The Karma Quotient
To our readers,"When Adar comes, joy increases."
The Cosmological Constant
One extremely basic cosmic Truth, a cosmological constant, like “water tends to run downhill,” or, say, “God blesses those who bless Israel,” is this:
The Universe is at least 500 times better – kinder, more loving and forgiving – than it is punishing and angry. There is, at the barest minimum, 500 times more good in the world than bad.
How do we know? Because God is Who He is and He’s told us. No less than three times. Scripture teaches it vividly, dramatically, repeatedly.
[We got a little delayed, partly thanks to the Coronavirus. As this issue is coming out late, the next issue – our Coronavirus issue, “The Karma Quotient II” – should be coming out early.]
The Karma Quotient comes up spectacularly at Sinai, in the Revelation of the very first of the Ten Commandments, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” In fact, God states it twice, in both Exodus and Deuteronomy (Exodus 20:5-6, Deuteronomy 5:9-10). And then, again, at Sinai, at a critical moment, connecting to the catastrophe of the Golden Calf. It’s right at the core of HaShem’s response to Moses’ yearning prayer to better understand His Ways (Exodus 34:6-8).
Moses begs God, basically, for help understanding the great cosmic principles by which He regulates Existence (Exodus 34:8-10)
[If you took away only this from our issue last month, “The Cool Kids,” Covenant Connection, February 2020, Shevat 5780, this was the biggest thing.]
God sets out key aspects of His “Name” – Who He is, His identity. But you can also call it what we’re calling it here: the Karma Quotient, the Law of reward and punishment. In Hebrew it’s midah k’neged mida, or “measure for measure”– the “measure for measure” ratio, or quotient, of bad verses good throughout Creation. It suffuses Creation.
Call it Karma
Call it karma. This is God speaking of Himself, about Himself, to His mortal beings, in Exodus 34 (after the Golden Calf disaster):
“The Lord [HaShem], the Lord, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” [now, the second part of this equation:] “…Who will in no wise clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.”
Earlier, giving the Ten Commandments, He trys to tell us all – all humanity, forever - Who He is. He introduces Himself and explains why we should listen to Him, or Who He is, in both Exodus and Deuteronomy:
“…for I HaShem Your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers unto the third or fourth generation of those that hate Me. And showing mercy (“chesed,” loving-kindness) unto thousands of those that love Me and keep My commandments.” (Exodus 20:5-6 and Deuteronomy 5:9-10.)
This is Divine communication at a very high level. But what is God saying? Is this an unjust, wrathful God punishing children for the sins of their ancestors? Or an uncaring God Who cares so little about justice that He delays justice over centuries? That’s obscene!
Both Moses and Ezekiel, among others, work to clarify this.
Moses plunges right into the question of the promptness of God’s justice. (We’ll set that out a little below.) But even more than Moses, the locus classicus of the subject of how justice works, the classical authority, is Ezekiel, who devotes a whole chapter to it.
The whole chapter – Ezekiel 18 – is wonderful, but this, at least, gives you the gist of it:
“The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.” (Ezekiel 18:20).
Naturally, long before that, the Torah taught that basic principle. This is what the God of Justice requires from those who love and fear Him:
The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers. Every man shall be put to death [if that’s the punishment required in the circumstances] for his own sin.” Deuteronomy 24:16.
So we wonder what’s going on in the recital of the Ten Commandments. What’s with the “third and fourth generation” and the “thousands”? What’s God telling us?
Looking past the different commentators’ speculations, about free will and childrens’ influences, you notice: these revelations are all about karma.
Even Moses May Have Puzzled Over This
Even after hearing it three times straight from God’s lips, as it were, probably even Moses puzzled about this. Soon after, Moses tries to clarify things, speaking to the same subject. It's a huge subject. Again, he’s speaking of God’s nature, His kindness and justice, and the way the world is constituted. Here Moses speaks broadly, in his own words, doing his best to paraphrase HaShem’s:
Every word and syllable of Moses’ peroration here, in Deuteronomy 7, is worth reading. But, quoting just a few words:
…“Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God; the faithful God, Who keeps covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations; and repays them that hate Him to their face, to destroy them; He will not be slack to him who hates Him, He will repay Him to his face.” (Deuteronomy 7:9-11)
1) Despite the reference to “generations,” which implies time passing, the promise here is that God punishes the sinner - “him who hates Him” – promptly, “to his face.” So, obviously, the central idea here is definitely not that punishments will be drawn out over generations. Quite the contrary!
