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Divining Divine Wrath

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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posted January 20, 2006 at 6:01 am

“Peace seemed possible, even lacking a serious Palestinian peace partner” What peace???? READ TORAH … when you hear peace … peace …. sudden distruction will come !!! – who are you kidding? Do you understand Torah? you might want to read and re-read it …. until your eyes are opened !!!! NO ONE who gave the land came out unpunished … this is G-d’s land – PERIOD – How many exemples do you find in Torah? same thing! it has not changed – G-d uses a country to punish one – then if that one rejoices, He will punish it! same principle – We need to PRAY to have eyes to see, hears to hear and to have understanding. All need to stop that non-sense of accusation, theology, etc and seek HIM – seek His understanding – His will … my sheep hear My voice … are we His sheeps ???? if so, let’s hear His voice and quit this bickering

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posted January 21, 2006 at 4:03 pm

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.(was a quote)……God became a man so that we could become like Him…..Let us become immersed in His love and perhaps then we will begin to see more clearly….

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posted January 22, 2006 at 7:37 pm

Snow – the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob NEVER took the form of a man. God is God – with “his” own part to play, we as humans have ours. There is a story of the Rabbis that a plain man, after the holocaust, asks God why he did not send a great hero to save the Jews who were murdered – God answers: I did – I sent you. Don’t discount our own humanity as being a light to show others – and see in others – the ideal spirit and strength that will foster peace in our world.

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Sharon Zohar (yes, Yigal's dau

posted January 22, 2006 at 8:36 pm

That’s the sanest perspective I’ve heard in a while about the role of God in day-to-day human life. I always did enjoy your sermons, Rabbi Grossman. 😉 If we are partners with God in Tikkun Olam, we, the Jewish community, have to take ownership of our end of the partnership, which means we must cease attributing motives to God and focus instead upon our work in building a peaceful and just society. If we don’t do these things, how can we be a light for the rest of the world?

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posted February 5, 2006 at 8:03 pm

Sharon a peacemaker? I don’t think so, not when he refused to talk to any Palestinian. You Jews bitch because they don’t recognize the State of Israel. Well why should they? You don’t even recognize them as human beings. Do yourselves a favor and give back the land you stole from them. You don’t need Israel. You are doing quite well here in the United States.

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posted February 6, 2006 at 12:03 am

You don’t even recognize them as human beings Since you’re not part of the collective “you” – how would you know what we think? An inflammatory statement doesn’t advance your argument. Do yourselves a favor and give back the land you stole from them. Do you mean the land that was part of the British mandate (not in the hands of the Arabs living there), the land that was purchased, or the land that was won in defensive wars? You planning on giving Texas back? You don’t need Israel. You are doing quite well here in the United States. Should we infer you believe all Jews not living in Israel live in the US and are doing well? So nothing bad ever happens to Jews in this country? No one sets fire/desecrates synagogues here? No one ever attacks a person in the US for being Jewish?And if the US should revert back to its immigration quotas against Jews that kept so many from escaping Nazi Germany, what then? Where do you propose we go? The Arabs have a homeland…many, many homelands. Many that call themselves Palestinians live in Jordan. And you begrudge us a fingernail paring of land?

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posted February 6, 2006 at 6:21 pm

B”H Susan’s comments bring to light the idea that a non-Jew cannot possibly understand the G-dly light that illuminates the Jewish soul. Anti-Semitism will not go away until Moshiach comes, and Jews should stop trying to placate non-Jews, who have been unable to stop being anti-Jewish since Abraham’s time.

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Azar Kahn

posted February 6, 2006 at 7:57 pm

Jewish community has been so scattered that they don,t know the location of their real home.They have the legitimate right on Israil,but the present circumstances,the misunderstandings with the settlers of that teritory should be resolv ed bilaterally on the basis of live and let the others live.Non of the relgions permits barbarianisam.

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posted February 7, 2006 at 1:20 am

There’s a big difference between a synagogue being desecrated, and a suicide bomber blowing up a bus filled with people. You’re alot safer here in the United States than you’ve ever been in Tel-Aviv. So which is the true Homeland of the Jews? Well, I’ll give you a hint: it ain’t in the Middle East.

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posted February 7, 2006 at 3:19 am

Well, I’ll give you a hint: it ain’t in the Middle East. And where might it be? Antarctica? The Bimini Atoll? Some other uninhabitable, non-populated area on earth? I repeat: not all Jews live in the US…not all Jews are SAFE.

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posted February 7, 2006 at 3:22 am

You also never answered my question: Why do you begrudge us a fingernail paring of land? What’s it to you?

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