Monday, February 27, 2006

Discussing Divine Punishment With a Child

Earlier today I engaged in a hit-and-run post in which I asked who was Moshe Rabbeinu's father. The impetus for this was in part a fragmented memory and in part the impact of having watched a movie with my son.

The two of us watched Prince of Egypt. The film has some issues but I wasn't going to engage a five-year-old in a discussion of how the filmmakers might have taken some liberties with the movie.

Anyway, we watched a watered down version of the Exodus and it generated some tough questions. As the title of the post suggests one of the questions was in relation to divine punishment. It wasn't the easiest topic to discuss as it really is quite involved.

There is the question of why people enslave others. That is a pretty serious talk in itself as it incorporates many elements such as prejudice. It actually ties in well with the M.L.K. discussion he and I had last month, but at the same time I try not to throw too many things at him at once.

So there we were with the question of what happened to the Egyptians who were in the Red Sea. He wanted to know what happened to them and why. And for a moment I was unsure of how to respond because I didn't want to make G-d look bad.

That sounds kind of funny, doesn't it. The atheists who read this probably got a kick out of that one. But it is true, I do believe and G-d and my personal belief is not a G-d of fire and brimstone.

Part of the question is why kill all of those Egyptians. Why not come up with some other miracle. You can part the Red Sea, surely you can make them go blind for a few minutes or make them take the wrong turn and end up in cleveland. Why kill.

I am not the first person to ask those questions and I have been part of discussions that dealt with that very topic, but they are a little too sophisticated for a five-year-old.

So we meandered around a bit and talked about how some people don't like others and why it is important to judge people based upon what they do and how they behave. But I can't say that we came to a conclusion that was satisfactory to me.

But I was rescued from this awkward place as we had to run to a birthday party. I still have to come up with some answers, but I have more time to do it.


Anonymous said...

The real challenge here is that this particular punishment was in this world (olam ha-zeh) as were the 10 plagues. This leads to the problem of why good people sometimes suffer and evil people prosper. It's actually easier to understand reward and punishment in the realm of the world to come (olam ha-ba). See this post for the discussion my 6-yr-old put me up to! Actually, the Chafetz Chaim (R' Yisroel Meir HaCohen Kagan) taught that it is imperative that parents teach their children about reward and punishment when they are young, as part of his discussion on the passage from Proverbs (Mishlei) "Chanoch l'na'ar al pi darko, gam ki lo yazkin lo yassur mi-menah". (I hope Steg and Mar Gavriel never find this comment because they'd probably have conniptions from my transliteration!)

Anonymous said...

Where, when and how reward and punishment is meted out is beyond our comprehension. We know that it is impossible to completely fathom HaShem’s ways ("Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world? Tell, if you know the understanding!"Iyov 38:3) but we also know Derache'cha darchei noam, Her ways are ways of pleasantness (Mishlei 3:17). So ultimately despite our inability to fully percieve HaShem's intentions - we know that ultimately they are for the "good". Unless you have Nevuah or enjoy practicing theodicical lunacy (think Pat Robertson) there is no one black and white answer we can grasp.

Anonymous said...

I really dislike giving answers such as "we cannot understand G-d." It doesn't sit well with me. Obviously given this topic it is very challenging to do otherwise, but it doesn't make it any easier.

Anonymous said...

It's not so much that we don't understand G-d. Rather, if we knew everything He does and saw everything that He sees, we'd run the world exactly the way He does. As humans we are limited by the scope of our knowledge and our vision. We just don't know how every action affects the world. We may say a simple word or do a simple deed that has major reprecussions that we are totally unaware of because of our limitations. Being omniscient and omnipresent is a major advantage when it comes to meting out reward and punishment fairly. That is, of course, if you believe that G-d possesses those traits. (p.s. Jack - I'd love to here your comments to this conversation. I'm not a troll that's constantly dropping links to my site, I promise! You never have to visit again, I'd just like to hear your input if you have a moment.)