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Open letter to G-d: The murder of our sons

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Rabbi Dr Nathan Lopes Cardozo writes an Open Letter to G-d “In memory of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaer, and Naftali Fraenkel”. He questions how G-d can have allowed this to happen. The esteemed scholar asks many questions of G-d and answers most of them himself. Read this fascinating piece, find out more about Rabbi Cardozo and how to contact him directly…
by RABBI DR NATHAN LOPES CARDOZO | Jul 09, 2014

 I search for You at dawn, my Rock and Refuge

Morning and evening will I unfold my thoughts before You

I stand overwhelmed by Your greatness

For Your eyes perceive my deepest thoughts

What can my heart and tongue do

And what strength does my spirit possess

Behold, You desire the song of man

Therefore I shall praise You as long as my divine soul is in me

[Shachar Avakeshcha, Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Gabirol]

Lord of the Universe!

I ask for forgiveness, but I have no option but to speak to You with words of protest. I must tell You that it has again become very difficult to live in Your presence. In the last few weeks, we, the people of Israel, have all become one family whose sons were brutally murdered almost three weeks ago. They have become our own sons and grandchildren. We gathered together to pray for Your help as we have never done before.

Millions of prayers went up to Your holy throne, pleading for their wellbeing. There has never been unity among us as there was during these two and a half weeks. We prayed and prayed until we nearly collapsed. Religious, non-religious, and even anti-religious. It made no difference. And You failed us bitterly.

 

Rabbi Cardozo long

PICTURED RIGHT: Rabbi Dr Nathan Lopes Cardozo w
as a guest speaker at Limmud South Africa some years ago


Last Tuesday morning I was of two minds about praying to You.

There was too much pain. Then I wondered whether we should perhaps all go to synagogue and declare before the Aron Hakodesh (Holy Ark) that we refuse to speak to You any longer and will cease to sing Your praises.

You, G-d, and only you, were there when the terrorists kidnapped these boys.

Why did You not slay those murderers, by heart attack or stroke?

Did You lack options to prevent them from carrying out their evil scheme?

Did You not owe the boys' families, deeply religious people, your absolute protection? On so many other occasions, in the past, You miraculously saved our children and grandchildren from similar incidents.

Why did You not do the same for these families and bring the boys home safely?

 

Can I still speak to You?

I am astounded at how many people continue to utter words of praise to You. How can one still speak to You after all that happened? But then I thought, isn't it wonderful that You have so many worshippers who are still prepared to come and speak to You, instead of throwing in the towel and deciding there is no longer any point in praising or serving You? Does that not show miraculous faith, in spite of it all?

Or, are we just hiding behind our prayers of praise, trying to escape the reality that You were there and could have prevented all this but didn't?

What astonishes me even more is the fact that nearly no one in my immediate religious community seems to discuss the huge existential problem in what just happened. Seemingly, not one person who walked out of the synagogue was caught in a religious crisis. Or am I mistaken?

I watched the funeral and saw that more than 10 000 people attended. I heard the most unusual eulogies given by parents and grandparents, as well as brothers and sisters of the victims, who spoke about You with such love, with enormous strength of belief in You. I stood in awe... and thought: What do they know that I don't?

 

This will cause irreparable traumas of faith

But I also wonder how many heads of Jewish high schools and yeshivot will actually discuss with their students Your rather painful involvement in all this. I am afraid that most of them will tell their pupils to be silent and continue learning Talmud. But as a teacher, I know that this will only add to the problem and cause irreparable traumas and crises of faith.
I know that these questions are on the minds of many of our best students. They are often ignored and simply suppressed. But if they are not taken seriously, all hell will break lose.

But I wonder. Do we really still believe in Your Oneness? Have we convinced ourselves that we believe in You while in fact we have adopted a type of atheism, or worse, a kind of idol worship, believing in two or even more gods without being aware of it? One G-d whom we worship, and One whose existence we deny because it creates too many traumas and religious crises.

I know that my questions concerning You are not new. We have been asking them since the dawn of history - from the killing of Hevel by Kayin until beyond the Holocaust. I could have written this letter to You almost every hour of my life, as could have all my ancestors. But since last Monday, these questions have once more become brutally pertinent.So why, indeed, did we not cease praising You long ago?

Surely I can ask why You need all this. If You want to teach us something, are there no other ways? After all, the only thing You accomplish is that fewer and fewer people will believe in You. You provide them with all the arguments that people like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens love so much. You know just as well as I do that all these tragedies work against You, causing much damage to Your name. And I am most concerned about Your name. So why aren't You?

