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A Brief History of the World

by Jacob Scharff

When humans first came into existence in this universe, they were taught why they were created and how to live. This information was known as the Torah, which in Hebrew means "Instruction" or "Teaching.

"These first humans were known as Adam and Chawwa ("Eve"). They taught this Torah to their children, their children taught it to their children, and humanity worked towards fulfilling its purpose in the universe. Every person alive knew the One God and His Torah, and humanity was united as one people with a singular purpose.

Every person alive today descends from these first human beings. However, looking around at our world, we see quite a different picture. There are thousands of varying religions which teach vastly different ideologies. Wars are constantly raging all across the face of the globe, and humanity is being torn apart by bigotry and pointless hatred.

It's hard to imagine how the world could possibly have gone from one united people with one God and one purpose to the state it's in today.

How did this occur?

Fortunately, we are not left in the dark about this. How the world came to be as we know it today is clearly documented in the Torah.

The Error

Everything was going fine, until the generation of Enosh, the third generation from Adam. The Rambam (the 12th century Rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, aka Maimonides) writes:

During the times of Enosh (the grandson of Adam), mankind made a great mistake, and the wise men of that generation gave thoughtless counsel. Enosh himself was one of those who erred.

Their mistake was as follows: They said God created stars and spheres with which to control the world. He placed them on high and treated them with honor, making them servants who minister before Him. Accordingly, it is fitting to praise and glorify them and to treat them with honor. [They perceived] this to be the will of God, blessed be He, that they magnify and honor those whom He magnified and honored, just as a king desires that the servants who stand before him be honored. Indeed, doing so is an expression of honor to the king.

After conceiving of this notion, they began to construct temples to the stars and offer sacrifices to them. They would praise and glorify them with words, and prostrate themselves before them, because by doing so, they would – according to their false conception – be fulfilling the will of God.

This was the essence of the worship of false gods, and this was the rationale of those who worshipped them. They would not say that there is no other god except for this star.

This message was conveyed by Jeremiah, who declared (10:7-8): "Who will not fear You, King of the nations, for to You it is fitting. Among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You. They have one foolish and senseless [notion. They conceive of their] empty teachings as wood;" i.e., all know that You alone are God. Their foolish error consists of conceiving of this emptiness as Your will.

After many years passed, there arose people – false prophets – who told [the people] that God had commanded them to say: Serve this star – or all the stars – sacrifice to it, offer libations to it, build a temple for it and make an image of it so that all people – including the women, the children, and the common people – could bow to it.

He would inform them of a form that he had conceived, and tell them that this is the image of the particular star, claiming that this was revealed to him in a prophetic vision. In this manner, the people began to make images in temples, under trees, and on the tops of mountains and hills.

People would gather together and bow down to them and the [false prophets] would say: This image is the source of benefit or harm. It is appropriate to serve it and fear it. Their priests would tell them: This service will enable you to multiply and be successful. Do this and this, or do not do this or this.

Subsequently, other deceivers arose and declared that a specific star, sphere, or angel had spoken to them and commanded them: Serve me in this manner. He would then relate a mode of service [telling them:] Do this, do not do this.

Thus, these practices spread throughout the world. People would serve images with strange practices – one more distorted than the other – offer sacrifices to them, and bow down to them. As the years passed, [God's] glorious and awesome name was forgotten by the entire population. [It was no longer part of] their speech or thought, and they no longer knew Him. Thus, all the common people, the women, and the children would know only the image of wood or stone and the temples of stone to which they were trained from their childhood to bow down and serve, and in whose name they swore.

The wise men among them would think that there is no God other than the stars and spheres for whose sake, and in resemblance of which, they had made these images. The Eternal Rock was not recognized or known by anyone in the world, with the exception of a [few] individuals…."

(Mishneh Torah, Hilkhoth Avodath Kokhavim 1:1-2)

In this way, the world was led astray into Idolatry. Within ten generations from the first humans, they had entirely forgotten God and the Torah which He had given them.

Humanity Destroyed

Without the Torah, mankind's moral standards declined so sharply that the majority of people became filled with hatred for each other. They commonly practiced violent robbery, sexual immorality and all forms of perverse idolatry.

In the tenth generation from Adam, God regretted ever having created mankind, and resolved to destroy the world and start anew.

There was, however, one man who had preserved the Torah and remained faithful to its teachings. Because of this, he alone was worthy to be spared. This man was called Noach ("Noah"). He was a man of great wisdom and a prophet. His wife and three sons shared his high level of conduct.

God spoke to Noach, and told him of His intent to destroy the world through a flood. He then instructed Noach to build a large boat in view of the people of his generation over a long period of time, in the hope that by watching his efforts they would come to regret their actions and would change their ways. But, it was not so, and they all perished in the flood.

The only survivors were Noach and his family, and a remnant of every species of animal that had not been corrupted by the people of their generation.

When Noach and his family emerged from the boat, the Creator reiterated the Torah that he had previously given to Adam, with the addition of an injunction prohibiting cruelty to animals.

This code of conduct is known to this day as the "Seven Laws of Noach."

The Dispersion

Until this point in history, all of humanity had been one people living in a single place, with a common culture and language. After the flood, the descendants of Noach did not become filled with hatred for one another. Instead, they remained united in kindness and love for their fellow men.

However, in their unity and security, they became arrogant and complacent. The people began falling into ignorance once again, and the errors of the generation of Enosh were repeated. In this way, idolatry reentered the world. Within ten generations from Noach, humanity had almost completely forgotten God and His Torah, once again.

