- General Questions
"They bow to emptyness and vanity"
I’ve been having problems for a long time when I recite the Aleinu particularly with the verse "For they bow to emptiness and vanity and pray to a G-d that can not deliver." I’ve studied different religions and I know that the Jewish people in the past were the only ones proclaiming the existence of One G-d but nowadays there are large sects in Muslim and even Christians who pray to the "G-d of Israel" they believe in the same One G-d we do and they believe that we received the torah and everything else. So therefore that verse in Aleinu is hard for me to have Kavana with when I say He is a G-d who can not deliver because I know He is my G-d and that He can. In a way I guess the second paragraph of Aleinu and the prophesy that all the nations of the world will serve Hashem is coming true. Or maybe I’m wrong. Please help me. Let me know if I should stop saying that verse or let me know if I understood it wrong or give me some other Kavana to think about. I know this is a difficult question but I would appreciate an answer.
The verse in Aleinu, based on passages in Yeshayahu (30,7 and 45, 20) was censored in the past by the Christian church. There is, however, no reason for self-censorship. It is clear that Aleinu is referring to the nations and “families of the earth” rather than to individuals. There are individual Jews who, seeing themselves as secular, do not - in the standard sense - worship the G-d of Israel. In parallel, there are also gentiles who do not adhere to any religion at all. The Creator of the Universe is, however, the G-d of Israel. To the extent that people of other nations worship Him, they are worshipping the G-d of Israel, a nation whose history has testified to the existence of G-d since Israel’s inception. The gods of the nations and of the families of the earth are those ideals, each noble but each limited – freedom, beauty, courage, love, discipline etc.- that national cultures have adopted, each nation identifying one or more of these ideals as the source of its cohesion. National unity depends on the belief of the citizens of each nation that their national ideal justifies total self-sacrifice. Nations can exist only when their citizens feel the national ideal is an eternal truth worth dying for. But total commitment to a limited ideal is one of the most basic definitions of idolatry. In this sense, nations, each committed to limited ideals as supreme values, all bow - as nations - to “a god that cannot deliver”. Those individual gentiles who worship a G-d who is neither a solitary ideal nor a sum of many or even all ideals, but the G-d whose expression is that which is beyond all ideals and the root of them all, transcend their nationalism and worship the G-d of Israel. On a more down-to earth level, Christianity, despite elements it has incorporated from Judaism, worships a Jewish sinner who lived at the time of the Mishna as god. Although the church proclaims that it worships the G-d of Israel, the G-d of Israel is most certainly not a person. Islam, while being more monotheistic, denies the authenticity of the Torah and distorts the Divine intent. It is wrong to believe that everyone who believes in one god automatically believes in the same one G-d, even if they claim they do. What makes gods of different attributes the same? That they are given the same name by their followers? In one sense, all people worship the same G-d, even idolaters, the perception of each defined and distorted by the limits of his culture and natural inclination (see Hilchot Avoda Zara ch. I). To the extent that they escape these distortions, they are worshipping the G-d of Israel and not the gods of the nations, gods of “emptiness and vanity… who cannot deliver”.