The world is not fair – while Abraham seems to argue for fairness in the treatment of Sodom and Gemorrah, still Lot needs to flee the disaster with his family. Bad things happen. Storms happen, and people run from storms, stay hunkered down in storms. What separates the fortunate on the Upper West Side of Manhattan from the less fortunate in Staten Island, or in Cuba? As Jews we stand up and argue with the unfairness of the universe and then we put our hearts and souls into reaching out to those in need, those who suffer the worst of the storms. We hurl our anger at the sky, and then bend our minds and backs to the tasks at hand – rebuilding, repairing, and making anew.
We progressive Jews hesitate to use parts of our Torah that vex us, like these verses from Deuteronomy, part of the Sh’ma in other prayer books, and words that we have omitted from ours:
Deut. 11:13 Now it shall be if you hearken, yes, hearken to my commandments that I command you today, to love Adonai your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your being:
14 I will give forth the rain of your land in its due-time, shooting-rain and later-rain; you shall gather in your grain, your new-wine and your shining-oil;
16 Take-you-care, lest your heart be seduced, so that you turn-aside and serve other gods and prostrate yourselves to them,
17 and the anger of Adonai flare up against you so that he shuts up the heavens, and there is no rain, and the earth does not give forth its yield, and you perish quickly from off the good land that Adonai is giving you!
We don’t like these words because they equate good and bad behavior with good and bad natural events. We prefer the perspective from the Book of Job, that bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people, and we can’t explain it at all.
And yet, is that really the case?
When we act as a community to prevent difficulties – to provide care for those who need it, and food for those who need it – we create a society in which there is less suffering. Our actions do shape our communities – actions and outcomes are connected.
When we work together to build sound foundations, to respect the ecology that provides our resources for food and shelter, we interact with a planet that treats us with some of the respect that we treat it.
We don’t have to look at God as responding to behavior when we recognize that we live in a society and on a planet in which all things are connected. Each of us plays a part in the whole, and we sink or swim together.