Ben Avuyah

Welcome to the Pardess.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Hemorrhoids in Heaven

Step right up.

Step right up.

Care to gawk at the lions and monkeys, young feller.

Perhaps a glimpse of the circus performers jumping through hoops and swinging high in the air, will suit your fancy, little missy.

Come young’ins, there’s plenty of tickets for all, now, no need to shove.

Step right up.

Perhaps something a bit more novel for the young lasses and lads, a bit more… out of the ordinary…

Why to the left we have our bearded lady and to the right our mermaid, but straight ahead, folks, yes, straight as the crow flies, behind them bars, lives a creature with a deformity so strange, gentle folk cannot abide it…. Yep, gentle folk ain’t got the stomach for it.

But there he stands, adventurers, there he stands, tall, for all to see.

What is he, you ask?

Why he’s the Amazing Riskin, known to bend himself clear into a pretzel, go on… take a gander…

Why do bad things happen to good people?

By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin

Why do such bad things often happen to good people? This is the age old question plaguing every religionist, and it is an especially poignant question today in Israel after we have experienced three horrific years of suicide bombings, acts of wanton terrorism which have taken the lives and limbs of well over 1,000 innocent and righteous men, women, and children.

Good question nicely tied to current events; surely everyone is nodding their heads in agreement with Riskin.

Our Torah portion teaches: “When you happen to come upon a nest of birds…chicks or eggs, and the mother is roosting on the chicks or the eggs, you must not take the mother with the young. You must first chase away the mother, and only then may you take the young; then it will be good for you and you will live a long life” (Duet. 22:6-7)

Here he has taken our hands and begins the process of leading us as far away from the question as possible. Once we are bewildered by the onslaught of talmudic and textual references that are 'neither here nor there' he will change the question to avoid having to answer it. For now just keep track of the facts.

Chase away mother, get long life..... got it.

Tragically there have been many instances during this period of bus-bombings, drive by shootings, a hotel explosion on Seder night, in which it seems as though the Almighty, as it were, has not fulfilled His own commandment. Mothers together with their children have been exploded into their eternal resting place. Grandparents were forced to see their beloved grandchildren cruelly murdered before their eyes.

Sad, very sad, but don't allow him to throw you off the scent, he has a question to answer, don't let him off the hook until he does so.

The Sages of the Talmud expand upon this particular command in a way with touched upon – even exacerbates – our question: “If someone says (as he is praying the Amidah before the congregation) ‘even unto a nest of birds does Your compassion extend,’ he must be silenced” Mishnah Berachot 5:3).
The Gemara explains: “What is the reason?…One sage says, ‘It makes the traits of the Divine, matters of compassion, and they are in truth merely (arbitrary) decrees”’ (Berachot 33b).
Let us attempt to analyze this statement. To what is this Sage referring? He cannot be saying that our Biblical commandments are merely arbitrary decrees, because the Torah itself iterates and reiterates that the commands are “letov lack, for your well-being!”
In this case, for example, by not taking all of the birds for our own selfish gratification, by holding back from taking the chicks before the concerned eyes of a mother creature, we are training ourselves in the art of self-discipline. We are demonstrating sensitivity to parental feelings. We are paving the way for filial respect from generation to generation.

More obsfucation. Does anyone remember what was asked originally or have you all been lulled into a semicomatose state in which you just nod your head at anything with a citation from the talmud. Don't give in just keep track of the facts.

OK. Mitzvahs exist for us to perfect ourselves and do not reflect God’s compassion on the world.

Indeed, this Talmudic Sage is not referring to the commandments, but rather to the ways of the Almighty. We are referring to the “traits of G-d” we perceive in this world which seem to be arbitrary decrees based upon the “fate of the draw,” the happenstance of genes, the coincidence of circumstance. The Biblical commandment is telling us how to act for our own good; the addition to prayer on the basis of particular interpretation of the commandment is saying that G-d runs this world on the basis of compassion, which is not true to our human experience.

Finally a return to topic, God does not run a compassionate world, now tell us why, Riskin ?

In fact, the Talmud records an incident in which a father asked his young son to climb a tree and bring him down a pigeon. The child climbed the tree, sent away the pigeon, and began to carry down the pigeon- thereby fulfilling two commandments (parental respect and sending away the mother bird) both, which promised long life. The child fell from the tree and died.
The Talmud continues to tell us that when Rav Elisha Ben Avuyah saw this tragic incident, he cried out, “there is no Judge and no judgment,” and became a heretic. His grandson, Rabbi Yaakov, explained that had the Sage only understood a fundamental axiom of Jewish theology he would have remained a great teacher in Israel. The Axiom is, “there is no reward for commandments on this world.”

With out the rest of the article this last sentence is the key, but the remainder of his prose and poetry are bandied about so as to distract one from the paucity of his answer. He believes there are no rewards for commandments in this world, but not everyone is buying it.

Smart guy, that Ben Avuyah…

This world is based upon freedom of choice, the free will of individuals- partners and not puppets- to choose the blessing or the curse, to perfect the world or destroy the world. Were the Almighty to reward the righteous and punish the wicked in this world everyone who whished long life would live in accordance with the commandments, the Torah would be reduced to an ATM bank machine (you put in Torah observance you take out long life), and our freedom of choice would be severely compromised.
We believe in the eternity of the soul, a life after life in another dimension of a world of the spirit. That is the dimension in which Divine reward and punishment take place. The extent to which we develop the light, the good, the spiritual aspects of our personalities and diminish the dark, evil, and bestial aspect of our personalities in this world, will prepare the extent of the spiritual existence we will enjoy in the dimensions to come. But there is no reward for commandments in this world.

Here is a nice slight of hand; he is no longer answering the original question. He is now answering a new question, “why don’t we get automatically rewarded every time we do something good?”

A question that bothers almost no one. Riskin nows that if he now expanded on his explanation with regards to bad things occuring becuase god doesn't get involved it would disturb the reader, and he steers clear.

Let's just stick to the facts he is stating

Because of the need to preserve freedom of choice, there can be no rewards for following commandments in this world.

Given this theological perspective, it is clear why we must silence the chazzan (cantor) who declares that G-d’s compassion in this world extends “even unto a nest of pigeons.” We can even dismiss the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” as being irrelevant in this prior, ante world in which “children, long life and material sustenance are dependant not on merits, but rather on luck” (mazal) (yevamot 28)

Here, in this singular paragraph, he brushes up against the original question at last.

Bad things happen by the whim of luck and nature and have nothing to do with God.

God lets horrible things occur, presumably so as not to interfere with free will.

(He stops just shy of stating this explicitly as if already armed with the knowledge that it is going to come back to bite him in the…well…nether regions.)

Indeed the only relevant question must be, “what ought good people do when bad things happen to them?” And Toby Wiesel, a most beloved resident of Efrat, answers, “They must become even better people.”

As quickly as he states his 'teretz" he bolts in a new direction; revising the question is his best answer. Now he redirects his attentions at dealing with these difficult situations.

In the words of Rav J.B. Soloveitchick, they must turn cruel fate into redemptive destiny. When Rav Moshe Ebstein realized that his beautiful babies were born deaf, he initiated the first Hebrew Institute for the Deaf. When 13 year old Koby Mandel was mutilated to death by a Palestinian terrorist, his mourning Parents, Rabbi Seth and Sherry Mandel, organized Camp Koby for survivors of terrorist attacks. Are these super-human responses? Perhaps they are, but the Bible tells us that we are created in the Divine image. Apparently, it is only when we realize the full scope of our spiritual potential that this world of tears and travail will be redeemed.

Nice finish with deeds of heroic parents and community members that everyone will agree are wonderful and worthy of praise. He is hoping that you remember this and forget the one paragraph in which he declared that all earthly events are chance. Such is the nature of Talmudic 'drush', bewilder and confuse your reader, and then turn to emotions that all can agree on. And finally wilst no one is looking, claim to have answered the question.

