Judaism’s Mark of Distinction
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
There exists a notion that religions differ merely quantitatively, for they each have deities, beliefs, practices, holidays and cultures. All elements belong to all religions. While this might be so, uniquely Judaism stands alone. Citing our prophets and greatest thinkers like Maimonides, Rabbi Israel Chait explained how the primary focus of Judaism is not practice, but the appreciation of God’s wisdom in forming the precise and brilliant principles which guide each law. King Solomon stated, “Greater is wisdom than fine pearls; all desirous things do not equate to it” (Proverbs 8:11). Here, King Solomon taught that of the 613 Torah commands, the command to study the Torah outweighs all others. And creation attests to this, as man alone was created with intelligence. God’s purpose in creating the human mind or soul is obviously that man engages his mind as his primary occupation. This offers man the greatest enjoyment. This is King Solomon’s message.
Equally important to man’s enjoying the greatest delight in life through wisdom, is that Judaism’s mark of distinction is not detected in any other religion. But one should not accept my word alone. To be convinced of this truth, one must personally experience examples of this brilliance.
God entrusted to the rabbis not only to transmit the Torah, but also to erect safeguards, what we call rabbinic laws. They also have the right to formulate blessings. God’s endorsement of the rabbis (Deut. 17:11) conveys to us His assessment of the rabbis’ great minds. Studying the formulation of one of their many blessings enlightens us to Judaism’s mark of distinction.
This Sabbath is the New Moon of Tammuz 5777. On this day, our regular Additional (Musaf) service is altered. Instead of the regular prayer, we recite “You formed Your world from long ago.” We must ask: Why was this prayer changed on account of the Sabbath/New Moon combination?
Looking at the altered text, we notice the additions of “God’s creation,” and “from long ago.” The first step in approaching this question is to independently define the two days of Sabbath and the New Moon. Afterwards, we can understand what concept their combination highlights.
The Sabbath has the unique distinction of God’s creation of the universe from nothingness, “creation ex nihilo.” All matter was brought into existence and completed, and God refrained from any additional creation from the seventh day and forward. The Rabbis teach (Ethics 5:6) that the miracles throughout time were “programmed” into Creation. God did not enact new changes “in time,” primarily because He is above time. Maimonides teaches that time itself is also one of God’s creations. We might then ask, if this is so, that Creation was complete, why then do we recite “You formed Your world from long ago” only on the Sabbath/New Moon combination? We should recite it every Sabbath.
What is the New Moon? The New Moon is different from the Sabbath. On it, we do not commemorate the completion of a creation, but the completion of the circuit of the Moon. How is the Moon’s circuit different than Creation? It too was designed by God!
There is a distinction. Creation, celebrated by the Sabbath, addresses God’s creation of the universe from nothingness. Sabbath addresses the “material” of creation. The New Moon embodies a different phenomenon; not the matter of creation, but the “laws” governing that matter.
God created two things; entities, and laws governing those entities. On the first Sabbath, although all matter was complete, the laws governing their behavior could not be seen in their completion. For example, the Moon’s orbit of the Earth is about 29 days. By definition, on the first Sabbath, the fulfillment of the Moon’s cycle had a few more weeks to go. In truth, all of Creation could not be witnessed on the first Sabbath, as many of God’s laws would not display their complete cycles of behavior for months, and for the planets and stars, even years.
What happens on the Sabbath/New Moon combination? On this day, both systems coincide, displaying a completion of both; God’s physical creation of entities (Sabbath) and the realization of the universe’s laws (New Moon). On this special day, it is appropriate to offer this unique praise to God, “You formed Your world from long ago”: formation of the world corresponds to the Sabbath, but “long ago” corresponds to a system, which, although enacted at a prior time, only fulfills its mission much later. “Long ago” is a reference to time, not substance, describing that, which only bears God’s plan after some time, i.e., the laws of Creation. Physical creation can be beheld in a glance, but a system of natural law unfolds its design only after a span of some time.
Both aspects of Creation are witnessed on this special Sabbath/New Moon: Sabbath recalls physical creation, and the new Moon testifies to the realization of God’s natural laws. While it is true that sunrise/sunset can teach this idea of laws, perhaps its frequency and familiarity diminishes its significance in man’s eyes. Therefore, the New Moon was selected by the rabbis as the more impressive phenomenon on which to establish praise to God. (I believe this second aspect of Creation, i.e., its laws, are alluded to in Genesis 2:4.)
Through an analysis of this Sabbath/New Moon blessing, we arrive at an appreciation for the ideas behind Judaism; We realize that “ideas” are the focus of Judaism.
Judaism isn’t about performing actions, but about using our minds. Judaism is not about practices that satisfy our emotions like the idolatrous deification of man or sacrifices made of sweet ingredients, thinking God eats as man does. It is not about catering to emotionally-pleasing self-sacrifice like inviting the smiter of our cheek or robber of our wallet to continue, as we masochistically endure the pain. Nor is Judaism about following the imagination, or blind faith in fabricated histories, believing in saints, mysticism, a purported prophet, a religious ceremony bereft of intelligence, or anything without proof.
Judaism is about reality, intelligence and proof.
We don't believe Moses received the Torah on Mt. Sinai; We know it must have happened. For such a stupendous claim would not be transmitted unanimously, had it not occurred. No one in their right mind would swap his true history and instead, lie to himself and his children, telling them that they all attended a miraculous event, when in fact they did not. Not would anyone pass on that lie. This argument applies not to this single person alone, but to the millions who transmitted the identical miraculous account of Revelation at Sinai. We cannot suggest all possessed the same motivation to lie to their children; We cannot accept they would all lie to themselves. Imagine trying to get all 70,000 fans at a baseball game to say the losing Yankees actually won. Imagine trying to get 10 people to lie. The same applies to Sinai. The ancient Jews would not have believed or transmitted a lie. At the very minimum, we should be in possession of the second “true” Jewish history, had Moses in fact lied. But there is no other version of Jewish history.
But one might ask, “Are there not far greater numbers of those believing in Jesus’ purported miracles? Should this not compel conviction?” No, this should not, Why? First, because the accounts of Jesus’ miracles are conflicting. But primarily, the stories of the purported events contain no mass witnesses. That crucial proof of mass witnesses exists in no religion other than Judaism’s history. Christianity merely “believes” Jesus’ accounts, explaining the doctrine of blind faith. But even they do not claim mass witnesses. Thereby the millions of followers are “believers,” not witnesses. And when a story has no witnesses, it offers no proof.
Judaism’s numerous laws are the glue of the religion, but not the purpose. They give Judaism a cohesive identity that has driven its survival long after the expiration of many other cultures these past 3300 years. But the focus of Judaism is discovering the Creator’s brilliance, explaining why publicizing Creation through the Sabbath is so vital.
The study of Judaism (the Bible) is identical to the study of science, where further discoveries render us awestruck, and simultaneously open vaults of new insights and findings. God layered His wisdom revealed in nature and in the Torah in a hierarchical form; The deeper we dig, the more we discover, and isn’t that too an amazing design?!