In previous articles, we dealt with personal and social aspects of truth relativity. The inevitable conclusion was that the existence of an objective, absolute truth is a necessary condition for personal, spousal, family and social happiness. The reader now deserves to be shown some proof of the existence of an absolute truth; as well as practical ideas of how to realize his longing for happiness.
The reason we didn’t present the proof for the existence of an absolute truth before, is not because it was unprovable, but because there is no point in proving something to a person who isn’t emotionally and mentally ready for it. We can’t present all the proofs in this limited framework, but we will mention several main ones.
The proof for the existence of absolute truth is the proof for the existence of an eternal Creator, who is immaterial, omnipotent, and unlimited; Who created the universe ex nihilo, controls it, maintains His providence over it, and reveals His Will. This Creator revealed Himself at the Revelation on Mt. Sinai before millions of people. He began “I am” which means “I am the absolute truth. My absolute set of values is the Ten Commandments, and the Written and Oral Torahs.”
This is a summary of the proof’s points:
1. There is no materialistic explanation for the creation of life and matter in the world. This refutes classic Darwinism and the Theory of Natural Selection.
2. Two million people witnessed the divine revelation on Mt. Sinai after they witnessed Egypt being smitten with ten plagues and the splitting of the Reed Sea. These events were documented in the books of Torah and the Prophets, in archaeological findings, and in ceremonies and occasions which the entire people have observed everywhere in the world without interruption, from when the revelation occurred until today: the Seder night, the holiday of Passover to recall the plagues in Egypt and the splitting of the Reed Sea; the holiday of Shavuot to recall the Revelation on Mt. Sinai.
3. Proofs that the Torah is from heaven: fulfilled prophecies which totally refuted Biblical criticism, and amazing scientific knowledge revealed in the Torah and the commandments. One who is interested in the details of this proof, can check over the sites which appear at the end of the article.
Judaism gives us balance in life: our soul’s eternity puts spiritual challenge at the center of our existence — this is “the name of the game”. Physical strivings are legitimate — but only if they are subordinate to the spiritual. This is why a religious Jew inevitably won’t feel the need to join the rat race after money, career and status. He works, of course, for financial well-being, but with a balanced, healthy approach. He has internalized that physical needs are a means and not an end: a means to maintain his existence, to educate him to show gratitude to the One who dispenses pleasures; and to learn restraint and develop self-control.
Life is an ongoing educational process which teaches us self-control and character development. In Jewish terminology, the phrase which conveys this is tikkun hamidot— “rectifying our character traits”. In practice, we achieve this by training ourselves to avoid certain actions, and conversely, to inspire ourselves to do other actions. The non-Jewish world also believes in education, but the substantial difference is in defining the means in contrast to the end. In the non-Jewish world, life is the given (“the end”), and education is the means to achieve a better life. In Judaism, the goal is the exact opposite, and this is the secret of its success: life is given for the goal of education, so we can achieve tikkun hamidot and refine our personality! Let us look deeper into what the Torah says about life as an educational process.
By developing the spiritual side of his personality, a person increases his spiritual aspect over his physical aspect — not in a way that negates the physical, but that utilizes the physical to achieve the spiritual. This is done in two ways: when a person does an act to satisfy a physical urge, he keeps in mind the positive value of the act and its inner spiritual meaning. [In Judaism the parallel terms are “kavanah” (having the right intention), making “yichudim,” (dedicating it to G-d), or doing it “l’shem shomayim” (for the sake of heaven).]
And the same is true vice versa: when a person is privy to a powerful spiritual experience, he should have his body share in the experience. One example of this in Judaism is the concept of “a festive meal that accompanies performing a commandment” or a “festive meal celebrated out of gratitude.” This is how the soul and its consciousness develops while elevating the body with it. Integrating the experiential-emotional process of the physical act with the process of conscious intelligent thought gradually creates the complete, harmonious personality.
A Person as a Taker and a Giver
Most of us will fail in one of two diametrically opposed mistakes: the mistake of the “miser” and the mistake of the “philanthropist.” There are some people who always want to take, and find it difficult to give; others on the other hand, love to give, but they mistakenly view themselves as the source of good and kindness. Let us imagine a long “channel” through which abundance and goodness streams to the world. This goodness is totally derived from G-d’s infinite goodness.
Every person has to see himself as if he is in the middle of the channel. The abundance has reached him, and he’s supposed to take whatever he needs from it, and pass on the rest (“charity”, “kindness”, “tithes”). The “miser” errs in thinking that he is at the end of the channel, and so he loses the vital experience of giving which will develop his soul; in contrast, the “philanthropist” is convinced that he is at the “head of the channel” , that he is the source of the abundance, and he thereby loses out on the quality of gratitude and humility.
Each one of us was born a supreme “taker” — our ultimate desire is to have pleasure. Training ourselves to give, together with the self-education process mentioned in the previous paragraph, uplifts us gradually to the level of a “giver” and develops in our personality higher levels of pleasure and enjoyment: the feeling of satisfaction at creating, helping the development of another, and developing ourselves as a more complete and sublime person. But even after we’ve become “givers”, we shouldn’t see ourselves as a “source” of giving! We have to remember that everything that we give (including the will to give), was received from someone else. We will always be “takers” for the simple fact that we’re created beings. The ideal situation is to feel ourselves as “transmitters” — who take the good from the Source of infinite good, enjoy it in some measure, and transmit it on.
