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Parashat Korach presents some of Gd's worst (and best) behaviors. Why are we presented with an image of Gd acting in ways that we ourselves struggle to overcome?
There's a theory I and others have advanced before. If we are made in Gd's image or likeness, then those traits and behaviors we exhibit are perforce traits and behaviors that Gd might exhibit as well. "That's overly anthropomorphic!" I hear the hecklers crying from the back of the room. "Gd is not like people," one says. "Gd is above all that, Gd is so much more, even more than we can understand or comprehend."
Still, for me, the logic holds. If there is a little bit of Gd in each of us, then there is a little bit of each of us in Gd. And, at least in my reading of the texts, the Torah supports me in my viewpoint. Why else give us example after example of a Gd who is petulant, pedantic, sophomoric, rash, vengeful, angry, jealous, vain, bored in addition to being a Gd who is loving, caring, nurturing, compassionate, exciting? Perhaps it is simply to make us feel better about our own shortcomings and weaknesses. If Gd sometimes cannot control these urges, how much more so must if be difficult for us to do so, and how much more vigilant we must ever be at guarding ourselves from engaging in negative behaviors.
It could be a way to keep us a little scared and in awe. Knowing that Gd can be vengeful, angry, jealous, etc. is a device for keeping us on our toes as well. It used to be quite an effective technique, and even into our own times this technique is practiced. Sadly, the concept can be perversely utilized, as in calling AIDS a vengeful act of Gd, or even the events of 9/11 as punishment for arrogance and hubris. So I tend to keep this particular concept at a distance, and like to steer us a bit more into the "awe" category rather than the "fear" category. Of course, we have the joy of the Hebrew not being entirely clear on this, allowing for a little fear to appropriately be part of awe.
There is the "this is all for human understanding" school of thought. It's like trying to communicate with an inferior species. So Gd's actions are portrayed using metaphors of human behavior that we can understand. This is all well and good when we're talking about human-alien contact. I question its usefulness in explaining a relationship between a Deity and its creations. If we really are that inferior to Gd, then how can we enter into a covenant with Gd? We would be, as a species, under the legal age to make a contract!
So, for me, given that we do have a covenant with Gd, and a mission to be Gd's partners in the work of repairing and completing the universe, it only makes sense that both Gd and Gd's creations learn together, side by side.
The Israelites are given a tough time (mostly by their own descendants-us) for being so stubborn and obstinate. For just not "getting it." For seeing miracles and wonders and still kvetching, whining and complaining.
Well folks, guess what? At times Gd is a slow learner too. Perhaps, before the story of creation in B'reishit as we know it, Gd made other attempts to forge a universe. (My favorite idea is that Gd made a universe in which everything was perfect, and creations did not have free will. But Gd got bored with it after five minutes because nothing exciting ever happened, so Gd wiped it out and tried again.) Then Gd made this current attempt, and is trying this little free-will experiment. And I suspect it had some unanticipated results for Gd. So Gd has had to adjust, compensate, change, learn, grow and account for the effects of free will.
But let's look at the record. Gd puts Adam and Chava in a perfect garden, but gives them free will. So they go ahead and screw things up right away. Still, Gd decides to give it a little more time. After a while, Gd appears to get impatient and decides to wipe it all out again,. Only this time Gd decides to save a lot of extra work, and only kills of most of the creations. Sort of like a neutron bomb--destroying people but not nature and property. The Noah's descendants get all prideful and decide to build this tower thingie and here we see a little jealous, perhaps even fear on Gd's part. Hmmm--these creations might actually get to me. Time to get out the fly swatter and the speech-confounder.
And on and on the cycles goes. We mess up or do something unexpected. Gd is unhappy and lashes out. Yet Gd does seem to learn over time that wiping everyone out isn't always the best idea. But when Gd gets really angry, well, it takes Moses to talk Gd out of rashly destroying the people (and notice how Moses appeals to Gd's vanity to do this--how would it look to the Egyptians, Moses asks.)
At first Gd is going to wipe us all out for Korach's sins. But Moses talks Gd into just venting on the people who actually rebelled (though Gd still can't resist also zotzing their wives and children as well.) Gd wipes out Korach's followers, and turns the 250 with the firepans into toast. And the very next day, here we go again. Gd's ready to wipe us all out, and Moses talks Gd out of it. The first time, Moses was able to stop Gd in time to prevent total annihilation. This time, Gd starts acting before Moses and Aaron can stop it. Gd has already initiated the plague. So they go and make expiation for the people and Gd heeds their sacrifice.
And then,. As if nothing major had transpired at all, Gd goes on to cheerfully give a re-elaboration of the support system for the priests and Levites.
Sounds awfully human-like to me.
I guess I can sort of round this up by saying that perhaps its better that Gd isn't perfect. If Gd could easily be bored creating a perfect universe, then how much more so might we get bored if we had a truly perfect Gd? Nope, I'll take Gd as portrayed in Torah, warts and all. And thank Gd for that!
©2004 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some previous musings on this parasha
Korach 5758/62-Camp Rebellion
Korach 5761-Loose Ends
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