A letter to God
By TED ROBERTS, the SCRIBBLER ON THE ROOF
We’ve talked before, but I never put it in writing. Initially, I wasn’t comfortable about this. But then I reflected that a frank dialogue with The Master of the Universe, whose creative wand energized the Milky Way and fruit flies and everything in-between, including kvetchers like me, is a well-established Jewish custom. I learned this from Your book. And by the way, you would have saved us a lot of futile debating, screaming, and shouting at each other about its authority, had you only signed it.
My scholarly friends tell me that even in the Talmud, as the rabbis debate an arcane halachic point, God, himself, shouts down the correct answer. The debaters barely stop to take a breath. “No way,” they shout back. “The answer is no longer in heaven,” claim the loud-mouthed dissenters. It is now in Torah – interpretable by us! So much for divine authority. The Talmud, in a lighthearted moment, tells us that God laughs. “My children have defeated me.”
I would not dare the boldness of the Talmudists, but I would admit that Your own book is quite frank about outspoken Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Jacob and Job. They didn’t seem to have the slightest shyness about speaking right up. Remember when Abraham actually negotiated with you over the fire and brimstone you rained on Sodom and Gomorrah. Remember when Jonah, a strictly minor league prophet compared to his professional colleagues like Elijah, urged you to destroy Ninevah.
And talking about Elijah – how about the time he was holed up in that cave in Carmel complaining about YOUR people, Israel – told you they’d broken the covenant and all that? Remember his tirade on the misbehavior of Israel? He’s lecturing you? And finally there’s David – king, poet, musician – author of 150 psalms that both praise you and slam you because your world is deficient in justice! What nerve! His Imperial Highness is running around with Bathsheva and he’s complaining about inequity!
I don’t mean to bring up old family quarrels, I just want to remind You that we honor a healthy tradition of outspokenness. So me and other crumbs of creation have a right, maybe an obligation, to complain about Your world – just like our thundering forebears. After all, we can’t fix it if we don’t advertise its flaws.
First, however, before I get to major issues like death and evil (taxes, I won’t bother you with – I have another letter for politicians) let me deal with the small stuff.
I could bring up our weird physiological design – like why you gave us two adenoids, but only one heart. (Two adenoids I need like two belly buttons.) Who understands that? But credit where credit is due. How clever of you to make propagation pleasurable instead of a biological imperative. And the same goes for refueling.
I mean given Your power – You could have designed and implemented dozens of automatic, involuntary techniques to fill the belly and propagate the species. Instead, You made two of life’s greatest pleasures. Incredibly creative! However, You’ll forgive me for saying so, but the pangs of childbirth give many a female procreator second thoughts. One small lapse by Eve the naive (young, barely adolescent), no match for that silver tongued serpent, and the mothers of humanity are sentenced to an eternity of punishment! Every sentence has a term. You might want to consider a pardon or at least a moratorium on birth pain for a millennium or two. Maybe on an experimental basis in a few under-populated locations like the Negev or maybe Siberia. Or, how about sharing the anguish between the two partners. That seems fair.
And why must Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall follow each other so consistently? It never fails. Not once – I mean never has Summer come before Spring. So predictable. So dull. Why not surprise us once in a while. Wouldn’t the world gasp at Your power if say, just one year out of six – SPRING FOLLOWED SUMMER!! And along the same lines – once in a while let’s just skip Winter. Get the idea? Why this boring consistency?
I know Your ways are veiled to us. You said as much to Moses. But less riddles and puzzles would soothe the human condition like the legendary Balm of Gilead. Take Prayer, for example, one of Your great communication inventions. Consider our immense assumption that in some cloudy form it is answered. But daily we observe its failure and (to our credit as believers) we retain our faith. “Lord – make Intel go to 100 bucks a share,” I pray. “I’m a good person. I just made a UJA contribution even though my IRA is down 45%.” I wait and nothing happens. But who knows, it may be a blessing in disguise. What is this thing called prayer?
Christian eyes look upon supplication with the same confusion as Jews. Says St. Theresa: “There are more tears shed for answered prayers than unanswered ones.” Meaning, watch out what you ask for; it might fall on your head.
