Friday, July 4, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Balak 5774–Ball’s In Your Court

[A reminder to all my readers that I am a gadfly. I write so that others might be prompted to think. I do not pretend that the struggles about which I write are not my own – they are – but I pray you do not assume you know my current personal beliefs or feelings simply on the basis of these musings.]

I struggle with G”d and sacred text all the time. Why should this week, this day, this hour be any different?

I, for one, am tired of G”d making us the victims of G”d’s own failed attempts at universe building. G”d gave us free will, and then G”d punishes us for acting with that same free will. Humanity is a dog chasing its own tail.

Why, G”d, after Your failure with Adam and Chava, did you wait for Abraham to truly reveal Yourself? Why, G”d, did you permit your creations to create their own gods and worship them. If, indeed, you are the one and only G”d, you could have insisted from the start that humanity worship only You. Frankly, with Your rash action at midgal Bavel, You probably only made things worse. You so feared Your creations’ powers and abilities when working together as one that You split them apart into tribes with differing languages.  That’s almost a perfect set up for allowing each of these tribes to develop its own mythology and its own understandings of the universe and whatever gods created it and shape it every day. A recipe for diverse cultic and religious practices. Could You have not revealed Yourself to each of these separate language entities and spared all of us the ensuing millennia of strife?

Yes, I will readily admit to having stated, many times, my own personal belief that any Deity that does not have the sense to allow for humanity to have multiple understandings and approaches to that Deity is truly not a Deity wise (or worthy) enough to have created humanity and the universe. In many ways, allowing multiple religions to flourish was and is a wise choice. In other ways, not so much. Perhaps this is all just wishful thinking on the basis of accepting what has become reality for humanity. It could have been different, and You could have made it so.

Is strife and adversity inherent in allowing different understandings of the deity, and therefore different religions, to exist? Should it not be Your task then, G”d, to help guide all Your creations to the knowledge of You? If the path to this requires them to sometimes pray or worship false gods, what is that to You? You know that only You are G”d.

Ah, but You are a jealous G”d.

Let’s look at Your own words (at least according to the Torah.) You were incensed that the Israelite men would go a-whoring with the Moabite women and then make sacrifices to the Moabite god. so You said:

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה קַח אֶת־כָּל־רָאשֵׁי הָעָם וְהוֹקַע אוֹתָם לַֽיהוָֹה נֶגֶד הַשָּׁמֶשׁ וְיָשֹׁב חֲרוֹן אַף־יְהוָֹה מִיִּשְׂרָאֵֽל

The Lord said to Moses, "Take all the ringleaders and have them publicly impaled before the Lord, so that the Lord's wrath may turn away from Israel."

I don’t get it. If there is only You, what does it matter that humans waste their prayers and sacrifices to imaginary gods? If people are praying to false gods, are they not, in effect, actually praying to You? But the Israelites are special to You, you made a covenant with them and commanded them to worship only You. Yet if there is only One G”d is not the worship of any god worship of You? These false idols to which people pray and sacrifice – they represent only the imaginings of people trying to comprehend You in all Your vastness. That You might be only One may seem incomprehensible to some. You gave them the free will to choose how to worship you. Is it fair to then take that right away from them? Is it fair to require them to worship only You and only in the manner You command when You have given them the free will do otherwise? (Yes, I know, who said life has to be fair. Well, skip to the end of this musing if you really want to know my response to that right now.)

Could You not see how humanity might use this to hurt each other, and to hurt even You? Could You not imagine Hitler? Could You not imagine then a future Hitchens or Dawkins who might use Your own words against You? “My way or the highway” is bad enough. “My way or death” should never be the conditions set forth – yet You constantly set those very conditions for creations to whom You gave free will. Pardon me for saying this, but are You nuts?

You covenanted with the Israelites. Yet afterward along came the Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Krishna, not to mention the pantheons of gods worshipped by the Greeks, Roman, Persians, and others. Before You revealed Yourself to Abraham attempts to understand and apprehend You existed in many forms, some of them, like the practices of the Egyptians, of such long standing that they had actually evolved and changed over time! If the Egyptian Atenists had it right all along, couldn’t You have given them a helping hand and given them victory over the Amunists?

If, in our modern world, we can accept the idea that all these varying religions actually all represent worship of You, the One true G”d, could You have not allowed this understanding in the ancient world? Did the worship practices You imposed upon the Israelites have to displace those of the Ba’alim and others? Could Youhave not just nrought all humanity to the sinple understanding that all forms of worship of gods is merely worship of You? (Isn’t that sort of what the Atenists had in mind? Might you have learned from the reality of the Israelites in their monolatry, and accepted their asherot as simply part of their way to You?)

If we who believe in You are correct in our belief, why do You make it so hard? Why do you give fuel to those who would deny You and Your existence? Every day, people are dying or are killed needlessly yet it is claimed these deaths are either for the sake of Your name, or to glorify You, or to be as sacrifices for You. You continue to permit it. You cannot hide behind ineffability forever. This defense is wearing ever thinner and thinner each day and reduces the number of Your faithful as a result. 

Are You afraid of being revealed as less than perfect? Is that why You had Your prophet Micah say

לֹא אִישׁ אֵל וִֽיכַזֵּב וּבֶן־אָדָם וְיִתְנֶחָם הַהוּא אָמַר וְלֹא יַֽעֲשֶׂה וְדִבֶּר וְלֹא יְקִימֶֽנָּה:

G”d is not man to be capricious, or mortal to change G”d’s mind. Would G”d speak and not act, promise and not fulfill?

Created in Your image, are we? If we are capricious, then are You not capricious as well? If we speak and not act, might You do the same as well?

People hate in Your name. People kill in Your name. Is this truly what You wanted? Yes, we’ve all heard Your modern prophets like Eli Wiesel tell us to reframe the question as not “where was G”d?” but “where was humankind?” Yes, we are to blame for what we do – there is no denying that. However, should not You share some of that blame? When are You going to allow the old Jewish story to come true about the man who comes on Yom Kippur to confess, and then, when he is done, turns to You and says “and now let’s talk about Your sins…”

We need but turn the well-worn words found in this week’s haftarah around:

It has been told You, O G”d, what is good,
And what Your creations require of You:
Only to do justice
And to love goodness,
And to walk modestly with your creations."

Ball’s in your court, O Divine One.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2014 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Balak 5772 – Unbelievable
Balak 5771-Imperfect Justice is No Excuse
Balak 5770 - Beating Our Donkeys II (Revised and Updated 5758)
Balak 5764 - Bad Habits
Balak 5758/5761-Beating Our Donkeys

Chukat-Balak 5766 - Community Sing
Chukat Balak 5763-Mi ChaMicah
Chukat-Balak 5760-Holy Cow!
Chukat 5759/61-Wanting to See More Than The View From The Mountaintop

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