Response to rabbi that turns atheist

At the beginning of the week I came across the radio show of a “Rabbi” who is “struggling with his faith,” as he said. Throughout the show he made numerous disturbing comments which included questioning the morality of the Torah and some of the Mitzvot, rejecting Revelation at Sinia, doubting the authenticity of certain miraculous episodes recorded in the Tana”ch, rejecting basic principles of our faith and denying the existence of God altogether. While continuing to uphold the cultural aspects of Judaism, even Orthodox Judaism, this talk show host claims that it is now time to abandon “unprovable and irrational propositions” that were upheld by Rabbis of the middle ages. Much of traditional, Orthodox Judaism and belief in God clashes with modern scholarship, archeology and rational thinking, so he claimed, and therefore needs to be reevaluated. He summarized his whole show by asking, “Does Judaism lose its validity if the Har Sinia experience did not happen?”

What made it most painful for me is that I have heard this “Rabbi” speak on occasion and we share certain mentors that have taught and influenced us. While we have all heard of religious Jews abandoning their faith and observance and we are all quite familiar with the very real clash that exists between Judaism and modern, western thinking (nothing new there), his rejection of the Divinity of Torah and basic Principles of our Faith carried a different dimension for me simply because I know him.

A few introductory points of response:

1) Struggle is a wonderful thing. I agree with the gentleman that not enough Jews and Orthodox Jews struggle in these areas. Too many people just turn on “cruise control” and ride through life without contemplating issues of faith.

2) If you are struggling with your faith, but have some basic respect for the Orthodox community that are a part of, that your family is a part of, have the decency and humility to keep your struggles off the radio. While I am led to believe that true humility is a quality uncommon among radio talk show hosts, I would expect that a rabbi or former rabbi has the sense not to attack and undermine עיקרי אמונה in the public sphere. As the Gemara states, it is a sin of enormous gravity to push others “off the derech.”

If I were this individual I might strongly consider temporarily suspending my radio career and return to yeshiva and more concentrated Torah learning.

We should all consider how each of us might respond to this talk show host’s rant on Judaism.

I think the place to begin is to understand the mystery of the Jewish People. After appreciating who we are and what we are all about, we can posit some answers to some of the issues presented above.

Last week’s parsha, Bo, and this week’s parsha, B’shalach, comprise the birth of the Jewish people. Packaged together, the events of Yitziat Mitzrayim and Kriat Yam Suf make up the Yomim Tovim of the holiday of Pesach.

All beginnings, especially the origin of our people, are crucial to understand. What unfolds in reality at later stages can only be that which existed, however raw in form it may have been, at the inception phase.

What is the significance of Kriat Yam Suf? Why did it have to occur in such a dramatic form? The Rishonim question why did Bnai Yisrael have to be pinned up against the sea when they could have escaped to the North and avoided a situation where they would be trapped?

When reading the story leading up to the splitting of the sea, it is clear Hashem “set them up.” Not only did Hashem set them up, but Hakadosh Baruchu staged the entire encounter punch for punch; as Moshe tells Bnai Yisrael at the foot of the sea, “You, be silent,” (Shemot 14:14) meaning you have no hand in this. Why put Bnai Yisrael in such a situation when Egypt was already almost completely knocked out through the plagues?

A Rav of mine, Rav Amos Luban, gives a fundamental answer which must be understood and internalized.

Klal Yisrael, in moment of tremendous anxiety look around themselves and see certain death on every side. We understand well why they say to Moshe, “There are no graves in Mitzrayim!? You took us out to kill us in the desert!” (14:11)

Why did they have to experience this? It was not even necessary, as we mentioned above.

It was necessary only to put Klal Yisrael in a situation where there was no built in solution in a natural way. Their salvation, a path to life by means of the water emerged out of the most unexpected direction. This gave Am Yisrael, precisely at the moment of birth, the utter clarity that our lives and existence stems solely from a miraculous, super natural realm.

In retrospect, looking back at the last three thousand years of our existence, we have a deep understanding of why our miraculous birth was so significant. Our miraculous birth was to be a sign of our miraculous existence and miraculous endurance throughout the duration of history.

Sir Thomas Newton, Bishop of Bristol (1761-1782), said of the Jews, “The preservation of the Jews is one of the single and illustrious acts of Divine providence. What, but a supernatural power could have preserved them in such a manner as no other nation has been preserved. And no less remarkable is the destruction of their enemies. Let it serve as a warning to all those who at any time or occasion are raising a clamor or persecution against them.”

Three hundred years ago, King Louis XIV of France asked Blaise Pascal, the great Christian philosopher, to give him proof of God. Pascal answered, “Why the Jews, your Majesty, the Jews!”

Much of Judaism and Torah thought can be explained through rational thinking. For honest and open inquirers, there are reasonable answers for those that ask questions about our faith. Inevitably, there are mysteries and perplexing queries which cannot be satiated by a rational response. For these, one must know who we are and from where we come from.    

It is our deepest hope that through this week’s parsha that our friend, the talk show host, rediscovers who the Jewish People and our intimate bond with The Supernatural Power, מלך מלכי המלכים הקדוש ברוך הוא!

(Comments and reactions are always welcomed in response to the ideas presented in the Dvar Torah – Orosheladam@gmail.com)

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