THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
On the role of the Reboinoisheloilum
Every day we recite the Az Yashir, the Song of the Sea”, an ancient poem that celebrates the defeat of the Egyptian forces following the exodus of Klal Yisroel from Mitzrayim. As Klal Yisroel escape from Egypt, they are pursued by the Egyptian authorities -- Pharaoh, the military, and the SEC -- for engaging in a complex pyramid scheme. The Jews pass through the Yam Suf/ Red Sea/ Reed Sea unharmed, while the Mitzrim are swallowed into the water, those Shkutzim. Now let’s eat.
The Egyptians, we are told by the Toirah, are punished by the Aimishteh for their cruelty to generations of Jews. Unlike the pagan mythological pantheon who engage in fanciful battles divorced from the realm of humanity, the Reboinoisheloilum of Klal Yisroel is directly involved in human history. He personally engages in delivering justice and vengeance, smiting and wreaking havoc to the enemies of Israel. And to the Jews, He delivers salvation and mercy. He is Omnipresent and Omnipotent. He is all powerful. He has a barrel chest and six pack abs. He also makes a great guacamole, and has a 72 inch 3D TV. He is perfect!
So here’s the problem, you Mechutziff: As we have seen again recently, there are many terrible things that happen in this world. If indeed we believe that all of fate rests in the hands of Hakadoshboruchhu, that He is truly engaged in the activities of Our World, we are compelled to ask ourselves the following question: What The Hell Is He Doing?!
Exhibit A: Just imagine this: A group of innocent children are happily attending school in Newtown, Connecticut. With no rhyme or reason, a madman comes and slaughters 20 of them, and six of their teachers.
Exhibit B: Nechemya Weberman. Need I say more?
Exhibit C: This is true: I recently found my Bubbe on the online Hall of Names of Yad Vashem; her name was registered there by an acquaintance in the 1950s, who likely made a concerted effort to register the names of all the people she knew who had perished. However, my Alter-Bubbe and my schoolgirl-aged aunt never made it into the database: Apparently they didn’t have time to set up a Facebook account on their I-Pads while the Nazis were busy setting fire to the rickety wooden Shul in the Shtetl in which all the Yidden of the town were forcibly gathered.
Rabboisai, if the Reboinoisheloilum was a head of state, we would impeach Him. If He were a lawyer, we would disbar Him. If He were a child, we would take him to myriad psychologists. And if He were an adult, we would lock Him away where He could no longer cause any harm to Himself or anyone else. However, He is the Melech Malchei Hamlachim, Hakadoshboruchhu, so we continue to pray to Him.
But it is only fair and rational, and appropriate, that we ask ourselves at a broad theological/ philosophical level – What is He up to? Has He gone insane? Or is there some sort of master plan that you cannot possibly comprehend, you Minuval?
We of course are not the first to contemplate such questions. CHAZAL, sitting in their yeshivas around pressed board wooden tables with fold out metal legs, contemplated the very same questions. They looked to the Toirah and their own predecessors for guidance and inspiration. Some, like the RAMBAM, also turned to works of Moslem and Greek philosophers for answers. Others, like Moishe DeLeon, looked at traditional and contemporary mystical tradition. And a few, like the Ari Zahl, dropped acid and spent hours on end looking at their hands breathe.
Our Rabbinic predecessors indeed struggled with these very same issues. Their words are immortally captured in their Teshiuvois, their Sefarim, their various blogs and wikis, and on the walls of the men’s room stalls in Sura, Pumbedisa, Kutsk, Brisk, and elsewhere, right next to the notes that say, “For a good time, call Chanie”.
According to Reb Saadia Goyn, Hakadoshboruchhu is indeed a loving and benevolent Diety directly involved in Oilumainu, our world. He loves all mankind and all of His other creations. However, He believes in rules, and those that do not follow the Divine rules unfortunately trigger the (relatively minor) punishments warned of by the Reboinoisheloilum in His Toirah, in all of His benevolent mercy. For example:
-- If someone commits a murder, then he is Chayav Misah, and will unfortunately be wiped out for all eternity.
-- If someone worships Avoidah Zarah, Chass V’Sholom, then he is Chayav Misah, and, sadly, will be wiped out for all eternity.
-- If someone engages in “unnatural” acts, say, Mishkav Zachor, then he, his lover, their families, and everyone they ever knew, will lovingly be wiped out for all eternity.
-- If someone turns on a light on Shabbos Koidesh, Chass V’Sholom, a modern day Toldah of an Av Melacha, then he is Chayav Kurayss, and his family will mercifully be wiped out for all eternity.
-- If someone wears Shatnez, the combination of wool and linen, then he and his family will one day be benevolently wiped out for all eternity.
-- If someone eats Kitniyois on Pesach, then he is Chayav on a Chashash of eating Chometz, and he and his family will one day be gloriously wiped out for all eternity.
So when a small portion of Klal Yisroel adopted Reform Judaism, Communism, Socialism, Zionism, and some of the other “isms” of the early 20th century, they triggered merciful destruction on all of Klal Yisroel. The Aimishteh surely watched with tears streaming down His eyes as my Great Grandmother, my Grandmother, and my twelve year old Aunt were burnt alive, along with most of the Yidden from their Shtetytl. But what could He do?
Hey – we got off easy, thanks to His benevolence. A remnant remained. It could have been worse: The dinosaurs ate insects and shellfish and never recited a Bracha, and look at them today…
The RASHBA also believes that the Reboinoisheloilum is involved in the world, but has a slightly different emphasis. According to the RASHBA, Hakadoshboruchhu is not benevolent. The suffering in our world is the direct result of the Aimishteh’s basic sadism and dislike of people. He is a misanthrope with a bit of an inferiority complex. Sure, He created human beings, but they are whiny and rebellious, and every so often He just feels like he needs to smite them because it makes Him feel better about Himself.
The RAMBAN takes an approach which is similar to that of Reb Saadia, though his explanation is informed by his great Rabbinic scholarship, along with his experience as one of the top OB-GYNs in medieval Spain. He suggests that the Shchinah actually loves all of mankind. She is our Creator, our Parent, our Spouse. However, once a month, for about a week, the Aimishteh starts to feel achy and bloated and uncomfortable, and then goes on a total rampage against all who come across Her path. But when the seven days are over She is back to normal. Just don’t say anything about Her weight, Chass V’Sholom.
Reb Akiva Eiger, takes a completely different approach. Reb Akiva holds that there is no conscious Deity involved in human affairs. Citing the Zoihar, Reb Akiva describes Hakadoshboruchhu as a powerful, universal Force. The Reboinoisheloilum is akin to a flower in your garden. He is alive and organic, but sits in the background like a pretty decoration that gets tended to in your spare time. However, some creatures, like the bees, are in tune with the Aimishteh, and mine Him for His pollen to make their honey. And man’s role, like that of the bees, is to understand the true nature of Hakadoshboruchhu and synchronize our existence to his reality, while stinging everyone and everything else that gets in our way.
However, the Meor Einayim, the Alter Chernobyler Rebbe, has a more counterintuitive understanding of Hakadoshboruchhu. Says the Chernobyler, LeOilum the Reboinoisheloilum is in fact a conscious being, involved in the daily affairs of mankind. And He is not so focused on the strict details of the Toirah. Punishments, shmunisments. “Live and let live”, He likes to tell the angels when they go out for cocktails every Friday night, after a long week of running the world. The problem is that the Aimishteh has been in the role for a long time, has taken to showing up late, leaving early, and taking too many long lunches. He has become distracted and lost focus, and it is probably time for us to get someone new in the role. But it is a very difficult role to fill. However, we do have some discussions with a few candidates scheduled for next week, and at least a couple of them look promising…
Rabboisai, it is clear that these and the many other explanations of the role of the Reboinoisheloilum in the world – including those that deny the very existence of Hakadoshboruchhu – are never fully satisfying. There is no model that fully and rationally explains the world. There is suffering and doubt. But there is also happiness and occasional sentiments of fulfillment.
As we struggle with this issue, we must also wrestle with the corollary question of how we should behave in a world where we do not, and cannot, ever understand the role of the Reboinoisheloilum. Are we created Betzelem Eloikim, in the Image of the Divine, and compelled to act accordingly? How can we possibly do that if we are incapable of knowing His will.
(“Yet”, you argue, “the Toirah is the source of knowing His will”. Hmmm. You may be right. I will keep that in mind the next time I bring animal sacrifices in the Bais Hamikdash right after attending a good public stoning. Ignorant schmuck.)
At best, we can do three things:
1) Continue to seek the ultimate truths. We will never find them, you Minuval, but like in a kosher luxury cruise, the voyage is more important than the destination.
2) Seek to control our own destinies, individually and collectively. In the absence of clear Divine guidance, it is our best bet for creating our future as we would like it to materialize.
3) Go out for some nice Traifus every once in a while. The Reboinoisheloilum may destroy your lineage for all eternity. But He is probably going to do that anyway.
Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.
Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess