God & Humor

Poking fun at the Master of the Universe

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No Jewish text has ever answered this question satisfactorily, although the prophets repeatedly insist that because God is good, justice will one day triumph. Contemporary Jews, most of whom lack the prophets' religious faith, do not usually find this response consoling. Countering the comforting cliché that good people have at least one advantage over the wicked, they sleep better at night, Woody Allen notes: "But the wicked seem to enjoy their waking hours more."

God the Liar?

A statement made by a Hasidic rebbe in Auschwitz is as bitter as the Talmud, and more biting than Woody Allen: "There is a possibility that the Master of the Universe is a liar," he told his followers. Shocked at this heresy, the rebbe's listeners asked: "How can that be?"

"Because," the rebbe answered, "when God looks down from heaven at what is going on here, He says, 'I am not re­sponsible.' And that is a lie." In other words, because God gave man free will, He bears responsibility for mankind's terrible misuse of it.

(To contend, as the rebbe does, that God bears responsibility for human evil, is to come perilously close to adopting the reasoning of Dr. Robert Ser­vatius, Adolf Eichmann's defense lawyer. Aware that there was not much to be said on behalf of a man who supervised the murder of six million people, Servatius opted for a theological defense. The Jews, he argued before the Israeli court trying Eichmann, are God's chosen people. Does not the fact that God allowed so many of them to be killed mean that the Holocaust must have been His will? Why therefore punish Eichmann for carrying out what God wanted? Needless to say, the Israeli court was not convinced. While few Jews were impressed with Servatius's argument on behalf of Eichmann, few are unmoved by the rebbe's bitter charge against God.)

While there is an obvious, and logical, response to the rebbe's accusation of God--human beings have free will; there­fore, if they act evilly, it is their fault, not God's--a question persists: Why did God create many human beings who are drawn to sadistic violence? Certainly, He could have endowed man with free will without making such horrible traits so ap­pealing to some people. Nazis, in other words, might be wholly guilty of their actions, but that does not mean that God is totally free of responsibility.

As Woody Allen has put it (in Love and Death): "If it turns out there is a God, I don't think He is evil. I think that the worst thing that you can say about Him is that He is an underachiever."

This Is a Chosen People?

A reporter, interviewing Rabbi Seligman after a bolt of lightning had struck the synagogue roof and sent it crashing down into ruins, asked, "Rabbi, what was your reaction when you saw this terrible devastation?"

'My first reaction?" The rabbi chuckled. "I thought, thank goodness, we took out insurance against acts of God."

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Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of Jewish Literacy and Words that Hurt, Words that Heal, along with other widely-read books on Judaism and the "Rabbi Daniel Winter" murder mysteries. He lives in New York City and lectures widely throughout North America.