G-d creates the world, and is on speaking terms with the first human couple… but after a few generations everyone starts to ignore G-d. And then humanity starts doing all kinds of bad things. G-d tries to adjust the conditions to try to fix the problem, but then He gives up on fiddling around the edges. Instead, he decides to wash it all away and reboot all life on earth. The “seed corn” for this reboot is the family of Noah, the only man in his generation who was receptive enough to hear G-d’s voice.
The post-Flood world is better than before the Flood, but while there is less evil, there is also no divine connection. G-d reaches out to one man, Avram, and the relationship begins. Despite becoming the poster child for a relationship with G-d, Avraham attracts not even one lasting adherent. So G-d keeps adapting.
G-d performs an outright miracle, helping Avram win a war against a number of kings. But almost nobody notices that G-d was even involved, and the world still ignores G-d’s presence. As a coming-out party for G-d, it was a bust.
G-d tells Abraham that the road is going to be much longer than either of them hoped. That road is going to require a massive buildup much, much bigger set of miracles. Avraham’s descendants will be servants to another people for 400 years, and then G-d will deliver them out in a glorious, triumphant explosion. Everyone in the world will understand that G-d is in the world, and greater than all other gods (defined as any entity that people believe in).
So it happens. Generations later, Pharaoh enslaves the descendants of Avraham, and then G-d gets involved, inflicts plagues, and delivers the people of Egypt in a grand finale, complete with the splitting of the sea. The world is suitably impressed. The G-d of the Jews came from nowhere (since he had no physical manifestation) to become a known and recognized force in the world.
G-d goes even farther. In the wilderness he feeds the people Manna, and continues to perform open miracles, culminating at Mount Sinai where, in another fantastic display of divine power, He gives us the Torah, a time-defying institution in its own right, one that will guide the Jewish people for thousands of years to come.
The next stop is to conquer Canaan, the future Land of Israel. G-d wants the people to anticipate this grand finale, so he tells us to send princes to check out the land, and report back, to make the people as excited and optimistic as possible. The princes go out, and return…. And they decide that they would rather do anything except conquer the land. They lose their collective nerve.
Imagine how G-d felt in that moment! Hundreds of years of building to this amazing climax, and the people decide they would rather opt out at the end?! Moses is crushed. And G-d is hurt. The people somehow missed the purpose of all of their history up to that point. And we rejected this incredible gift, somehow forgetting that there is a much bigger point to all of history, and that we are meant to grow and become pivotal players in the world going forward.
This disaster became a national day or mourning for all time. The opportunity we lost on that day – to enter the land triumphant, to grow in our relationship with our creator, to validate all the things G-d had done up to that point! We blew it. Everyone in that generation except for the two princes who never lost faith, had to die in the wilderness. Only their children would be allowed to enter the land.
And I think G-d also learned a hard lesson: miracles don’t help. All the incredible miracles that G-d did for us in Egypt and afterward? They made no lasting positive impression whatsoever. Indeed, we could argue that the net result was quite negative: the people became dependent on miracles. Having our own constant deus ex machina meant that we were infantilized because we did not have to be responsible, or grow up.
I refer to this as the problem with superheros. Superman is not aided by Joe the Plumber on the street; the mere thought is laughable; Superman is Superman! No ordinary mortal can help him. Which turns ordinary mortals into passive spectators, reduced to cheering the superhero as they do things on our behalf.
Superheros are not helping people grow up; they remove responsibility from our shoulders. We don’t have to step up to combat evil; that is what superheros are for. And the very same logic applies when our G-d does open miracles: we did not free ourselves from Egypt; G-d did it for us. And He did it because he made promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not because we deserved it.
It all turned to dust when the princes come back, and, like any immature child who is told to do something he has never done before, reply, “It is too hard for us. We are not able to do it.”
Where was their faith? They did not have it, because they had not really needed it before this moment. G-d or Moses had taken care of everything. They were children who never had to lift a finger.
The people learn the lesson in a similar manner to the generation of the Flood; they will perish for their cowardice, never entering the land. But G-d also learns a lesson: if the Jewish people are supposed to be G-d’s partners in this world, elevating it and working to make it holy, then He cannot do it all for us: we are going to have to carry the visible load. We must invest in the process all along the way. G-d will help – but always invisibly, always shying away from performing open miracles that makes us think that we can just step aside and applaud as G-d/Superhero solves the problem for us.
G-d does miracles in this world: I know it and experience it on a daily basis. But I also know that He will not save me if I do something incredibly stupid, nor will He do miracles if and when I rely on those miracles as an alternative to me finding up my courage and doing everything I possibly can.
This is much more than merely suggesting that G-d wants people to do Good Works. In Judaism, we are called to be full partners with G-d. And this view of the History of The World, which I believe accurately reflects one of the dimensions of the text of the Torah, suggests that G-d is fully justified in resisting the desire to bail us out of the problems that exist in and around our lives and the lives of all who live on our planet.
I do not want to be another Jew who disappoints G-d. It is clear to me that we have done more than enough of that already. So I am resolved to not rely on G-d as a superhero, to sit around and devoutly wait for something to happen. The task falls to us.
If not me, then who? If not now, then when?