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It's Only Natural

It's Only Natural

A myth debunked

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Pundits love generalizations. Half the world is this, the other half is that, and that explains just about everything.

Here, then, is our own generalization: the world consists of pagans and transcendentalists. Pagans eat, drink and sleep; transcendentalists work for world peace. Pagans believe that the way things are is the way things should be; transcendentalists believe that we were placed on this earth to change the way things are. Pagans worship nature; transcendentalists worship G‑d.

The Egyptians were pagans, the Hebrews were transcendentalists. The Hebrews were slaves to the Egyptians; then G‑d intervened, humiliated the Egyptians, freed the Hebrews and set them loose upon the world. This, in 30 words (more or less), is the story of the birth of the Jewish people.

Thus we read of ten plagues visited upon the Egyptians. These are usually understood as punishments for their cruel treatment of the Jews. But a closer reading of the Torah's account reveals that they also served a more basic function: to discredit the gods of Egypt so that "you shall know that I am G‑d."

The Nile -- Egypt's source of sustenance and most revered deity -- turns to blood; the soil turns to vermin, the skies rain a lethal deluge of fire and ice, the light of day turns to inky blackness. Nature is transformed from a nurturing mother into a capricious witch.

Taking the Jews out of Egypt would not have achieved anything if the Jews had taken Egypt along with them when they went. So first the Jews had to witness the destruction of Egypt's gods: they had to hear their masters renounce the natural order they had deified; they had to see the "goodness" of nature exposed for the sham that it is.

Only when the paganism of Egypt had been uprooted from their hearts, could the Children of Israel proceed to Mount Sinai to receive their mandate as "A light unto the nations." Only then could they teach the world that nature is not to be worshipped, but improved upon; that the way things are is to be supplanted with the way things ought to be.

By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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patrick February 2, 2017

who do you think you are The Creator is nature. Look at the state of the world with all of these improvements.The Creator is the one and only, we only need to stop going against Him.

By the way, i'm what you would call a gentile, but a real jew is one who clings to the creator.

L'Chaim Reply

Malka January 26, 2015

"Improved upon" ??? improved upon? I don't quite like the wording of the writer, saying at the end how the Jewish People ended up understanding nature as something to be 'improved upon'.... doesn't quite describe it well enough for me. Reply

Anonymous London April 11, 2014

Disappointed and saddened by this article (part 1) "Pagans eat, drink and sleep; transcendentalists work for world peace. Pagans believe that the way things are is the way things should be; transcendentalists believe that we were placed on this earth to change the way things are. Pagans worship nature; transcendentalists worship G‑d."

I cringe at the thought of an irreligious/non-believing Jew reading this article and what sort of impression they'd get of Orthodox Judaism as a result.

1. I cannot see the point of making a generalization of the world. The author himself within the first two sentences ironically alludes to the fact that obviously generalizations DONT "explain just about everything."
"Pagans believe that the way things are is the way things should be; transcendentalists believe that we were placed on this earth to change the way things are" - this line and the line which follows it (basically implying that Pagans are atheists and transcendentalists are people who worship God [or something to that effect]) particularly aggravates me. Whether intentionally done or not, the message that this gives over is that if you are an atheist then you clearly have no interest in social action or 'changing the way things are' - only religious believers care about those sorts of things.

This over-generalization is just simply incorrect and over-simplistic.

I'm sure that someone reading my comment will just dismiss it as someone just being too politically correct and will think nothing more of it. But personally I feel that it gives a bad impression of Orthodox Judaism as though we are saying (in line with the generalization principle) 'we're right, you're wrong.' Reply

Anonymous seattle December 29, 2010

It smacks of mighty hubris to suppose the world should be different. If this is G-ds plan, are we supposed to say differently? How do we know what a better future looks like? I can only suggest that our mandate, received on Mount Sinai gives guidance but so does creation itself and the pursuit of science, which give a view on to G-d's plans. Reply

Anonymous April 13, 2009

An opportune 11th commandment missing! In the plague story, I have been thinking lately how is it that the Jews were not affected by them? When there is flood, pest invasion etc aren't we all affected by them? The knowledge of how natural laws work lead us to conclude that Jews & Egyptians alike had to bear the brunt of such calamities together?! Pagans & Ex-pagans must have all been affected by these calamities alike?! How come they were unscathed? The sea opening up for the Jews to escape is another example of nature contradicting itself! Does belief in G-d requires unnatural occurrences to take place? Since slavery was a custom of the stronger over the weak at the time and had to be improved upon, why is it that once the Jews were liberated from slavery they kept on with the practiceof slavery after that? It would have been greater if G-d could have added another commandment such as "thou shall not deal in human trafficking or something" ? For after all his children were also trafficked...How could G-d have missed that? Reply

Anonymous Raleigh, NC/usa April 14, 2008

the way things ought to be does not this tendency to demand that things ought to be other than they are lead sometimes to terrible suffering? I am referring to the utopian tendencies of many of my fellow Jews who want to repair the world, usually through some updated version of Marxism. That is something I worry about a lot. What should be the limits of our human attempts to perfect the world? Is it not God's job, not ours? Reply

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