• Gabbai

Lech Lecha – In God’s Name

In his newest book discussing religion and violence (in the form of religious war and terrorism) Rabbi Jonathan Sacks brings up a theme common to his writings. Humans are, at the same time, both gracious and competitive, giving and unforgiving, compassionate and ruthless. It all depends on context. In the space of a group with which one identifies – in the “us” group – we are cooperative and tend to see the best in people. Toward those outside one’s affiliation – the “them” group – we are more judgmental and unaccepting.

This dualism is manifest in racism, nationalism, religion – any division which places people in different camps of identity. Human nature is to circle the wagons, to exercise kindness and cooperation within one’s identity group while baring our teeth and acting defensively toward those outside the group.

In religion there is a strong tendency toward dualism. We find black and white, right and wrong, to be more relatable than grey. As such, if my religion is right, that means your religion is wrong. The Crusades, Jihad, all types of religious wars, reflect this idea of dualism. It is the forces of good against the forces of evil – and my side always represents the good.

Theology itself is subject to dualism. People have always struggled to understand how good and evil can stem from the same source. We like to portray the god in which we believe as a good god, a compassionate god. How then do we deal with suffering, injustice and wickedness in our world? How do we reconcile our belief that God is the source of everything, including what we see as bad, when we also insist on God being only good?

There are many different ways of dealing with this, some within the bounds of our traditional beliefs and some outside the pale of our faith. One simple way to deal with this, which was the common belief of civilization in the time of Abraham, was dualism. There is a simple answer to why evil exists in the world – there are evil forces as well as good forces. We simply don’t attribute evil to God, we attribute it to other gods, to demons, to Satan etc. This division is at the core of paganism, or polytheism. The god of life is not the same as the “angel” of death; the god of fire is different from the powers of water. There is a god of war and a god of love, a god of fertility and a god of storms. In pagan legends these gods are often at war with one another, and that reflects the chaos of the world, with some prospering and other suffering tragedies, while sometimes a combination of success and failure occur at the same time. This is how people dealt with these questions, reconciling the conflict of good and bad by attributing them to different forces.

Into such a world Abraham was born. A deep thinker, as portrayed by the Midrash, Abraham used his intelligence and understanding of the world to probe the authenticity of these beliefs. His research of nature discovered a common and unified force governing everything in the world. He found that everything in existence shared a common DNA and bore a common stamp, reflecting the work of a single architect. Abraham’s thinkin