I discuss the Jewish “orthodox” and Jewish “reconstructionist” views of how, after one has sinned, one can restore one’s relationship with God (Hashem “The Name”). I first describe Adam’s way and then his descendants’ way of coming back to God.
The basis of Adam’s relationship with God was the fact that he was still alive, which meant that God had hope for him. He put Adam here for a reason; he didn’t put him here to destroy him. So, if after Adam had sinned he was still alive, then there was still hope for him, and he wasn’t lost, which meant that God wanted to have a relationship with him. In a certain sense, the after effect of a sin is worse than the sin because if Adam’s sin had made him give up on life, he wouldn’t have found a relationship with God, which is worse than the sin itself. As long as he was alive, God wanted to have an interaction with him. He knew that Adam had the capacity to sin, God knew it was going to happen. That was part of Adam’s struggle. That’s what God wanted. So after Adam made a mistake, God demanded him to love kindness. To love kindness, that’s a state of being that we have constantly to grow into. Adam could certainly love kindness more than He did. He took it day by day, hoping that tomorrow would be a better day, and the day after even better. He tried. But that’s part of life, that’s part of his relationship with God, which is to grow in these areas. A good way to look at it is that God created Adam to be obedient, which would allow Adam to infuse more godliness into his life, and so sanctify himself. That’s the plan; to allow godliness to infuse Adam’s life. So after Adam sinned, which he would continue to do, wherever he was, the fact that he was born showed that he could improve, he could grow. And he constantly did. If he wasn’t growing, he was dying. As long as he was alive – he was a created being and so wasn’t going to be perfect – he was able to grow more. All in all, God gave Adam the opportunity to infuse more godliness into his life – constantly.
In sum, the fact that Adam didn’t die – his heart hadn’t stopped – meant that there was hope, there was a way out, even though it was to be a tortuous torturing way out: the day to day struggle to be good and kind to his fellow man. What about Adam’s descendants? Here is the Jewish view described by Rabbi Yisroel Blumenthal and Rabbi Michael Skobac, who discuss the ability of man to overcome sin and reconcile themselves to God. Here is my transcript of Rabbi Blumenthal’s view:
Adam’s descendants’ way
Title of interview: “Dealing with sin as taught in the Bible.”
The question: “How do we have a relationship with Hashem (God) after we have sinned, and is there a way out?”
“The basis of our relationship with Hashem means that the fact that we are alive means that God has hope for us. He put us here for a reason; he didn’t put us here to destroy us. so, if after we have sinned we are still alive then there is still hope for us…and we’re not lost. And then he will want to have a relationship with us. In a certain sense, one of my tutors taught that the after effect of the sin is worse than the sin. If the sin makes you give up on life, you don’t find a relationship with God then it’s worse than the sin itself. As long as you’re alive, God wanted to have interaction with human beings…they have the capacity to sin. He knew it was going to happen. That’s part of our struggle. That’s what He wanted, so after we made a mistake – people are constantly making mistakes; it’s not just did I do and action, didn’t I do an action? – God demanded us to love kindness. To love kindness, that’s a state of being that we have constantly to grow on. I say for myself that I could certainly love kindness more than I do now, and I hope that tomorrow will be a better day, and the day after even better…I’ll try. But that’s part of life, that’s part of our relationship with God; it’s to grow in these areas. The way I look at all the positive commandments is that these are things that God created to allow us to infuse more godliness into our life. He gave us the commandments of Shabbos (Sabbath) to sanctify us. In other words, to allow godliness to infuse our life. So after we sin… forget about after we sin; wherever we are, when we were born we had what to improve on and what to grow in, and we’re constantly growing. A person who is not growing can only be dead. As long as you’re alive – you’re a created being – you’re not going to be perfect, and you’ll only be able too grow more; and God gave us the opportunity to infuse more godliness in our life – constantly.”
We see that what was good for Adam is good for his descendants. You might have noticed that in my description of Adam, I used Rabbi Blumenthal’s words to describe Adam’s descendants.
Rabbi Blumenthal, a prominent spokesman and scholar for “Jews of Judaism” (YourPhariseefriend)” has described his view of the heart of Judaism: loving kindness. Judaism teaches that man finds himself through loving God and the world. What for the Jew is the best way to love the world? Repair it; clean up the mess. Who made the mess? Human beings surely. Not so; according to Arizal (Isaac Luria, the renowned Kabbalist), the Jew’s role is to clean up the mess God has made of the world. And the best way to ”repair” it (a loving way of saying “clean up the mess”) is to relate to others through goodness and kindness, in a word, through love.
