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Why G‑d Didn’t Delegate

Why G‑d Didn’t Delegate

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I remember the Seder nights of my childhood. Trestle tables and fold-up chairs snaking their way around corners, matzah crumbs decorating the carpets, fantastic smells wafting their way out of the kitchen, and a crowd of us kids spilling grape juice in excitement at all that was happening around.

As the family grew, they changed the venue and menu, subgroups hived off to their in-laws on alternate nights, and every year there were always some cousins interstate or overseas. However, with all the changes, there was always one constant; at the head of the table, the focus of all our attention and resplendent in his long white kittel, sat my grandfather, “Zeida.”

In my mind I still hear his melodic voice chanting the tunes

Zeida used to lead the Seder every year, and all the family would sing along to the familiar tunes. He’d pause in the same places of the liturgy, and insert insightful commentary to the text, and repeat cherished sayings of his father. Even now, years after he passed away and after nearly 15 years of sitting at other Seders, in my mind I still hear his melodic voice chanting the tunes of my childhood.

There was one particular cadence that I always enjoyed for its soulfulness and simplicity of tune. The haggadah quotes a line from the Book of Exodus1 and expands upon it:

I will pass through the land of Egypt, and I will smite every firstborn, and upon all the gods of Egypt I will perform acts of judgment: I, G‑d.

The sages queried the frequency of G‑d referring to Himself with the personal pronoun, and explained that G‑d was promising to do it all Himself:

I’ll rescue them, and not send an angel. I, and not a seraph. I, and not a messenger. I’ll do it all Myself.

My Zeida would sing the refrain in his own inimitable way, emphasizing the point and counterpoint of the text. The whole family would join in the harmony, and that paragraph has always been one of my Seder highlights.

Just this week, I discovered an insight of the Rebbe on these words. The Rebbe wondered why G‑d was so insistent on doing everything Himself. Why not leave something for the angels to do? There is no shame in delegating, so why go to such pains to point out that G‑d acted alone?

In a comment that could well sum up my Zeida’s philosophy of life and describe his constant care and concern for others, the Rebbe explained that G‑d is teaching us how to respond to people in need.

Occasionally we meet people who need our help, and it is our responsibility to reach out to them in response. It might be uncomfortable or taxing, yet we must be ready to sacrifice personal comfort in our effort to save a fellow Jew. Going “down to Egypt,” descending from our position of comfort and ease into an ugly morass of pitfalls and personal danger—nothing is too great a sacrifice.

He did it all Himself, without waiting for angels or agents to play their part

It would be so easy to relax and leave the heavy lifting for others. Sure, I’d play my part, offer my effort to the joint task force; but surely saving the world should be a joint endeavor, and I am content with a bit part of the glory. No one would fault me if I waited for others to join in before I stepped forward.

But that’s not the lesson we learn from G‑d. He did it all Himself, without waiting for angels or agents to play their part. When you see someone waiting for salvation, don’t hang back as part of the crowd, but commit yourself totally to the relief efforts. People in trouble don’t have the time or luxury to wait while you quibble over the command structure; they’re waiting for you to rescue them from evil.

If we see a problem, it’s our job to fix it. If we are made aware of evil, we must go out to fight. Their cause is our cause; their needs are our responsibility. We dare not wait for others to shoulder the burden, but gracefully and gratefully accept our mission to save a world and build a future.

Footnotes
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12:12.

Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum is spiritual leader of Moorabbin Hebrew Congregation and co-director of L’Chaim Chabad in Moorabbin, Victoria, Australia.
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ruth housman marshfield hills, ma March 31, 2013

the death of children it could be, those Egyptian children had they lived, would have followed their parents and would have been cruel slaveholders, but it could also be, that children, somehow, in encountering mentors, do not do these cruel things. The argument could go, both ways, depending on your particular filters of story and what you see.

I personally find it very upsetting to talk to my children, or any children, about murder, about the Angel of Death, about blood on the doorpost. It makes me very anxious because there is a Commandment about this. Sure we were saved. And that's the Story. But the story involves innocents as well, and so, in being me, I pause, reflect, and do experience empathy. Reply

Anonymous Newark, DE via chabadde.com March 25, 2013

Re: Ruth Return I respect you for voicing your questions and perspective, and found your comments interesting.

I have heard of other Jews who want to hold G_d accountable for what tragedies happen here in our corner of the universe. My father came home from WWII angry that the holocaust happened, and didn't go to shul after the war. The Tsunami, etc.

But, G_D only knows why. We just have to learn to cope with what has happened. I have found there are times when I didn't think I would survive intact, I was ready for a nervous breakdown. However, that is when I prayed to hashem to take over and help me get well. He did. He answered my prayers. He gave me strentgh and courage, and He put people in my life who were able to help me.

