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An Unlimited God Cannot Commit Suicide – OpEd

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When I was 12 years old I asked my Rabbi if God can do everything. He replied that God can do everything God wants to do. I replied but God cannot commit Suicide. My rabbi said God does not want to commit suicide.The Torah states (Deuteronomy 30:19) “I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore choose life, so that you and your descendants may live”

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Then my rabbi surprised me by saying that the Qur’an says something similar but in its own way: “The Jews say: ‘The Hand of Allah is chained. It is their own hands which are chained, and they stand cursed for the evil they have uttered. No! His Hands are outspread; He spends as He wills.” (Qur’an 5:64)

Notice the last part – “His Hands are outspread; He spends as he wills” meaning “He gives out as (as much as) he wills”. Muslim commentators thought the words should be understood literally the Jews were saying that God was being stingy with them; and God responded by saying it was the Jews who had been stingy (for example, they charged high a interest to Muslims and other non-Jews in Madina who borrowed money from them), and that God is very generous.

But this is one of very few verses in the Qur’an that uses an anthropomorphic description for God; so the verse must not be taken literally, but must be taken allegorically. When the Jews said: “The Hand of Allah is chained.” they meant that there are times when God chooses not to help good pious people in terrible distress.

Actually this is what the Orthodox Jews I know believe, that God can do whatever He wishes. If God wishes to restrict His actions in accordance with certain principles using His wisdom, which humans do not understand, God can certainly do that.

Whether to call God’s ‘not to do choice’ “chained” or simply a self-restriction is really just a question of language. The term used in the Hebrew Scriptures for God’s not to do choice is that God hides His Face. Here are a half dozen Biblical examples of God hiding His Face.

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The Torah (Deuteronomy 31:17-18) states: ” Then My anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide My Face from them, and they will be consumed, and many evils and troubles will come upon them; so that they will say in that day, ‘Is it not because our God is not among us that these evils have come upon us?’ But I will surely hide My Face in that (future) day because of all the evil which they will do, for they will turn to other gods.”

Prophet Micah (3:4) states: “Then they will cry out to the Lord, but He will not answer them.
Instead, He will hide His Face from them at that (future) time because they have practiced evil deeds.”

Prophet Isaiah (54:8) states: “In an outburst of anger I hid My Face from you for a moment,
But with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,”says the Lord your Redeemer.

And Psalm 13:1 states: “For the choir director. A Psalm of David. How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your Face from me?

Even Prophet David felt moments of being forgotten at times in his early years, but he shared Prophet Isaiah hope and belief: “But with everlasting lovingkindness I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord your Redeemer.”

Thus, Prophet Ezekiel (39:29) states: “I will not hide My face from them any longer, for I will have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel,” declares the Lord God.”

Ezekiel 39:29 says that God hides his face from us as if he is caused or forced to hide his face from us. He does not do it because he wants to but in order to show us His disapproval of our communal evil actions, He is forced to hide his face (presence) from us.

However, there is another meaning to God’s Hidden Face/Presence. The writer of the Book of Esther never mentions the name of God or His existence yet all Jews know that the book of Esther is all about the miracles that saved the Jewish People from massacres in Persia. God’s sovereignty in protecting and rescuing the Jewish people is silently present, even though it may seem that He is ignoring the clear and present dangers facing His people.

God is ‘hiding His face’ (‘hester panim’ in Hebrew), but in no way is Good sleeping or slumbering. God protects us, preserves us and will someday fulfill every prophetic promise to bring the Jewish People back ­both to the Land of Israel; and to bring every repentant individual back to God Himself.

If you had told the Jews of Ethiopia a generations ago that they would someday all fly to Israel in a giant silver bird, they could only conceive of this as a miracle. If you had told Soviet Jews a generation ago that the Communist regime would collapse, the Soviet Empire disintegrate, and hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews would emigrate to Israel, they would have conceived it only as a miraculous dream.

In our own generation therefore we have seen the dramatic fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “I will bring your offspring from the (Middle) East and gather you from the (European) West. To the North (Russia) I will say ‘give them up’ and to the South (Ethiopia) ‘do not hold them’. Bring my sons from far away, my daughters from the end of the earth.” (43:5-6)

Isn’t it amazing how people adjust to living in a radically new world and forget the past. Indeed, Prophet Isaiah himself said, “Behold, I create a new Heaven and a new Earth, and former things shall not be remembered.” (65:17)

God has a complex personality. The many names of God are appellations: titles and descriptions of God’s personality. Thus, to say that God is a King or a Judge describes two of many ways the One God acts. To say that God is The Compassionate One, or The Appreciative One, is to describe two of many character or personality traits of the One God.

When Jews say: “The Hand of Allah is chained.” they meant that there are times when God chooses not to help good pious people who are in terrible distress. For true believers this does not mean we should give up and lose hope.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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