Ad"nai, Ad"nai, God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; Extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression,and sin; yet He (sic) does not remit all punishment, but visits the iniquities of parents upon children and children's children, upon the third and fourth generations.
G"d's self description, as he allowed Moshe to see the divine backside. For thousands of years now, we have struggled to understand these very words. From them, the sages derived 13 attributes of G"d's mercy.
Ad"nai - G"d is merciful at all times (not just in response) Ad"nai - G"d is merciful in response to sin God - G"d's mercy can even exceed G"d's greatness and name Full of Compassion Gracious Slow to anger Abounding in kindness And faithfulness Extending kindness to the thousandth generation Forgiving iniquity (unintentional) Transgression (ignorance) And sin, and (deliberate) Granting pardon
Unfortunately, this formula omits or whitewashes a lot of the more unsettling aspects of this autobiography. The sages had to resort to lots of "spin" (see, it;s nothing new) in order to make these words palatable.
Rashi, for example, points out that the 2000 generations of kindness (he and others argue that this plural form of the word for "thousand" implies two thousand-it's questionable) are 5 times better than the 4 generations of extended punishment. Sounds like spin to me. Punish 4 generations so that two thousands generations might know goodness? Definitely and ethically questionable idea.
Other sages have argued that the punishment is the methodology of the forgiveness, and therefore necessary. ("This is gonna hurt me a lot more than it is going to hurt you?")
So much of this is troubling and conflicting, even contradictory. How can G"d at once be totally merciful and compassionate, yet, all the same be an inflicter of punishment?
Oh wait. Doesn't this sound like the dilemma any parent has? G"d is so like us (or we are so like G"d. Anashim B'tzelem Elokim or G"d B'tzelem anashim, what's the difference?) why should we at all be surprised that our G"d has all the same troubles balancing things that we do? If it were that easy, well, it wouldn't be this same universe.
In fact, the more I think about it, the easier it becomes to reject the idea of a G"d who is all only forgiveness, love, mercy and compassion. I don't think we would really strive to be like such a G"d. We would then spend our lives eternally jealous due to our inability to even come close to such behavior. Set a goal to high, and you simply create a psychological roadblock to ever achieving it.
And the gentiles rejected Judaism because it was too difficult. We Jews whine and moan constantly about how hard it is to be a Jew. And there is truth in that. Nevertheless, I think we ought to be grateful for the realistic religious and theological construct we have. Our heroes are far from perfect. Even our G"d is far from perfect. Makes it far easier to forgive ourselves, and that is always the first step to forgiving others, isn't it?
Oh, there's a lot of Judaism that drives me crazy, that I find unacceptable and troubling. Yet the nice thing about it is that it gives me the freedom to be troubled.
Enjoy your struggles as I will enjoy mine.
©2008 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some other musings on this parasha:
Ki Tisa/Shabbat Parah
5767-New Hearts and New Spirits
Ki Tisa/Shabbat Parah 5766-Fortune and Men's Eyes
Ki Tisa 5765-Re-Souling Ourselves
Ki Tisa 5764-A Musing on Power Vacuums
Ki Tisa 5763-Shabbat is a Verb
Ki Tisa 5762-Your Turn
Ki Tisa 5760-Anger Management
Ki Tisa 5761-The Lesson Plan
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