Does spilling the coffee make sense? Well, who spilled the coffee? Let's say I spilled the coffee.

Why did I spill it? Maybe I am clumsy. Maybe that is from my heredity and environment, which comes from G_d. But I am old enough by now to know my own shortcomings and to be extra careful. If I was not careful, that is my fault. If I am inconsiderate and thoughtless enough to spoil someone else's hard work after s/he labored to make the surface beautiful, or perhaps to ruin his/her clothing, then I must either clean it up or pay to repair or replace it. That is my atonement. I cannot blame G_d for what I did. As the Oral Torah, the Talmud, says, "Everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven." That is, I have free will as to my belief and moral behavior. I am capable of making moral and ethical errors. So now it all makes sense. It is my responsibility that it happened, and my responsibility to repair it as best as possible and to ask forgiveness of whomever I have inconvenienced or inured.

But what if I am the one who cleaned the stove, and someone else spilled the coffee? If they clean it up, no harm done, and no grounds for complaint to G_d. If they have not cleaned it up, maybe I can remind them that I would like it cleaned. If they refuse to do so, maybe I need to rethink my relationship with that person. Maybe I need to distance myself. Maybe G_d is trying to tell me something. So that makes sense.

Of course, I may like this person, or love this person, even if s/he behaves abusively. Then I may need to rethink my attitude toward myself, which is another issue. It still makes sense.

Let's take it up a notch. Suppose I live in a city which will flood if the levee fails, and I know that the levee has problems. Suppose I live in the flood plain of a river. Suppose I live in an area prone to earthquakes. Suppose I live near a volcano. Then I have chosen to take that risk, and if there is a flood or an earthquake or a volcanic eruption, it makes sense, and I have no basis for complaining to G_d.

Let's look at New Orleans and Katrina and FEMA. FEMA paid out millions of excess dollars. For example, they are still paying on housing for the evacuees. More surprisingly, they initially gave each evacuee several hundred dollars to buy food and clothing and shelter, and huge numbers of the recipients used that cash for drugs, prostitutes, and similar items and then complained that they needed food, clothing, and housing. The sensible policy would have been to give these people vouchers which could be redeemed only for food, clothing, and shelter. This obviously did not make sense, but it was not G_d who made this decision, it was FEMA. So I can complain that it made no sense, but my complaint should go to FEMA for wasting tax dollars.

It may be objected that FEMA's decision was not a moral error but a practical error, and since everything is in the hands of Heaven except the fear of Heaven, FEMA's error was caused by G_d. This may be true. However, the recipients had no moral sense, no fear of Heaven, when they chose to use that money for sin and then to demand more money, so their actions were like my spilling the coffee: their thoughtless behavior was their own responsibility and we need not concern ourselves that it made no sense, since their moral decisions are their own.

OK, let's take it up another notch. Say I live in a place where there have been no natural disasters of any kind throughout all of recorded history. However, nature changes and a new volcano erupts, Heaven forbid, or a new situation creates a flood, Heaven forbid, or whatever other natural disaster occurs, Heaven forbid. That is not my responsibility. I had no way to anticipate it. It makes no sense. I can complain to G_d that it makes no sense to do this. Or I can try to figure out some kind of sense. Is G_d sending a message to people to leave this area? Or not to move into this area? Or what is the story? How can it make sense?

Now look at the way Katrina hit New Orleans. Some people say Katrina came to punish "Sin City" for its wicked ways. But that explanation does not work. The French Quarter was untouched. The bars and houses of prostitution and strip joints were not flooded. The floods hit Tulane University and Loyola University, and the synagogues and churches mosques which were providing social services to the community, and the historic buildings and the respectable neighborhoods and the public schools. Does that make sense? What message can we possibly get from that? This is a place, perhaps, to complain to G_d about the lack of sense.

Now let's notch it all the way up. The Shoah. The Holocaust. Isn't that the event that makes the least sense of anything in the past century? Why were we, the relatively ignorant and even unbelieving Jews in the USA spared? It was Europe that held our wise men, our rabbis, our yeshivot [seminaries], our mystics, our tzadikim [saints], and our everyday faithful believers. Why were they the ones taken? Does that make sense?

