I’m confused. In the special haftarah for Shabbat Parah which we read this Shabbat, G”d speaks of removing our hearts of stone and replacing them with hearts of flesh. This, G”d says (though the prophet Ezekiel) will cause you to obey the commandments. However it seems to me that it is our very fleshy natures, our “free will” as it were, that causes us to be stubborn, obstinate, and disobedient. It seems to me that in coercing to follow G”d’s commandments, G”d is taking away our free will, and making our hearts more like stone.
Now I realize I am seeing the metaphor differently than it was perhaps intended. The stone heart of which the prophet (and thus G”d) speaks is most likely referring to our selfishness, our failure to do justly, care for the poor, treat rich and poor alike fairly, and our empty and meaningless performance of ritual and prayer. On those with a truly stone or cold hear could be so cruel and unthinking.
Yet if we are merely automatons, coerced and forced to do G”d’s bidding by G”d’s own hand, that, to me, is more like having a stone heart. We are like machines that merely do what we are programmed to do.
If you follow the world of (the recent remaking of the world of) Battlestar Galactica, you may note the irony in the fact that it is the humans that believe in a pantheon of gods while the machine-based Cylons worship their one true G”d. Who has the heart of stone here? It’s not so clear. (The Cylons, of course, are machines, but machines that would clearly pass a Turing test. They are self-aware, procreate, and have thinking power equivalent (if not superior) to humans. Sometimes, the series seemed to suggest, it wasn’t clear whether the humans or the Cylons had better morals, ethics, and values. There is also the interesting parallel that, just as in our universe we humans are G”d’s creation, in the Battlestar universe, the Cylons are humanity’s creation. They, too, are stubborn, obstinate, and prone to follow a different G”d!)
In this haftarah, is G”d seeing the error of the choice to give us free will? Realizing we’re just not gonna get it on our own, G”d decides to cause us to change our ways, and become obedient to G”d’s laws. (Not too difficult for the G”d who could harden Pharaoh’s heart. If G”d can harden hearts, G”d can surely soften them as well.)
I ask “what’s the point?” I have offered the thought before that G”d gave is free will, made us less than perfect as it were, precisely because it would have been a pretty boring universe if everything were perfect and nothing were left to chance.
I recognize that Ezekiel was trying to give hope to the people in exile. He recognized that they felt hopeless to change themselves in a way that would make them more obedient to G”d’s desires on their own. So he offers them the hope that G”d will do the changing for them.
Thanks, but no thanks. If I am to follow G”d’s commandments, I want it to be entirely of my own free will and volition. Because I want to do so, not because I am being compelled to do so. So thanks for trying to help us feel better about our inadequacies, Ezekiel, but I don’t buy your hypothesis.
So say we all.
©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
Sh’mini 5770 – Don’t Eat That, It’s Not Kosher
Sh’mini 5769 srettirC ypsirC
Sh’mini 5767-Don’t Be a Stork
Shemini 5765-It All Matters
Shemini 5764-Playing Before Gd
Shemini 5763 – Belly of the Beast
Shemini 5762-Crispy Critters
Shemini 5761-Lessons From Our Students
Shemini 5760-Calm in a Crisis
Shemini 5759-Porking Out