Sunday, October 08, 2006

God's tough love

Mills of the gods

I just finished reading Rabbi Kushner's new book, "How to Deal with Life's Disappointments". I have read most all of Kushner's previous books and have found them to be be about as helpful as books by a theologian can be. They are well written, concise and always are able to let me see many of life's problems in a new light. This book is no different, in it, he looks at the life of Moses as a sort of template for the great disappointments all of us have over the course of a lifetime.

At one time or another, I am sure that I have read all that the Hebrew Scriprture has to say about the life of Moses. However, because my most frequent contact with Moses comes with the yearly showing of the "Ten Commandments" I tend to forget a great deal that was written about him, focusing only on the flair for the dramatic that he and God used while getting the Hebrews out of Egypt. That's great stuff, but if you go back and read the text, you will find that Moses's greatest moments had nothing to do with the plauges of Egypt or the parting of the Red Sea. Moses' greatest achievement was to act as a mediator (for forty years!) between a whining Hebrew population and their hot tempered, trigger happy God, Ywh. It is a miracle that anyone ever got to the promised land, and indeed, of those who left Egypt, only two of hundreds of thosands did make it. The rest persished along the way but were replaced by the equally whining and malcontented children of the original exodus.

No sooner had Moses got the Hebrews out and away from Egypt than they started their incessant crying about how tough things were. These were people who had been in bondage for several hundred years and had even been reduced to gathering their own straw to make the bricks they were forced to manufacture while working on the various construction project of Ramses (Yul Brenner). They had also recently passed through a time where all of their baby sons were killed and further had had to put up with about as many indignaties as any people should be made to suffer. Yet, a couple days out into the desert and it was nothing but bitch, bitch, bitch "Why did you lead us out to the desert to die? ""At least in Egypt we had bread and onions and melon and garlic, here all we get is manna. " And how did the eternally patient Ywh react to this grumbling ? Well, first he had to be talked out of wiping out the whole lot of them by Moses. Moses esentially described to Yawh how foolish he would look as a God who rained ruin on the Egyptians in order to take the Hebrews out into the desert to kill them. Yawh silently concedes the point and then proceeds to send serpents into the camp to kill a good number of them. Serpents ! Can't you hear Moses ? "I am tired of these mother fucking snakes in this mother fucking desert."

Not long afterwords, Moses spends about a month up on Siani being lectured to by Yawh, who eventually handins over the ten commandments to Moses. The Hebrews, left behind, believe that Moses has abandoned them, so talk Moses brother Aaron into making them a golden calf that they can worship (no sense taking any chances out in the desert of getting caught without a god). Ywh gets wind of this and orders Moses down the mountain to punish everyone. Moses throws down the stone ten commandments and breaks them. Then he makes Aaron grind the calf into powder, which he mixes with water and makes everyone drink some. Hmmm. This does not placate Ywh who then has several thousand people killed as punishment. By the way, Aaron, the sculptor of the golden calf somehow beats the rap.

On and on this goes for forty years. Ywh, who promised this land of milk and honey to the ancestors of these people, spends a lot of time trying to figure out how to welch on the deal. Further, it turns out that Ywh has forgotten to mention to the Hebrews that this land they have been promised is already occupied by dozens of different peoples, all of whose nationalities end with the term "ites". The Hebrews are somewhat scared of the prospect of clearing these folks out, but Ywh insists and essentially has the Hebrews wipe them all out, whenever possible, man, woman and child.Then, once the Hebrews have cleared out most resistance, Ywh decides that it is time for Moses to die because Moses is not allowed to enter the promised land. This goes back to a rather petty mistake Moses made when he struck a stone, instead of talking to it, in order to get his whinning charges some water. This Ywh, who has managed to kill just about everyone who started out with him on this adventure, as well as have killed all of those who had made the mistake of living on their own family's property, punishes Moses for striking an inanimate object. In Ywh's defense, I have neglected to tell the story of the donkey whom he gave the ability to speak so that he could ask his master "why the hell do you keep beating me ?", so Ywh did have some symapthy for the downtrodden of some species. But Moses, who time and time again, has saved his people from the over reactions of the All Mighty, and in doing so, by the way, saved Ywh the possibility of continuing to be worshiped, is on the outside looking in as the people go into Cannan. And irony of ironies, as the Hebrews go into the promised land, Ywh is already muttering that the time will soon come when they will screw up again and so Ywh will have to destroy and/or disperse many of them.

This is what is known as tough love, I guess. History does not record that it did much good as, indeed, the Hebrews continued to irritate Ywh. But, over time, Ywh mellowed a bit. He sort of stopped much of the direct intervention, such as with serpents, and went over to sort of a passive agressive formula. One that you could argue that he is still maintining today. As for the people, we have never stopped whining.In many ways the whining has gotten worse. And the richer you are, it seems, the more likely you are to whine. "At least in Eygpt we had bread and melons and garlic and onions." And not so many of these mother fucking snakes.

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