one without the others. Majoring in minors creates religious hypocrisy in us by emphasizing appearance over substance. How we dress, what we eat, how we act in public become more important than who we are.

I have been teaching you the process by which we can have a true Halachah (walk) with the Creator. It begins with “Emunah”- the gift of Faith by the Creator to everyone. This is followed by Bitachon, Trust which is putting faith into action. Faith means nothing without taking the step of faith and doing what He is asking us to do. This leads us to the third step, utilizing His gift of Bechirah Chofshit, Free Will. Free Will involves taking responsibility for our choices. The fourth step is that when we take responsibility for our choices to do either what is right or wrong, the Bore Olam sees our Kavanah, our Intention. That’s what He judges. We cannot fool Him. Religion, however, teaches that we can pass the buck…it’s simply a matter of how much we are willing to pay.

Moses was so intent on telling his people not to be drawn in by the behavior of the other nations, not to assimilate but to remain a special people. Today Israel has lost its identity as ohr l’goyim because we don’t want to be different. We are accepting their values instead of leading the way with the principles of the Torah. The Torah itself is being changed to accommodate to the ways of the world. The world boasts of being progressive and liberal, accepting the worst behavior that humanity has to throw at it. The worst of today’s religions is humanism which lifts up mankind as gods. Moshe was like a father begging his children not to go with bad company. His heart was breaking for his people because he knew what they would do. Young people today are being lost without the guidance of the Torah.

Ask yourself…Where am I? Am I a strong believer in the Creator or do I follow a religion? It is easy to fall into the trap of being too religious or too liberal where we accept that certain behavior is acceptable. It takes a strong personal responsibility to take a strong stance. Speak for yourself and do not allow others to speak for you. Remember that you are uniquely made and having Free Will, you are responsible for your actions. When you do wrong, make it right. If you steal or borrow, pay it back with interest. Religion will let you off the hook, but the Torah teaches you to be responsible because the Bore Olam knows your heart. Moshe teaches us to help those who cannot help themselves, as pictured in the widow, the orphan and the stranger. Let us not be vaccinated by the religions of the world but let us be smart enough to follow the Creator!