Friday, March 25, 2011

Playing God?

It might seem that I have become obsessed with posts on Beyond Teshuva lately. I’m not. I read many blog posts every day including Beyond Teshuva and comment on topics that I feel need commenting upon. It just happens that there has been much written there of late that has moved me to do so. This is true once again today.

Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier has written a post (actually it is an excerpt from his forthcoming book: Shmuz on Life: Stop Surviving and Start Living) that challenges our notions about how we view God’s intervention in our lives. His basic premise is that we do not properly understand when God’s refuses our prayerful requests. Even those requests that seem religiously meritorious. The following typical reaction to the apparent negative response by God illustrates this point.

I’ve talked to HASHEM about it. I’ve explained it Him. I’ve even brokered deals with Him. “If You grant me this, I’ll …”

Yet for some reason, He just won’t listen.

“HASHEM, what’s the deal? Are you angry with me? Are You punishing me? Why do You insist in making my life so difficult? This is what I need. It’s so clear. Why won’t You just grant it to me?”

And I go on asking questions. “It’s not fair. It doesn’t make sense! HASHEM, what do You want from me?”

Rabbi Shafier explains why he feels that this is an improper reaction. By having it we are playing God. What does he mean? He means that we aren’t seeing the whole picture the way God does. What we see as a negative response from our limited human perspective - is not what God sees. His perspective is much greater and in the end what we thought was a ‘bad’ answer is ultimately a good one from a caring and loving God.

He uses himself as an example. He had prayed that he would get a certain job that would have enabled him to serve God better (e.g. better supporting his family; more time for learning Torah etc.). Another time he prayed that he would marry a certain woman that would have been ideal wife for him and mother for his chlidren… and a few other examples. Prayers were not answered positively (as he saw it at the time) in each case. But in each case it worked out better for him in the end eventhough he had no way of knowing it at the time.

Obviously - he notes - God did. And that’s why He did it that way. He concludes that we should always view even the negative answers from God – that it is the will of a loving God who knows infinitely better than we do what is ultimately in our best interests.

He calls our frustration at not being answered positively - ‘playing God’. As if we are the ones – not God – who know exactly what is good for us. But that he explains is obviously not true. God is all knowing and all seeing. He created us. He chose us as His people. He loves us. He therefore knows what is in our best interests and always acts accordingly. Whether we understand it at the time or not.

Rabbi Shafier advises the following.

When you look back on the events that have shaped your life, you see the hand of HASHEM. You see HASHEM orchestrating the occurrences that shaped your life. And now in hindsight, you see that HASHEM was taking care of you, guiding you, leading you. While you were living through it, it looked “bad” It appeared that HASHEM didn’t care. However, after the fact, you understand that it was done out of love, and concern for your ultimate good.

This is all well and good in theory. And even in practice as applied to circumstances described by Rabbi Shafier. But there are two words that turn this entire approach on its head: The Holocaust.

I have always had difficulty with the Holocaust. There are questions there that makes his approach look ridiculous. To say that the prayers of 6 million Jews to stay alive – many of whom were God fearing and religious - were in a larger Godly sense answered in their best interests by being gassed to death is an impossibility. How was it good for them? It is inexplicable by any human dimension of thought. His approach falls far short here. Six million times. And the same is true about many survivors of the Holocaust.

My wife’s uncle, a devoutly religious Gerer Chasid lost his entire family in the Holocaust. His wife and all of his children were murdered by the Nazis. He was spared only because Josef Mengele used him in an experiment that involved his being sterilized.

I am 100% certain that he prayed that his wife and children should be spared. And that he should not be harmed in any way by Mengele. He was answered negatively in all instances. He remained a devout Jew all of his life but died childless with no heirs. How was this good for him? What possible explanation can be found to see this for the good? How would have examining his life brought him to a greater understanding of why he wasn’t answered?

I have no answers for this - least of all saying that God did this for his benefit.

Tzadik V’Ra Lo. Theodicy. No human mind can comprehend it. Trying to do so can make an Apikores out of you. As believers all we can say is that it was God’s will. But to say anything else about God in these circumstances - certainly along the lines that Rabbi Shafier does is to my mind pure nonsense.