An atheist approached a great Chassidic rabbi and said, “I can’t believe in a God who is harsh and judgmental and spends His time in heaven handing out punishments.”
The rabbi responded, “the same God you don’t believe in I also don’t believe in.”
I was reminded of this story when I was studying this week’s Torah portion, Eikev (Deuteronomy 7:12–11:25).
If God were merely angry and punitive, the Jewish people would have been condemned to remain in the Sinai desert because of their deeds. They would not have been empowered to conquer their enemies and enter the land of Israel.
In this week’s Torah portion, God tells the Jews, “do no say to yourself, because of my righteousness the Eternal brought me to take possession of this land.” Instead, it was because God is faithful and keeps His “promise to your forefathers Avraham, Yitzchok and Ya’akov” (Deuteronomy 9:4-5).
Daniel echoed a similar theme when he said, “not because of our righteousness do we pour out our supplication to You, but because of Your great compassion” (Daniel 9:18).
Also, King David, who went through numerous trials and tribulations, described God as, “a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15).
The Torah’s description of a compassionate and faithful God stands in stark contrast to the Christians view that you are condemned to eternal damnation unless you accept Jesus.
This Christian view of a harsh and punitive God is like the concept of God the atheist rejected, and Judaism rejects it too.
The Torah and Judaism teach that our God, “comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones” (Isaiah 49:13).
May this Shabbat enlighten us to appreciate God’s love, compassion, and faithfulness.
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz