web analytics
September 22, 2014 / 27 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Meir Panim with Soldiers 5774 Roundup: Year of Relief and Service for Israel’s Needy

Meir Panim implements programs that serve Israel’s neediest populations with respect and dignity. Meir Panim also coordinated care packages for families in the South during the Gaza War.



Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

Rescuing Religion From Its Reputation


“It’s not easy being labeled religious these days,” a friend confessed to me a few weeks ago.

My friend may be right – so-called religious people have committed some of humanity’s most horrific crimes, casting a dark shadow on religion – but what is religion? What is the definition of a “religious person”? What was he referring to? Can religion and evil really co-exist?

Some define religion as a set of beliefs, while others define it as an array of rituals. Some emphasize the truth of ideas, others, the illusion of thoughts.Generally, however, religion is regarded as “the relation of human beings to that which they regard as holy, sacred, spiritual, or divine” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2006).

Unfortunately, this model of religion may not always be positive. At times, the relationship one may have with the “holy, sacred, spiritual or divine” may even become dangerous. Historically, crimes committed in the name of religion have spewed immeasurable destruction in our world – from the Roman persecution of Christians to the Spanish Inquisition to the Islamic jihad of today.

Moreover, if this is religion, what good does it serve? Why should one desire it? How can a good person subject himself to religious ideals that are shamefully abused by evildoers?

Perhaps the enigma of religion stems from the misguided notion that the purpose of religion is to help us fight the bad in the world – that religion exists to fight racism, bigotry, sexism, etc. Subsequently, people who practice religion devote a large part of their lives to helping others and bringing goodness to their surroundings. These noble aims are very much a part of the fabric of religious thought, but on some level they may miss the point and subvert the very goals they seek to achieve. Because in the very quest to help others, it is possible to neglect the most vital frontier of all: that of the inner self.

In their pursuit to better the world, many fail to better their own selves. In their desire to practice religion, they discount the true meaning of religion. For religion means fighting yourself more than fighting others; improving yourself more than improving others; gaining control over yourself, and your negative inclination, more than gaining control over the world.

My dear mentor Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz once advised me, so poignantly: “Know that the greatest obstacle to me, Adin, is me. The greatest obstacle to you, Pinchas, is you. But once you learn to master yourself, you will not have any problem mastering the entire world.”

It is important, even vital, to be conscious of outside threats. In our increasingly open world we must know how to identify and fight, without compromise, the bad that relentlessly attempts to penetrate the sanctity of our circles. We must learn to decipher the various manifestations of evil and conquer them with unwavering vigor.

Being positively involved in the world is of high importance too. “Tikkun olam” projects and other forms of social-aid initiatives are essential to the peace and success of our society. But we ought to remember that positive change begins with the self. Just as light can only come from light, a good world can only come from a good person.

This is also why the term for “religious” in Hebrew is “shomer (mitzvot)” – “guardian (of good deeds).” Because the true meaning of religion is to constantly guard the good within from being contaminated by bad. A “guardian” knows that “the beginning of wisdom is the inner fear of God” (Proverbs 1:7) and a “guardian” knows that his “inner fear of God” must play a crucial role in every aspect of his life. People may label themselves religious, but if their inner fear of God is lacking, they may be, at worst, religiously irreligious.

The legendary chassidic master from the city of Kotzk in Poland, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Morgenstern (1787-1859), once professed to his disciples that “when I was young, I desired to change the world. But I quickly realized this was an impossible feat, so I decided to work on my city alone. This too became unachievable, so I focused solely on my family. But I now finally realize that the only person I can truly change is myself.”

With these staggering words, Rabbi Morgenstern was not abandoning his quest to change the world – after all, he never ceased to lead his thousands of followers with conviction and determination – but merely suggesting that real change must begin from within.

It would behoove modern man to return to the private self and internalize that which Judaism has forever emphasized: that self-improvement through genuine introspection and deeds of goodness and kindness, such as prayer and charity, is the only way to create a lasting difference in the world.