So there it is, this is the answer… we are on our own down here and nothing we do can affect the “luck” of the real world, only the afterlife can be altered by prayer and good deeds. In this world the most we can hope for from our Mitzvot is to be trained to better cope with the cruelty of nature and fellow man.

Well… are you buying it?

I did for a few seconds.. but then it hit me, it’s got one itsy bitsy little problem.

It is inherently incompatible with the Orthodox Jewish Religion !

I mean if sustenance is dependant on luck and luck alone, why bother to ask God for rain and dew for our crops in Shemona Esreh every day. Surely if he responded it would take away our free will. Why would we plead with God for something the Gemorah states is due only to chance, something that God will not control on our behalf !!

What, ultimate, sphengali level of cognitive dissonance do you have to attain, in order to nod your head in agreement with this article; and then recite the shema, and remind yourself that the punishment for not following his will is, “the ground will not yield it’s sustenance.”

The central icon of our religion as depicted in Shema; the image of a people taughtly bound to a creator who modifies their world for good or evil, in accordance with their deeds, is so important, it is recited three times a day, and has found it’s way into every Jewish accoutrement, from mezuzah to tefillin.

If orthodoxy prescribed a jock-strap, rest assured this paragraph would be sown to the waistband, made to chafe just so.

The sum total of our religion is a supplication to God for change in this world !!!

I mean if God is truly hands off in this world why the hell does he keep smiting people and turning them into salt all the time?

Is it just a little too much for him to resist, like swatting that hapless fly that keeps bouncing against the clear glass window? Or has he just not arrived at Riskin’s wisdom yet.

Does Riskin truly have the talent to slip this square peg of apologetics into the round bottomless pit of orthodox delusion?

Think about it….If God is involved in our little, real world, lives, then we have a question… how come Moishe, the gentle tailor, keeps getting that canker sore?
‘Why… he would never hurt a soul, and so pious, you’ve never seen such a lamdan.’

And if, as Riskin proposes, God wouldn’t touch this world with a ten foot pole, so as to keep our free will as fresh and spunky as the day we took it out of the shrink wrap, then why does he keep breaking his rules and making miracles and disasters?

If noninvolvement is truly as axiomatic in our religion as he claims, why have generations of our gedolim labored to establish a mesorah and prayer system that is exactly opposed to this reasoning?

I suppose he will sidestep by saying that these threats of Godly retaliation in this world; which is supposedly ruled singularly by luck, are metaphorical for good and bad events that occur in the afterlife.

I can almost hear him saying it, ‘sustenance in the world to come, sustenance in the world to come’.

He has to say it! Where else can he go? He has no choice but to twist into a pretzel.

That is the theme of his little drasha, all our deeds and commandments, all our prayers and mitzvot go to ensure our due reward in the world to come.

If this world is all luck, left undisturbed by God, then surely we must be praying for sustenance in the after life, rain in the afterlife, healing in the afterlife…Hmmmm that makes me wonder….

What disease would one be praying to be healed from in the great beyond ??

Well, surely, by now you see it coming…

Hemorrhoids in Heaven

Harmonic angels singing in unison: God is great, God is great, God is really really really really really, and have we not already mentioned really……Greeeeaaaaaat !!!!

God in all his glory seated upon heavenly throne: No! No! No! No! It’s all wrong, all wrong, somebody is flat and it’s throwing the whole thing off. Gees, what does a guy have to do around here to get a little well-earned praise? I’m disgusted and I think my nose is starting to feel angry. And we all know what happens when my nose gets…..

Poor lost Soul: Uh… Excuse me God.

God half jumping off throne: What the…? Don’t you know better than to sneak up on an omniscient being? I nearly mahbul’ed in my pants just then.

Poor lost Soul: Oh! Sorry God, I didn’t mean to….

