“…When we do the wrong things we get the wrong results. …If we live by the demands of righteousness, we shall bring the right results.”
In his sermon of January 1, 1967, Rabbi Olan uses the parable of Balaam’s ass (Numbers 22) to illustrate the principle that “God controls history towards a goal He has set”, and that we get the right results when we align ourselves with that goal. We are absolutely free to align ourselves with God’s moral law or not, but when we have not, the results have been catastrophic. As demonstrations of this, Rabbi Olan uses the examples of the Second World War and the Holocaust; the Vietnam War; and the disastrous state of race relations in America.
After the First World War, the Allied leaders failed to treat the defeated German people with compassion, and in their suffering, many of them turned to Hitler. Similarly, after the end of French colonial rule, the United States failed to support the wish of the Vietnamese for self-determination, which Rabbi Olan calls one of “the moral demands of human existence”. A long and bloody war was the result. Rabbi Olan directly confronts the objection that if God really acts in history, the Holocaust and the Vietnam War would not have happened. He maintains that “Hitler is our responsibility” because we turned our backs on the German people rather than giving them humanitarian aid. This was our choice, not God’s failing.
When you read Rabbi Olan’s sermon, see if you agree with his assertion that human free choice and God’s moral law are compatible, and that the best source of our “real hope” is that “there is a purpose to human existence which cannot be defeated” because we live in “a world of law”. When we follow that law, says Isaiah, “the fruits of righteousness shall be peace.”
*Written by Frances M. Olan and Lionel S. Joseph*