The Telephone Game of Religious Texts

People tend to delve into religious texts as proofs of how to live so often that they frequently miss the greater message of what the texts are trying to tell us. 

The arguments of which holy texts preceded which, whether it’s the Torah, the Yoga Sutras, or any other holy writings, at this point is like the argument of, “Which came first? The chicken or the egg?” All holy scriptures were written thousands of years ago. I feel that disputes of who wrote them, and for what purpose, are pointless and get in the way of instead looking at those stories as a means of learning how to make our lives better. When we do look at those stories, we tend to look only at what’s on the surface. I would, instead, like to focus on two similar stories from holy texts that have identical lessons, and what I think those lessons mean. 

The first story is from the Torah. It talks about how, when the Israelites were supposed to cross the Red Sea, Moses began to pray to Hashem.  He responded that now was not the time to pray, but was instead time to, “move on.” In other words, “Get out of Egypt.” Another story that has the exact same lesson is from the Bhagavad-Gita.  In it, Arujna is supposed to fight a battle because of a conflict on who will control the kingdom. He cries towards Krishna, telling him that he doesn’t want to fight, “his brothers and sisters.”  Krishna responds that it is his duty to fight in order to restore his Karma.  

Now, for my point in bringing up both stories. God told Moses that it wasn’t the time to pray, it was time for action.  Lord Krishna told Arujna it was time to fight. While the holy scriptures are totally against violence, and always about connecting to God, something within these stories was trying to teach us a lesson.  The lesson, I feel, was that everything has a time and a place, despite what one thinks they’ve been taught before.  We are being told that sometimes we should focus on what needs to be done in that moment, even if it is not all that, strictly speaking, “religious.” While the Ten Commandments and the Bhagavad-Gita are totally against violence, God was giving us permission, under difficult circumstances, to commit, “an unusual act,” if it’s what needs to be done for our survival and existence.  

Let’s look at this in the context of modern times, beyond fighting battles or fleeing from Egyptians through the miraculously parted Red Sea. I feel that we are being encouraged to pray to God, but when it’s appropriate.  In the same token, we are being encouraged to fight only when we really need to, to stand up for ourselves, and to fulfill the duty of each and every moment.  So many people get caught up in sentences that are written in the Bible, because they read them literally.  

A relevant matter, for example, is how the Bible, or any holy text, views homosexuality.  Supposedly, we are not supposed to be gay, just like we’re not supposed to work on Shabbat.  This may all be true to a certain extent.  But how would you explain, in some cases, God saying it’s okay to do “forbidden” things? For example, if someone is very sick and the only way they are going to be cured is if they eat pork, then that pork, according to Judaism, becomes “Kosher.”  In the same sense, if someone is born gay, who feels that he has no attraction to the opposite sex, and that if he or she gives that up they might become depressed and, God forbid, commit suicide, then any “gay act,” that some perceive as prohibited in the Bible, actually becomes Kosher because, in the long run, it is a life and death situation.  What if someone is in love and not allowed to be with the love of their life, simply because they’re the same sex? Should that person be condemned to unhappiness, solely because of their feelings?

The truth of the matter is that the Scriptures were written thousands of years ago in a language that is extremely foreign to us today. So, everything that we think we know about the Torah, or any holy text, is like the Telephone Game, where a message becomes garbled over time as it’s passed along from one person to another with the person at the end getting a completely different message than what the game began with.  The main thing that I think others should learn from these stories is that God is exclaiming, “Yes, I have rules and regulations, and I expect you to work a certain way, but sometimes it’s okay to do something else.”  I think God would not be angry if you are starving and the only way you can make money is to work on Shabbat, nor would he be angry if you’re gay and the love of your life is the same sex as you, and you choose to be with that person.  Let’s all try to look at the bible, or any holy scriptures, with an open mind, so that we can all lead more peaceful, fulfilling lives.  

Amen.

About the Author
Anat Ghelber was born in Israel and moved to Texas when she was 13. She experienced anti-Semitism in public schools there. She moved to New York City when she was 20, and is currently studying for a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work. She started submitting articles to the Jewish Voice two years ago. In her free time enjoys writing poems. She's also a certified Yoga teacher with 200 hours of training who teaches in a donation-based studio called Yoga to the People in New York City.
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