Arms Too Short?

Shalom. I want to share more High Holiday material that doesn’t reach the big time. Last week it was life as a lottery. Look at Irma’s path, isn’t that what we were talking about? This post is about God. At no time of the year is God so much the subject and object of our thoughts as now. Believing in God is not easy. Almost from the beginning, people had questions. Bad things happened to good people long ago. Think Job.

The questioning continues today. In my lifetime there was an evil about which it was hard to be silent. The death of the righteous was an everyday occurrence in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. Public executions took place often. But there was one time that was different than the others, a time when two adults and a thirteen year old boy were to be killed. Elie Wiesel was there, in the camp. He tells us:

The three victims mounted together onto chairs.
The three necks were placed at the same moment within the nooses.
“Where is God? Where is He?” someone behind me asked.
At a sign from the head of the camp the three chairs were tipped over.
Total silence throughout the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting.
Then the march past began.
Behind me I heard the same man asking: “Where Is God now?”

For many people, perhaps for some of you, God died in the concentration camps. After Auschwitz, it was impossible for many of our people to even remain Jewish. But not for Wiesel. He still remained a Jew. He still believed. He knew that God was not destroyed at Auschwitz – only a certain way of thinking about God. And he knew, as Maimonides also knew, that there are many different ideas about God, perhaps as many as there are people! They are complicated, these other ideas, and if you’re interested, any half decent rabbi would be honored to teach you about them.

When we pray the Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur we will ask that we be released from all vows made foolishly, or in haste, or under duress. One of the worst of these is the oath, almost a curse really, that faults Judaism for being meaningless because many of our traditional concepts have been shattered on the rocks of historical change. I cannot tell you how many otherwise educated, liberal, people have told me that Judaism is of little use because its concept of an omnipotent deity is outmoded.

You have the right to question, you have the right to explore. You have the right to pick and choose, accept and reject, and even create a form of Jewish expression that is meaningful to you. If you do not do any of that, however, if instead you swear false oaths against your faith, than you squander some of your most precious gifts.

Some time ago there was a Broadway play called, “All Our Arms Are Too Short To Box With God.” Whatever we believe, or don’t believe about God, tells us something about ourselves, but nothing about God. We are not in the same ring. Whatever God is, S/He is untouched by our concepts. All our arms are too short to reach all the way up to the Divine.

But. though our arms are too short to reach God, they should not hang limply at our sides, reaching out for nothing because some magnificent ideas of the past have lost their meaning for some of us. Our arms are not too short to reach out to each other, to our families, to our community, right now to those sufferings the ravages of the hurricanes. Our arms are not too short to grapple with the many ideas that are there awaiting our consideration. Nor are they too short to create new ideas, new truths, and new opportunities for human sanctity and dignity.

All of our arms are plenty long enough, if we have the will, to reach out, and with God’s help, create a more beautiful world in which we all may live. Ponder that as the holidays loom closer.           Bill Rudolph





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