Monday, August 06, 2007

DVAR TORAH S2: Ekev ("Evil will always triumph because good is dumb")

A point to the first person who comments with the source of this quote without having to google it.

In this past week's Torah portion, Ekev, we have the much maligned middle paragraph of the Shema, the quintessential source for reward for following mitzvot and punishment for shirking them, all in the form of the most essential boon for members of an agrarian society: rain, whether sent in abundance or withheld in drought, rain marks the difference between life and death. Even today, though I live in a city, I would be ultimately affected by drought. It could be much worse than a whopping $24 for a case of cantaloupe as a result of this year's drought...

But it would be foolish to say that drought and starvation is a direct result of evil. I cringed when a famous yet infamous rabbi said that Hurricane Katrina was a result of lack of Torah study in New Orleans. This very need to justify everything with a reason for divine retribution kept the Rabbis of the Talmud up at night. A famous example in the Talmud involves a son climbing a tree to fetch some eggs, in doing so fulfilling the two mitzvot that carry with them a reward of long life, that is honoring his father (#1) and shooing the mother bird (#2) to fetch the eggs. The kid, in doing these two things fell from the ladder and died. The rabbis tried to reason this: the kid wasn't intending to fulfill the mitzvot, he was going to grow up to be a murderer, and so forth. Finally a rabbi steps in and says two words: Sulam Rakua, a faulty ladder. If you step on a broken ladder, don't expect a miracle. It's going to break. Rain will fall even if you are evil. Drought will happen even if you are good.

The reason we say this second paragraph silently, I said, is so that the common person does not question the fact that the content is patently false. The wise, however, will examine it and come to the conclusion that there is free will given to the universe, and that goodness will result in human goodness in turn and evil will be repaid in human evil. Don't look for the salvation of God in the face of the deluge, as we find in a famous joke. Rather look for God in the rescuers he sent with the two boats and the helicopter.

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