Gobsmacked by God
One thing the coronavirus really brings out: the rule of the Creator. God is the Boss. Now and then you can all but see Him, “the God that hides” (Isaiah 45:15), in action.
You see His traces in big and small phenonema. During the day some little fact or thought pops up and – Wow! – you realize God’s in the world. It can stun you. You see you’re encountering probative persuasive evidence – not proof, granted; it’s never complete proof, even at the Red Sea; God doesn’t force belief in Him on anyone - that HaShem is close AND great beyond imagining.
It could be a wrong righted and the just vindicated. Or a prophecy fulfilled, like Jerusalem rebuilding (Psalm 147:2), or confirmed (“they will be pins in your eyes and thorns in your sides,” Numbers 33:55). Or a flash of insight into some sublime Teaching (e.g., “I will provoke you to anger with a vile nation,” Deuteronomy 32:21).
Sometimes it’s hashgacha protis: Providence manifest in personal, localized things – like a parking place opening just when you really need it. But, whatever the cause of your epiphany, if you’re really thinking - if you’re a “woke” person who focuses on serving God as consciously as possible – something like this might dawn on you: how awesome this is! That the King of the Universe deigns to do a thing even while gracing me with the knowledge and sensitivity to be able to take it all in and register it!
You humbly tell yourself that you’re not exactly Moses at the burning bush nor Jacob at his ladder. Still, you can still feel almost physically gob-smacked – the old term for being struck on the face, on your gob. Here you are as flawed and mortal as they come, but God Himself privileges you to recognize that He, the Eternal God of Abraham and all the prophets, the very famous legendary HaShem, the Holy One, who makes miracles, frees slaves and builds Jerusalem, is now recognizably manifesting some aspect of His Providence….
“The World Was Created for Me”
People react to these moments in all sorts of ways but one thing to recognize is that every such phenonemon has been Divinely wrought for your benefit. Everyone is another Adam, quite like Adam, the Torah teaches. Therefore everyone should tell himself that ‘the world was created for me’ (Mishna, Sanhedrin 4:5). So, whatever the Divine ephipany may be and whomever it may effect, you’re experiencing something meant to help you understand and feel something, and sing the praises of HaShem.
As extremely flattering as it is, to experience such a thing, it’s also inspiring, and ultimately humbling. You’re awed that the God of a trillion galaxies, in His genius, permits you to glimpse and even partly understand some manifestation of His humor, love and justice….
Incidentally, concerning humor: the fantastic lengths to which God goes to secure the triumph of values like justice, say, or charity, are beyond comprehension. But much of what He does in the world comes from the imperative to effectively, memorably, teach His creatures His ways. His actions pursuant thereto prove beyond any doubt that HaShem possesses an acute comic intelligence and a profound sense of irony. He demonstrates this fact repeatedly in the Bible. It is one of the principal lessons to be learned from the Bible.
What else does God tell us about Himself? We saw (“The Karma Quotient,” March 2020) that He’s at least 500 times less punitive than He is loving and forgiving. We also understand from His prophets, who teach this point explicitly, that He – “HaShem Who exercises loving-kindness and mercy (chesed), justice (mishpat) and righteousness (tzedakah) – “delights” in them. AND wants us all to know it (Jeremiah 9:23). But he also teaches that He’s “jealous.” The word “wrathful” comes up a lot too. What do they mean?
The Bible speaks of “charon” – “burning nostrils,” boiling over – and “rogez” (anger), and kanna (jealousy). God is no intellectual abstraction but a living Being, a personality, Who is not at all indifferent to His Creation. In fact, “He, as a righteous judge, is wroth every day” (Psalm 7:12).
Jealous? Kanna is a spouse meanly betrayed or a mother resenting evil-influencers and “jealous” of her prerogatives for protecting her seed.
God’s chief quality is holiness. He is holy. If He were indifferent to evil He wouldn’t be God. That doesn’t mean His “jealousy” and His “wrath” are precisely the same as the simian, animal emotions of mortal man! He couldnt make this clearer: "Fury [chayma] is not in Me" (Isaiah 27:4). This is simply, “The Torah speaks [about Divine things which are high above man] in the language of man” (Talmud, Yevamot 71a; Bava Metzia 31b). Which doesn't make Him a “wrathful God”! The truth about God, as we see in the Torah, is that – if you can just avoid doing something really rotten - He’s really quite a creampuff. His natural laws are sacrosanct and precious - He obviously, naturally, prefers to work within their parameters - but He'll do whatever He can (at least 500 to one!) for those who love Him
As we ended the last issue:
We are subjects of the God who infuses the world with at least 500 times more good than bad. He does it because that’s the kind of God He is. People’s cramped, ugly, diminishing assumptions about “the wrathful God of the Old Testament” make us nuts. The Eternal, the Master of a trillion galaxies, Who gives us life and sustains us in a world infused with at least 500 times more good than bad – THAT God deserves our total love and adoration and respect! 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 as true and pure and unified and one as He is One.
By Michael Dallen
“To the King, the living and enduring God – exalted and uplifted, great and awesome, Who humbles the haughty and lifts the lowly, releases the captive, liberates the humble, and helps the poor….” (Siddur, “Ezras Avosaynu”)