Oh it’s a basic question I know. But who is God anyway?
The odds are that your answer to the question is based on a religious answer. Who is God? He’s the being that my religion tells me about.
So to answer the question of who God is, we first have to answer the question of what religion is. What is religion? There are two kinds of religion, one which imposes laws on the community from outside, and one which serves as an expression of the identity of the community.
The Aseret HaDibrot, the culmination of the Exodus from Egypt, was the first case. Hashem imposed that identity by shepherding the creation of Israel, beginning with the one man who recognized God on his own initiative, Avraham Avinu, culminating in forcefully taking Israel out of Egypt and dedicating the Jews to serve God alone.
Parshat Misphatim and all that leads up to it is really God telling the Jewish people, “I’m going to tell you who you are and how you’re going to live in the hopes that you’ll finally get this humanity thing right.”
And what do most of those laws consist of? Category one are ritual things that recognize God’s role in our lives. Category two consists of Google Laws, basically laws that tell you not to be evil, not to oppress others, and to live just lives.
These laws are not ideal, they are functional. They’re laws that a people a few thousand years ago could live with. It’s why we’re told “Lo Bashamayim Hi”. We were not given angelic laws. We were given human laws.
And who was God? He was the one who gave us those laws. Those laws were not about telling us who He was. But about us understanding who we were meant to be. He was the Lawgiver.
Now how does religion become corrupted? It becomes an expression of the identity of the community. Customs grow around rituals. Some are customs of dubious origin from idol worshippers. Rituals are added to, though the Torah specifically forbids that. Religion becomes a product of the culture of the community that keeps it, rather than the other way around. God stops being an object, and becomes a subject.
Now if religion is an expression of the community, who does the community worship? It worships itself, or rather its own power structure. A corrupted religion is centered on worshipping the power sources of a particular community or culture or nations.
And so you have totems, ancestor worship and God-kings. All examples of a culture worshiping itself. You have popes. You have seers and gurus who serve as the intermediaries to God. Or Gedolim.
When a culture becomes the object of its own worship, when customs trump commandments, and when laws are constantly rearranged for the convenience of every time and era… the culture becomes its own religion.
Ever heard minchagim referred to as holy or Gedolim as all knowing? You’re seeing a culture that believes it is God.
And such religion always violates both categories of commandments that Hashem gave on Har Sinai. 1. Remember me and 2. Don’t be evil.
A religion that is a reflection of the community worships the communal power structure. Which means those in charge can do no wrong. So evil and oppression become the norm. Because the intermediaries have become God.
When the Nevim went to Israel with the message, stop being evil. They were naturally locked up or persecuted. Their message came from God, but the people they were talking to worshipped their own system.
We still do that today. Every fast day we may read from Yeshaya telling us that what God wants is not fasting, but for us to stop oppressing others. We nod along. And we keep on living in communities filled with corruption and oppression that always begin at the top.
Gedolim worship is a culture worshipping its own power structure. For everyone who says we don’t have a pope, you’re right. We don’t have one pope. We have a lot of them. And that’s only because we’re too fragmented and argumentative to unite behind one pope. But it’s a difference that makes very little difference.
So who is God anyway? As far as a large part of us are concerned, it’s whoever the Gedolim say he is. Or more accurately it is the Gedolim. The Christians and Chabad simply took that to the next level. Start worshipping the intermediaries as gods themselves.
The more we cultivate minchagim, the more we impose a communal identity on Judaism, instead of listening to what the Torah says, the more we worship a community, instead of G-d. And when we do that, we actually can’t see the forest for the trees. We get tied down in details and we forget what God wants.
The Aseret Hadibrot were a culminating event. They were the creation of a nation that would serve God. We mock Fiddler on the Roof Jews, but is your average Chassid any better? Does his religion come from God or from Slavic culture mediated by some scraps of Judaism, all the while speaking a German-Russian-Hebrew dialect, while worshipping a man as their intermediary to God?
Harsh, but true.
We’re expected to believe that Moshe Rabbeinu, the Avot, the Shevatim, the Nevim, were fallible, but that the leaders of our current power structure are not? We’re expected to believe that Moshe could mangle Hashem’s message, as he did when he was told to speak to the rock, but that no one since then has?
What a load of crap.
The “Heilige Yid” in the payos and tzizit, who robs the orphan and oppresses the widow, who won’t say Good Shabbos to you, and if he sees you struggling with a load walks on by… is everything that the Aseret HaDibrot were meant to stamp out.
The payos have nothing to do with Judaism. We’re forbidden to cut our hair in particular places. We’re never told to make a decoration of it. The Tzizit were never commanded by Hashem as a separate garment. And we’ve left of the Techeilet part entirely.
What we were commanded to do in no uncertain terms was not be evil. And that Unheilige Yid, who donates money to worthy causes, drives a Lexus and talks loudly in Shul on his cell phone, is evil.
Yet he rules us, for as long as the community is the object of our worship. For as long as turn to a system ruled by Gedolim and the whole court they have built around them, the Askanim and the Machers, the “Rabbis” who issue press releases and write columns and popularized seforim.
A religion that reflects a culture and community, rather than guides it will always turn to evil, because evil comes from power, and those in power will rule a community. It will always anger Hashem because those in power will always oppress those who do not have power. The kings did it then, the machers are doing it today.
So who is your God anyway?