PARSHAT KI TETZE
(One evening as my wife and I were shopping for clothing for our children) I caught a glimpse of a tall, carefully made up, attractive woman out of the corner of my eye, she seemed, even at first glance, to be distraught. Pretending not to notice her as she moved into the aisle where I stood, I saw that she was very pregnant and accompanied by a man. They were discreetly moving toward me and she was trying to catch my eye. But even if she did, I would have feigned ignorance. Yes I know, I’m a rabbi, a public person, but gimme a break, this public person happens to be shopping for clothes.
It didn’t work. She was closing in and moving through the bright florescent lights like a guided missile. “Aren’t you Rabbi Kushner?” “Yes, I am; have we met?” “Not exactly; we attended a service that you did. My husband and I thought you were very nice.” She moved in for the kill. “Oh Rabbi, we were at the doctor’s this afternoon. The third opinion. He says I have an inoperable tumor. I’m going to die. He says the baby will be fine.”
They introduced themselves to me, gave me the details. They’d been thinking about joining my congregation. Their world had collapsed. Why has this happening? Would I do the funeral? They joined. She bore a daughter, she died. I did the funeral.
There are two ways to understand our relationship with God: God can be above us or we can be within God. In the first, it is possible for us to have a relationship with God. There are two discrete parties who can each behave freely and independently. And since God is other than the world, there must be some things which are not God; a devil, and evil instinct. . . .Evil has its own independent existence. It is in business for itself. In the second model, we are within God; we are one with God. God is everywhere and everything. All being derives its reality from God. According to this paradigm, if God is within all creation, then what appears as evil can only be a distant, albeit distorted, expression of the Divine. This doesn’t make it “good.” But nothing can be entirely separate from or independent of God. Everything, therefore, is the way it is “supposed” to be.
The stories with happy endings distract our attention from all the other painful stories. They say to us that somehow things work out, even though it often seems like they don’t.. For a moment, it seems possible that our grief may be due only to our own myopia. The seeds of giant redwoods, after all, are capable of germinating only once they have been through the intense heat of a forest fire.
Not long ago I was sitting with the other members of my synagogue’s high school faculty… My glance settled on a short vivacious, red haired girl of seventeen. She had just finished telling a joke or playing some kind of a prank. Everyone laughed with her. She is popular. I love that girl. I am honored that she looks up to me. That girl’s father never did remarry. Last week the father told me that his daughter was thinking of becoming a rabbi.
Look, I don’t think that God made a tumor grow in that girl’s mother’s brain. Or that God has anything to do with the choice of careers or where I used to shop for bargain basement clothing. But I can’t get it out of my head that somehow God is mixed up in the whole horrible, holy and joyous thing. [Lawrence Kushner; Invisible Lines of Connection, Jewish Lights Press, p. 136]
A) How can the Torah promise long life for sending away the mother bird when we know that long life has nothing to do with sending birds away?
B) Can we explain evil in the world without denying God’s power or God’s knowledge of all things? Why must religion, in general and Judaism, in particular answer this question? What does this say about our faith in God?
C) Do you see God as above us or within us? What difference does our choice make in the way we act in the world?