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Kaplan on Creation: An Explanation of Jewish Mission

The account in Genesis is perplexing to the modern person. We inevitably get bogged down with the first chapter of the Bible because it seems to conflict with our knowledge that comes from the scientific study of the natural world. Mordecai Kaplan being the modern man par-excellence accepted the scientific view of the universe but realized, of course, that the Torah has a different perspective in telling us about the origin of things. In this selection he focuses on the connection between the creation of the world and God’s attention to Israel. Though Kaplan did not believe in the concept of the chosen people, he did see a special task and destiny for the Jewish people.

While only a few may be chosen, every person and every group may have a special destiny depending on their ability and their character and their history. Kaplan explains here that insofar as the rabbis are concerned, God created the world that it might be perfect and turned to the Jewish people as the special agents in that perfecting process.

In Kaplan’s Own Words [ From his notes]

“To the average person, the opening chapter of the Bible is an obstruction to an appreciation of the Bible as a whole. Finding that the account of creation is at variance with the scientific view of the origin of the world, he concludes that it can hold out to him very little of spiritual value. The various interpretations whereby apologists attempt to reconcile the Biblical account of creation with science are far fetched. To explain seven days as denoting seven aeons, … does not add to an actual understanding of what the story of creation is intended to convey.

To grasp its [the creation story’s] full value, we must bear in mind that it is primarily intended to serve as an introduction to the main theme of the Torah, namely the part that Israel is destined to play in the world. The way in which the world came into being is of interest only incidentally. A connecting link between the opening chapter of the Torah and the selection of Israel is to be found in the frequently repeated refrain, “God saw that it was good.” The Torah thus sings the refrain that the world was perfect when it came out of the hand of God. If, therefore, evil is to be found in the world, we should know where to place the blame. The appearance of evil in the world and the events that follow, lead up to the selection of Abraham as the founder of the people of God.

We are to infer, therefore, that upon that people [the Jewish people] devolves the task of realizing the purpose which God had originally expected to see fulfilled in mankind as a while. The election of Israel is therefore made to appear in the Torah not as an arbitrary act of a tribal deity, but as a last resort of the God who created the world, so as to save his creation from being an utter failure. The rabbis in later times represent Israel as God’s first thought, as His aim and purpose in creating the world, but in the Torah, Israel is created only as a result of a second thought, as it were after the nations that preceded Israel had proved unable to live up to his law.”

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