(See, for example, Babylonian Talmud, Yomah 72b: “A Torah scholar whose inside is not like his outside is no Torah scholar” or Pirkei Avot 3:9: “One whose fear of sin takes precedence to his wisdom, his wisdom endures. But one whose wisdom takes precedence to his fear of sin, his wisdom does not endure.”)

And if the deeds originate from a refined and virtuous being, they will reverberate in the world infinitely more than actions originating from self-deception or hypocritical pretense.

Rabbi Pinchas Allouche is spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefillah in Scottsdale, Arizona. He is a popular educator, lecturer and author.

About the Author: Rabbi Pinchas Allouche is the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Tefillah in Scottsdale, AZ. He is a popular educator, lecturer and author of many essays and writings on the Judaism and social analysis.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Rescuing Religion From Its Reputation”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Ex-KKK Wizard David Duke.
Five Anti-Zionist Doctors ‘Hijack’ Medical Journal to Dump on Israel
Latest Indepth Stories
Cannabis Greenhouse

Research shows that high doses of marijuana can produce acute psychotic reactions, lower IQ in teens

donny pic

The current missionary problem in Samaria is still relatively unknown throughout Israel&to most Jews

Jewish Holidays' Guide for the Perplexed

Rosh Hashanah is a universal, stock-taking, renewal and hopeful holiday,

The New York Times building is only the cover page for what goes

No mutual clash between parties, it was Jews repeatedly attacked by Arabs, not the other way around.

Israel would love to be in the coalition,but it’s never going to happen, because, in the end, most of America’s allies would walk away if Israel were on board officially.

Why has his death been treated by some as an invitation for an emotional “autopsy”?

SWOT analysis: Assessing resources, internal Strengths&Weaknesses; external Opportunities&Threats.

Strategy? For the longest time Obama couldn’t be bothered to have one against a sworn enemy.

Seventeen visual skills are needed for success in school, sports, and everyday life.

We started The Jewish Press. Arnie was an integral part of the paper.

Fear alone is substantial; without fusing it to beauty, fear doesn’t reach its highest potential.

Fortunate are we to have Rosh Hashanah for repentance, a shofar to awaken heavenly mercy.

Arab leaders who want the US to stop Islamic State are afraid of being dubbed traitors and US agents

National Lawyers Guild:Sworn enemy of Israel & the legal arm of Palestinian terrorism since the ’70s

More Articles from Rabbi Pinchas Allouche
twitter faceless

On Facebook, young and old alike fool themselves into believing they are better than the person they see in the mirror.

F100804AS08

Why would our tradition fill our fun-filled summers with such restricting limitations?

As the dust settles and the fog lifts from this tumultuous year of political campaigning, we are left to wonder how our country will evolve. Will the economy bounce back? Will our schools make progress? And how about U.S. relations with Israel? Will they grow weaker or stronger? Will the administration support an Israeli strike on Iran?

It was not a necessary part of our busy itinerary. It was not even a noble errand. But the craving for a tasty lunch led our group to experience a moment never to be forgotten.

Our blinding attraction to drama has captivated so many of us. We love to live it, watch it, or even worse, create it.

“It’s not easy being labeled religious these days,” a friend confessed to me a few weeks ago.

My friend may be right – so-called religious people have committed some of humanity’s most horrific crimes, casting a dark shadow on religion – but what is religion? What is the definition of a “religious person”? What was he referring to? Can religion and evil really co-exist?

Winds of uncertainty are blowing across the globe. The future remains unsure. Will the sun shine again? Will stability reemerge after the storm dies down?

Let’s face it: it’s unusual and even somewhat bizarre nowadays to encounter a family with more than two children. It is almost as if a war is launched against the unborn after a “red line” of two or three children has been reached.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/rescuing-religion-from-its-reputation/2011/08/24/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: