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Friday, June 27, 2014

The Tempestuous Child

THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/Rabbi_Pinky

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The Tempestuous Child

"Kol HaOlam Kooloh Gesher Tzar Meod. VeHaIkar Lo LeFachayd Klal."

"All the world is a very narrow bridge. And the main thing is not to fear at all."

These are the very famous words of Rabbi Nachman MiBreslav, founder of a Chassidic dynasty that never chose a successor, that to this day inspires Messianic hippies, bad Payis, and WAY oversized Yarmulkas with silly writing on them. Though the Na Na Nachman movement attracts recovering addicts, the political fringe, and people by and large divorced from reality -- the words themselves speak to us today, just as they spoke to our ancestors in the Ukraine several centuries ago.

We are all shocked and depressed by the brazen kidnapping of three students in Gush Etzion, an area in the West Bank considered moderate and safe, an area where many of us (myself included) have spent months and years as students and residents, an area where peaceful Arab-Israeli coexistence is the daily norm, not the exception. This brazen act harms everyone - the victims and their families, Israeli nationalists who loudly declare their "I told you so’s”, and Israeli moderates who believe that peace is inevitable and has roughly understood parameters, even if the political conditions are not yet present.

But the biggest group that suffers as a result of such a brazen act is the Palestinians themselves. Whether they are actively supportive of the kidnapping, myopically intellectually supportive of any strike against "the Israeli enemy", or morally and politically against such actions, they all suffer. All they have ever needed to do is wait patiently and perhaps exert acts of passive resistance, and the Israeli consensus would recognize the incompatibility of the aspiration for Israel to be both a democratic state and a Jewish state. And the status quo, including much of the settlement enterprise outside of key population blocs, would either dissipate or evolve into a new form of coexistence.

But no. The silent majority does not rule. Rational thought does not rule. Passion and emotion dictate the politics of national extremism on all sides, and peaceful coexistence is delayed.

And the blame game begins. We all blame the terrorists who kidnapped the students. The Palestinians blame the Israelis for the occupation. The Israelis blame some Palestinians for celebrating the kidnapping. The Palestinians blame the Israelis for excessive force in the aftermath of the kidnappings. The Israelis blame the Palestinians for non-cooperation. The Palestinians blame the Israelis for not actively pursuing a political arrangement. The Israelis blame the PA for forming a coalition with Hamas. The Palestinians blame the Israeli government for including ultra-Nationalists.

But do you know who I blame? The Reboinoisheloilum.

At the end of the day, we are witnessing once again that the world that He created is imperfect. It is flawed. If it were an automobile, it would be recalled. If it were a pharmaceutical product, He would be facing myriad lawsuits and be put out of business. If it were a restaurant, no would go there, and, in any case, it would be closed by the Department of Health.

Hakadoshboruchhu has created an imperfect world, and we are simply fated to suffer in His imperfect creation.

We of course are not the first to ponder the nature of the world and its imperfections. On the contrary.

-- The great Prophets, Yirmiyahu and others, reassured us that the evil that befalls Klal Yisroel is a result of our wickedness and rejection of the Melech Malchei Hamelachim.

-- The RAMBAM described the Aimishteh as non-etherial, and beyond human understanding.

-- The circle of the Spanish Kabbalists described the Reboinoisheloilum as a complex combination of elements – the Sefirot -- that interact in strange ways, and as a result humanity suffers. Evil in this world is a by-product of the Sefirah of Din. Yesoid is separated from the Shechinah (in translation: Hakadoshboruchhu is feeling like a Frum husband the day before his wife FINALLY goes to the Mikvah.

The Kabbalists make a valid point – not in a literal sense, but in a sociological/ historical sense. As we are told in the Haggadah, “MiTechilah Oivdei Avoidah Zarah Hayo Avoidoiseiynu”. “At the beginning, our ancestors worshiped foreign gods.” Our ancestors were Pagans. They believed in a pantheon of deities and forces that interacted, while we, mere mortals, could only hope to not be harmed as “collateral damage” while the gods wrestled with each other for universal control.

To be on the good side of the gods, we would bring sacrifices to one, or many, of the gods. This was an effort to do “our best”. The fine print read: “Outcomes not guaranteed. Former performance is not a predictor of future gains. Local laws apply.”

But our faith, the emergence of Judaism, left us with one God. One address. What an innovation! We are the Chosen Ones!

The question is, “Chosen for what?”

Sometimes I wonder what my grandmother thought as she walked with her young daughter and her old mother, having been forced to strip naked, and then commanded to either enter the rickety wooden synagogue to be burnt alive or climb into the pit to be shot en masse.

And so we are left with no answers, only questions:

-- Why did God create an imperfect world?

-- Is God dead?

-- Is God incompetent?

-- Is God evil?

-- Is God like that alien from Star Trek who was nourished off of the energy created by negative emotions, by war and hostility, and indeed He wants us to suffer?

So the rationalist RAMBAM excused God as beyond understanding. The Kabbalists re-introduced neo-pagan elements into our understanding of the Divine. Spinoza declared that there is no God, only a set of ethical criteria we can arrive at through envisioning and enacting morality. And Eliezer Berkovits argued that there is a God, but that man’s inhumanity to man is the result of human free will.

I would like to suggest that God is a tempestuous three year old child. He is very cute when He is asleep. But when He is awake He wreaks havoc with His toys. He is mischievous. He is cruel. He chooses favorites. He has temper tantrums. He neither comprehends nor cares for the consequences of His actions. In the words of Shakespeare in King Lear, “As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods — They kill us for their sport.”

And what to do with the tempestuous child that is God?

Well, we must do what we do with any mischievous three year old: He must face the consequences of his actions. Perhaps we should put Him in a Time Out. Or we should take away His toys. Or we should send Him to his room. Or we should get a baby sitter and go out for and evening, and let someone else deal with His temper tantrums. Or we should take Him to a doctor or psychologist and have Him diagnosed and perhaps get Him a prescription for Ritalin.

But the most important thing to keep with mind when dealing the Divine Tempestuous Child is to try to not allow Him to consume our lives. Reboinoisheloilum knows, He has a long history of disappointing Klal Yisroel. Just as we have established our political self-determination, we must focus on personal self-determination, without reliance on a deux ex machina.

Hakadoshboruchhu is prone to create distractions and seek attention by throwing temper tantrums. But we have to be firm and take control of our own lives, not stand around in fear waiting for Him to save us. Go ahead and say Tehilim (as I have) and light as many candles as you like. But remember that "Ain Somchin Al HaNess", we must never rely on miracles, but on ourselves.

"Kol HaOlam Kooloh Gesher Tzar Meod. VeHaIkar Lo LeFachayd Klal."

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval

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Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Rosheshiva
Yeshivas Chipass Emmess

2 comments:

Avinoam said...

Dear R. Pinky,

Thought-provoking as always.
But:

How can you assume knowledge of the fairly benign inclinations of the Arab "silent majority" ? Wishful thinking.

Are you saying that our petulant G-d forced those Arabs to kidnap and murder our boys? Really?

I guess it's easier to hold an unseen Divinity responsible, than confronting the ugly reality of human evil through the ages.

Gut Shabbes,

Avi

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein said...

Avi,

I do not debate the evil of the relevant actors. And I do not want to get into a political analysis of the Palestinian population. Or of the persecutors of the Jews throughout history.

But this piece was intended to address the theological implications (and questions) of our complicated history and present.

Pinky