Simchat Torah

LEADER TIMES WEEKEND RELIGION COLUMN FOR

October 25, 2014 by William H. Scarle, Jr. 813-835-0129

On Simchat Torah (rejoicing in the Torah) I took the opportunity to attach a new mezuzah to the door frame of my house as instructed in Deuteronomy 6:9.  I realize that as a gentile and a Christian I have no obligation to do so, but it is such a good idea I have always tried to observe the instruction.  The mezuzah I removed was brought from our home in Worthington, and had seen better days.

Inside the mezuzah case there is a scroll in Hebrew which contains the Schema from Deuteronomy 6:4 and several other passages from the Torah.  The Shema is usually translated, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is LORD is one.”  This is the first prayer, or declaration, any Jewish child learns, and it is the last declaration a faithful Jew makes before dying.  The translation leaves much to be desired, although it is probably the best we can do in English.

The Hebrew word translated “LORD,” all in capital letters, is actually the sacred name of God given to Moses at the burning bush.  It is composed of four Hebrew consonants and is rarely spoken.  It is based on the Hebrew verb “to be.”  English translations usually follow Hebrew tradition and substitute “Adonai” which translates into “LORD.”  However, without some background knowledge, the translation misses the point.  What God was saying to Moses in answering his question as to what name should he use for God when speaking to his fellow Hebrews was “I am the God who is.”  Egypt had many gods.  None of them really existed.  Moses’ God was the God who exists.

In the Schema the point is accented.  Israel is to understand not only that God exists but that he alone is God.  There are no other gods.  If I may submit a translation for Deuteronomy 6:9 that captures this meaning it would be as follows.  “Hear, O Israel, the God who exists is God alone.  There is no other.”

This God who exists is the God of creation.  He has made the world and structured both its natural and moral order.  This understanding is what Jefferson wrote into the Declaration of Independence with the words, “We are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights.”    The study of “moral philosophy” in the early universities was the effort to learn what God intended when he framed the moral order of things.

Ancient civilization had no such understanding of the universe.  In Egypt the Pharaoh was god, or at least a god.  He, or at least in one case she, could define the laws of morality and create definitions that would control human behavior.  Moses was sent back to Egypt with the message that there is only one God who exists, and Pharaoh is not that god.  The God who exists insists that his people be set free.

When government decides to define human nature and human sexuality they are not just making new laws for a modern society.  They are claiming deity.  When the state decides to change the definition of marriage they are usurping the prerogative of the Creator, as if this were possible.  There is no lack of evidence in history of government claiming to be divine.  We need to hear Moses’ words in our time.  “Hear America, the God who exists is God alone.”  Any attempt to change his order of creation will bring disaster.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at ravscarle@verizon.net).  END-whs

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