Our old friend Bob’s email made me smile. It reminded me of my late father, who insisted that religion was bad for the world because it caused all the wars. I tried for years to convince my father otherwise (unsuccessfully, of course), but now I see what he meant. My father was blaming G-d for creating religion, but why stop there? Can’t we blame G-d for everything? Okay, “blame” isn’t quite the right word, but we know nothing happens if He doesn’t want it to–and the world could be a lot better. If G-d had asked me, Eve would have offered Adam brussels sprouts, or something easier to resist than an apple, and we would have lived happily ever after, never having to worry about what to wear.
But G-d didn’t ask me anything. He didn’t tell me anything either. In fact, spiritually speaking, I was thrown into the water without knowing how to swim. I learned about G-d the hard way and often the wrong way. This, too, was meant to be–just like the wars caused by religion.
In time, I learned that if I wanted meaning and purpose, I should ask not what G-d can do for me, but, well, you know the rest. And I learned that, as a Jew, I can do a lot for G-d, which I eventually came to see as a privilege instead of a burden. That’s why, unlike Bob, I’m less bothered by what other religions do in His name. I’m more bothered by what Jews don’t do in His name. I know, I know, this was also meant to be. But, I also know that all Jews are responsible for each other, and many of these Jews are my friends and family. They see, and unfortunately sometimes experience, tremendous suffering in this world. They blame G-d (and me, by association) and all I can do is assure them that Moshiach is coming and the world will be perfect. But meanwhile, he’s still not here and my credibility is waning.
I wondered how I could show G-d in a better light to the “Bobs” of the world. Maimonides, in his Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith, sets down the foundation for all of Judaism. These principles make G-d look better than any of us can imagine, but they’re a package deal–when they all go together, everything comes together. (Oh, and if you identify more with Maimonides as a hospital, think about a Jewish re-boot. The fate of the world could depend on your spiritual awakening.)
Courtesy of Chabad.org, here are Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles of Jewish Faith (plus my own italicized commentary):
1. Belief in the existence of the Creator, who is perfect in every manner of existence and is the Primary Cause of all that exists. This is meant to delight me: G-d is perfect, yet I matter to Him.
2. The belief in G‑d‘s absolute and unparalleled unity. The magnitude of this notion should inspire both awe (it does) and humility (I try).
3. The belief in G‑d’s non-corporeality, nor that He will be affected by any physical occurrences, such as movement, or rest, or dwelling. This one I’ve always understood: I’m in trouble if I see G-d.
4. The belief in G‑d’s eternity. Thank G-d. Otherwise, how would I know what He changed and when He changed it?
5. The imperative to worship G‑d exclusively and no foreign false gods. This sounds too easy, which might mean I’m doing something wrong, especially if those “foreign, false gods” are non-corporeal too.
6. The belief that G‑d communicates with man through prophecy. Maybe not every man, but at least with somebody. How else would we know what He wants from us?
7. The belief in the primacy of the prophecy of Moses our teacher. It really happened…
8. The belief in the divine origin of the Torah. …G-d and Jews, together at Mt. Sinai (also not the hospital)…
9. The belief in the immutability of the Torah. …It’s still happening…
10. The belief in G‑d’s omniscience and providence. I like to focus on the positive: Because He’s involved with everything, if I ask Him for help, He will provide it.
11. The belief in divine reward and retribution. He knows I’m only human, so I fail sometimes–and He forgives me. But what’s my excuse for not trying to do better for real?
12. The belief in the arrival of the Messiah and the messianic era. I could sit and stare at these beautiful words all day long. But, now is the time for doing mitzvos to make this era a reality…
13. The belief in the resurrection of the dead….Because G-d wants people to live in this physical world in its perfected state, including the people who helped Him achieve it!