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.