Elul Potpourri: Sin, Forgiveness, God's Kingship and More
Real questions, submitted by actual OU Torah followers, with their real answers. NOTE: For questions of practical halacha, please consult your own rabbi for guidance.
Q. In Judaism we don’t talk about sin. What do Judaism members say?
A. We definitely have the idea of sin in Judaism, we're just not obsessed with it. Our focus isn't "Don't do X because you'll burn in Hell," it's "Don't do X because God doesn't want us to." But we absolutely have a concept of sin, which is why we have a concept of repentance.
Q. In today's Nach Yomi (Psalms 10) you write: "God is King forever. Unlike a mortal king, He doesn’t need subjects in order to rule, so He will continue to be King long after man is gone." I have always understood that Hashem does indeed need subjects to rule because what's a king without a kingdom? Have I misunderstood?
A. Thanks for your question but I didn't say it - King David said it! See verse 16 ("Hashem is King for ever and ever, [even after] the nations have perished from His land") and the various commentaries on that verse.
Would you say that Hashem was any less King of the universe before He created man? I think He was equally ruler both before and after. His malchus doesn't depend on us - He has far loftier subjects to rule than man!
Q. If we forgive others does God forgive us?
A. Thanks for your question. As the saying goes, "Short answer, 'yes' with an 'if'; long answer, 'no' with a 'but.'"
The Talmud tells us in several places that one who overlooks wrongs that were done to him will have his sins forgiven but it's important to understand that this isn't a "get out of trouble free" card. One still has to try to avoid sin and, when one stumbles into sin, he still has to do teshuva (i.e., repent), repair any damage that he may have done, fast on Yom Kippur, etc. So God doesn't automatically wipe away our sins with the result that you can do whatever you want all the time consequence-free so long as you're a forgiving person. One certainly can't plan to sin based on the idea that God will look the other way. But if one falls into sin (as happens to all of us) and makes the effort to repent as one should, then yes, God forgives those who forgive others.
Q. What happens if you don't believe in the Bible?
A. Who can say? I'm sure there are those who would say "nothing" and those who would say "you'll burn in Hell," but each of those people is just answering based on their own beliefs. The reality is that none of us is privy to the details of reward and punishment.
There are a lot of moving pieces: is the person in question a good person? Why don't they believe? Because of their upbringing? Because bad behavior on the part of so-called "religious" people turned them off? Because they were unable to reconcile the Bible with science as they understand it? There are reasons one could not believe other than "in order to deny God and therefore act as one pleases." Since there are myriad reasons one could end up with a certain belief system, I doubt very much that there's a one-size-fits-all consequence.
I believe in God, so I believe that God has everything under control and that His system is fair. This is just one detail that He might take into consideration among infinite other pieces of a person's life.
Rabbi Jack's latest book, Ask Rabbi Jack, is now available from Kodesh Press and on Amazon.com.