Last Updated: August 26th, 2019

If people ask me how I define myself, I say I’m Jewish. Orthodox Jewish. This means observing the holidays, the Sabbath, the dietary laws and rules far too numerous to mention here. People also assume that it means blind acceptance of what I’ve learned and that I adhere to the strict interpretation of the Torah. After all, that’s what “orthodox” means.

But this isn’t true, at least not in my case. It wasn’t—and still isn’t—the idea of evolution, or the age of the universe that gave me pause. A constant phrase we hear from Jewish commentators is that the Torah isn’t a history book. It’s more of a doctrine, which is the meaning of “Torah.” For me, it means that and more. It describes how we see God, and how we relate to Him.

It also describes how He sees us and relates to us. This became central to my own journey, a trek of the soul that has been dark and solitary, yet enlightening and life-giving as well.

I once blurted out to a dear friend of mine, someone far more learned than me, that I wanted to understand my religion on my terms. A touch arrogant, but that described what I set out to do. I would look through the classic commentaries and see which ones appealed to and spoke to me, and possibly build on them.

Many people would just shed the whole religious mantle, like an outgrown skin, but I wouldn’t. For one thing, I lived, and still live, a religious life (mostly). Besides that, it would be intellectually lazy. Delving into the text and finding support for another viewpoint would be far more adventurous and fulfilling.                   

A few questions I had to ask

A few people harvesting salt from water

A few things bothered me. What does He expect from us, when we so often anger, frustrate and generally disappoint Him?

Why did He create us?

And most importantly, what is free will, and how free is it? How was it created, and does God know what it implied when He created it?

What was the point of it all?

Let’s start with free will.

A central belief—in fact, central debate—of Judaism is free will. If God can see and know everything, then how can our will be free? And if He doesn’t know our choices, then how can He be All-Knowing?

I found a possible answer to this question while doing some research on Gershonides, known in Hebrew as Levi ben Gershon and the RalBag (Rav Levi Ben Gershon) in acronym. He presented a radical view saying that God could and did limit His own ability to foresee and control human acts. So I had support.

But why were we created? What purpose did we serve, if God could control everything about us, except our own will?

The answer to this question came in two parts, one in the position of Gershonides, that He limits His own control over us for some reason. But what is that reason?

For that question, I found a fascinating answer from a very unlikely source. That was a certain Jack Miles, a Jesuit priest, whose 1995 book, God: A Biography, won the Pulitzer prize for just that. Biography. He posits that the entire Torah can be seen as a description of God`s own experience as He discovers what He has created and how He and the human race will relate to each other. And how He discovers Himself.

Not willing to let things be, I looked again to Genesis, and came up with a theory. That theory proposed that the incident of Eve, with the snake and the apple (by the way, Jewish tradition holds that it wasn’t an apple, but more likely a date, or some fruit native to the area) occurred to give humankind a choice and thereby create the germ of free will. The rebellion was encouraged—and desired, in a certain way—so we would become independent beings, always struggling, sometimes advancing and sometimes falling back. I still had to figure out why.

I put this collection of ideas into a story, a background to the creation of humanity and what preceded the words, “Let Us make man, in Our image, in Our Likeness.”

The following is an excerpt from First of the Fallen, the third book in my Dark Muse series. It stamps this book, and the series, as an undefinable mix of ideas: some pertaining to the Divine, some very human.

The dialogue

Gold and silver angel against backdrop of other angels in sky

The heavens stretched beyond what any eye could see, populated by planets being born, stars bursting to incandescent life, bands of debris, bands of fire, comets careening through empty space and black bodies which would never be detected by human sight.

The host sang, at times softly, at times in full-throated majesty, as their Master assumed His place upon the throne, which was not anything like a physical throne, but a place, an otherwise empty space that was the engine of all creation, and of all destruction.

People would later describe Him as sitting at that place, but the better way to describe it is settled on it, or manifested there. He had no need for sitting, for being in any particular place or time. He was perceived now as a towering, unbounded flame, showing all the colours of the spectrum and encompassing all of space and time.

His presence would be felt there more than other places, and even the angels, seraphs, cherubs and other heavenly beings could not entirely comprehend His Essence. It was simply known and felt.

The Essence shifted and the hosts fell silent. Something was about to be presented for discussion. Not for approval, for He had no need, but their input, and their questions were always welcome. His Words were now spoken, softly, yet they were heard throughout the cosmos.

“Why do you sing?”

It fell to the archangel Gabriel to answer.

“It is required of us. It is our duty.”

“Yes. What if you refuse?”

The archangel was dumbfounded.

“But we cannot refuse. The planets form, the suns burn brightly, we sing. We do what the Will requires of us.”

“Why do you obey without question?”

“Because Your Will is ours, it is exactly ours. We exist, we sing, we carry out Your commands, because we can do nought else. We can consider nothing else.”

“Again, if you could choose, would you continue to sing, to carry out My Will?”

The archangel was silent, as was the entire host of beings.

“We cannot comprehend not obeying, not carrying out Your Will. We may as well be asked not to exist, for we exist only through Your Word.”

“Then I will create another being, one which is free to carry out that which is not My command.”

“But how can that be? How can a creature of the Lord of Hosts not carry out His Will?”

“It will be given its own will, and it will be free of Mine Own Will.”

“But Master, You see all that was, all that is, and all that will be. How can its will be free of Your Own?”

“I will choose not to gaze upon its choice. I will present choices, create circumstances, and the choice will be its own, and not My will.”

“But Our Master, why do You require this being? What purpose will it serve?”

“For it to benefit from the universe which I have created, as I have created it all for him. And to know if I may be obeyed from love, from a choice. From a will that is not of Mine.”

“But how will this choice be created, if You will not create it?”

“The being which I will create will, in turn, create his own will. He will be given a choice, a command to Obey Me. And that saying will impart a will to him, as he will be free to obey or to transgress. And from there, he will grow his power to choose whatsoever he may.”

“And if he transgresses? What will become of him?”

“There will be forbearance, and forgiveness. And there will be repentance. He will be permitted to see the error of his ways, and to return from them.”

“And if he does not?”

“Then his own sin will overtake him, and not I.”

The Essence shifted again, gaining a greater height, a more overwhelming power, and its voice was now heard.

“Let us make man, in our image, in our likeness…”

First of the Fallen book cover

From First of the Fallen, in which the author describes God and His conversation with the angels, and explains why He is creating humankind. The book also plants the myth of the muse in the book of Genesis, and describes a God who forgives and can be approached. Printed here with permission of the author and the publisher, Double Dragon Publishing.

image 1: liz west; image 2: Pixabay