Rabbi Menachem Wolf Guest Speaker at Shabbaton 18-20 Aug
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Question of the Week:
I've had a question for a while now and no one has been able to give me a satisfying answer. I want to know why it sometimes seems that we depict G-d as a tantruming little child. For example, many times in the Torah it says that we should not say or do something that is forbidden since that will make G-d very angry. What am I supposed to make of that? How can I respect a G-d who is on the edge of blowing up if we don't follow what He says?
Imagine being married to a man who never gets angry. Ever. About anything. You insult him and he shrugs. You are rude to him and he is nice back to you. You give attention to others and he isn't the least bit jealous.
Would that be a wonderful marriage?
Well, on one level, yes, it would be fantastic. No tension, no issues, no arguments or fights or silent treatment.
But in truth, it wouldn't be good at all. It wouldn't be a relationship. If he never gets upset at you, it means that you don't really matter to him. If nothing you do moves him, it means he doesn't care enough to be impacted by you.
Being in a relationship means affecting each other. For better or for worse, your heart is intertwined with someone else's. If you aren't getting a reaction, then you aren't connecting. You may be married, but you are really alone.
G-d created the world so He could have a relationship with us. He made a huge gamble, creating humans with free choice to do whatever we want, and He invested Himself in us, allowing Himself to be impacted by our actions.
So when the Torah says that G-d will get angry if we do wrong, that is the most beautiful statement of love. G-d is saying, "You matter to me. Your actions touch me. I have invested myself in you. This relationship is real."
We only get upset at people who matter to us. When your husband gets annoyed at you, take it as his way of saying you matter to him. You matter to G-d too.
I visit my 92 year old mother every day in her old age home, and every day I look around at the seniors there and ask myself the same question, why does G-d leave these old people to die without dignity? Every one of them needs either a diaper change, someone to feed them, wash them, or do everything for them. I have faith, but this thing really makes me angry. Why can't they die with dignity?
It is so hard to see a loved one fade after living a vibrant and active life. How we approach this painful stage will depend on our perspective. And the Jewish perspective on the end of life differs greatly to modern secular thinking. To approach life and death with faith, we need to make sure we have that perspective very clear.
It often happens that foreign, secular ideas creep into the minds of even those who have faith. Usually, the way these concepts infiltrate is via catch phrases and clichés. First they enter our vocabulary, then they become a part of our mentality.
One example is "dying with dignity."
That phrase is poison. It originates in the movement promoting euthanasia. This is a phrase that deserves to die.
True dignity comes from the soul, from living a life of goodness and holiness and meaning. Our body is a vehicle for that mission to be achieved. But the body is not our real self, and not our source of dignity.
At the end of a good and purposeful life, the body may be frail and weak, but the soul is as bright as ever, having accomplished its mission. If people have to do some unpleasant jobs to bring comfort to that body in its final years, it should be seen as an honour. There is no greater dignity than to serve another.
I am not belittling the pain of seeing a loved one suffer. And I am not saying that the body's deterioration is easy to face. I am saying that a person's dignity comes from their soul and their moral achievements. That is living with dignity.
We end our life in the same way we started it, dependent on the love of others. Your mother is blessed to spend her final days in good care, surrounded by those who love her. That is a most dignified departure from this world to the next.
How can a rational thinking person believe in G-d, when there is absolutely no evidence for his existence? Today we have x-ray, radar, satellites, infrared photography, ultrasound imaging, gamma-ray telescopes and CCTV, and yet we still have found no trace of G-d. If he is supposed to be everywhere, why is he nowhere to be seen? My logic says, if you are nowhere, you don't exist...
Being everywhere doesn't make you easy to find. On the contrary, logic says if you are everywhere, it's as if you're nowhere. A bit like our fridge.
As our family grew we needed more fridge space, so we bought an old fridge online. It was a bargain. We soon found out why. After we plugged it in it started humming quite loudly. At first we thought we couldn't live with this constant, monotonous buzz coming from the kitchen. But in a day or two we didn't even notice it anymore.
You can only hear a noise if that noise sometimes goes silent. But if it's always there, it's like its not there at all. Ask our kids what that buzzing noise is coming from the fridge, and they wouldn't even know what you are talking about. When you live with a noisy fridge, buzzing is silence.
It's the same with G-d. We live in a reality where the buzz of G-d is everywhere. There is no place devoid of Him, no moment when He is absent. So of course we can't detect Him. You can only detect the presence of something if you can detect its absence. The very definition of finding something is knowing where it is, but for that you have to know where it isn't. As the Baal Shem Tov taught, G-d is all and all is G-d. There is nowhere that he isn't. So we never see Him, because we are always looking right at Him.
This leads to an interesting conclusion. It's not that you can't see G-d. You actually can't miss Him. It just depends how you are looking. Put down your telescope and look at your life. You'll see He's been right there all along.