Friday, September 26, 2014

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Ha’azinu/Shabbat Shuva 5775-Who’s Got the Last Laugh Now?

Starting the new year off with a truly random musing again. Been a long time since I wrote one this way. We’ll see where it winds up. I suspect it will surprise all of us, even me.

The psalmist told us: “the Guardian of Israel neither slumbers no sleeps.”

Liar! Liar! Pants on fire! Well, alright, I can’t really prove that. It is quite possible that G”d never slumbers of sleeps. G”d, however, can certainly be inattentive. Our sacred texts are replete with examples of G”d having to notice our cries, or roused by the people or their actions into taking action. Given that this is a covenantal relationship. it’s not entirely surprising that perhaps G”d sometimes expects people to make the first move.

We have such an example here, in our haftarah for Shabbat Shuvah. (Note that this part of the haftarah only appears in the Ashkenazi rite.)

וַיְקַנֵא יְהוָה לְאַרְצוֹ וַיַחְמֹל עַל־עַמּֽוֹ

THE Old JPS translation committee tries to soften and smooth things up with their translation

Then the Lord was roused
On behalf of His land
And had compassion
Upon His people.

Other translators use euphemisms like: G”d had zeal for G”d’s land

However, as far as I am concerned, there’s no getting around that the first active verb here is based on the root קנא , to be/make jealous.

Adding in the context of the previous verses, it’s apparently another case of G”d being goaded into action by an appeal to G”d’s vanity.

בֵין הָאוּלָם וְלַמִזְבֵחַ יִבְכּוּ הַכֹהֲנִים מְשָרְתֵי יְהוָה וְֽיֹאמְרוּ חוּסָה יְהוָה עַל־עַמֶךָ וְאַל־תִתֵן נַחֲלָתְךָ לְחֶרְפָה לִמְשָל־בָם גּוֹיִם לָמָה יֹאמְרוּ בָֽעַמִים אַיֵה אֱלֹהֵיהֶֽם

Between the portico and the altar, let the priests, the Lord's ministers, weep and say:
"Oh, spare Your people, Lord!
Let not Your possession become a mockery,
To be taunted by nations!
Let not the peoples say,
'Where is their God?'"

Nothing seems to spur G”d to action more than an appeal to vanity. Hmmm.

However, I’ve decided not to go where this line of inquiry was leading me. I’ve developed an entirely different take on things.

Maybe, just maybe, if G”d isn’t responding to our cries, then things aren’t as bad as they seem? (We’ll set aside for the moment that bad is earlier defined as eating our own babies and similarly awful things.) Am I really thinking such thoughts? Am I ready to let G”d off the hook this easily? This doesn’t sound like me at all. What’s going on?

To speak with some in the Jewish world, the end is nigh. They don’t mean the messianic age, they mean Judaism as we know it. Assimilation. Lack of affiliation. The list goes on an on. Now, there’s no discounting and disregarding the rising tide of anti-Semitism in the world – things are not all peaches and cream. Assimilation is up. Affiliation is down. Be a good time for G”d to intervene, no?

Maybe, after all these millennia, G”d has finally developed some decent parenting skills. Maybe G”d now knows enough to let the child get slightly burnt to learn not to pick up a hot pan. Maybe G”d now knows it’s best not to rescue your child from every situation, lest they never develop independence.

G”d really does look at things with a longer time scale than we do. We might just be existing in a little historical blip. (No, I am NOT calling the Shoah a historical blip, but I will remind us that the essential Shoah question is, as Elie Wiesel suggests, not “where was G”d?” but “where was humankind?”

So yea, despite all the problems in the world, and specifically in the Jewish world, perhaps, overall, they are not as bad as we think they are. They are not (yet) bad enough to provoke G”d into action. Jews, in this and other countries (but not every country) enjoy unprecedented freedoms and rights. Many (but hardly all) Jews enjoy a high standard of living. Many (but not all) are well-educated. We can complain about things like the scheduling of baseball games or school debates that conflict with Jewish holidays, but I can just see G”d rolling G”d’s eyes and thinking “first world problems…”

“Seriously?” I ask myself.Yes. My gadfly nature compels me to insure that every position be brought forth for consideration-perhaps especially those that I haven’t given serious consideration to for a while (or never even seriously considered.) A limited G”d that cannot act, or simply a G”d that is able to but choose to not act – why are these ideas automatically beneath consideration?

Now, there are some places I won’t go, though I bring them to your attention for consideration (even though for me they are beyond the pale.) The ineffable G”d is one of them. If that works for you, more power to you. That’s one I just can’t live with. Here’s my (somewhat silly) argument about this: it’s no different than the question “can G”d create a rock that is too heavy for even G”d to lift?” You might choose to think of it this way – can G”d create an intelligence that can outthink G”d? (Before you answer, go back and read the story of migdal Bavel.) I actually prefer to think of it this way: can G”d create an intelligence with free will that could not eventually develop the capacity to outthink G”d? Yes, we can create machines with limited intelligence. Yes, there are factors than can and do limit human intelligence. Ultimately, however, is not human intelligence unlimited in potential? If so, is there anything above and beyond unlimited? Is there a state beyond infinity? (I don’t mean in the Toy Story universe.) If such a state exists, does only G”d occupy it? Or does G”d have to live in this universe like the rest of us? Changes the equation, doesn’t it?

I think Douglas Adams may have had it right when he suggests in his Hitchhiker's series that earth was created as a device to determine the ultimate question to which the ultimate answer (42) had already been determined by the supercomputer Deep Thought. (Sadly, the earth gets wiped out by the Vogons in order to build a hypersapce bypass, before the earth’s-and thus humanity’s-work is complete. Whoops.)

I complain about the story of the oven at Akhnai all the time because I feel it is the ultimate co-option of Divine power by the rabbis. Methinks they took a little bit too much upon themselves. The Torah says “it is not in heaven” but it also says it is near to us, in our mouths and hearts. Us. Not “just the rabbis” and “sages.”  They wanted to be the ultimate wielders of the power of Torah, so they just took it. I know, I know, G”d could have made G”d’s displeasure about this known – but – stay with me now – maybe G”d is waiting for we Jews to figure out what happened and get our power back by ourselves without Divine intervention. Eyes wide open, folks.

However, there’s that tail end to the story that begins to ring a little truer now for me than it used to ring: “My children have defeated Me.” The Talmud suggests that G”d said this while laughing. Who will have the last laugh?

Shabbat Shalom, Shanah Tovah!

©2014 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Ha'azinu/Shabbat Shuvah 5774 - 5774: A Torah Odyssey
Ha'azinu 5772 - An Insincere Hymn?
Ha'azinu/Shabbat Shuvah 5570-Pur Prayers Aren't Bull
Haazinu 5766-Trifles (Updated from 5762)
Haazinu 5765/5763-How would It Look If...
Haazinu 5764-More Bull From Our Lips
Haazinu 5762--Trifles
Haazinu 5760-Bull from Our Lips

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