Taking as a Form of Gratitude
One of the central foundations in human relations as well as in Judaism is gratitude. It’s self-understood that one should return a favor to one who did you a favor. Since it is not always possible, the minimum one should do is express gratitude by saying “thank you.” It doesn’t depend on whether your benefactor wants to be told thank you or not. Thanking a person is an act which the taker’s soul demands that he do, and which will affect his personality. One who won’t say thank you, creates a negative psychological trait in his soul called “ingratitude.”
A person can be ungrateful to his fellow man and also to G-d. Judaism educates the person to show gratitude to his Creator for his life, his health, his talents, and his livelihood… actually… for everything. According to Judaism, the world was created as a reciprocal system in which everyone gets benefits from everyone else, shows gratitude for it, and continues the good. We can sum it up by saying that the two necessary conditions for human perfection is: (1) to return a benefit or to thank the one who gave you a benefit, and (2) to pass on the benefit further by doing good to others.
However, when it comes to our Creator, we have a problem: there is no way to pay back the good…
Judaism offers us an alternative: (1) by thanking our Creator for all the good He gave us; (2) by dealing kindly to other people. For example, the daughter of Pharaoh named the child she saved from the river “Moshe” because “I drew him (mishisihu) from the water.” If this was the reason for his name, he
should have been called Mashui, the passive form of “to draw” (i.e. “drawn”). The fact he was called Moshe (i “he draws”) hinted to his life purpose. “Just as I drew you out and saved you, you should save others too.”
According to Kabbalah, even the ironclad rules of nature are affected by mankind’s behavior. As the author of the Akedet Yitzchak explains: all the creation’s foundations, root of existence and operations are performed through giving and taking.
The various categories of nature (man, animal, vegetation, and inanimate) provide for each other and reproduce from each other. This is a metaphysical law, which the Creator ordained in nature at Creation. As long as a person maintains this harmony, the creation will respond and be friendly to him. Rain will fall, the land will give its produce, the person will see blessing in his deeds. In contrast, if the balance is violated, and man views himself only as a “taker”, nature will also follow this pattern of behavior, and will stop giving… The whole system will enter a process of self-annihilation. This is the reason why the Torah emphasizes and imbues us with the importance of gratitude and passing on the abundance to others — “A world of kindness should be built” (Psalms 89:3).
Why are “Commandments” Intimidating?
The intimidation we feel at being commanded derives from a basic misunderstanding, whose source is in not distinguishing the basic difference between commandments in Judaism and in the world of idolatry. The most apparent example of this is the commandment to bring sacrifices. Idolatry (such as the idols in Greek mythology) view sacrifices as a ritual “bribe” to appease the idols and placate their wrath.
The concept of a sacrifice in Judaism is fundamentally different. Let’s take for instance, two kinds of sacrifices, each of which is completely different. The sin-offering sacrifice is not offered because of any demonic “wrath” that is threatening to suddenly explode. A person must bring it because he had transgressed an explicit commandment. The very act of sin contains an element of rebellion which distanced him from his Creator.
The sacrifice is an act of rectification (from the root “kiruv”, bringing close), which will bring the person back to his Creator. By bringing a sacrifice, a person internalizes to himself that he deserves to happen to him what was done to the animal. This unpleasant realization arouses in him remorse, which will help him avoid stumbling the next time.
The firstborn of an animal, bringing a tithe of all animals, and bringing the first fruits, are a different kind of offering. These kind of sacrifices educate a person to the realization that the world and its fullness is not his. He is not the owner of the world but a mere “guest”.
In summary, the common perception of commandments is based on a mistaken stereotype fed by the childish, primitive idolatrous worldview as it was reflected in the mythological literature. According to Judaism, the Creator doesn’t need our sacrifices nor our commandments. The commandments were only given to “refine mankind”, as a kind of refining furnace and operating system to develop our personalities, and to unlock our potential.
The Commandments are a Balancing System
We emphasized above the importance of the commandments in creating a complete, harmonious personality, but didn’t provide an example of how this is done. Let us illustrate it in brief with the aid of two examples — the commandment of the Sabbath and the commandment of family purity laws. The reader will discover that it is the same with all the other commandments.
These two commandments contain a mechanism which balances physical needs with emotional-spiritual needs. Desisting from work on the Sabbath detaches a person from the arena of physical action, and helps him develop channels of spiritual pleasure. The temporary interruption in physical contact between a couple, helps them develop communication channels based on a emotional-spiritual bond and thereby deepens their love (while increasing their longing and excitement towards the next physical encounter).
Only the “Manufacturer” of Creation can supply an exact, tailor-fit system of “operating instructions” for the complex human beings which He created, which takes into consideration their physical, emotional, intellectual and social needs, as well as the reciprocal relations between them.