Friday, January 01, 2016

What kind of God? Yahrzeit/Birthday Thoughts for Parshas Shemos

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Someone once told me, “If there is a God, then certainly he is much too busy with wars and everything to care whether you eat kosher food.”

This is interesting, but it is not what I believe about Hashem.

Many more people say, “There is no God, because if there was, he wouldn’t allow ____ to suffer.” With the blank being whoever in the world is currently suffering, whether it is Yezidis or Tibetans or Sudanese, or, in this week’s parsha, us.

But this week’s parsha tells us he did indeed allow us to suffer. It says that, right there in the pshat.

For years, and years, and years, we suffered as slaves. Some say until we cried out, until we begged him in exactly the right way. But as a parent, this feels petty to me. Sure, sometimes I make my kids apologize “properly” – no sarcasm allowed. But I’d like to think Hashem is a lot less petty than me.

My friend Nina pointed out that twice, Moshe calls Hashem on this, face to face. Asking Hashem what kind of God he is that he’s doing this to his treasured people. I think I’m paraphrasing.

But Hashem is telling Yosef right there exactly what kind of God he is. He’s the God who appears in a thornbush. Not only appears – we know the thornbush is not just incidental, like the desert equivalent of a coffee shop where it was convenient for Hashem to meet up with Moshe while he was out shepherding.

The thornbush, it turns out, is crucial to understanding who Hashem is. Later on, in Devarim, the Torah refers to Hashem as שֹׁכְנִי סְנֶה, shochni sneh, “the One who dwells in the thornbush.” This is actually part of Hashem’s identity.

And the root of that word, שכן, shachein, is important. It’s the same word Hashem tells us when it’s time to build the Mishkan, as we’ll read in a couple of weeks: וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם. “Build me a sanctuary, and I will dwell in their midst.”

Which is a little strange. If Hashem