But when I think more about all this, I realise that these questions will remain unanswered because You are You, and I am I. In fact, there is nothing that I really understand about You. You are a circle whose centre is everywhere and circumference nowhere. You see everything sub-specie aeternitatis (from the aspect of eternity). And that I could do only if I were You. But I am not.

I know that I am not the measure of all things. I know that I am far removed from the reality of Your essential existence. Trying to understand You is like explaining a three-dimensional reality with the help of a flat surface
I realise that there is a huge expanse between You and the shore of my reason. I see your fingerprints everywhere and hear a constant metaphysical murmur from the "other side", which I know little about. It attempts to penetrate my thinking but is unable to get through and stops half way, in order not to crush my skull.
I am fully aware that I continue to convert Your realities into my opinions, thereby rendering myself guilty of transforming Your sublimity into silly clichés. Any effort on our part to justify You is an attempt to make You human. It says more about us than it does about You.

 

My words evaporate into meaninglessness

You are more than simply existing. Existence is Your minimum capacity. If You were to merely exist, I would probably not believe in You. But you are more than infinite, truer than real. I am aware that I borrow words, phrases and philosophical language from the general sphere of our limited human experience, and that will not do. Faith is mostly starved of language. When I confront You, all my words evaporate into near meaninglessness.

There is really nothing that we know. We don't know who You are or why You created the world. We are completely ignorant about why You need us to exist. You are not a Who, What or even When. The world around us, including baby universes, black holes and millions of stars, just alludes to one great mysterium magnum (great mystery). How, then, do we dare challenge You regarding human tragedies, holocausts, earthquakes and so much else? Did You not say to Iyov: "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell Me, if you have understanding!" (1)

I am jealous of the atheist, who doesn't need to deal with the problem. Your total Otherness doesn't bother him. He simply denies it. He doesn't have to deal with the terrible tension that exists between what I want You to be and Who You really are. I don't have that luxury. While he allows himself to escape the problem, I am forced to face it head on.

I realise that Your miracles by far exceed Your tragedies. I am aware that I continue to live by Your ever constant mercy; that it is more than surprising that we do not experience waves of terrorism and earthquakes as a daily occurrence. The grandeur of all creation is too powerful to allow us to deny You.

 

'Men are but children of a larger growth'

So, I will continue to believe in You, but I cannot deny that, emotionally, it is a tour de force. How, after all, can I live with Someone who sometimes violates all that my own limited thoughts and feelings can grasp and express? Oh, how wonderful it would be if I were an atheist! But how fortunate I am not to have been granted that possibility.

Perhaps my fellow worshippers are wiser than I am. Perhaps they have already worked through all these thoughts and have concluded that You are a necessary Being in and of Yourself and that all our questions are meaningless. Maybe. But then, G-d, do they not have emotions, as I have? Do you want us to have cold, philosophical, mathematical minds and state that You are the grundnorm of complete Otherness and therefore there is nothing to ask?

But maybe the story is different. Maybe we all have an ingrained, deep-seated but simple belief in You, which is indestructible. Perhaps our belief is much more real since it is a-priori and independent of human knowledge and experience.

Whatever the answer may be, I still have to tell You that I am, first and foremost, a human being. So, I repeat the question asked by my forefather Avraham after You told him of Your intention to destroy the cities of Sedom and Amora. He asked: "Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?" (2) This, G-d, is the great human question. True, man is only a reed - the weakest entity in nature - but he is a feeling reed.

Perhaps, G-d, You could have a little more pity on our finite minds. It would make it easier to live with You.

So, forgive me for asking these simplistic questions, but I must give voice to them.

After all, "men are but children of a larger growth". (3)

In humility and awe,

Nathan ben Ya'acov Lopes Cardozo

  • (1) Iyov 38:4.
  • (2) Bereishit 18:25.
  • (3) John Dryden (1631-1700), English poet and playwright.

 

The David Cardozo Academy was founded to infuse new life into traditional Judaism and revolutionise Jewish spirituality and learning.  Its programmes include: the Cardozo-Kagan Jewish Leadership Programme; a Think Tank forum of Jewish thinkers, educators and leaders; the Jerusalem Lecture Series addressing topics rarely discussed publicly in observant Jewish circles; and other programmes.  The Academy also strives to spread its mission through ongoing publications, serving as a catalyst for discussion, debate and innovative thinking.


Who is Rabbi Dr Nathan Lopes Cardozo?

