Maybe G”d needed a Merlin. Maybe G”d needed to be turned into a fish, a hawk, an ant, a goose, and a badger. Maybe (and yes this borders on the heretical) G”d needed to be turned into a human being so that G”d could experience what that was like. Could (can) G”d truly understand what G”d’s creations have to deal with on a daily basis?
Yes, there’s some evidence in Torah that G”d certainly experiences forms of human emotions and behavior – anger, petulance, jealousy, pride, arrogance, and more. Yet there is a very basic lesson that G”d didn’t seem to learn – that might for right is better than make is right.
Oh, one could easily argue that G”d’s cause is intrinsically right, therefore any action of might on G”d’s part is, perforce, for right as much as it is right. I think that’s pretty thin ice.
Let’s play the hypothetical game. What if G”d (through Moses, or even directly) attempted to use reason, and reason only, to convince Pharaoh that G”d was indeed the One true G”d and that Pharaoh should let the Israelites go? We don’t get the argument in this parasha, but we will soon, that the plagues, the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, etc. were all necessary to make the event of enough significance. The rationale is that if it seemed or appeared to be a victory too easily won, it wouldn’t have been as meaningful.
Poppycock. We know the truth. G”d is an “ish milkhama” or better yet an “El milkhama” – a warrior G”d. The earth of G”d’s creation was a place where might made right, and G”d contributed to that overall sense of values.
G”d does things with a “yad hazaka” – a strong arm. Why not a G”d who does things with a strong intellect, or a strong and worthy cause?
Send the Israelites down to Egypt. Have Joseph assist Pharaoh in making the Egyptians all serfs. Ignore the Israelites for a few centuries. Suddenly harken to their cries and decide to bring them forth from their bondage – but not directly, rather through an intermediary.
“But wait,” I hear you cry. “Isn’t sending Moses sort of a way that G”d is trying to negotiate and reason with Pharaoh?” Let’s think about that. Really? Moses wasn’t sent to negotiate. He was sent to warn and threaten. He was sent to tell Pharaoh that might is right and might is G”d and G”d is might and G”d is right, and you are going to suffer, whether you like it or not. For good measure, G”d will make sure you suffer extra by hardening your heart. Yeah, that’s negotiating alright.
Yes, G”d could use a few lessons from Merlin, G”d ought to be convinced to use might only for right. (which would also require G”d to accept that just because G”d thinks something is right doesn’t necessarily make it right. Now there’s a conundrum.) G”d could learn to be more like Arthur.
“But wait,” I hear myself cry. The Arthur and Merlin of “might for right” is only a fantasy, a concoction from the brilliant mind of T. H. White. A brilliant concoction, no doubt – probably the finest work of fantasy ever written. However the Arthur and other characters of “Once and Future King” as as unlike their earlier portrayals in stories, myths, and legends as they could possibly be.
Prior to White’s version of the Arthurian legends, most tales portrayed Arthur and his knights in very negative ways. Arthur was often derided as the “do nothing King.” His knights were lechers and debauchers. There may have been a great table, but it wasn’t round. There may have been a sword, but it wasn’t Exacalibur. Go take a look at the medieval Welsh stories of the Mabinogion, or the historical writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth. The Arthur we think of today is not the Arthur of the original sources, just as our understanding of G”d today is different from the G”d of understanding of our ancestors.
So how is it that the writings of an agnostic, alcoholic, sexually repressed, somewhat misanthropic British author provide for us lessons which we might dare suggest ought to be learned by G”d? It’s as cliché as the ending of the movie version of Dan Brown’s “Angels and Demons” when Cardinal Strauss suggests to Professor Langdon that G”d had sent him to help the church in its time of need.
Religious wisdom and insight often comes to us from outside the religious fold. Consider this great essay from Tablet Magazine in which the author derives some religious wisdom from Christopher Hitchens. So why not from T. H. White?
For that matter, why not from Monty Python:
“And the Lord spake, saying, "First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin. Then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it”
What does G”d need with Holy hand Grenades? What does G”d need with plagues? With sacrifices? What use does G”d have of war, armies, swords, battle?
Finally, now that I think about it, is might for right any better than might makes right? After all, there’s still might involved. Hard to argue with Hitchens. Religions have certainly wielded the sword with the idea that their might was for right just as much as they wielded the sword for might making right. Who gets to define what “right” is? As Pontius Pilate once asked a certain Jewish man, “What is truth?” Defining “right” is no easier.
So where does this leave us? Right where the Torah wants us. Confounded. Confused. Frustrated. Not frustrated enough to stop, just frustrated enough to be determined to keep looking, keep seeking, keep turning it and turning it.
©2012 by Adrian A. Durlester
Previous musings on this parasha:
Sh'mot 5771 - Free Association IV
Sh'mot 5767-Logic & Metaphysics
Sh'mot 5766-Free Association III
Shemot 5765-Why Us?
Shemot 5763 - Free Association II
Shemot 5760-Tzaz Latzav, Tzav Latzav
Shemot 5761-The Spice of Life
Shemot 5762-Little Ol' Me?