O LORD, my strength and my stronghold, My refuge in a day of trouble, To You nations shall come From the ends of the earth and say: Our fathers inherited utter delusions, Things that are futile and worthless. Can a man make gods for himself? No-gods are they! Assuredly, I will teach them, Once and for all I will teach them My power and My might. And they shall learn that My name is LORD. (Jeremiah 16:19–21 JPS)
This is from the Haftarah of Parshat Behar-B’Hukotai. Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein, from the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem writes a commentary on this passage which is found here. I particularly enjoy the question he asks, “What will be the impetus for this acknowledgment of God?” Rabbi Silverstein states this is a process, but also talks about the role military victory played as a sign of religious strength in ancient times. It’s a nice commentary and you should take a moment to read it.
Back to the question, and I ask it myself reading Jeremiah’s words again, what will be the impetus for this acknowledgment of G~d? Take a look around you at the world today. Not in the sense that it’s any worse today than it was then as far as religions go, but in the sense how relativism and apathy pervades society. On one hand this allows humanity to live in harmony with one another, but on the other hand, in an age where no one religion is better than another, how will people of idolatrous faiths come to this acknowledgement of G~d? Not just the knowledge of any god mind you, but the knowledge of the One G~d? What will be the mechanics of this transformation of thought?
Rabbi Silverstein references a midrash in his commentary about the Song at the Sea. He states that not only the Israelites sang the song, but also the nations who had seen the overthrow of Egypt. This reflects two methods of proselytizing; one being the use force which is only effective in scale to the trail of destruction and insincere conversions it leaves in its wake. Then there’s the method of kindness and example. While the Jews were certainly the people most affected and benefited by the defeat of the Egyptians, considering that they were the world power of the day, probably not a kind one at that, I imagine the nations saw not only what the G~d of the Hebrews had done for them, but what He had done for the world through defeating Egypt. Maybe G~d wasn’t just letting His people go, but was participating in Tikun Olam Himself. When we couldn’t do it, He stepped in.
Back to modern-day… the prophets tell us in several places that the entire world will once again rise against Israel. Once that happens the ball will be in G~d’s court to once again free His people from some tyrannical world power, which will not only save Israel, but be a benefit to the entire world.
At some point in a lifetime everyone sees something so incredible, so mind-bending, so disruptive (good or bad) to the way things are perceived that the current perception of reality must change to adapt to the new perception. I can only imagine that this is what the plagues did to all who saw them and to all who heard the stories from witnesses. In that same vein, I can only imagine that when the day Jeremiah speaks of comes, G~d would have to intervene in such an obvious way that a person’s mind would have to make a choice to interpret what has happened, much in the same way Pharaoh was forced to make a decision with the passing of each plague.
While the biblical idols that we often imagine are mostly a thing of the past, regardless of its composition; wood, stone, ideology, theology… once that idol is smashed the person’s mind will recognize a stark difference between their lifeless beliefs and the action of the Living G~d. Greater than whatever miracles and victories G~d does for the Jewish people will be the miracle of changing the hearts and minds of the world’s population so that it is no longer indifferent or hostile towards Israel and her G~d, but in fact declares, “Our fathers inherited utter delusions, things that are futile and worthless.”