Friday, February 1, 2013

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Yitro 5773–From Cheap Theatrics to Impossible Possibilities (Revised and Updated from 5761)

A classic exposure of cheap theatrics:

“Pay no attention to the man behind the screen.”

Our world is full of wannabe “Totos,” all eager to pull back the curtain, strip away the mask of mystery, and reveal the wizard as a hoax, a simple sideshow magician with fanciful gadgets to work apparent magic. Lots of flash and boom.

“Humbug!” they cry. “There are no mysteries-all can be explained.” Stripping away the mask has become a favorite pastime, even an obsession for some. But just because some magic and mystery are humbugs, does that mean all are equally fake? Imagine those gullible Egyptians falling for all those plagues. More coincidence. All have plausible scientific explanations, in one form or another. And those that seem more difficult to explain – the real story has just been twisted a bit. A little “corroborative detail to support an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.” (Any Savoyards out there?)

Yes, lots of things are humbug. And deceptions and lies have become stock in trade. So it’s good that some humans have dedicated themselves to seeking out the truth. But sometimes the truth-seekers become so obsessed with the idea that what they are trying to disprove just couldn’t be true no matter what. Or vice versa-that what they were certain was true proves not to be. The Kennedy assassination. Area 51. The Nixon tapes. The moon landing. Natalie Wood. Pearl Harbor. Whitewater. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Shoah.

I throw in that last one to make a point. Is there one reader of this musing that truly doubts the reality of the Shoah? Yet all about us are deniers, rewriters of history.

When people see the tell-tale signs of grand theatrics, they automatically assume-”Aha! Fake.”

Thunder. Lightning. Clouds and fog. The standard tricks of the trade. Plenty of those in parashat Yitro, and its accompanying Haftarah from Isaiah. So why is it that G”d has to resort to them. Why wouldn’t G”d use something that couldn’t be duplicated by spending some money at a good theatrical supply company?

The sages answer by telling us that this was no ordinary thunder and lightning. The people could literally see the thunder and hear the lighting. Even today we speak of being able to taste the fog.

But what if it were, in a sense, simply cheap theatrics by G”d. To get our attention. After all, G”d had parted the sea (well, if you read last week’s musing, you know it was probably just a swamp) for us and still many of us doubted and still doubt. Too awesome to have really happened, they say. Knowing this, G”d figures, “OK, I’ll give them something more within their comprehension. Yeah, I got it. Thunder, Lighting, Smoke. A Shuddering Mountain. What the hey, it might convince them even when the real miracles haven’t!” It’s possible.

Maybe the Wizard of Oz really was a wizard. What better way to disguise the truth than to leave a few obvious theatrical tricks for the people to discover. In the L. Frank Baum books, though he started out as a fraud and merely stepped in to fill a power vacuum in the Land of Oz, the Wizard eventually learned to do real magic (hmm, is that an oxymoron?) from Glinda. It was just a few weeks ago, for parashat Sh’mot, that I also referenced the Wizard of Oz, through his character in the book and musical version of “Wicked.” For some reason, I keep coming back to Oz in connection with Torah. (Do you know, by the way, what OZ stands for? The wizard’s real name is Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkel Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs, whose initials spell out OZPINHEAD. Deciding using Pinhead didn’t quite work, he dropped it and simply became OZ. Mere chance simply took OZ to the Land of Oz, where it seemed only natural he become a leader. Or was it mere chance?)

G”d knows there will always be doubters among us. G”d knows that doubters are useful, and play an important role in society. G”d also knows that doubters are part of the price for giving us free will. Convince the doubters, and what’s left to do? Without the doubters the whole system might fall apart! (That’s the sort of logic the Wizard of Oz might employ.)

But I think there are at least three levels to all this. There are the doubters. It’s all smoke and mirrors they say. There is no G”d. Then there are the believers. Those who are convinced by the cheap theatrics and don’t question. And the third group? Let’s call them Yisrael. Those who can rise above the simple level of all or nothing doubt or belief. Some things are explainable. Some situations aren’t explainable. And even if they are, G”d can and still exists. Evolution and G”d can coexist. So can cheap theatrics and true miracles. The reality of G”d is not dependent on whether we can prove it or disprove it. (I’ve written before, however, about “If you are My witnesses, then I am G”d...” but this isn’t inconsistent with my viewpoint. G”d can and will be Our G”d, that we know by the ineffable name that is the tetragammaton if, and only if we are witnesses to G”d. But again, that ineffable name-isn’t that for our benefit? For what need does G”d have with a name except in communication with G”d’s creations? Even with us out of the equation, G”d can exist.

The impossible can be possible. (And sometimes, the possible can be impossible.) Fond as I am of references to Broadway musicals, I can’t help quoting from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella:”

Impossible, for a plain yellow pumpkin to become a golden carriage.
Impossible, for a plain country bumpkin and a prince to join in marriage.
And four white mice will never be four white horses.
Such folderol and fiddle-dee-dee of course is…Impossible.

But the world is full of zanies and fools,
who don’t believe in sensible rules,
and who won’t believe what sensible people say.
And because these daft and dewy-eyed dopes keep building up impossible hopes,
Impossible things are happening every day.

I know I’m one of those zanies. Despite my strong scientific and logistic tendencies, I am a person of faith, a person who believes impossible things are possible. Or at least I am open to the possibilities.

We each have our place. The doubter. The believer. The zanies and fools who don’t believe in sensible rules. And Yisrael-we who struggle with G”d. Whichever you are, spend some time this Shabbat trying to understand the other points of view. It might not change your mind, but it will open it to possibilities. And that, after all, is what G”d really wants us to do. Be open to possibilities. Even impossible possibilities.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2013 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Yitro5772 - Why I Won't Be Unplugging on the National Day/Shabbat of Unplugging
Yitro 5771/ Redux Beshalakh 5762 - Manna Mania
Yitro 5770 - Special Effects
Yitro 5769 - Evolution Shabbat
Yitro 5768-B'Kol HaMakom-In Every Place
Yitro 5767-Kinat Ad"nai
Yitro 5766-Top Ten?
Yitro 5765-Outsiders (Updated from 5759)
Yitro 5764-Outsiders II
Yitro 5763-El Kana
Yitro 5762-Manna Mania
Yitro 5761-From Cheap Theatrics to Impossible Possibilities
Yitro 5760-The Rest of the Ten Commandments
Yitro 5759-Outsiders


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