Saturday, October 10, 2015

Did God make the right decision to create human beings?

Davar Torah on Genesis Chapter One. 10-8-15

Did God make the right decision to create human kind? On the face of it we can infer from the Torah itself that the answer was yes. In this week’s Torah portion B’reshit it is written that God created humankind in his own image and likeness. Can we presume that it was a good thing or not?

We might be surprised that there was quite a bit of debate amongst the rabbis in ancient times that the decision to create us was not exactly a slam dunk. There are texts that describe a bitter confrontation between God and the so-called angels on high who were split on God’s decision to create a human being. I’ll share that Midrash with you shortly. Yet the main point is that in this world and in history we have seen our share of horrific actions that humankind has done against themselves that led our teachers to question whether the cost of creating human beings was worth it at all. Of course we can see the beauty of human achievement and the ability of our species to do wonderful things and show god like behavior. We see both sides of the coin every day. Yet, at the end of the day we see how our teachers questioned this divine act knowing full well what the risks were by creating us.
The MIdrash, according to Rabbi Simeon, sets the stage that God was deciding this question at the beginning of human history when a fight broke out amongst the heavenly angels. One group said, “Let humans be created?” The other group demanded “Let humans not be created?”

The attribute of love said, “Create humans because of their ability to perform acts of loving kindness.”
Then the attribute of Truth said, “Let humans not be created because they are full of lies.”
Righteousness then spoke and said, “Let them be created because they will act in righteousness.”
Finally, Peace proclaimed, “ No, humans are full of strife.”
What then did God do?
God, quite possibly in a fit of anger, took truth and hurled it down to the earth.

Right at that moment all the ministering angels joined together and argued, “God, Truth is your seal. How can you put truth to shame?  

 The story could have ended there. Yet, another sage by the name of Rabbi Huna the Elder of Sephoris added, “All the while the ministering angels were arguing back and forth and still God created the first human being anyway. God said to them, “What good is this discussion? It’s donej. I’ve already created  the first Human.” (Genesis Rabbah).

Is it comforting to know that there was such controversy surrounding our creation? What does it mean about humanity and our understanding of our role in the universe? Some would intone the classical arguments about humans having freedom of will which is the trade off that God makes to have a living presence that is aware of the Divine. If that is so why does God need that kind of affirmation from us? Maybe it proves the contention of Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel that God needs man as much as humans need us!

Or is it possible that this message is a warning to us that on certain matters arguing pro versus con with God is pointless. For the ways of God are mysterious and the thoughts of God go beyond our own comprehension. Why else would God have made the decision while the heavenly angels were arguing about the merits of creating human beings? God makes decisions and we can say all we want but at the end of the day we have to live with what is intrinsic and inherent in the world and in human beings.

I would agree that there is a certain degree of cynicism that we could detect from this Midrash. On the other hand maybe the Midrash forces us to see ourselves for who we as a species including our propensity to be good and evil?  We are struggling with these truths  to this day and so often God takes the hit from disillusioned people by watching human beings perpetrate crimes against individuals. The senseless and wanton impulse to murder people whether it would be in the pogroms, the Holocaust or the campus shootings of college students in Oregon all testify not only to the horror of these crimes but to the ease at which they can be implemented. Our teachings in Judaism tell us that, on the other hand, God is not immune from human suffering but suffers along with us.

And that is what leads us to the other side of the picture as to how people demonstrate the most holy and beautiful kind of mitzvah of saving lives and supporting others in their time of need. So is it all bad? Shall we dispel of humanity because of human nature’s capability to destroy? Debate the question, the rabbis say, but at the end of the day we are still here and if we are destroyed it will not be by God’s hands but, I fear, by our own.

Our challenge is prove the angels of service wrong that we were worth it all along despite our failings that in the end God’s decision was still the right thing to do. It starts with each of us every day.

We can’t change the reality of the fact that we are all mortal nor can we alter the divine will that we can choose good and evil. Yet in both cases we can choose how we live that life which God gives us. The gap between how we contend with God’s will and our understanding of our role will remain. Maybe debating these kinds of big picture questions are bes left for the scholar’s study but it is one that we can ponder. That too is the beauty of Judaism-to ponder the questions of why we are here and what is our purpose. Is that not one of the  fundamental questions of religion?
Shabbat Shalom

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Humankind is a more than an object of treatment. Treat the person not only the illness.

Here is my recent article on caring for the person in the treatment process. This is the major challenge in medicine. Enjoy the read and let me know what you think?