American Reformed Movement Rabbi
Emil G. Hirsch, fully Emil Gustav Hirsch
American Reformed Movement Rabbi
Sin is not offense against God, but against our humanity. It is not a state which came to us and which we cannot throw off; it is an act of our own. Sin is anti-social conduct, due to the want of resistance on our part to the influences of the animal world behind us, selfishness, or to the legacy of a phase of civilization over which and beyond which we should have passed on.
The doctrine of man as creator, as I can easily show to such as can think philosophically, necessarily leads to an assumption of a greater creative force immanent in nature. . . . Human life, weak as it is, shadowlike as undoubtedly it is, fleet-footed as it is, gains strength in the thought that the All-life lives and supports the individual life, which is not wiped away as the little ripplets are in the broader stream.
The Jewish God's symbol vocalizes the reality of an all-encompassing and controlling "Justice," the One world-power, the all- pervading world-process, the all-shaping world-purpose. This Power, Process, and Purpose, conceived and carried out in Love, is an end unto itself, but man is a means to it. By making this purpose his own day's intention man gives music and value to his life.
This instinct for totality, the counterpart of the feeling, gnawing and rankling, of dissatisfaction, is the germ of all religion. But man answers the craving need of a totality and a prospect into the future according to his historical conditions. Therefore all religions are genuine rings. None of them is a counterfeit, and none of them owns exclusively the truth and the whole truth.
This is the final test of the truth or untruth of a constructive or disintegrating philosophy of life. What increases man's sense of power, and therefore, for him, the content of life, is true. What tends to the diminishing of the store of moral resiliency and of the energy needed for resisting as well as for onward pushing is corrupting, and therefore marked by falsehood's taint.
Value is given to our little limited lives. Our days are reckoned as movements in the sweep of the centuries. Their faint note belongs to the ocean of song to which worlds and ages have contributed. Our doings help and hinder, spread or retard, the pulsations of the universe's heart. We are a part of the eternities and have a part to play in their orchestrated symphonic movement.
Alone, manâ€”weak, totteringâ€”yet with God this handful of dust made to be unmade, moulded to be molding, grasps the ungraspable, utters the ineffable, and when what seems too profound for human intelligence sweeps into the horizon, solitude is no more and misery has departed.
For the belief in God is merely the outcome of the belief in man. God is the apex of the pyramid, not the base. Man is the corner- stone; and from the true conception of man have the Jewish thinkers risen to the noblest conception of the Deity. Those are shallow who talk of their agnosticism and parade their atheism. No one is an agnostic and no one is an atheist, except he have neither pity for the weak nor charity for the erring; except he have no mercy for those who need its soothing balm.
In the common sense of the word, Judaism is not a religion, it is not a system of dogmas, of sacramental grace; it is not a bundle of rites and ceremonies; it is not a road to happiness in the hereafter; it is not a scheme of salvation from original sin; it does neither stand nor fall with our views as to the character of those books we call sacred, and as to their authorship. But it is a message to the world that righteousness must be its own reward, and is of that force which builds the world and shapes the courses of men.
Only they have to weep bitter tears who know what has come to them is the result of their foolish conduct, their ignorant way, their want of proper understanding of life and what love means.
We are a part of the eternities and have a part to play in their orchestrated symphonic movements.
The aim of our worship is the purification, enlightenment, and uplifting of our inner selves.