Friday, August 12, 2005

What I believe

Man is conceived in sin* and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something.

Be forewarned: I can't prove any of this. It is not a statement of fact but a confession of faith.

God created the world. He may have labored over it for six full days, shaping the mountains with his hands, or 3 billion years ago, He simply may have set the machinery in motion and allowed things to take their natural course, according to rules He had established.

About 3000 years ago there was a moment of truth in the Sinai desert. My ancestors saw something, heard something, and became convinced of something. We call this moment Matan Torah, the revelation at Sinai.

God is good, but men are not, and over the course of the ensuing centuries the revelation became corrupted. Perhaps we still have the words God gave us. Perhaps not. Perhaps the ideas revealed at Sinai are fully inact. Perhaps not. Though I am well aware that many of my co-religionists believe that not one letter and not one idea of God's revelation was lost or changed, what I know about men and mankind - not to mention the simple understand of Judges and Kings - militate against this view. (In any event, I keep the mitzvos, as traditionally defined by Orthodox Judaism. I accept the authority of the Rabbis and the prophets to make our law.)

However, the overarching theme and primary message of the revelation at Sinai remains intact. Boiled down it is this: Be excellent to each other^, or as Hillel the Elder put it, as recorded in Mesechet Shabbas "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Go and study it" That is the whole Torah, and it is also the whole of Liberalism, as I see it.

God has redeemed us by giving us the power to redeem ourselves not through hours of prayers, nor through personal stringencies, nor through pilpul, nor through conquering Yesha, but through good works#.

* The quote, from Robert Penn Warren, was too good to pass up, but I don't mean to suggest that the act of conception is a sin. Only that man, left to his own devices, remains hopelessly corrupt. The purpose of the revelation is to rescue us from that corruption.

^ So why am I sometimes vicious to bloggers and commenters? Though I'd like to say that my viciousness is always l'shem shamayim, the truth is that I, like so many of you, am a work in progress.

# I accept the authority of the Prophet and the Rabbis to define "good works." This is the realm of mitzvos ben adam l'chavero.