Friday, September 19, 2008


"Abraham drew near and said: 'The Judge of all the earth must not exercise justice too strictly'" (Gen. 18:23 and 25). According to R. Levi, the verse means that Abraham said: If You seek to have a world, strict justice cannot be exercised; and if you seek strict justice, there will be no world. Do You expect to take hold of the well's rope at both ends? You desire a world and You also desire justice? You can have only one of the two. If You do not relent a little, the world will not endure.

The gist here is that Avraham is telling God that God can't have his cake and eat it too. Either God can have perfect justice, and no world, or God can have imperfect justice and a world. The view is not only strikingly pessimistic, but it seems to contradict two basic beliefs.

The first is a belief in an omnipotent God. If we view God as omnipotent, God could enact a perfect justice if he so desired. I believe that he chooses not to because he values free will. The agadah, however, would seem to say that God is in fact limited in power. That is, God cannot enact a perfect justice without destroying the world, which would seem to place a cap on God's capabilities.

The second is a one version of the belief in an Olam Haba. If we are to believe in wordly restoration of a Gan Eden-like state, whether it be at the hand of a Mashiach, or at our own hands in an Eidan Mesichi, a Messianic Age, are we to not believe that such a world will be full of perfect justice?


Bob MacDonald said...

A dabbling in the essays of Gerhardt von Rad has suggested to me that the doctrine of creation is not independent of the doctrine of redemption. So perhaps the problem of perfection and imperfection, i.e. redemption, is recognized by the omnipotent and omniscient and is one of those things that must be in the omnipresence. I suspect we might contain it in a few words - Psalm 90 as prayer and 91 as answer come to mind. (Just checked - these two psalms seem to have all the right words - specially variations on turning - reminds me of the Shaker song - till by turning, turning we come round right.)

Howard said...

What I find interesting is the lack of Chesed (mercy) as a concept in this Midrash. The argument does not make mercy or kindness by G!d a value in and of itself, but a result of the inability of humanity to meet the standards of strict judgment. Especially interesting because HaShem is used as G!d's name in this portion of Genesis. It other writings this name is associated with Chesed.