Man, G-d and the Great Conundrum

September 25, 2017

On Wednesday evening, Sept 20th, Jews ushered in the Jewish New Year. The first day of the Semi-lunar Calendar month of Tishrei commemorates 5,778 years since the Biblical story of the creation of Mankind as recorded in the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis. As part of New Year celebrations many attend a local synagogue and read the liturgy of prayers, hymns, supplications and confessions. For others, the holiday is simply a reunion of family and friends over dinner festivities. Bread and apples dipped in honey will be eaten, accompanied by reciprocal wishes for a sweet New Year. The agnostics, atheists, and believers will convey good wishes.  

Merubim Tzarchei Amcha. Plenty are the needs of your Nation we proclaim. Indeed!

Oh Lord the Omnipotent:

May the heart surgeons have much success, may the elderly have healthy hearts. May the litigators find work, may the businessmen have no conflicts. May the unemployed find jobs, may the employers have a leaner staff. May the veterans be honored, may all war cease.  May the academics attain tenure, may the universities have a more innovative workforce.  May the plumbers keep busy, may there be no leaks. May the retailers thrive, may the consumer save online. May the teachers attain wealth, may private education be affordable. May the dentist have patients, may our children have no cavities.  I envy you not, My dear G-d.

Oh Lord the Omniscient:

May our leaders speak truth even just once, long live our political leaders. May the markets rise, may the short sellers see another day. May our pensions grow, may our posterity cease to fund them. May those mourning find solace, may mortality strengthen us. May the pharmaceutical companies make discoveries, may humans experience eternal well-being. May humanity achieve a solar powered world, may the oil drillers find work. May the auditors pore over our books, may the regulators resign. May our taxes be reduced, may the roads be paved. I covet you not, my dear Father.

Oh Lord the Omnipresent:

May the incarcerated be redeemed, may crime disappear. May the winds blow on the high seas, may the islands survive their wrath. May the coal miner have their sustenance, may we breathe cleaner air. May the mail carriers relax, may the packages arrive on the weekend. May the ski resorts have an abundance of snow, may there be no blizzards. May the flight attendants find empty seats, may the airline shareholders receive large dividends.  May the hotels be full, may all Airbnb listings be oversubscribed.  May the policemen protect us, may there be no arrests. May the rich share graciously, may there be no poor.

To the Undertakers we say, “Go out of business, but not quite today.” For to whom would we turn when our lives expire?

I lose no trust in you, my dear Master.

For the atheists there are no answers, for the agnostics but a few, for those of us who still consider ourselves believers, there are meant to be no questions. But mortality and the human condition have overtaken us. Can we truly resolve with absolute conviction that you will work this all out?

I seek optimism in those around me. I lean over and glimpse at the diversity of our people.  I hear the believer expressing a heartfelt cry. I notice the agnostic shrugging with a mix of anticipation and despair. But then a flicker of hope emanates from the soul and pierces the heavens. I hear the atheist softly praying, not for himself of course, but for the rest of us that line the pew.

Shmully Hecht is the Co-founder of Shabtai; the Jewish Society at Yale University.

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