GOD ON TRIAL
A feature which has typified Jews' relationships to God from as far back as
Abraham and Moses is that God can be argued with and persuaded to change his
The selichot petitionary prayers recited at this time of year, in addition
to expressing a contrite recognition of our sinfulness and powerlessness before
God's will, are often characterized by an aggressive "bargaining"
posture. The authors "remind" God of the suffering to which we have
been subjected and of the merits earned by our righteous ancestors, and ask
that these factors be counted to our credit.
This pious familiarity before God, who is perceived not only as a judge but
also as a patient and forgiving father, was taken to extremes by the famous
Hasidic master Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev.
Known as the "Sanegor of Israel" for his insistence on always seeing
his fellow Jews in a favourable light, Levi Yitzhak is said to have challenged
God one Rosh Hashanah to a lawsuit--a din Torah. God, he argued, had no right
to prolong Israel's exile when other more sinful nations were allowed to live
in peace and prosperity.
A grim variation on this story is recounted by Elie Wiesel in his Holocaust
memoir Night, and later formed the basis for his play "The Trial of God."
On Rosh Hashanah, from the depths of their sorrow and despair, the inmates
of Auschwitz called God to judgement and condemned him for allowing such evil
and suffering in His world.
Both stories, that of Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev and that of the Auschwitz
inmates, end in the same way. After declaring God's guilt the accusers rise
to recite the Kaddish--the proclamation of God's sovereignty over the universe.
The point is a profound one: For the Jew, it is possible to argue against
God, but not to live without him.
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