It’s a lesson I’ve expounded upon many times – that we all wait for the big demonstration when all around us little miracles (and not so little miracles) take place all the time. It takes so much to impress us and that makes me wonder why. Would that it were that we were all extremely conscious of the everyday miracles that surround us that it truly takes something impressive to draw our attention.
Lately, foods seem to have been getting spicier. Now major burger chains have burgers with hot peppers ground right into the mystery meat. Hotter and hotter, as if daring our taste bids (and our stomachs) to revolt.
At the same time, all is not lost. We do seem to have developed a penchant for waters with just a hint of a flavor. So we do seem to appreciate some subtlety.
Elijah, too, offered the extremes – water literally dousing the altar, and fire from G”d consuming the offering despite its wet state.
Elijah mocks the prophets of Baal when their efforts seem unable to bring forth fire from their god to consume their offering. He uses mockery that seems almost modern and contemporary in its style, suggesting that perhaps their god was busy elsewhere, or asleep. These are the same sort of mocking arguments used today by atheists, agnostics, and even many believers who wonder about the apparent absence of G”d from our everyday lives (at least in terms of major miracles.)
My problem with the story in this haftarah is its resolution. The prophets of Baal are unsuccessful, but Elijah calls upon G”d and on cue G”d produces fire that consumes the offering, whereupon all the assembled people say the ancient equivalent of “yep, that must be G”d.”
One miracle and they are convinced? How atypical of humans, and especially atypical of the Israelites. If you think it took a lot to convince Pharaoh (and remember, G”d cheated and made it harder to Pharaoh to acquiesce) think how much more it took (and continues to take) to convince the Jews.
Of course, we know that the convincing was temporary-the people soon returned to their stubborn ways. So the effect of the big miracle was only temporary. That seems to often be the case.
G”d, in many but not all understandings, has unlimited power, so producing big miracles on a daily basis shouldn’t be a big deal. However, if G”d is spending all that time and effort regularly to convince us of G”d’s existence and to follow G”d’s instructions, it doesn’t seem a very happy situation all around. Not much gets done except the regular re-convincing.
It’s easy to reject the other guy’s god. Sadly, it seems even easier to reject our own G”d. Time and again it became necessary to give us a demonstration. Time and again we briefly acknowledged the effectiveness of the demonstration and then went back to whatever it is we were doing anyway.
Since those days, we’ve had ample opportunity to come to realize that life isn’t about big miracles, but the little ones that happen all around us all the time. Given what we know about our universe, the true miracle is that we, as a species, even exist at all.
Yet, here we are, thousands of years later, still waiting for the fire to consume the offering before we’ll be convinced. Have we really learned nothing in all this time?
©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha
Ki Tisa 5770 - A Fickle Pickle
Ki Tisa 5768-Not So Easy? Not So Hard!
Ki Tisa/Shabbat Parah 5767-New Hearts and New Spirits
Ki Tisa/Shabbat Parah 5766-Fortune and Men's Eyes
Ki Tisa 5765-Re-Souling Ourselves
Ki Tisa 5764-A Musing on Power Vacuums
Ki Tisa 5763-Shabbat is a Verb
Ki Tisa 5762-Your Turn
Ki Tisa 5760-Anger Management
Ki Tisa 5761-The Lesson Plan