Think about an organization that is working to end world hunger. Or one that is combating racism and discrimination in society. Or another whose aim is to protect marine life from the mounds of plastic trash dumped in the oceans every year.
What do you think would be these organizations’ greatest achievement, their greatest moment?
It will not be when they get a certain law passed or they open up a new center or when they are successful in recruiting thousands more to their cause.
Their greatest day will come when they could pack up their stuff and close their offices!
Because that will mean that the work has been done, the goals have been achieved, and their organization is no longer needed or necessary.
Wanna hear something crazy?
The same can be said for Judaism.
Though we often think about Judaism as a religion, replete with its beliefs, rituals and laws, it is more accurately viewed, I believe, as a movement whose days, ideally, are numbered.
Don’t agree with me?
That’s fine, because it’s not my original idea.
It’s actually a Jewish idea!
In fact, it was recorded in the Talmud some 1,500 years ago, when Rav Yosef said, “…the commandments will be nullified in the future world-to-come.” (Niddah, 61b, for those who like sources).
Additionally, it says in the midrash that, “In the future, all the holidays will be nullified, and the days of Purim will never be nullified…” (Yalkut Shimoni, Mishlei, 944).
What could these statements possibly mean?
Isn’t Judaism and its commandments supposed to last forever? Thousands of years ago, wasn’t Avraham on a quest for truth, a truth which he found, a truth which became the foundation of Judaism? Shouldn’t that truth be eternal?
Could it be that there is some kind of expiration date stamped onto the world’s oldest monotheistic religion?
Can we even imagine a world without things like checking food labels for kashrut certification, looking at our watches to see how long ago we finished eating that hamburger so that we could eat that ice cream waiting for us at home in the freezer (I never actually did that since I’m vegan 🙂 ) or joining the bustling crowds in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market on Fridays to buy delicacies for Shabbat?
Before we answer these questions, let me share a little bit about myself.
I was born Jewish in a very Jewish place called New York. I knew I was Jewish since I ate bagels and went to Hebrew school, but I had no intimate connection with my people’s tradition and what I did know about it wasn’t meaningful to me. By the end of high school and into college, my life’s meaning came from playing music, spending time in nature, and being very active in political/peace/save-the-world organizations and movements.
As my college years moved on, I dedicated larger and larger chunks of my time towards trying to make the world right. The organizations I worked with were trying to educate people about the negative impacts of many of our everyday actions on the world, whether the recipients of the pain and suffering we were causing were animals, the environment, or other humans living locally and even thousands of miles away.
And then, around the same time I was getting most involved with my activist work, I discovered Judaism. Or, should I say, re-discovered Judaism. After a three-year spiritual journey that consisted of many people met, books read, and experiences had, I became aware of multiple new sides to Judaism that no one ever told me about. Not even in Hebrew school 🙂 .
The Judaism I was discovering was, to my shock and surprise, meaningful and spiritual and exciting and relevant. I was first enamored by the wisdom and wonder of Shabbat and the idea of temporarily disconnecting in order to more deeply connect to and appreciate the goodness that already existed in our world. As my exploration of this ancient tradition continued, I was impressed by the extent to which Judaism, through the system of mitzvot and halachah (Jewish law), attempted to bringing consciousness and awareness into everyday living through laws and customs that guide many of our everyday actions. From washing hands to tying shoes to eating food.
As I learned more, I really began to see the commandments of Judaism not so much as a religion, but rather as a system whose goal is to infuse our lives with meaning and the physical world with spirituality. To imbue the mundane with a sense of holiness. To wake us up and make sure we don’t live our lives half-asleep.
As more time passed, I started to realize that the ultimate vision of the world according to Judaism wasn’t really about classic Jewish practices like refraining from eating cheeseburgers, fasting on Yom Kippur and not driving on Shabbat.
Don’t get me wrong. All of these are important. Very important. To Judaism, to the Jewish people, and to me.
For now, at least.
Because as much as Judaism is about the details, it also places a strong emphasis on the big picture, encouraging us to “zoom out” and understand why we are doing what we are doing. And when we do that, we see that the details are part of a greater system that is trying to transform us into super-conscious, aware and sensitive human beings which will ideally and eventually lead to the world being transformed into a super-conscious, aware and sensitive place.
Simply put, the laws and practices of Judaism are tools. Tools to help us fix ourselves and the entire world. Tools to be used to create a perfected world.
And when that perfected world appears, these tools that Jews have carrying with them for thousands of years will no longer be needed, for finally their purpose will have been fulfilled and their intention realized.
And that’s what the statement from the Talmud I brought above is trying to teach us.
That there will come a time when we will witness the end of Judaism as we know it.
It might seem uncomfortable for some, or may seem impossible to believe.
But we cannot make the mistake of believing that Judaism, as we know it today, is forever.
Because that would be a tragic way of looking at the point and purpose of our tradition.
In fact, it wouldn’t be Jewish.