Not my God

The Torah’s narrator tells me that two sons of Aaron the High Priest brought a strange fire as an offering to God, an offering not commanded. A fire goes forth before God and devours Nadav and Avihu. Moses, in a moment of poor pastoral care, blames Nadav and Avihu for their failure to sanctify God when they had the opportunity to do so. Our rabbinic commentators, relying upon the juxtapositioning of the verses that follow, accuse the boys of being drunk or arrogant. All these readings justify one troubling presupposition: God willed the death of the boys.

memorial candle
Sorry, not my God. Even if the boys did something wrong, “God does not desire the death of the sinner.” And if the Torah’s narrator and commentators are just grasping at straws, trying to assign to God something beyond our limited comprehension, what kind of just God takes innocent life? How can I possibly believe in a God who would claim–or even permit the slaughter of–a million children’s lives? And if I pass off all that I don’t control as “bashert” (predetermined or meant to be), then what happens to my free will and ability to grow, learn, change and make a difference?

My God is a God that dwells within me. Perhaps there was a time in the early history of humanity, when God had to intercede in the course of history, make a big splash, split a sea, or bring food from the heavens to earn our faith. But that was before God made a covenant with the Jewish people that expressed God’s will for this world and the directions to fulfill it, making room for us to show our potential as humans created in the image of the Divine.

My God is the God that has blessed me with strength, resilience, perseverance and humanity. My God is the God that has made room for me in the world, empowering me to act, to influence, to show humanity its greatest potential.

The wonder of it all is that I still believe in the possibility of miracles. I can’t rely only them to ward off the consequences of our actions or to change the natural course of nature, or even to control the measure of randomness that exists in this world. I trust in those miracles, nevertheless, to keep me humbled and in awe, hopeful and striving. Israel’s establishment was such a miracle in my eyes; but it came about with sacrifice of thousands of lives whose agency enabled the miracle to happen.

I can’t blame my God for that which I don’t understand; I can’t accept everything as God’s will. My God mourns with me; hurts with me; cheers me on to get it right; rejoices with the display of my empathy, compassion and humanity. My God believes and anticipates with full faith the coming of my redemption. And even though I may tarry, my God believes in me, and waits.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Craig Scheff

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5 responses to “Not my God”

  1. Lydia Katz says :

    I so envy your belief and your ability to justify things that happen as necessary to God’s will. I, too, believe in God but I find it difficult not to get very angry at God sometimes. I found it hard to accept Lou’s death but I had to admit that if God took him it was not a bad decision. Lou was hurting and was tired of struggling just to breathe, But how do you explain Danny? There had to be a better way to ease his pain and the pain of his family. How do yu explain the death of any child. It’s too hard.

  2. Geof Cantor says :

    I don’t know what God is. And I am sure that is as it should be. There is something bigger, a force, a power, a something that is beyond my understanding. Who am I that I can know the mind of God, that God has a mind that ANYone might know. But I see something of God constantly. In the strength of those who have lost loved ones, in the coming together of a community, in the wisdom and humanity expressed by so many, in the search for answers, and in the surrender to the fact that sometimes there are none. Peace. Geof Cantor

  3. Ruth Hess says :

    Just a beautiful commentary from our special Rabbi!!❤️❤️

  4. Maxine Skopov says :

    All deaths are ” too soon,” even when the person is 75 years old. To a loved one, it will always be too soon. I never blamed G-d for taking Arlene from me and from her family and friends. Nor did I become angry at G-d. I found it difficult to pray at first, and in the privacy of my home it is still accompanied by tears; but cancer took her life, not G-d. I have not found peace, nor acceptance, and doubt that I ever will. I can only continue to pray for G-d to inspire and bestow upon humankind the knowledge and wisdom to pursue and conquer this relentless beast and all the many other diseases, ills and ailments to which we are susceptible. For me, G-d is a presence to hold onto when times are good, as well as in times of deepest despair. And it is G-d who bestowed upon me the OJC rabbis and community that saved my life.

    • Rhonda Plawner says :

      Rabbi, your words have helped ease some of the anguish I have felt this past week. I am not angry at God because I do not feel that God is a punishing God. We cannot control the “measure of randomness that occurs in the world”. That phrase seems to answer for me some of the unimaginable and incomprehensible events that occur. When there are no answers it is up to each and every one of us to draw on that inner strength and for me that inner strength is my God. Peace and comfort to all. Rhonda Plawner

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