God: Well? What is it; I haven’t got all eternity you know…

Poor lost Soul: Well.. not to bother you or anything…there’s this thing you see..Uh..this problem that I …uh…I mean, that my friend has been suffering with…err.. well…

God: Feh. I created this feeble human mind? There are psalms to be sung here, lets go, spit it out !

Poor lost Soul: Well it’s kind of a burning, but also with the stinging, and the searing..... Oy! the searing! it’ll bring a tear to your eye, what, with the boring, and the aching, and the itching, I guess its your run of the mill malady of the spiritual sort that I, uh, that, my friend has in his…Uh…well..Let’s just say that even sitting on his cloud is like a pincushion!

God: So? So? We all have our problems, right? All right, angels let’s take it from the top. And I’ve got my eye on you Gabriel, you better hit the high notes, I mean, if I wanted baritone I would of given you a pair.

Harmonic angels singing in unison: God is great, God is great, God is really really really really really, and have we not already mentioned really……Greeeeaaaaaat !!!!

God: Uggh. Terrible. That was the worst one yet.

Poor lost Soul: But the thing is that every day in the real world when, uh, my friend..

God: Are you still here…

Poor lost Soul: …when my friend prayed he always had kavanah when he asked you to heal…


God with storm clouds surrounding his throne: let me give you a little heavenly advice, OK? Don’t try and fool an omniscient being…

Poor lost Soul: Oh, my, I am so sorry.

God through lightning and hailstones: Your friend ?????

Poor lost Soul: really I apologize…

God through ice and fire: YOUR FRIEND????

Poor lost Soul, petrified: Sorry….I

God: You only had three friends…. And none of them were much for kavanah…Moshe Peperstein, as I recall, only had Kavanoh to look up Sarah Shpritzels’ dress… Yakov Haberstien, well his mind was a total blank during davening, I’m not even sure how he did that…well, must be some trick he learned in Yeshiva….and then of course… Gershom…fascinating human that one, every day for seventy years he dreamed of his soft boiled egg for breakfast right in the middle of my Shmonah Esreh…Now I make him tread water every day in giant soft boiled egg….get it ? get it?

Poor lost Soul: Ummm

God shouting: It’s Mida Kineged Mida !!…. Man, no sense of humor on you, is there? But anyway, none of them had kavanoh…ever.

Poor lost Soul: but.... I really meant to ask about myself, I mean, I was talking about me…

God: Yeah…yeah, it was really great talking with you too. Now, Angels, from the top, and….hit it!

Harmonic angels singing in unison: God is great, God is great, God is really really really really really, and have we not already mentioned really……Greeeeaaaaaat !!!!

Poor lost Soul floating away: Why that son of a….##@@!!! mother….F@@@***##

God: What….What was that I heard….get back here…get back here right now…..

Poor lost Soul quivering in fear: Gulp!

God: Why… that’s the best tenor I’ve heard all day. All right. Someone throw Gabriel in the lake of fire… that’s right, you heard me, I created him with the vocal chords he just doesn’t want to use ‘em. Now what’s your name? No, scratch that, it doesn’t matter; just sit yourself down right here on this wooden pew….

Poor lost Soul: Ouch !

God: And can we move the bass section to throne level two? I’m gonna get some surround sound in here if it kills me….Ha, get it? if it kills me ?

Poor lost Soul; uhh... hee hee ?

God: All right, what were we singing again? What? What? Oh yeah, that’s right. Let’s take it from the top…

Harmonic angels (and Poor lost Soul) singing in unison: God is great, God is great, God is really really really really really, and have we not already mentioned really……Greeeeaaaaaat !!!!

God: mmmmmmmm…oh yeah…that’s the stuff.

(Hat tip \inspired by Dave Barry)


At 2:08 PM, Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

I've heard R. Riskin speak. Very unimpressive.

At 4:05 PM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...


At 10:34 PM, Blogger Mis-nagid said...

Ever read Beware of God? If so:

"Not now."

At 12:09 AM, Blogger Ben Avuyah said...

Hi Mis-nagid,
Yeah, that's a great story, hat tip to Auslander as well.

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