I Was Offended When He Said I Would Go To Hell
While in college, a fellow student said I needed to believe in Jesus, or I would go to hell. He claimed getting to heaven and being “righteousness in God’s eye” comes through faith and not “works” or deeds.
To prove their point, Christians quote a verse from this week’s Torah portion Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1–17:27). The verse says Avram, whose name was later changed to Abraham, believed in God, and he accounted it to him as righteousness (צדקה-tzedakah)” (Genesis 15:6).
In context, God was telling the childless Avram that despite his old age he will be blessed, and his “descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the heaven” (Genesis 15:5).
In response to God’s promise, Avram did not ask God for proof but faithfully believed God’s promise. Avram’s pure faith was considered an act of righteousness. Some sages point out that the verse can alternately be read that “he (Avram) accounted it (the promise) to Him (to God) as an act of “charity.” Since the literal meaning of the word tzedakah (צדקה) ) is charity Avram considered God’s blessing to be a gift.
Either way this verse is understood; it does not mean that faith alone makes someone righteous in God’s eyes. The Torah teaches that besides faith, there are other ways to be considered righteous.
For example, we are told later in the Torah that the reason Abraham merited to have numerous descendants was because of his actions, as it says, “because he obeyed God’s voice and observed God’s commandments, statutes, and laws” (Genesis 26:5).
Another example of actions being accounted as righteousness is found in the book of Psalms.
In Psalm 106, David recalls the story of Pinchas zealously stopping a plague (recorded in Number 25:7-9) that threatened to destroy the Jewish people. King David adds an amazing insight when he says, “Pinchas arose and executed judgment, and the plague was halted, and it was accounted to him as righteousness” (Psalm 106:30-31).
The psalm uses the same words that were applied to Avram, and in this case, Pinchas’ actions were considered “accounted to him as righteousness.”
Both faith and deeds play a part in being righteous in God’s eyes. King Solomon summed it up and described the purpose of man is to “be in awe of God and keep His commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Missionaries who dogmatically reject what the Torah teaches are shocked when I point out that their own New Testament says, “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”(James 2:17).
May this Shabbos provide numerous opportunities to experience and develop our spiritual relationship through our faith in one absolute God and by following His commandments.
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz