Because God Said So

One of the biggest disconnects for me as a modern, progressive Jew who studies Torah is the blind obedience so often practiced by darn near everyone. So far, there is a complete unwillingness to stand up to God.

Because I Said So

God: Adam and Eve. I know you didn't have knowledge of right and wrong until you ate from the tree of knowledge, but it was wrong of you to do so. Get out of the Garden of Eden. Oh, and you're going to die.
Adam and Eve: Uh, OK.

God: You're a pretty good guy, the best of every human alive on earth. But I'm disappointed in my own creation and have decided to kill everyone but your immediate family in a horrible flood. Start building a boat and you'll survive.
Noah: Uh, OK.

God:  Haran is your home, and you probably like it here, but you have to pick up and leave now. You, your wife, your goats. get moving.
Abram: Uh, OK.

Why Didn't These Conversations Go Like This?

God: Adam and Eve. I know you didn't have knowledge of right and wrong until you ate from the tree of knowledge, but it was wrong of you to do so. Get out of the Garden of Eden. Oh, and you're going to die.
Adam and Eve: You've got to be kidding. That is completely illogical and unfair.
God: How so?
Adam and Eve: You cannot punish us for doing something we did not know was wrong at the time we did it. How were we supposed to know the rules if you didn't tell us the rules?
God: Good point.
Adam and Eve: So, now we have the knowledge to make good choices. What are the rules?
God: *lists the rules*
Adam and Eve: Thank you. We'll do our best.
God: Excellent. Let me know if you have any questions or get confused.

God: You're a pretty good guy, the best of every human alive on earth. But I'm disappointed in my own creation and have decided to kill everyone but your immediate family in a horrible flood. Start building a boat and you'll survive.
Noah: Wait, what?
God: Look around. Everyone around is doing wicked things. I gave Adam and Eve the rules. No one is following them. So I'm going to flood the Earth and start over with you and your family.
Noah: Do you really think that's a good idea? I'm going to be left alone on the Earth with only my family -- not my mother or father, not my sister, not my friends -- because you killed them. Then what?
God: Then you will worship me.
Noah: LOL. No. Do you want us to hate you? This is how you get people to hate you.
God: What do you suggest?
Noah: Show yourself. Don't just talk to me. Talk to everyone. Tell them why they should be good and what "good" looks like.
God: Maybe you can help and talk to people.
Noah: Deal.

God:  Haran is your home, and you probably like it here, but you have to pick up and leave now. You, your wife, your goats. get moving.
Abram: What about my father? My mother?
God: No. He makes and sells idols, so he can't go to Canaan.
Abram: Did he know he wasn't supposed to do that?
God: Well, no. I haven't given the rules about idol worship yet. But he should have known.
Abram: You keep doing this. You get all mad because we're behaving as you made us. We can't win. And you haven't even told us where we're going or why.
God: I'll tell you later.
Abram: If you were me, would you agree to that?
God: Perhaps not.
Abram: Ok then. Let me in on the plan so I can make a good decision.
God: What if you say no?
Abram: Then we'll keep talking.

Arguing With God: Isn't It a Jewish Tradition?

As a 40-something Jew raised in the American Conservative/Reform traditions, I was always taught that Jews argue with God. We don't just blindly follow meaningless rules, and the final rebellion against Orthodoxy in my family happened long before I came along. 

I was quite surprised to learn as an adult that Jewish fundamentalism existed. That there are Jews who believe the earth is 6,000 years old (5776 in fact). Jews who believe every word of the Torah was dictated to Moses by God. Jews who hold up Abraham as a model because he was obedient. Do what God tells you, without question. Follow the 613 mitzvot (commandments). Why? Because God said so. 

I didn't get it, but as I read the Torah, I see where this vision of God comes from. It's right there in the text.

"Because I Said So!"

As I child, I swore I would never, ever say, "Because I said so!" to my own children. I'd give reasons. And be patient, and not rely blindly on my parental authority to demand obedience.

But as my kids will surely testify, I went there. Many times.



But I never went there first, and when possible, I've given a reason or at least tried to explain why I said so.
  • "Because you'll get frostbite without your shoes."
  • "Because dirty dishes in your room will attract bugs."
  • "Because if you don't get in the car none of us can go home."

I'm not going to lie. When I did say, "Because I said so!" what I was feeling was -- 
  • I'm in charge here. 
  • I don't have to give you a reason. 
  • I am the mother. 
  • You are the child. 
  • I know so much more than you.
  • I have 29 more years of experience in this world.
  • I see the big picture you can't even imagine yet. 
  • I do not owe you an explanation.
  • You owe me obedience.
  • I can make you miserable.
  • This is for your own good.
  • How dare you question me?


None of those are feelings/thoughts you want to have toward your children, and they led to some regrettable actions as well. 

If I had the power to flood the world, or expel them, or say, "Get up and go!" I might have. 

It Gets Better (in real life)

Those moments have become fewer and far between. (I can't even recall the last one.) I've changed, my kids have changed, and our relationship has changed. 

If I  judge myself by the first three chapters of my creating a world, a household, a family, a new generation, I come up very short. Quick to temper, slow to learn, reluctant to explain myself. But we're more than a few parshas past that now, and we're all starting to look better, and we deserve to be judged more charitably.

Maybe God will, too. 

1 comment:

John said...

Thanks for your stimulating post.

When I have said "Because I said so!" it was because I was feeling "I really don't have time to explain" or "I'm mad as hell and not in the mood for explanations". There was always time for relays when I did have time or wasn't angry.