Rabbi Shmuley Unleashed

Oh G-d no. Not another Bible codes book.
And this one launched in a full page ad in The New York Times highlighting how
in May 2008 Oprah Winfrey sent a Bible code to Barack Obama that he would
become President.

Surely I as an orthodox Jew ought to
applaud a book that proves that the Torah has encoded prophecy, thereby proving
its authenticity. But aside from the question of whether President Obama is
G-d’s anointed, I have serious objections to the Bible codes.

First, there is the fact that you can
take nearly any lengthy book, put it through a computer, and pull out prophecy.
Prof Brendan McKay of Australian National University found 13 predicted
assassinations of public figures encoded in Moby Dick, including several
presidents and Prime Ministers. McKay also found an encoded phrase in Moby Dick
that predicted “Drosnin (the author of the codes series) will be murdered by
Eli Rips (the Israeli scholar who first discovered the codes) in Athens.” Other
scholars found results that were as statistically impressive as Rips in a
Hebrew copy of War and Peace.

Next, associated with the codes there is
the usual apocalyptic bunkum that has so tarnished religion. The codes
apparently predicted an atomic Holocaust in 1986 and, if that didn’t happen,
that the world would end again in 2006. (It’s worth noting my cardinal rule
about the difference between a real religion and a cult: religion teaches you
to revere life while a cult teaches you to fear death). The codes predicted a
world war in the year 2000 and that Israel would be destroyed in a global
cataclysm (let’s hope Ahmedenijad isn’t reading the book).  The book
further predicted a comet would strike earth and obliterate much of it in 2006.


What makes an even greater mockery of the
codes is that the Torah today is somewhat imprecise in that some of the letters
of the Hebrew alphabet can be replaced by vowels and we are not certain whether
the vowel, or the letter itself, should be in certain passages. Insert a few of
these missing letters and the codes become gibberish.


But none of this has stopped a few Jewish
outreach organizations, most notably Aish HaTorah, from employing the codes as
a principal tool by which to attract young Jews to their tradition. Little do
they realize that Christian missionaries are now putting the New Testament
through computers to demonstrate, through their own codes, that Jesus is the
foretold Messiah.


But my personal objection to the codes is
something else entirely and has to do with the rise of Judaism as magic and
Rabbis as soothsayers. Over the past twenty years we have witnessed a slew of
mostly fraudulent Cabbalists and questionable mystics running around the world
and telling gullible Jews their future. Many are Rabbis who even claim
illustrious pedigrees. The majority employ a classic ‘cold reading’ – where
without even realizing it, you end up supplying the information to the ‘seer’
who can really only see your wallet – and are about as capable of telling the
future as I am of playing in the NBA. You receive a private audience with these
much sought-after Rabbis and they immediately wish you a speedy recovery for
your ailing back. They tell you they know you’re having tension with one of
your children and that your dead mother has forgiven you for the time you
forgot her birthday. They offer sop and comfort, but ask them anything truly
useful, like when will the next bomb go off in Jerusalem so as to save
innocents from dying – and they stealthily change the subject. But that hasn’t
stopped wealthy, educated, and sophisticated Jews all over America from lining
up around the block to line these charlatans pockets and get business and
personal advice.


We are living in an age that desperately
needs religion. Modernity is only a blessing so long as its technological
advances are governed by values. Wealth in the West has ended poverty but has
brought in its wake soullessness and materialism. Putting the professional
before the personal has lead to the decimation of romantic relationships and
the neglect family and children.


This is why the Bible is more relevant
than ever before. Western men and women need to read of a wealthy nobleman
named Abraham who personally sat outside his tent to welcome wayfarers.
Politicians who eviscerate each other in attack ads need to read of Moses who
brought Pharaoh to his knees yet remained ‘the most humble man who walked the
earth.’ Brothers and sisters who haven’t spoken in years need to read of Joseph
who became the most powerful man alive but forgave his siblings their attempt
at fratricide. Men who cheat on their wives must read of King David who engaged
in the most severe penance after his affair with Bathsheba.


But religion as pious sorcery threatens
to undermine its moral dimension. The Bible codes and mystical, magical Judaism
tell us it’s not the inspirational guidance and wisdom for life which makes the
Bible special but it’s hidden numerology and nascent predictions. You turn to
the Bible not to learn how to be close to G-d but to predict the next property


So let me be clear. I couldn’t give a
damn if the Bible can predict the next President and I don’t need the Torah to
forewarn me that I’m about to become nuclear melba toast. Rather, I turn to
Judaism to discover the values by which I should lead my life and maximize my
human potential. I seek not to discern the future but master the here-and-now. Religion
is a roadmap not to some underlying codes hidden in the Bible but my underlying
G-dly nature that sits beneath my ambition, selfishness, and egocentrism and
strives to come out.


If you want a vulgar forgery of faith
there are any number of religious charlatans  who, for a couple of bucks,
are ready to read your palm. But if you’re an adult then you’re ready for
religion as something that attunes you to G-d and humanity’s needs rather than
focusing exclusively on your own.


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