So, here’s this poor shnook as ethical as Amos. His prayers ascend to Your ears. So what about Intel? It restates its profits! Down, naturally. See, cry the cynics. Who’s listening? What they’re missing is the scenario where our celestial pleas are granted; you’re rich. Women flock to you like fruit flies to that opened orange on the kitchen counter. But unlike Solomon, you didn’t pray for wisdom – just bucks. You dally with a Delilah who gives you several embarrassing diseases. Six months later your humiliated family, who now hates you, is sitting Shiva. And of course Intel is booming.
See, you never know what’s good for you! Fish shouldn’t pray for drought nor squirrels for forest fires. But sometimes they do. Once in a while we make the same mistake. Does that explain your frugality – the low return on prayer investment? A little less mystery would be helpful. We understand You no better than those gnats understand the housewife who left the orange on the kitchen counter. And that’s the strangest of ironies. The more the mystery, the more we need Your omnipotence. After all You’re the only cop on the beat – so says your first commandment.
Then there’s this infinite universe we float around in. No end – no beginning – no sides. No top or bottom to box in our small, dizzy earth. We stand in our backyard and look out into it. Stars, planets, galaxies light up the sky. And rarely, about as often as a surge of inspiration moves our hearts in synagogue, do we pebbles on the beach of time say WOW! What a mystery. What a light show put on by the Master empressario! Gasping with awe, momentarily we understand that we’re surveying not specks of light, but the elements of your imaginative mind. But only rarely do we feel the WOW! response. Why waste such grandeur every night?
Now here’s my idea. Show the moon’s radiance only monthly and light up the entire heaven only once every ten years. The grandeur of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, sounded on the hour like the cuckoo clock on your wall, soon turns to boredom. And who can thrill at the sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay over breakfast, lunch, supper, and a midnight snack? You’re overdoing it.
Don’t You see that if You rationed out your galactic glory, five billion men, women, and children would stare at diamonds, not rhinestones. What radiance – what transcendental authority, they’d say. “We need to follow in His ways.” That’s what we humans would say – just like your prophet, Micah. Micah, who stood on a dark Judean hillside and watched your shining face every night – and still saw majesty, not pinpoints of light. But most of us don’t have his imagination. Help us by rationing out Your wonders.
Then there’s that even larger issue – death. I’d like to suggest a major improvement. First, you must understand the fragile, complicated human mind you put in our skull. It’s not entirely rational. Take the lottery for example. It’s a long shot gamble. People down here love it with all of their irrational heart and mind. It’s a one out of a million shot for the big payoff. But guess what – and you’ll marvel at this – they all think they’re going to be the one out of a million who will win. A ballroom full of bridesmaids and one bouquet. Yet every hopeful heart assumes victory.
Sure. I understand the overcrowding thing. We can’t all hang around forever. But would it be so terrible if say one out of 100,000 did. And never got wrinkled and lame and forgetful and dribbled his oatmeal out of the corners of his mouth. Would that be so bad? And given that human propensity to believe we’ll win the lottery – well, a new hope would illuminate the human disposition. “she’ll die, he’ll die, but I won’t.” That’s what they’ll all say. Just a thought.
There’s one other improvement – just as important as the topic above. Ten thousand rabbis, ten thousand philosophers have addressed it. They have produced libraries full of books – billions of multi-syllabled words which all add up to: “I don’t get it”. It started when Adam and his clan noticed that gentle Abel died prematurely, (how they must have puzzled over this first demise! “Its been a week and he’s still sleeping.”) but Cain, as guilty as sin, which he has just invented, lives to a ripe old age. No thunderbolts.
I’m talking about the question of evil and its distant kin, justice. Even David the Psalmist – the father of Solomon, wisest of the wise – throws up his hands in frustration. “Why must the wicked flourish?” he asks. If he’s confused, guess how we feel. If you could only reveal this mystery as clearly as you reveal your galaxies on a cloudless night, we’d all sleep a little better, believe me.