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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Parashat Va-et'chanan, Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11

"From there you will seek Adonai, your God, and you will find Him, if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.  When you are in distress and all these things have befallen you, at the end of your days, you will return to Adonai, your God and listen to His voice." [Deuteronomy 4:29-30]

My dear friends, we often find ourselves asking: Why?  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why is there so much hatred and animosity in the world?  Why does God allow these things to happen?

While I certainly understand the significance and the reasons why we ask these questions, I think it is better (at least at times) to ask different questions: What have I done to prevent darkness in the world?  How can I improve and make our world a better place to live?  Why am I not doing more?

In Parashat Va-et'chanan, we find the Shema, the "calling card" of the Jewish people.  It is our declaration that Adonai, our God, is one.  When Moses is standing on the top of the mountain and giving his last declarations to the Israelites, he tells them they will sin.  "When you beget children and grandchildren and you will have been long in the land, you will grow corrupt and make a carved image of the likeness of any thing, and you will do evil in the eyes of Adonai, your God, to anger him." [Deuteronomy 4:25]  Moses expects, Moses knows that the Israelites will not be able to fulfill all of the Laws and Statutes.  And the result: the Israelites will eventually seek God, find God and listen to God's voice.

When bad things happen in our world, we look for blame.  We want to know the how and why.  We seek answers.  Sometimes, the answers we find are too difficult to deal with or understand.  So, we turn our gaze upwards and ask God.  Some will try to explain that it is our negligence with regards to the Law that has ultimately led to our problems and challenges in life.  That just does not sit well with me.  I cannot believe that God is up there punishing us and watching us suffer.  Rather, I tend to find God in the response and the aftermath.  To quote Harold Kushner:

I don't believe that an earthquake that kills thousands of innocent
victims without reason is an act of God.  It is an act of nature.  Nature
is morally blind, without values.  It churns along, following its own laws,
not caring who or what gets in the way.  But God is not morally blind.
I could not worship Him if I thought He was.  God stands for justice, for fairness
for compassion.  For me, the earthquake is not an "act of God."  The act of God
is the courage of people to rebuild their lives after the earthquake,
and the ruse of others to help them in whatever way they can. 
[When Bad Things Happen to Good People, 59-60

I believe the message in Parashat Va-et'chanan is that we will act badly.  We will sin; we will commit errors against ourselves and others.  We must not blame God.  We must find a way to allow God to show us how and what we can do to make ourselves better, to make our lives better.  Recently, a friend of mine told the following story:

He was in conversation with another friend of his.  The other friend answered a question
with what turned out to be a "lie."  The other friend felt so badly for lying, he actually
expressed guilt and frustration with himself to my friend the next day.

God did not cause my friend's friend to lie.  However, his relationship with his friend and with himself was so important, that he needed to tell the truth and apologize for the "lie."  I believe God was his need to tell the truth and "fix" what he believed to be broken in his friendship.

As we open up our eyes and look all around us, let us focus on finding God in the moments of splendor and less in our moments of frailty.  Of course, God is always there...but the God I choose to have faith in feels pain when I feel pain and seeks to help me find answers when I am in need.  May we all live in a world in which we seek and find answers, rather than look to find blame.

Rabbi Erin Boxt

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