Rabbi Cardozo HOMERabbi Dr Nathan Lopes Cardozo is the author of Judaism On Trial: An Unconventional Discussion about Jews, Judaism and the State of Israel and Thoughts to Ponder: Daring Observations about the Jewish Tradition.

Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo, dean of the David Cardozo Academy for Jewish Studies and Human Dignity and Associate dean of the Isralight Institute in Jerusalem, lectures regularly at over 50 institutions of Jewish and secular learning around the world. He is often hosted by programmes with affiliation ranging from the Orthodox Union and Union of Sephardic Communities to Oxford and Harvard Universities.

Regarded by many as a type of ambassador of conscience, he has, over the past 25 years, attracted a large number of students with his unconventional style. His fresh approach to many topics of social concern and his unswerving honesty continue to engage Jews and non-Jews alike. Rabbi Cardozo studied at the Centre for Advanced Rabbinical Studies of Rabbi Unterman and at the Mir Yeshiva, receiving rabbinical ordination from Gateshead Talmudic Academy. He also holds a doctorate in philosophy.

Author of The Torah as G-d's Mind, The Infinite Chain, Between Silence and Speech, and The Written and Oral Torah, Rabbi Cardozo pens many essays on Judaism and prepares a popular weekly Internet column called "Thoughts to Ponder". He resides in Jerusalem with his wife, children and grandchildren. You can view Rabbi Cardozo's website at: http://www.cardozoschool.org/ or e-mail him at: Cardozo@UrimPublications.com.

 

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4 Comments

  1. 4 Choni 09 Jul
    Shalom Rabbi,
    Before the Israelites crossed the Jordan to conquer the Land God pleaded with Joshuah. He commanded him about the vital mission of banishing the Ishmaelites preceeding settlement. This commandment was more important than all others including Shabbat, Kashrut etc, and might I add even prayer.

    Would you not agree that had Joshuah followed this commandment to the full, and subsequently 3000 years later the Israeli army and government would have banished all hostile Ishmaelites after the six days war there would have been no need for prayer for the well being of the Israeli people, since all the enemy would be banished.?
    It's not to late, and I think that at this very moment God is creating circumstances enabling the Israeli government to fulfil this mitzvah, and bring eternal peace to Israel. Now that would be something to pray for.
  2. 3 adam levy 10 Jul
    Find it strangely surprising that Ant does not characterise Choni's statement as 'hate speech'. 'banish the ishmaelites' is promoting ethnic cleansing, which in anyones book is morally reprehensible and goes against every international law. But because Choni and Ant share the same sentiments his 'hate speech' is fine.

    But more importantly, Does Rabbi Cardoso's reflections only focus on Israelites or do other human beings count as well. It seem as if in his moral universe Jewish lives are more valuable than other lives. A realy pity Rabbi - we certainly expect more from you especially since you are described as an ambassador of conscience.

    The problem is not with G-d but man (mainly, but also women). We have lost our religious values to temporal power - our quest for a state, have left us in a state of a moral vacuum. Our need to humiliate others have lost in us a sense of empathy. our need to steal land has corrupted our values of right and wrong.

    Your philosphical ruminations miss the point. This is of our own doing - no G-ds. "He' is any target to ascribe blame to.
  3. 2 Chaim 30 Jul
    BS"D

    A report developed about 10 years ago revealed a startling "phenomenon": People who live in "secure" countries commonly claim that they find G-d's presence hard to reconcile with worldwide suffering and oppresion. By contrast, the suffering populations themselves are generally stronger in their beliefs, and don't find their difficulties in conflict with such reality. In general terms, they live with G-d, and are thankful for what the life He provides them with.

    See in <aish.com> how the present military operation has now exposed a sadistic plot of the Hamas organization to coordinate a mega-terrorist plot in the Land of Israel via their complexly designed tunnel system - on the upcoming Rosh Hashanah (May it come upon us for the Good). Upon hearing of this, one of the mothers of the murdered boys responded that she now understood where all the prayers for her (murdered) son went. And who do you think had suffered the whole while more than she?

    I highly reccomend that you, Rabbi Lopez, read the Sefer "Iyov" from beginning to end before going public with such comments. Our sages of blessed memory, teach us that this sefer (of over 1000 verses) was written by none other than Moses himself. 
  4. 1 ayub 01 Aug
    In agreement with Adam Levy, it is astonishing that the Rabbi and Choni lack the basic humanity. The rabbi being a rabbi shows such hatred. God I I do feel sorry for anyone who follows his message.
    To Choni, ethnic cleansing is morally reprehensible and you should know that God Almighty would never ask His creation to undertake such a task.

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