It used to be possible for a Jew who kept kosher to walk across Europe receiving nightly hospitality at kosher homes. This is no longer possible anywhere in the world. What could G_d have been thinking of, to destroy all that? Does that make sense?

We have torn out our hair trying to make sense of it; every attempt to make sense of it has been an insult to those we have lost.

Some used to say that we lost European Jewry, with its music and its spirituality and its culture and its theater and its literature and its saints, in order to create the State of Israel. Oh yes? Can you imagine finding even one hundred, or even ten, or even one Jew in 1932 who would have accepted such a deal? What if an angel had appeared and said, "Hey, I'll give you a Jewish state in the Holy Land, but in exchange European Jewry will be killed off and all the communities destroyed." Would even one Jew have accepted such a deal?

HAH!!! (Which, being translated, is, " NO WAY!!!")

And if you say, as usual, that it was because of our sins, the argument about New Orleans, Sin City, applies big time: why destroy the saints in Europe? The Jews of the New World looked to those of Europe for guidance. We were, and remain, relatively ignorant and lacking in observance! If any were sinners, we were the ones, not the Jews of the Old World, who, far more than we, believed in G_d and faithfully kept His commandments and observed His Covenant. Why did G_d deprive himself of the very ones who knew His Talmud and His Kabbalah and His mitzvot (commandments) and how to duchen (bless people) and paskan (determine the right thing to do) and the rest of it? Why were we cursed with decades of ignorance, of knowledge lost perhaps beyond recovery? Does that make sense?

Ah, but there is a way to make sense of it. It is very simple, really. The reason that we say it does not make sense is that we assume that G_d is real, that G_d loves us, that G_d honors the covenant at Sinai and the Covenant of Abraham. If we want to make sense of the Holocaust, it's so easy. We can just say, Oh. We were mistaken all these millennia. There was never any Covenant. G_d never cared about us. "G_d" is just a handy label for a blind amoral force of nature, or, G_d is not even real. The universe just happened. It's all just an accident, just happenstance, just the laws of physics and chemistry. That is the "sensible" conclusion. That is the way to dissolve the difficulty.

But I cannot do it. I cannot release the foundation of my existence, the truth by which I live. As Job says, "I know that my Redeemer lives" (19:25). G_d is my life and the length of my days (Deut. 30:20). If I cannot see the sense or the logic in the Holocaust, well, excuse my language, but the hell with logic. I claim no virtue for this-I have lots of sins, far too many-but even I, however unworthy, cannot live without my love for G_d.

But, on the other hand, what if the world made perfect sense? Would it still be OK to believe in G_d and to keep His commandments, as we are told at the end of the Book of Ecclesiastes (12:13), if it were easy? After all, where is the glory in believing if it's so easy?

Let's start with the easy obvious answer. This is a free country. It's OK to believe whatever you like whether it makes sense or not. Hey, it's even OK for most people (not for us as Jews faithful to the One, but OK for others brought in under a different covenant) to believe that "G_d so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son" to save everyone from going to hell. It's even OK to believe that without this gift, a loving Gd would have been forced to send everybody to hell. Moreover, it's even OK to believe that everyone who doesn't believe this (like us Jews) really will go to hell. It may be cruel, but it's OK to believe it.

Of course it's OK to believe in G_d and to keep his commandments! Yes, even if it does make sense.

It may be objected that, if it made sense, that would take some of the difficulty out of it. Again, what is the merit or grace in believing, if it is easy?

So the question becomes, Is it OK to have faith even if there's no logical conflict? Even if there's no agony in it? Even if it is easy?

I say yes, it's fine. I claim no merit in believing "even though it is absurd" or "because it is absurd" or whatever. I claim no merit in making belief in G_d and obedience to G_d any harder than it needs to be. It is quite hard enough. For example , we're not supposed to mix milk and meat-or even the dishes used for milk and meat. But I hardly ever have milk. OK, say one day I use some milk dishes; I have to wait until I have a lot more milk dishes before I have enough that I can fill the dishwasher with all milk dishes. Or I must waste hot water and detergent on only a few dishes. Or I must wash them by hand. But must I, really? Yes, because I can't and won't put milk dishes into the dishwasher with my meat dishes. And things like that make housekeeping much more complicated than it needs to be. Hey, I may not even be violating a biblical commandment. The Written Torah says not to seethe a kid in its mother's milk (Exod. 23:19, 34:26). But I am not cooking a kid, or even a calf, and Heaven only knows where its mother would be, if there were a calf-but the milk on these dishes assuredly is not hers. It is only in the Oral Torah that the prohibition extends to all milk and all meat (even chicken!) and even to dishes. The Oral Torah puts a "fence" around the written Torah. Well, can't I just confine myself to the written Torah, and wash the milk dishes with the meat dishes?

