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.
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.
Rabbi Craig Scheff