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Ki Tavo(Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)

World Without Consequences

Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, labels the God of the Old Testament, "the most unpleasant character in all of fiction," a "capriciously malevolent bully." This week's Torah portion is great fodder for him, because God discusses in graphic terms what will befall the Jewish people if they do not listen to his commands. Disease, war, exile and famine - to the point where a parent will eat the flesh of his own child's body and be unwilling to share it with the rest of his family! (Deut. 28:53-55)

It's really nasty stuff, and the sad thing is that everything written in this week's portion has occurred multiple times in Jewish history.

So what's God up to? Why so much pain? Why so much brutality?

Obviously I'm not going to give a full answer, but I'd like to at least answer this question with a question (as every good rabbi should do.)

Why do we complain about consequences, when a life without consequences would be our worst nightmare?

Let's imagine, for a moment, a world without consequences. I can get up as late as I like and not get fired from my job. In fact, I don't even need to show up at all and my big fat salary will still be automatically deposited every month in my bank account. I can spend what and when I like, without ever running out of money. I can have relationships outside of my marriage, but it won't affect how I feel about my spouse or vice versa. I can cross the street without looking, drive 1,000 miles an hour, drive when I've drunk a keg of beer - and nothing bad will happen to me or anyone else for that matter.

Would we really crave such an existence? An existence in which our decisions make no difference to how our lives turn out? No. Without consequences, life would be empty and utterly meaningless. Quite simply, consequences make life worth living.

Consequences for not keeping the Torah also help to make it meaningful. If I have spent my whole life striving to be a good person, and God sat me next to Adolf Hitler in Heaven, it would make a mockery of my achievements. Equally, if I'd wasted my life and God put me with Moses, I would feel like a fraud.

We want consequences. We embrace consequences. Far from God's response to our disinterest in Him being that of a "capriciously malevolent bully," it is the response of One Who wishes to help us live meaningful lives.

August 2, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) Anonymous, September 23, 2016 12:32 PM

Excellent article and very well written! Thanks for posting!

(5) Anonymous, September 3, 2015 12:38 PM

Excellent article! Thanks for posting!

(4) Anonymous, September 11, 2014 12:45 PM

Great and reply to Steve

This is great and thanks for posting it!

And Steve, if consequences are inherent in the world, then who made that world? Did it just pop up out of nowhere? If the big bang, then where did the material for that come from? At some point it has to come into existence. That's G-d creating it, even if you don't use the term "G-d."

Finally, consequences may seem unjust, but that's from limited human perspective. We live 80 or so short years on this planet and don't see the long-term or macro consequences of our actions. G-d is entirely just, even if we cannot see that from our (very) limited point of view.

(3) Steve, August 23, 2010 11:30 PM

Consequences are (usually) inherent in the world. Is God?

This article is a nonsequitur. If you drive drunk at 1,000 (sic) miles an hour, you'll likely kill someone or get killed. Or both. So, yes, behavior has consequences. But what does Dawkins have to do with that self-evident truth? And what does God have to do with it? Even if you argue that God created a universe with consequences -- we still must acknowledge that the consequences of our behavior often seem highly unjust.

(2) Andy, September 15, 2008 8:00 PM

Dawkins makes a point

I have faith there is a next world of truth where there are just consequences but I do not know for certain? I don't understand God's ways. As predicted in Torah you said at multiple times in Jewish history parents ate the flesh of their children and seem to have compounded the sin by not sharing. Did the Creator design a world with those consequences for disobeying the commandements, or were those consequences a free will choice? It seems to give Dawkins an opening for stating that the God of the Old Testament, "the most unpleasant character in all of fiction," a "capriciously malevolent bully .If Hitler is in heaven learning with Moshe I would be ouraged, but I'd have to try and come to terms and think God is the big picture. I'd hope for understanding and if not hope to go on with faith

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