No. I can't, and I won't. The Oral Torah is also from Sinai. So I enjoy enough difficulty. I do not need the little extra difficulty of believing in stuff that puts me through logical anguish.

So, yes, by golly, it is OK to observe the Commandments even if the Holocaust makes sense, which it does not.

As Rabbi Manis Friedman remarked at Beis Chana one day, G_d has various "sons" (i.e. branches of observance). Some say, "Dad likes chicken soup." Some say, "Dad likes vegetable soup." Some say, "He likes it with rice." Some say, "with noodles." To this, Rabbi Friedman said, "Dad hasn't sat down to have soup with us in such a very long time; He's lucky we still care what kind of soup he likes." In other words, one way of looking at it is that G_d is lucky anyone still believes or observes the Commandments. AND it is OK to be observant, regardless of whether it makes sense.

However, I also claim no merit in wearing blinders. Just because I cannot see something, does that mean it is not there? Or that it makes no sense? Maybe it is there; maybe it does make sense on a level beyond my vision.

"There are more things in Heaven and on earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your "philosophy'" (i.e. in your system of logic and science). Hamlet said that, but it applies now too. Blind rationalism is a crippled outlook.

We can be open to many possibilities. And we need to be open to many of these. (As long as we avoid idolatry, of course. With a fence around the Torah, of course. Take ten fences if you like.)

Rabbi Steinsaltz' Thirteen Petalled Rose says that we need to spend some time each day learning Scripture, as we wrestle intellectually with the text and with our doubts. AND we need to spend some time each day in prayer with perfect faith in G_d. We need both in order to be complete. To the question of whether it is OK to believe in G_d and keep His commandments, even if it does all make sense, let it be said that we could achieve what Rabbi Steinsaltz suggests, even if everything made perfect sense.

But someone told me we have no right to judge the Eternal One. Who is "we"? Perhaps we ordinary Americans, who cannot live up to the faithfulness and saintliness of many of the pre-Holocaust Eastern European Jews, cannot judge G_d. But what about the revered Rebbe, the beloved saint, Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev? He convened a rabbinic court and did exactly that: he put G_d on trial for His failure to keep His Covenant. And found G_d guilty!

Our Heaven, our King, our dear Saviour, the Help of our people from of old, our Beloved Father, hear us, Your beloved children. You have given us many puzzles that seem to make little sense. You gave us the Roman destruction of Your Temple in the year 70 of the common era. You gave us the exile from Spain in the year 1492 of the common era. You gave us the destruction of European Jewry in the years 1937-1945. I have neglected to mention the Crusades and the exile from England and the exile from France, and the Italian creation of the ghetto, and the centuries of Polish massacres, and Stalin's murderous reign. I am not mentioning Cambodia and Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge and, lately, in Sierra Leone, Angola, and the Congo, the "long sleeves" and "short sleeves" inflicted with a machete on teenagers and children. I am not mentioning the ongoing genocide in Darfur which continues despite the best we can do. Lord of the Universe, You need forgiveness -and we are ready to offer You an atonement. You are our Father, our King, our Master, and You love us all. Hear the cries of Your children, suffering and going mad right now in Iraq and Iran and Syria and Lebanon and Israel. For the sake of Your Own Great Name, please, beloved G_d, teach everyone, even if only in those few places alone, to take joy in one another's safety and well being, and to allow each other to live in peace, and to see that their service to You is greatest when they love one another regardless of theology or creed. When You have done that, the whole world will say that You make wonderful sense. It will be a Yom Kippur for You, a Day of Atonement, and everyone will forgive You for all the rest. Indeed, everyone will even be enabled to effectively aid Darfur ourselves.