This summer, amid the turmoil, I realized it was time to finally have that conversation I had been putting off. With all that has happened recently, my frustration was growing. And if I was ever going to get to a place of forgiveness, I needed to lay all my cards out on the table. I needed to take my friend to task for the chaos that my friend caused. So I made an appointment to sit down to share the struggle inside my soul.
We’re taught that God created this world, so it seems to follow that God bears primary responsibility for allowing in illness and hatred, evil and greed. Of course, I wanted to give the Blessed One the benefit of the doubt. I set out to start slowly, intending to share my sadness. But instead, this just poured out of me:
God damn You, God!
God damn You, God!
What’s with the raging wildfires and destructive flooding, the mass shootings and mindless meanness all around? Why the antisemitism against us Jews, and the explosive hatred against Asian Americans, and against immigrants and trans people? Have You no shame allowing the self-proclaimed white supremacists a public stage, and giving climate change free reign? What about the loss of life in Afghanistan and the destruction in Haiti yet again?
Our Israelite ancestors suffered for 400 generations in Egypt before you deigned to deliver us to freedom. How many more need to die to motivate Your mercy, to finally get You to act on our behalf? What the heck is going on with You, God?
It’s Yom Kippur and we are here to confess our sins to You. However, I think this year, Holy One, it’s You who ought to be doing the confessing. It’s You who should seek forgiveness from us.
I expected an apology
I expected at minimum an acknowledgement from God that God’s been asleep at the wheel, or better yet, a heartfelt apology. So, you would imagine how surprised I was when I got this:
Me? Me, you blame for this blasphemy?! You think I planned all this? That I wanted the whole world to explode in hatred? To heat up an already enflamed earth? Or to expose you to a deadly disease? You think I’ve been sitting around smirking, as My children fall ill? That I planned to utter again those words I said to Moses back on Mt. Sinai, about how I would destroy My wayward children and begin again with him?
I could have. And sometimes I wonder if I should have. Because you humans can be so egocentric, so unable to see what is and what can be, and to band together to beat it. You think that I, the One who accompanied you through the wilderness in a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud, would just leave you alone to confront these challenges?
An unintended consequence
As I’ve told you before, Death and all this destruction is the unintended consequence of granting you humans your precious free will. I might be Omniscient (all knowing) and Omni-benevolent (all good) but, by agreement and intention, when I gave you the keys to this world, I can no longer be Omnipotent (all powerful). I released that power to you humans, so you could get out of the garden and enjoy the fruits of your labors.
Yes, this is an imperfect Existence, but only because when at Creation I tried to pour My Divine Light into the world I created, the world’s derivative nature could not contain the purity of My perfection. Shvirat HaKeilim resulted – the shattering of Creation’s containers – and what I intended as your place on this planet transformed. Along with free will, now came a tremendous responsibility. You now must engage in perpetual Tikkun Olam, elevating the sparks of brokenness. Yourselves.
You want My confession? It’s there in the prayerbook. You pray it every Yom Kippur, “Who will live and who will die, Who by fire and who by water” – that’s My confession to the imperfection of this world. That litany of ways to lose people is My way of alerting you that “stuff happens.”
But I have always given you the tools to repair the rips in the reality of life. Which you collectively find reason to ignore.
Since the very Beginning, I’ve instilled in each of you the insight and understanding of how to confront that which threatens you. With Covid, I keep trying to convince you to cast off your conspiracy theories, and the politicization of mask wearing, begging you to listen to My kol d’mama daqa, My Voice, speaking as clearly as I can via the voices of veritable experts, scientists, and medical professionals who have found keys to controlling this Covid-19 killer. But you … collectively… just won’t … listen.
As the prophet Isaiah kept saying, I don’t want only your prayers. I want you to act collectively so you all will survive.
Your loss is nothing compared to Mine!
You think you were at your edge, Rabbi, back in January 2021, when sixteen of your people passed away? Your loss is nothing compared to Mine! 665,000 American deaths. 4.5 million of my children around the world are dead. Because you can’t all commit to wearing masks, or to working together to wipe out this disease. Each of those lives were My co-creation; each life was brought into being intentionally, birthed B’tzelem Elohim – for a premeditated purpose – to bring benevolence and beauty, equity and endurance, to our shared Existence.