I am amazed. Reply

ruth Housman marshfield, ma March 24, 2013

Celebrating Passover I think Moses did not get to enter the Promised Land because THIS time he will. I believe the soul of Moses will return and that, in fact, it is his soul which will manifest as the Moshiach. Now it could very well be a woman as in following a language based story very much dependent on aural connectivity and the deconstruction of words, I hear SHE in both Shekinah and Moshiach. Perhaps an 'Unorthodox' view of the world but I also perceive G-d is laughing and perfectly able to pull the wool over our eyes! Reply

David Mark Margate March 22, 2013

The Old Niggun Beyond all the theological discussion, I also remember the nigun, R' Elisha ("Ahnee v'lo Malach"). I can't recall whether it was The Rabbi's Sons or the Noam Singers who had it on their album, 'way back in the '60s (I was in YUHS at the time). Sometimes, we Jews must lay our questions aside, and just sing our emunah ba-HaShem. Thanks for the memory, and ah zissen Pesach to you and yours. Reply

Clay March 22, 2013

Ruth's Question is Tough; I Hope This Helps. (Christian writing, but I think my explanation's sound for Chassidism).). Think of it this way: Gd - totally gratuitously - constantly and actively keeps you alive. If He stops, and then brings you into his Heaven - completely without pain (This is the ancient world! Painful death would have awaited them!) - has he taken anything from you? If I kill you, I have taken something from you, but if Gd should stop keeping you alive, has he really taken anything?

Also, do the children suffer?They begin their journey to Heaven sooner, after a painless and instantaneous death; the suffering innocents is a non-issue, for they do not suffer!

When natl. disasters occur, we usually have 0 contributing motives for Gd's allowance of the event. Here, we have at least 5. If we trust Gd when we have 0 reasons (0 "pros," and one big "con"), is it not illogical to distrust him when we have 5 "pros"? If we assume Gd has more reasons when we get 0 of them, should we not do so when we have at least 5; give Gd the benefit of the doubt.

Trust, and thank Gd for giving us freedom. Reply

Steven NJ March 21, 2013

If HaShem had formed a committee there would be no Creation! another version of: a camel is a horse formed by a committee. Reply

ruth housman marshfield, MA March 21, 2013

Return I only just now returned to this site and respect that people have responded to me. I am who I am and do question as I do. I feel G-d needs to be held to these Commandments and that in retrospect we are here to question and weight ethical issues. Personally I find a great many Biblical stories too filled with a vengeful G-d who commands acts I feel are wrong. Our heroes questioned and so might we. I believe blind subservience is wrong. So I see the issue differently.

Since I am made this way: to see an ethics that does not release the Maker of rules that has to be who I am. We all view the wirld through our separate unique filters, hence dialogue and a diversity of being though One. Reply

MR.2Jihad Quincy CA. March 20, 2013

exodus It is the math as was then. Didn't the killing in, besides the confrontations in Egypt, were isolated to the slaying of bad family members that set up false worship while Moses was recieving the first series of laws. So, after he broke the first tablets he ascended to gain the Ten which say don't kill. Maybe we ALL missed out in that lossed opportunity with G*D because the first set had it in mathematical form. Anyway, the math is where we put the parts back to working together. First, build from zero the quadrant and then infinity and lock that up until you have gained a full measure of a single unit value. Then and only then can anyone see the shaddows or fragments of the math become whole.It shows the proof of mathematical PATIENCE because of the core sustainability proved in its development. So, universal language to hold the mathematical PATIENCE which teaches or has core sustainability can help every human. Reply

Sarah Masha West Bloomfield MI USA March 20, 2013

Ruth Housman I understand you are saying "Why were innocent children killed by G-d?" A good question. Perhaps one of these ideas will help.

!st. the word "child" cannot be automatically combined with "innocent". Children can be just as guilty of wrong as adults. There are allowances for age, but this is not carte blanche.

2nd, and I'm repeating other's ideas, there is a difference between murdering and killing. Only man can murder, and not all killing is murder. The commandment says "No killing." but we are able to understand that war, punishment of criminals, defense, etc. may require killing, but are not murder. It would help if the traditional translation were "No murdering."

3rd, G-d is G-d. He gives rules to humans, but he need not heed them, just as adults give rules to children, but need not heed them.

4th G-d knew the fate of these children. He sent souls that only needed a short time here to be those children. And then they had the honor of HaShem doing it, not an angel. Reply

Cameron Melbourne, Aus March 20, 2013

Why G-d didn't delegate Shalom - I respectfully disagree with this analysis. There are more and better examples of charity and/or assistance than the killing of firstborns.

I tend to think the reason G-d did this Himself is to underline the reality that I Am Your G-d. There is no sacrifice made by His entering Egypt. There is no danger, no threat, no discomfort, no inconvenience. The master of the universe can do whatever and whenever He chooses.