Obviously, what Moses is doing here is emphasizing that God is vastly, almost unimaginably more inclined to loving-kindness and forgiveness than He is to punishing.
2) The word Moses uses above is eleph, thousand, singular. As opposed to the “thousands” that God mentioned those three times earlier that we quoted. What he’s giving us here isn’t a definite ratio (“at least 500 to one” is indefinite) as HaShem just put it but, basically, a more general promise of showers of blessings in reward for goodness.
So we’re dealing here with a somewhat ambiguous communication from God Himself. And we don't presume to know all His ways. But we at least see that we need to pay attention to this ratio! HaShem doesn’t repeat things – let alone emphasize them so dramatically - without reason.
So, This is the Ratio
Plainly, based on this ratio, the world is constituted so that rewards vastly outweigh punishments.
We’re not just talking here about the half-life of sin. That is, to the idea that punishments should extend no more than a few generations, three or four at most, while blessings outweigh them by thousands of times. Rather, this concerns the broader matter of karma, of how God’s love and justice permeate the world.
This is the measure-for-measure ratio – the karma quotient, you might say – expressing the cosmic constant principle that God’s mercy, forgiveness and love extends at least two thousand times beyond the extent of everything negative.
Put it this way: The deal here is that the blessings extend at least two-thousand times, while the punishments extend, at most, four times (“three or four times”). So the ratio is, at least, at a minimum, 500.
This is a good time to emphasize: the Scripture actually uses the plural: “thousands,” in the Ten Commandments revelation and the colloquy with Moses, not thousand. Your English translation may not indicate that. That’s a pity: lots of translations don’t reflect this: the word is “elephim,” not “eleph,” singular: “one thousand.” The Torah is talking “thousands,” plural.
You can’t have a plural smaller than “two.” Which means, this is speaking of at least two thousand. And there’s simply no getting around this: 2000 divided by four = 500.
This understanding, of the literally unfathomable vast extent of God’s chesed – His mercy and loving-kindness - permeates Scripture, the Prophets and Psalms, and the prayers of pious Jews.
“In You the fatherless find mercy” (Hosea 14:4). “His mercies are great! (2 Samuel 24:14. “He retains not His anger forever; He delights in mercy” (Micah 7:18). “His mercy (chasdo/chesed) endures forever” (Psalms 118 and 136). “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth” (Psalm 25:10). “His wrath may endure for a moment, His favor for a lifetime (Psalm 30:5). And in the appreciative, ancient, thankful prayer “Ahava Rabo”: “With an abundant love You have loved us, HaShem, our God; with an exceeding great pity have You pitied us.” He is the God “Who humbles the haughty and lifts the lowly; rescues the captive, liberates the humble, and helps the poor” (Morning prayer, Siddur).
Good, Good God
Most people don’t get this about HaShem. Non-Jews tend to grow up learning that "the God of the Old Testament" is awful. Literally everyone grows up thinking infantile, wrong thoughts about God and none of us can fully grasp His greatness; we all grow up thinking of Him as infinitely less than He really is and very few of us ever come near to a correct understanding of Him. This makes us nuts, too, hearing ugly, small-souled declarations about “the wrathful God of the Old Testament.” The Eternal, the Master of a trillion galaxies? Who gives us life and sustains us? Who infuses Creation with at least 500 times more good than bad?
THAT God - not the crabbed ogre God of pagan misleading - deserves our total love and adoration and respect!
It’s sad to see people who come to the God of Israel expecting wrathfulness. We are His subjects, His devoted servants, adoring the God Who suffuses the world, with at least 500 times more good than bad. That is NOT a mean God, whatever His enemies have to say; that’s our beloved, forgiving, holy, loving God, HaShem.
Blessed be He and blessed be His Name. May the day come soon when His Name – His identity, the knowledge of Him among all the peoples of the world – will be true and pure and unified and one, and holy, as He is true and pure and One and holy.
By Michael Dallen
I will praise You, O Lord (HaShem), among the peoples: I will sing unto You among the nations. For Your mercy [loving-kindness] is great unto the heavens, and Your truth unto the clouds. Be Thou exalted, O God, above the heavens, let Thy glory be above all the earth.