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Jeremy Moses posted a most interesting dvar Torah at MyJewishLearning.com on Yitro entitled "LOST: Was Yitro Right or Wrong." http://www.myjewishlearning.com/blog/?p=2737
It's a great read, and I heartily recommend it. It also got me thinking about a lot of things - about this week's parasha (and haftarah,) and about contemporary television shows like "Lost." It occurred to me that perhaps "Heroes" was also interesting fodder for contributing to Biblical exegesis. The short lived "Kings," as well. Not to mention (the new) Battlestar Galatica and its new prequel, "Caprica." Lots of shows about G"d, religion, things beyond our understanding, and more.
One thing all these television shows have in common is lots of special effects. In this day and age, it takes truly great special effects to amaze us, hold our attention, and keep us interested. The sort of cheesy (though less so in their own time) effects of shows like the original Star Trek just won't cut it anymore.
I wonder if the theatrics employed by G"d at Sinai would be as effective on us as they were on our ancestors? Of course, since the idea is that we were all at Sinai, we should all have been equally impressed. Clearly, we are not so. If G"d were to speak to us today through miracles, would we even notice? Yes, G*d should be (notice I'm hedging here, by not saying "surely") capable of creating effects as amazing, and even more so, than what the effects geniuses for television and film can create. If G"d truly wants our attention, well, a brief study of our contemporary society should point the way to effective techniques.
In modern theological studies, we have concepts like a G*d with limited omnipotence. Perhaps G"d is only capable of cheap theatrics. Perhaps G"d is like the child-like entity in that classic Star Trek episode "Squire of Gothos." Nine years ago, I mused about G"d's cheap theatrics at Sinai. I think those words are worth revisiting this year.
A classic exposure of cheap theatrics:
"Pay no attention to the man behind the screen."
Our world is full of wannabe "Totos," all eager to pull back the curtain, strip away the mask of mystery, and reveal the wizard for a hoax, a simple sideshow magician with fanciful gadgets to work apparent magic. Lots of flash and boom. [5770 - like that "Razzle Dazzle" from Chicago]
"Humbug!" they cry. "There are no mysteries-all can be explained." Sometimes stripping away the mask has become a favorite pastime, even an obsession with some. But just because some magic and mystery are humbugs, does that mean all are equally fake? Imagine those gullible Egyptians falling for all those plagues. More coincidence. All have plausible scientific explanations, in one form or another. And those that seem more difficult to explain - the real story has just been twisted a bit. A little "corroborative detail to support an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative." (Any Savoyards out there?)
Yes, lots of things are humbug. And deceptions and lies have become stock in trade. So it's good that some humans have dedicated themselves to seeking out the truth. But sometimes the truth-seekers become so obsessed with the idea that what they are trying to disprove just couldn't be true no matter what. Or vice versa-that what they were certain was true proves not to be. The Kennedy assassination. Area 51. The Nixon tapes. The moon landing. Natalie Wood. Pearl Harbor. Whitewater. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. [5770 - Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. Bernie Madoff. Banks too big to fail. Ted Kennedy's seat going to a Republican?] The Shoah.
I throw in that last one to make a point. Is there one reader of this musing that truly doubts the reality of the Shoah? Yet all about us are deniers, rewriters of history.
When people see the tell-tale signs of grand theatrics, they automatically assume-"Aha! Fake."Thunder. Lightning. Clouds and fog. The standard tricks of the trade. Plenty of those in parashat Yitro, and it's accompanying Haftarah from Isaiah. So why is it that G"d has to resort to them. Why wouldn't G"d use something that couldn't be duplicated by spending some money at a good theatrical supply company?
The sages answer by telling us that this was no ordinary thunder and lightning. The people could literally see the thunder and hear the lighting. Even today we speak of being able to taste the fog.
But what if it were, in a sense, simply cheap theatrics by G"d. To get our attention. After all, G"d had parted the sea for us and still many of us doubted and still doubt. Too awesome to have really happened, they say. Knowing this, G"d figures, "OK, I'll give them something more within their comprehension. Yeah, I got it. Thunder, Lighting, Smoke. A Shuddering Mountain. What the hey, it might convince them even when the real miracles haven't!" It's possible.
(Maybe the Wizard of Oz really was a wizard. What better way to disguise the truth than to leave a few obvious theatrical tricks for the people to discover.)
G"d knew there would always be doubters among us. G"d knew that doubters were useful, and played an important role in society. G"d also knew that doubters are part of the price for giving us free will. Convince the doubters, and what's left to do? Without the doubters the whole system might fall apart!
But I think there are at least three levels to all this. There are the doubters. It's all smoke and mirrors they say. There is no G"d. Then there are the believers. Those who are convinced by the cheap theatrics and don't question. And the third group? Let's call them Israel. Those who can rise above the simple level of all or nothing doubt or belief. Some things are explainable. Some situations aren't explainable. And even if they are, G"d can and still exists. Evolution and G"d can coexist. So can cheap theatrics and true miracles. The reality of G"d is not dependent on whether we can prove it or disprove it. (I've written before, however, about "If you are My witnesses, then I am G"d..." but this isn't inconsistent with my viewpoint. Gd can and will be Our Gd, that we know by the ineffable name that is the tetragammaton if, and only if we are witnesses to Gd. But again, that ineffable name-isn't that for our benefit? For what need does Gd have with a name except in communication with Gd's creations? Even with us out of the equation, G"d can exist.
We each have our place. The doubter. The believer. And Israel-Those who struggle with G"d. Whichever you are, spend some time this Shabbat trying to understand the other two points of view. It might not change your mind, but it will open it to possibilities. And that, after all, is what G"d really wants us to do. Be open to possibilities. Even impossible possibilities.
©2010 and 2001 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some Other Musings on this parasha
Yitro 5769 - Evolution Shabbat
Yitro 5768-B'Kol HaMakom-In Every Place
Yitro 5767-Kinat Ad"nai
Yitro 5766-Top Ten?
Yitro 5765-Outsiders (Updated from 5759)
Yitro 5764-Outsiders II
Yitro 5763-El Kana
Yitro 5762-Manna Mania
Yitro 5761-From Cheap Theatrics to Impossible Possibilities
Yitro 5760-The Rest of the Ten Commandments
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