I God, tear keriah, at every funeral. Yea, I attend them all. My GOWN of Glory is now a shredded SMOCK from all that tearing, testifying to the turmoil I feel at our joint failure.
“Where was I?” you demand to know. “Where were you?” I ask in return.
Ayeka – Where were you?
When the coronavirus was condemning the first hundred thousands around the world to a lonely painful death, Ayeka – where were you?
When the fires and floods and melting glaciers testified to the havoc your scientists long ago warned that you were wreaking in My world, Ayeka – where were you?
When others passed laws limiting a women’s right to control their own bodies, which is embodied in My Torah and our Jewish texts… When others continually failed to credibly address the constant barrage of bullets in your malls and concert halls, your schools and synagogues, Ayeka – where were you?
Did you vociferously condemn those actions, and the weak-kneed politicians who put power and profit before people’s lives? Or did you hold up your vaunted freedoms, the ones I endowed you with, as an excuse to ignore your destruction of My people, My world?
Where were you when brown and black people, indigenous and impoverished people- essential people like you – who many of you prefer to think are not like you – were dying by tens of thousands, because your inequitable health care systems don’t help them, even though you deemed them essential to your economic survival? Ayeka – where were you?
You don’t have faith in Me?
You say you don’t have faith in Me? Did you ever wonder why I still have faith in you?
God damn Me? God should damn you; I sometimes want to shout!
But I don’t. And I won’t. Because I am your Creator, your Confidante, and the Source of your very lives. And against our agreement not to manifest My might so forthrightly anymore, I always act to try to help you. With the nishmat chayim (the breath of life) I breathed into you in the Beginning, I also gave you the resources and research abilities, the values and vision, the intelligence and intentions to beat all of this.
So please, band together and try.
Vigorously convince the anti-mask crowd to wear masks, and more compassionately those who have well-earned reasons not to trust their government, that these vaccines are necessary and safe. Stand up against white supremacists and demand they back down.
Allow nuance to separate out legitimate critique of Israel – remembering that much of the rest is cover for something else, and then vigorously go after the acerbic antisemitism.
Speak out against all forms of hatred, not just the ones directed at you.
And rise up to reign in your destruction of My world.
And then along the way, hold each other up to the high standards you keep trying to foist on Me. Do it now before it is too late.
Back in the Beginning, the earth was tohu vavohu (chaotic). But it needn’t be now. If you only remember – as is written on your Or Ami ark doors at the synagogue. It says kedoshim tehiyu: That each of you is holy. That each of you is interconnected to everyone else. Meaning that borders and bravado won’t protect you. Only brainpower and benevolence will.
So let’s stop damning each other. And stop blaming Me. My heart is as broken as yours.
Instead, spend your time picking up the broken pieces of the tablets Moses smashed and instill in each other a real responsibility for each other.
And what do I require of you? The prophet Micah already asked, and I answered way long ago: Ah-sote mishpat, v’ahavat chesed, v’hatz-nay-ah la-lechet eem Elohecha (To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with Me… your God).
It’s Yom Kippur. Choose life.
It’s Yom Kippur. Be compassionate and just. Have faith.
It’s Yom Kippur. Open yourselves up and feel My blessing. It’s all around you!
And breathe… Amen.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had it out with God
We are in regular conversation.
After a young mother and a teen died in the same week, God and I met up at the cemetery after a funeral, where I asked, “Why Do the Good Die Young?”
Later, there was that mother who fought for a year, seemingly beating cancer, became sick again the week before her only daughter’s Bat Mitzvah service, and died days later. That was That Time I had it Out with God.
This sermon grew out of my anger at and frustration with God arising out of this Covid-19 pandemic. Back in January 2021, there were 11 deaths in 11 days in our congregation. Back then the anger was deeper. Since then, it has turned into frustration and conversation.
I thank our Rabbinic Intern Shirah Kraus for her thoughtful reflections on the sermon. And of course, to my wife Michelle November, who is an editor par excellence, ensuring that I am able to say what I intend in ways that it can be heard.