Additionally, a new evil entered the world at this time. A man named Nimrod arose among the people, and sought to enslave all of humanity to his will. He was fully aware of God, but out of spite and hatred, sought to make all humanity worship him in place of God.

Under the guidance of Nimrod, humanity rose up to rebel against the true God. Those that rebelled were aware of what had happened to the generation of Noach, and they reasoned as follows: The flood waters reached a certain height on the earth. If a tower is built that reaches above that point, then nothing will be able to stop humanity from doing anything it desires.

Humanity began to build this tower in the tenth generation from Noach.

Once again, God passed judgment on the world. However, because of their extreme kindness and love for each other, this generation merited kindness and love from God, and they were not destroyed.

Rather, the Creator caused the people to suddenly no longer have a single language. Seventy basic languages were established, from which all of our modern languages descend. Each person was only able to understand a single language.

Because of their newly acquired linguistic differences, the people began to quarrel over the building of the tower and they were forced to abandon the project. They decided to move away from the central place were they lived, and reassemble in different locations depending on which language they spoke. Thus, the families of the earth became settled in their separate locations.

A New Hope

By this point in time, the world had become much as we know it today. Many separate nations of people existed, with different languages, beliefs and customs. They all worshipped various different gods, in various different ways, and almost no one knew the One God or His Torah. If things continued in this manner, the knowledge of God and His Torah would be lost forever, and humanity would have no hope of ever returning and fulfilling its purpose.

However, it was not God's will that this be allowed to happen. He was working on a plan to preserve His Torah, so that when all of humanity finally decided to return to Him, they would be able to do so.

Forty-eight years before the building of the tower, a man named Avraham ("Abraham") was born. The Rambam tells us:

After this mighty man (Avraham) was weaned, he began to explore and think. Though he was a child, he began to think [incessantly] throughout the day and night, wondering: How is it possible for the sphere to continue to revolve without having anyone controlling it? Who is causing it to revolve? Surely, it does not cause itself to revolve.

He had no teacher, nor was there anyone to inform him. Rather, he was mired in Ur Kasdim among the foolish idolaters. His father, mother, and all the people [around him] were idol worshippers, and he would worship with them. [However,] his heart was exploring and [gaining] understanding.

Ultimately, he appreciated the way of truth and understood the path of righteousness through his accurate comprehension. He realized that there was one God who controlled the sphere, that He created everything, and that there is no other God among all the other entities. He knew that the entire world was making a mistake. What caused them to err was their service of the stars and images, which made them lose awareness of the truth.

Avraham was forty years old when he became aware of his Creator. When he recognized and knew Him, he began to formulate replies to the inhabitants of Ur Kasdim and debate with them, telling them that they were not following a proper path.

He broke their idols and began to teach the people that it is fitting to serve only the God of the world. To Him [alone] it is fitting to bow down, sacrifice, and offer libations, so that the people of future [generations] would recognize Him. [Conversely,] it is fitting to destroy and break all the images, lest all the people err concerning them, like those people who thought that there are no other gods beside these [images].

(Mishneh Torah, Hilkhoth Avodath Kokhavim 1:3)

From this point on, Avraham dedicated his life to teaching others about God and His Torah. Everywhere he went he strove with the residents of that place, and helped them return to the original teachings of their ancestors. Avraham taught these principles to his children, and his children taught them to their children.

In the merit of this exceptionally great man, God made a nation of people from his descendants. This nation would be devoted to protecting and spreading knowledge of God and His Torah to all of humanity. This is the nation of Israel – the Jewish people.

At Mount Sinai, God reiterated His Torah for Israel and all of humanity.

God decreed that the nation of Israel remain separate from the other nations of the world, so that they not fall back into the same errors that humanity had previously fallen into. Israel was also given many additional requirements, which would assist them in protecting the true teachings of the Torah and knowledge of God.

Their mission, to this day, is to be "a light to the nations," and to protect and safeguard the Torah. This is what is meant by the oft misunderstood statement that the Jews are the "chosen people."They were "chosen" to fulfill this mission.

Looking Forward

Thus, we learn that humanity declined to its current state through a gradual process which began with several simple mistakes. Over many generations, the knowledge of God and His Torah which our ancestors possessed was completely forgotten.

However, out of love for us, God preserved this knowledge so that when we finally realized the mistake of our ancestors, we would have the opportunity to rectify it. He did this by creating and protecting the Jewish people, who have faithfully preserved the Torah to this very day.

This brings us to the point in history in which we currently live.

The prophets of old, however, foresaw a time when all humanity would realize the error of their ancestors. Upon realizing their error, they would go to the one remaining source of Torah – the Jewish people. As it says, "Nations shall come to you from the ends of the earth and say, 'Surely, our fathers have inherited lies and vain things in which there is no benefit.'" (Jeremiah 16:19)
When the peoples of the world finally return to the Torah, God will bring them together in a state of peace and love, as the prophet says, "...he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers." (Malakhi 3:24) And, "I will make the people pure of speech that they all call upon the name of God and serve Him with one purpose." (Zephaniah 3:9)

Working together in unity, we will then lead the world into a state of perfection, in which "...there will be neither famine nor war, envy or competition, for good will flow in abundance and all delights will be [as common] as dust. [In this era,] the occupation of the entire world will be solely to know God..... As [Isaiah 11:9] states: 'The world will be filled with the knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea.'" (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhoth Melakhim 12:5)

May that day arrive swiftly and soon.