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Virtual Talmud

Why is it that those who seek to make peace don’t get to fulfill their vision?

Pat Robertson would answer that peace at the cost of giving away parts of “Greater Israel” is a sin, so God struck down Yitzhak Rabin (with a little help from assassin Yigal Amir and the fundamentalist rabbis who labeled Rabin a traitor) and now Ariel Sharon (though I am sure Sharon’s weight didn’t help).

Robertson’s comment reminds us that Christian fundamentalists can easily turn fair-weather friends if Israel refused to play its part in their apocalyptic vision.

On the other hand, I really feel for Robertson. It’s so tempting to read everything through a theological lens.

On hearing Sharon had suffered a debilitating stroke, my first reaction was a despairing, and somewhat angry, plea on high: “God, what are You doing?” A clear center was coalescing around Sharon. Peace seemed possible, even lacking a serious Palestinian peace partner.

On reflection, though, how could I see God’s hand in Sharon’s illness? If God holds each life equally precious, then God wouldn’t be more concerned with the well-being of a head of state than the young mother dying from cancer or AIDS. Actually, God would be just as concerned about all of them.

I don’t know why God doesn’t intervene in the world, instead leaving it to us to heal the sick, care for the vulnerable, and create a just and peaceful world. As Rabbi Harold Kushner writes, what God does do is give us the strength to go on, even when we feel we cannot. And somehow Israel will go on, too.

Jewish Scripture does read God acting in history, sometimes obviously (as in the Book of Exodus) and sometimes behind the scenes through human agency (as in the Book of Esther). We believe God continues to deeply care for humanity. Therefore, our prayer books call the founding of Israel reishit tzmihat g’ulateinu (the beginning of the realization of redemption). That a small nation survived the onslaught of the united Arab world in 1948, and has continued to survive in the face of unending hostilities, is a miracle to me.

But Scripture is not about what God does for us as much as what we are to do for God, and by extension, God’s world. Our sages taught that, at times, we should all be atheists, lest we think that God would feed the hungry or care for the poor, instead of ourselves.

Scripture is about how to live our lives, through actions great and small, consistent with certain values: the sanctity of life, the dignity due each individual, the commitment to equal justice for citizen and stranger alike, the obligation to be our neighbors keepers…Such values inspired the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, my emeritus of blessed memory Rabbi Noach Golinkin, and so many others to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8)

If humility is a virtue, does that make hubris a sin?

I wonder if Robertson, and the folks like him who identify appropriate victims for divine wrath, ever wonder if they might just be getting God’s message wrong.

My top pick for recent divine wrath would have been Yasser Arafat. I’m surprised that Pat didn’t consider the debilitating illness that led to Arafat’s death as divinely inflicted punishment. I guess Pat’s God only has it in for Middle East peace-makers, not obstructionists.

The only thing I understand about God is I don’t understand God. By definition, I can’t, since God’s nature is beyond human comprehension. That’s why, instead of worrying about what God is doing, I worry about what we’re doing to further justice, mercy, and humility in our world.

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