Aaron and the Calf illustrates why G-d performed this act Himself. Had He allowed an angel to perform the act that resulted in the Exodus, what risk of His people declaring that angel to be their G-d? No sooner had the people entered the wilderness than they made an idol for themselves. The calf didn't bring them out of Egypt, and yet they bowed to it - what risk of turning away if the people had a *reason* to bow to an avenging angel? G-d knows people are fickle, He did this Himself, because He is G-d. "I" bought you out of Egypt - not "my angel". Reply

MR.E2Jihad Quincy, California March 20, 2013

true colors G*D knows ALL things. He reveals the simple truths that allow for unity, equality, confidence, communication and well ALL things that are goodly and of kind plot. People make their claims WE just have to hear them one and all and while we listen we should learn and grow, for that which is truth to me cannot be said anyother way till there was you... Reply

Anonymous Newark, DE via chabadde.com March 20, 2013

Re: Ruth Houseman & Anonymous No offense intended, but I think it is not a valid idea to think that it is not right for G_d to murder. hashem is the creator of all life, He gives (life), and it is His responsibility to take the breath of life away when and as He sees fit.

Also, I think of a case many years ago, when a family wanted to 'pull the plug'on their comatose daughter, who was on life-support apparatus for many years. it was a landmark case and if i remember correctly, it was heard in the Supreme Court of the USA. It was The Karen Ann Quinlan case. and it was a major event because no one had ever pulled the plug on anyone before this case hit the media.

when the family was together with the medical staff, they pulled Karen Ann Quinlan off of life support--they pulled the plug.

what happened next was that Karen Ann Quinlan continued to live for about another 10 years without life support. Do you think this proves to us, all of us, that hashem is the master of all souls. "His will be done" Reply

Ruth housman Marshfield, Ma May 19, 2011

Commentators I believe we are here to question and that there is a profound argument that I am making about Exodus and that it actually does not matter whether it was, The Angel of Death or whatever we call Divine Intervention. Innocent children were killed. That is not an easy story to relate and it does contradict a Commandment.

It seems people are constantly sacrificed in life and certainly through history. If all is G-d and personally I see the evident truth of this as articulated on Chabad, then how does this square with notions of free will?

Perhaps it is time to revise this and move towards a different paradigm of comprehending human suffering in an open way if even to confront the deep paradox inherent in all stories that place and then remove G-d as a Prime Mover in our lives. Reply

Yehuda Shurpin for Chabad.org May 18, 2011

Re:Was it G-d or the Angel of death that passed ov There are various explanations offered by the commentators to this question. Some explain that only the actual first born were killed by G-d Himself, however, in a house in which there were no firstborns and it was the most honored or greatest one in the household who was killed instead, this was done through the angel of death.

Alternatively, the blood on the doorpost was in order that the even Jews whom should have died that night not because of the plague, but because it was their time die should be spared. This was in order that it not be claimed that Jews too were killed in the tenth plague.

For an in depth explanation by the Lubavitcher Rebbe see BO Chabad.org/70525 Reply

Ruth Housman Marshfield Hills, MA April 26, 2011

Thank You anonymous from Camarillo I appreciate your answer. After writing this I was talking to a non Jewish friend who said he had a problem with this part of the Exodus story and those Passover celebrations he had respectfully attended as a guest.

I am thinking as I grow older that this does trouble me and that should a child ask, and one might, that to give a response that satisfied for me personally would be quite hard. So I invite commentary on this. Reply

Anonymous Camarillo, CA April 21, 2011

Answer to Ruth's question: "Thou" means "you". The commandment prohibits us humans, from murdering ("kill" is a poor translation, because lawful execution, self-defense, military combat, etc., are not prohibited). G-d and the angels may kill, because they were not commanded to refrain from killing. We were.

That being said, I think you do have a valid point.

If there are moral absolutes, and G-d is good and not evil, then there is a logical problem in saying that G-d does things that are intrinsically wrong.

Something that is considered wrong only because the Torah says that G-d prohibited it, such as eating from the forbidden tree in the garden of Eden, would not be wrong for G-d to do, because G-d was not prohibited from doing it. However, it is wrong for anyone to commit murder, even someone who is not prohibited from murdering (for example, Nazi war criminals), which raises the question of how G-d can murder.

Killing adult sinners could be a lawful execution, but killing an innocent baby is not. Reply

Ruth housman Marshfield, MA April 21, 2011

The Angel of Death This is the part of Exodus I do not like. It is not great to think about the killing of children in Any Context. And then, what about, "thou shalt Not Kill?"

There are problems in logic within our stories and so how do we answer the child who asks when we cannot in all honesty answer for ourselves? Reply

Anonymous Camarillo, CA April 20, 2011

Was it G-d or the Angel of death that passed over? If G0d did it all Himself, and did not send an angel, why are children taught that the reason that the holiday is called Passover is because the "angel of death" passed over the houses of the Jews? Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma January 4, 2011

the mission Every human being has the mission to become humane, and in so doing save the world. The paradox is that if one person saves one life, it is as if he or she has saved an entire world, and so it is, the world have been saved, over and over and over again, by the righteous among us, in big and small and countless ways.

Since we are One, under One G_d, a peoples, and as such part of the vaster group, Peoples of the World, then we are all, ONE, meaning all of us, the entire world.

And so it is, we can each of us, be saviors for each other, and within us all, lies that same messianic spark. We can do this together! Reply

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