God Has Gotten Very Lazy: A Purim Drash

In Tractate Shabbat 88a, the sages of the Talmud present a stunning midrash about the revelation at Mount Sinai:

The Torah says, “And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet God; and they stood at the lowermost part of the mount” (Exodus 19:17). Rabbi Avdimi bar Ḥama bar Ḥasa said: the Jewish people actually stood beneath the mountain, and the verse teaches that the Holy One, Blessed be He, overturned the mountain above the Jews like a tub, and said to them: If you accept the Torah, excellent, and if not, there will be your burial. Rav Aḥa bar Ya’akov said: From here there is a substantial caveat to the obligation to fulfill the Torah! Rava said: Even so, they again accepted it willingly in the time of Ahasuerus, as it is written: “The Jews ordained, and took upon them, and upon their seed, and upon all such as joined themselves unto them” (Esther 9:27), and he taught: The Jews ordained what they had already taken upon themselves through coercion at Sinai.

Many commentators argue that this midrash reflects rabbinic misgivings about the coercive violence of divine authority and affirms that the Jewish people’s voluntary acceptance of the yolk of the commandments during the Babylonian exile provides a more compelling model for contemporary Jewish spiritual commitment.

To me, this midrash just goes to show that God has gotten very, very lazy.

I mean, have you noticed how lazy God has gotten?

In the first part of the midrash, God lifts a very big mountain over a whole nation of people, but in the second part, God doesn’t even lift a finger!

The way I see it, the God of the Book of Esther is very, very lazy.

Some philosophers have raised the question: could God make a rock that God couldn’t lift? Now, even Maimonides thought that this in an incredibly stupid philosophical question, but it does show that most people think that God is very, very strong. And indeed, the Bible is full of magnificent instances of divine interventions in history. But the Book of Esther? Nope. Esther has to figure out how to save the Jewish people herself. Okay, Mordechai her “uncle” helps her out some, but he is definitely not God and not even a prophet.

Now, consider this other midrash from Midrash Tankhuma:

  1. Hiyya bar Abba said: (God) appeared to them in (a form that was) appropriate for each and every concern, and so in each and every matter. In the sea, (it was) as a warrior (that) (God) waged the wars of Israel. On Sinai, he taught Torah to Israel and served as a scribe. In the days of Daniel, (God) taught Torah as an elder, for so it is fitting for Torah to be coming from the mouths of the elders. (God) appeared to them as a youth in the days of Solomon, as was fitting for their deeds, as stated (Songs 5:15): “God’s visage is like Lebanon, young as the Cedars.”

Wow, God is very strong and authoritative in this midrash. A soldier and a wise old man? I’d definitely slaughter my best livestock for this God! Judith Plaskow, without question the most important Reconstructionist thinker since Martin Buber, draws on this midrash to suggest that meaningful images of God draw on genuine personal experiences of liberation and need not be limited to the male-centered images of the tradition. Now I love feminist theology as much as the next guy, but wouldn’t it be nice if God did some manly-strong stuff every once in a while? That’s what’s so disappointing about the God of the book of Esther. This God does nothing! Literally this God does not show up at all. The people are faced with a major crisis and end up slaughtering thousands of people all by themselves, with no help. Where’s this super-powerful God we were supposed to believe in? Guess what, that God got lazy or “hid the divine face” or some such nonsense.

This to me is the deeper meaning of the midrash from Shabbat that contrasts the generation of Sinai with Esther’s generation. God has gotten lazy, and we are going to have take care of all the problems of the world ourselves. Are the Jewish people in the midst of a profound moral and political crisis? God is too lazy to send a prophet to tell us what to do, so we will have to make do on our own. Want to know how to make Judaism more spiritually compelling in the ever-changing postmodern dystopia we live in? Figure it out for yourself, people.

The sages of the Talmud exhorted us to say 100 blessings a day to be grateful for the gifts of divine beneficence. To that I say we should also 100 pushups and sit-ups a day. Just because God got lazy doesn’t mean you should. If you want to lift some mountain over someone else’s head, you’d better head to the gym!

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