From what I read, American TV is preparing several series for next (2006 – 2007) season dealing with a post-apocalypse America. Recently on Blogcritics, I’ve seen reviews concerning themselves with “Left Behind” the series of books and movies dealing with the fundamentalist Christian concept of a “rapture” grabbing up all the righteous in the End of Days – and what happens to those who are not included in the saintly élite.
Silas Kain, a frequent and highly incisive contributor to Blogcritics, submitted a piece recently dealing with the question “The End of Days or a New World?” It is one I suggest you all look at and consider.
In the Jewish world, the End of Days is certainly a Big Topic. Here in Israel looking at things non-Jews rarely contemplate, like the Hebrew calendar, we are beginning to see how the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible are beginning to play out. You can be sure, however, that the Master of the Universe, THE Creative Writer to beat all creative writers, always keeps a card hidden up His Sleeve for a surprise ending. But even all that is NOT the Big Question. The Big Question is the kind of thing that gets thrown in your face at the dinner table on a Saturday afternoon.
On 26 November 2003, Professor Eliyahu Rips gave a presentation at the Israel Center sponsored by the Root & Branch Association. Professor Rips, along with Doron Witztum, is one of the developers of and premier experts on the Torah Codes investigated by Rabbi Michael Weissmandl in his youth.
After showing the numerous ways one could mine repetitive information from the Torah Codes on one subject (using the Twin Towers attack as his example), he went off on a bit of a tangent, talking about how the Midrashic date of 5790 (2030) came up in the array that was formed when he typed the phrase “M’hhayéi haMetím” (rising of the dead). This was in connection with showing how even the Midrash, a series of stories in the Talmud that explain moral points, was reflected in the Torah Code – confirming what the Vilna Gaon had said about the Torah – that everything in the whole universe was somehow alluded to in Torah.
The medresh that mentions the date 5790 essentially predicts that the rising of the dead will occur in that year (though some rabbis say it will occur in 5786). This means, in essence, that the messiah will have already come and accomplished his main tasks; conditions will be such that the rising of the dead can occur.
This lecture by Professor Rips had been the highlight of my week. The following Sabbath, I explained this to my family at lunch, pointing out that this was the only time that this phrase “M’hhayéi haMetím” appeared encoded in the Torah. After listening for a time, my youngest son popped the Big Question: Why?
Why were we created? Why do we exist? What is the point of it all? What if someone doesn’t believe in the rising of the dead or in the coming of the messiah?
At first, I tried to answer him by saying that the answer to that question is something that comes to you after you die. But that answer just didn’t cut it with me – I imagine that it didn’t cut it with him either. I know why we or the universe exist? I looked up with a silent prayer for help. Sure enough, it arrived.
I told him to think of G-d as a computer programmer testing His programs to see if they met certain criteria. The issue He tests for is, “do I want this ‘program’ hanging around My heaven for Eternity?” So we are tested for quality, endurance, faithfulness, loyalty, etc. If we pass the test, we are admitted to heaven for eternity – which is a long time, after all. If not, our souls cease to exist – we become worm-food, or maybe we get planted into a different body for “re-education”. I tried to explain that I don’t understand all the joys that one would feel in heaven, but then that is part of being human.
My son wanted to know “what was in it for G-d?’ The textual answer, the one I had learned, was that G-d had created the universe for His greater glory. But what was the greater glory? Often, I had explained to my sons and my wife that the Torah was not just a series of nice rules by which people got along, or even the national history of the Jewish people – that it was the blueprint of the universe, by whose powers the universe had been created by the Almighty. This is a central assertion of the m’kubalim, the holy men who receive kabbalót, Divine wisdom. There is one calculation that the universe is one sixty fourth of the Torah, another that it is one sixteenth. I have often explained to the boys that the Torah encompassed all possibilities and all probabilities of human (and non-human) endeavor. In being given the task of “guarding the Torah,” we Jews were not just guarding a series of fairy tales. We were guarding the integrity of the code that created the universe. And we still are.
So, if all possibilities were contemplated already by the Torah, what was the point of free will? What was the gain for the Almighty of human souls hanging around His heaven for eternity?
While we can never really know, we can attempt to guess. We can perform a thought experiment of sorts. That is what I tried to do with my kids at the Sabbath table. We humans are limited in our understanding of the universe by two traits which are like blinders on the eyes of a horse. We are born and we die. This means that time is important because we have only so much of it. That is one trait. The other is that we are two sexes, male and female, with distinct roles and outlooks born of that distinction.
Our Creator has neither of these limitations on His view of things. A Divinity that can create anything by mere thought, and that is outside of time is beyond our imagination. But the one thing that is not beyond our imagination is loneliness. G-d is alone in His heavens.
Consider. A Divinity alone forever. Forever.
The human soul could potentially serve as His company! Now there is not much that those souls could add – after all, all possibilities of human endeavor were already considered within the Torah. But the added experience of the human could be like spice on a beverage, cinnamon on a cheese cake, or pepper on pizza. I told my sons to imagine an orchestra playing music for eternity. Humans’ souls could be like the extra violinist or cellist or flautist playing a little bit louder than the score might call for. It’s not much, just a scintilla of difference from the program. But that scintilla might make all the difference.
So, the point of free will is that we humans – and other creatures in the universe granted sentience like humans – have had to have the opportunity to choose life, and good, and loving G-d. Without that choice, we would be mere animals. The free choice to love G-d is the scintilla of something extra in the universe already contemplated within the Torah.
By the time we had gotten this far, everyone was kind of tired. My wife was falling asleep. My older boy, who had not asked the Big Question, couldn’t wait to say grace over a meal long eaten (Jews bless the food before they eat it and say grace – known as “Birkát haMazón” – afterwards). All this was a lot for my younger son, a twelve year old, to absorb. Heck! It was a lot for this poor uneducated Jew to try to figure out!