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15 - Don’t Ask??!!

15 - Don’t Ask??!!

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A SCIENTIST’S JOURNEY THROUGH TORAH

 Stuart Fickler, Ph.D.

Chapter 15 – Don’t Ask??!!

Though he slay me, yet I will trust in him; but I will maintain my own ways before him. (Job 13:15)

 B”H

Have you ever questioned the righteousness of God? Abraham did (Gen. 18:23-32). Did you ever want to dissociate yourself from God? Moses did (Num. 11:15). Have you ever been angry with God? Jonah was (Jonah 4:9). Have you ever challenged God with passionate persistence? Job did. So have I.

For many of us, if we pursue those questions, the response is the equivalent of don’t ask. We are told that God works in mysterious ways. There are things hidden from us that we must not question. To me, those responses are unacceptable.

I grew up with the legacy of the Holocaust. No, I am not a survivor of that bestial nightmare. I was blessed to be born in the United States. But, my soul was indelibly branded by the Holocaust, like the tattoos on the arms of the survivors. The Holocaust is the focal point about which my spiritual life revolves.

As I learned more and more about the Holocaust, I decided that I wanted no part of a God that could permit that offense against humanity. The logic was simple. If there were one God, the Creator of all, then there was no excuse for God’s responsibility for this evil. No matter what the argument, it came back to the conclusion that this so-called loving God had allowed it to happen.

At that time “God is dead” became the theme of many who felt as I did. I actually saw “God is dead written on subway walls”. I happily participated in God’s funeral.

At the same time, I realized that I could not break my bond with the Jewish people. Burying God had provided no solace. I owed it to the six million to find answers for them. I began to study a variety of world religions, looking for a hint of an answer to the deluge of questions that poured from me.

It was many years later, that I discovered that I was living the faith of Abraham and Job.  

What was it that brought me to that realization? Let’s look at the circumstances. In Genesis, Chapter 17, God establishes God’s covenant with Abraham. Then God tells Abraham that he and Sarah will have a son, Isaac. The covenant will be an everlasting covenant that will pass to Isaac and his descendants. This is Abraham’s immortality.

In the next chapter, God tells Abraham of God’s intent to totally destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. What does Abraham do? He argues with God! He pleads for those righteous people who might live in those cities. He questions the justice of God’s decision. That is the ultimate chutzpah. His entire existence, and that of his descendents, depends on God’s favor and what does he do? He passionately argues for justice. According to our sages, that is why Abraham is more righteous than Noah. That is why Abraham was the first Patriarch of the Jewish people.

Focusing on Abraham’s action, what was it that made Abraham so righteous? He questioned God! He stepped out of himself, and, for an instant, he saw his relationship with God’s Creation in a brand new perspective. He had begun the journey back to God.

Abraham taught us that questioning God can be an awesome act of faith. Every good teacher knows that the quantity and intensity of a student’s questions is a measure of that student’s commitment to learning. Every scientist knows that when you stop questioning you stop the growth of knowledge. Questions are an act of faith. When you question you are demonstrating your faith in your ability to learn and discover and grow.

There is far more to questioning than that. It can draw you closer to God! You do not question what you don’t believe. You ignore it. Questioning is not denial. It is recognition. The Talmud teaches that God is Truth. Questions provide the path to Truth.

What should you expect from your questioning? This was the most difficult lesson that I had to learn. Again, let’s turn back to Genesis. God had determined the fate of those cities and Abraham’s arguments come to naught. The cities are destroyed. There is a hugely profound lesson to be learned from God’s response to Abraham. Whether we like it or not, there are circumstances where a community is so corrupt that there is no alternative. This is disturbing and we will address it again at a more appropriate time. The lesson here is that we will not always get the answer that we wanted or expected.

My experience as a scientist helped me to deal with this. In science, too, you do not always get the answer that you wanted or expected.  But if you persist in reformulating and focusing your questions you often receive the gift of new knowledge. If you reject the answer because you don’t like it, you remain blinded by your own biases. The challenge is to learn to ask the right questions! The same is true of our communication with the Ultimate Teacher.

Finally, in Genesis 18, Abraham teaches us how to question God. “23. And Abraham drew near, and said, Will you also destroy the righteous with the wicked? 24. Perhaps there are only fifty righteous inside the city; will you also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous who are in it?” His questions are not accusatory or judgmental. That kind of question seldom elicits knowledge. Abraham’s questions are probing. They seek understanding of the nature and limits of God’s justice (see Rashi on Gen. 18:23). They are questions that seek the kind of understanding that leads to relationship.

Job is another, more detailed, example. In the agony of his suffering, Job passionately challenges God. But not once does he curse God. This is why, at the end, God tells Job’s criticizing friends, “You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.

As for my own journey, I must admit that I have not yet fully resolved my argument with God. But, I do know that it wasn’t God that I buried so long ago. I have been blessed by those who perished in the Holocaust. They set me on a path that draws me closer to God. It is through their merit that I am able to bless God, the True Judge. And, yes, because of my gratitude to them, I will continue to argue with God until the last breath leaves my body.

With God’s help, to be continued. Next time: “In God We Trust”

Emet v’chaim.

 

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