God the Author
God is the best-selling author of all time.
His book is called the Torah, the Bible, and its influence eclipses that of any other book of ethics, spiritual guidance, fiction, self-help, jurisprudence or history ever written.
“The Jews started it all – and by ‘it’ I mean so many of the things we care about, the underlying values that make all of us, Jew and Gentile, believer and atheist, tick. Without the Jews, we would see the world through different eyes, hear with different ears, even feel with different feelings … we would think with a different mind, interpret all our experience differently, draw different conclusions from the things that befall us. And we would set a different course for our lives.”
Thomas Cahill, The Gifts Of The Jews
“Before clocks were invented, frustration had a different shape. The past was a part of the present; individuals lived surrounded, in their imagination, by their ancestors and their mythical heroes, who seemed as alive as themselves… But then the Jews invented a new idea of time, which has been adopted by all modern societies: they separated the past clearly from the present. Having made a contract with God, they looked forward to its implementation in the future, not in heaven, but in this world. They were the first to imagine a time when justice would be established, when the deserts would become fertile [this was] the beginning of a new tradition of dreaming about the future.”
Theodore Zeldin, An Intimate History of Humanity
“For many people during many centuries, mankind’s history before the coming of Christianity was the history of the Jews and what they recounted of the history of others. Both were written down in the books called the Old Testament, [the Torah] the sacred writings of the Jewish people… They were the first to arrive at an abstract notion of God and to forbid his representation by images. No other people has produced a greater historical impact from such comparatively insignificant origins and resources…”
J.M. Roberts, History Of The World
So God is a best-selling author and the people of His book have had a remarkable impact on mankind; the question is, What is God’s book all about? And the answer, it seems, is that it depends who you ask. Some find in His book the roots and principles of morality and human ethics, some find poetry and drama, some find the keys to love and faith while others see a great legal code or a map for archeologists with an interest in the ancient Near East. All of these answers are reflective of how different people with different perspectives, backgrounds, and interests relate to the Torah. But what about God? After all, He is the author. What is the Torah from God’s perspective?
God the Historian
“The history of mankind is the history of the progress and development of human knowledge. Universal history, at least, which deals not so much with deeds of individuals or even of nations as with the accomplishments and the failures of the race as a whole, is no other than the account of how mankind’s knowledge has grown and changed over the ages.
Universal history, thus conceived as the history of knowledge, is not a chronology of every discovery and invention ever made. Many of them – perhaps most – are ultimately of little value. Instead, it is and must be the story, told in the broadest and most general terms, of the significant new knowledge that humanity has acquired at various epochs and added to the growing store.”
Charles Van Doren, A History of Knowledge
“I have included the story of only a few crucial inventions … I have not told the story of the shaping of governments, the waging of wars, the rise and fall of empires. I have not chronicled culture, the story of Man the Creator, of architecture, painting, sculpture, music and literature … My focus remains on mankind’s need to know – to know what is out there.”
Daniel J. Boorstin, The Discoverers
One way of thinking about history is the chronological timeline approach. This is the way most of us are used to imagining history. In this case, history is a long chain of events that when strung together tell us about what human beings did, or how they responded to what happened to them, at various times and places over the millennia. Another way of thinking about history is a more universal one that sees the human story in terms of a few grand endeavors that are the heartbeat of all history. From this perspective, regardless of time or place, events or personalities, all of history is the unfolding expression of a handful of guiding forces.
The Torah is a uniquely multi-layered document. Its layers are at once legal, mystical, psychological, spiritual, and ethical. At one of its layers it is also historical, and its historical frame-of-reference is particularly panoramic – the Torah is the history of the world from God’s perspective. In terms of historical events, developments, and personalities – in terms of the way we usually conceive of history – the Torah is an inadequate document riddled with gaps. But that’s not the kind of history the Torah deals with. Rather, it is history in its most seminal and universal sense. It is the history of man’s struggle to come to terms with the reality and implications of his createdness. In truth, throughout all of human history, there is only one story to be told, one story that has ultimate, absolute, and objective value. This is the story about how a created being – a being who like all other creations is utterly dependent, contingent, and ephemeral – the human being, was given the freedom to choose whether or not to confront the deeply unsettling fact of his being created, and how he used that freedom to either delude himself into a false sense of being or to achieve actual being by forging a bond with his Creator.
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Shimon Apisdorf is an award-winning author whose books have been read by hundreds of thousands of people around the world. He has gained a world-wide reputation for his ability to extract the essence of classical Jewish wisdom and show how it can be relevant to issues facing the mind, heart and soul in today’s world. Shimon grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and studied at the University of Cincinnati, Telshe Yeshiva of Cleveland and the Aish HaTorah College of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. He currently resides with his wife, Miriam, and their children in Baltimore. The Apisdorfs enjoy taking long walks, listening to the music of Sam Glaser and going to Orioles games.
Shimon can be reached at [email protected]
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Other books by Shimon Apisdorf, available online at The Jewish Literacy Foundation.