A key term in Jewish thought is “relatedness” (as it is in modern psychology); of two kinds: between human beings and between human beings and God. Most people have never heard the term “relatedness,” but that is what they want as well; to be loved. Rabbi Joshua Liebman (in his “Peace of mind,” chapter 4) warns us to “love or perish” and admonishes us (quoting Emerson) to “give all to love.” Judaism, for Liebman, is a religion of relatedness, with love as its greatest expression. Liebman was a rabbi and a (Freudian) psychologist. Religion for him, however, played a minor role, where religion proposes, but psychology disposes. (Josh Liebman’s “Peace of Mind”: Religion proposes, Psychology disposes).
To sin, in essence, is to hate or withhold love. Liebman, however, like so many Jews, whether they believe the Torah id from God or not, are, at best, not comfortable with the religious term ”sin,” and prefer the psychological term ”mistake”: a fault-line in the landscape of the psyche.
“Open almost any book, or consult almost any commentary to the High Holiday machzor, says Rabbi Richard Hirsch in his “Introduction to Judaism”, and one inevitably finds the explanation that the Hebrew word het (chet “sin”) means something like “missing the mark” — as if life were no more than a game of darts. Our moral and relational failures receive a soothing bromide of reassurance: We need only try harder next time, with hope that we’ll hit the target more often. The operative concept is that we need to be reassured, rather than reassessed.”
The implication of this view is that you show loving kindness through giving reassurance, which is about helping others feel more confident about themselves, helping them believe in themselves, assuring them that they are not so bad as they think; in short, helping others adapt to their inner weaknesses (not ”sins;” God forbid), to reconstruct themselves. In short, accept yourself as you are, adapt and move on – or die.
“But without first engaging seriously in a deep moral inventory, how can we honestly move forward in life? Without the courage to descend into the depths of our failures, how can we presume to ascend in pursuit of our better self? As the Reconstructionist machzor states, “reducing sin to the status of an almost inadvertent error hardly seems tenable in the light of our awareness of the horrors of which humans, individually as well as collectively, have proved capable. The concept of sin, in fact, seems more, rather than less, important as we move into the 21st century —not for what it tells us about God, but for what it suggests to us about ourselves.” (My italics).
Rabbi Hirsch’s last part: ”not for what it tells us about God, but for what it suggests to us about ourselves” reminds me of what Rabbi Michael Skobac said, who, with Rabbi Blumenthal, whom I quoted above, was the other participant in the discussion on sin that I discussed earlier. Here is Rabbi Skobac:
“The book of proverbs says seven times a righteous person will fall but they will get up. And one way of understanding this is that righteous people will be those kind of people who will, after they sin, they will lift themselves up, they will raise themselves up. I think it was the Rosh haYeshiva [Head of the Yeshiva) of [not clear] who is teaching something a little different. It is saying that really what makes a person righteous is this process of having gone through failure and then raising themselves up.”
Whether it is the getting up that makes you righteous or going through the process of failure and then raising yourself up, the focus in both processes is on man salving and salvaging himself from the ravages of the savage forest. Friends may guide you, but it is you – the Jewish, and the humanistic, view – who (inwardly) determine your own destiny. Well, that, anyway, is how Rabbis Blumenthal and Skobac describe (above) how we are restored – to ourselves, to others and to God.
The Reconstructionist Jew, in contrast, is not concerned with restoring his relationship to the God of the Torah, or to any God. In Reconstructionist Judaism mistakes, failures, are important, not because one is disobeying and offending a Holy God, but because the miscreant needs to understand more about the offenses he causes to himself and to his fellow man. And if you know the causes of your failures, it’s much easier to find a remedy. Judaism, in this reconstructionist view is good therapy. (The Spirit of Reconstructionist Judaism).
Whether it be Reconstructionist Judaism (man constructed God or Orthodox Judaism (God created man), for the Jew, the road to salvation is festooned with acts of loving kindness. And you never know, it may be your one tiny act of kindness that may bring Messiah (Moshiach). Here is a short interview between a reporter and the Lubatvicher Rebbe Schneerson (1992; two years before his death):
Reporter:”Rebbe can you tell us the message for the whole world about the Moshiach.
Rebbe: “Moshiach is ready to come now, we all must only do something additional in the realm of goodness and kindness. At least a little more and Moshiach will come immediately.” (see Video here).
- Why don’t you call me good? (onedaringjew.wordpress.com)
- The Forgiveness and “Forgottenness” of God: Your sins never were (onedaringjew.wordpress.com)
- The Nature of Man: the Will and the Fall of Adam and his children (onedaringjew.wordpress.com)