By TED ROBERTS, the SCRIBBLER ON THE ROOF
Our G-d is a jealous god, as He repeats many times in his book and I intend not to denigrate his feelings. Don’t argue with me – argue with Moses, who wrote Exodus 20:5 and a long list of similar declarations.
And he is a god of punishment. You wanta debate me? Don’t waste your time. Go read Isaiah 13:11 if you need emphatic underlining. “I will punish the world for its evil and the wicked for their iniquity.” It is clear our G-d, contrary to Christianity, is a G-d who is passionate about justice – turning the cheek is not in his rulebook. He clearly believes in punishment.
He also dispenses mercy in carefully measured doses. And when I consider His many quotes announcing his patriarchal philosophy, how else, I reflect, can mankind be civilized? I think of the real world – from Sodom and Gomorrah to the 1940s of our generation – when we fought the evil threat of Naziism to the current Islamic Murder, Inc.
Like Solomon says in Ecclesiastes, “there’s nothing new under the sun.” And Sodom was small potatoes compared to world-wide Islamic terrorism.
Consider Sodom and Gomorrah. Merciful Abraham eloquently pleas for a reprieve if even ten good people exist in that stew of iniquity. Our patriarch delivers a speech full of eloquence, logic, flattery (“Shall not the judge of all the earth do justly?”) strongly implying that a total wipeout is NOT just! But evidently, the do-gooders cannot be found. G-d nukes the two cities of the plain. He either couldn’t find ten moral people or he ignored his debate with Abraham and eliminated a few innocents with the sinners.
Oddly, World War II – two millennia later – the debate reopened at a human level. The highest levels of allied leadership debated the bombing of German cities. (By now, man had almost the destructive power of G-d.) Dresden, Hamburg, and Berlin not only possessed railroad junctions and armament plants, but innocent men, women, and children. The discussion didn’t last long. We pulverized those cities like radiation therapy destroys healthy flesh along with the cancer. And maybe ten innocent people were incinerated like the Nazi civilians. Maybe 50, or 500. Who knows?
If we believe in the epiphany at Sinai, we must believe that our creator destroyed thousands in the cities on the plain. Qualifications on both sides, though not stated, could be postulated. You might say: He couldn’t find those ten righteous people, the basis of his agreement with Abraham. Evil must be eliminated.
Opposing view: isn’t it possible that some of the evil would change; eventually mend their ways? Were the children evil? Consider also some 2-3 millennia before. The flood obliterated mankind. Remember HE wiped out humanity except righteous Noah and his brood and a few animals so we’d have a zoo to amuse us.
These are difficult ethical conundrums for biblical scholars to reconcile with the goodness and mercy Judaism now believes G-d to possess. Do we dare ask: Did HE change or did WE change? Or must we painfully accept that our G-d, who provides goodness, not only hates evil, but stands ready to enthusiastically eliminate it as we eradicate the malaria germ. This is a question not for me or a yeshiva full of rabbis to answer. It is beyond human ken. But the question still hangs in the air like a cloud over Guantanamo, where innocent thousands were saved by merciless punishment to a few. But those harsh methods must have punished some small measure of innocence. What’s the rationalizing arithmetic? Ten thousand saved vs. four “innocents” put to pain? Let’s face it, the Chumash would never hesitate on that trade-off. I advocate not – I only point to the Chumash.
Israeli missiles often destroy the terrorist home or car, even if his pals or family go with him to that libidinous Islamic heaven. There’s nothing new under the sun, said Solomon – even convoluted moral questions. is there a calculus? Or even a simple arithmetic? One potential killer and three innocents require death to save the lives of fifty other innocents. Is that the deal? Or is it 20 – or a thousand? Who knows?
I would say the faithful believers of G-d’s lecture on Sinai (and does that not include all Jews?) would destroy 10,000 sinners – some innocent – to save ten of his people. Do you think the Maloch Hamoves – the Angel of Death – cruising the skies of Egypt, checked the ethical character of his victims? No, says the book. He only looked for the lamb’s blood on the door: avoided those houses and attacked the rest. He has mercy, but also a plentiful supply of wrath.
After consideration of the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, the plagues, even Guantanamo; that saved thousands of our fellow citizens, we mourn the innocents, but the G-d of our Chumash does not let their peril paralyze our defense of goodness.
Again consider World War II. Military leaders of the U.S. and Britain, along with their air force chieftains, sat in a highly secured meeting room in London. Their topic, unknown to them, was Genesis, especially the Creator’s decision on Sodom and Gomorrah. An awesome decision – made more for G-d than man – faced them. Whether to punish the innocent with the guilty or prolong indefinitely the struggle with the current evil, Nazi Germany? Whether to pinpoint by aerial bombardment tactical military targets or the cities of Berlin, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Dresden, Cologne, which contained military targets as well as women and children who did not build aircraft, tanks, or artillery?
But the decision makers followed the theme of Genesis and pulverized the German cities. And had the shade of Abraham been present, his argument for ten innocent Germans would have been as unheeded as the flies that buzzed at the windows. Man has always been less merciful than his creator. The same could be said of the Strategic Air Command – when G-d like they chose Hiroshima and Nagasaki for destruction. These decision makers chose the Chumash, not the tenderheartedness of the prophets.
We know nothing of the heart of G-d. I choose my woods carefully because we do know his desires of us. A thousand rabbis (and clergymen, too) tell you of his book; and prattle of his wishes. But he, himself, tells us his ways are hidden to us. “Who”, “what”, “why”, even “when”, are as obscured as the smoke with which he crowns his mountaintops. Metaphorically, he tells us as much in the Chumash. Our Book abounds in the eternal mystery of good and evil, justice and mercy. According to his Chumash, he will shelter us in the palm of his hand and obliterate us with a clench of that palm if he chooses.
He hates evil. That’s clear even to Sunday School children. And he punishes those that harm his people, as he repetitively states in his book. Therefore, I await the earthquake that will devastate the nuclear labs of Iran. Ten innocent deaths? Believe Torah? Then believe that. You say innocents will die. Remember the flood. Remember Sodom and Gomorrah. The calculus is unknown. I advocate not – I only point to our holy book and its lesson.