Stuart Katz

G-d the Warrior Vs. G-d the Peacemaker: Who’s Throwing Spears Now?

The Emotional and Psychological Complexity of Hashem as a “Warrior” in the Machzor

As the Yamim Noraim approach and we pull out our Machzors for another year, the complexities of our relationship with Hashem often come to the forefront. One image that can elicit strong feelings is that of viewing Hashem as a Warrior, or אל גבור (El Gibbor).

When we say “Warrior,” we don’t discuss Hashem taking up arms. The concept is more nuanced and rooted in divine strength and justice. It’s about Hashem being a powerful force that can intervene in the world in ways that align with righteousness and morality. For many, this is a comforting notion. It’s like knowing you have a strong protector looking out for the greater good.

However, not everyone experiences this image as comforting or empowering. For some, it might even be a triggering point. The concept of a warrior G-d could stir memories or experiences related to violence or authority figures who misused their power. If you’ve faced such challenges, this characterization of Hashem might open old wounds and make you uneasy. It might remind you of a time when power didn’t seem just or fair or make you question the nature of divine justice and anger.

The Rosh Hashana davening doesn’t offer a one-size-fits-all experience; it provides a rich tapestry of images and ideas meant to reach many people and their emotional landscapes. As Rosh Hashanah nears, consider this a time to reflect on how these various portrayals of Hashem resonate with you. Are they comforting? Unsettling? Maybe both? The Yamim Noraim offers a layered and deeply personal davening experience full of spiritual and emotional exploration opportunities.

In this way, even the challenging images we encounter in the Machzor can serve as avenues for deeper understanding and personal growth if we approach them with mindfulness and self-compassion.

The Trigger: Unpacking the Emotional Landmines

The concept of Hashem as a “Warrior,” or “אל גבור”, can be like stepping on an emotional landmine for some people, particularly as we approach the Yamim Noraim. Even though this portrayal is not about physical violence or verbal or emotional abuse but rather divine strength and justice, the language alone can be triggering.

For those who have lived through violence, abuse, or any misuse of power, the term “Warrior” can stir up painfully vivid memories and feelings. It might make us feel like we are being thrown back into those experiences, causing a resurgence of old fears and anxieties. The idea of a divine figure embodying this “warrior” trait can make the davening feel less like a spiritual guide and more like a reopening of old wounds.

And let’s remember those uncomfortable with the idea of divine anger or judgment. For them, the “Warrior” terminology can exacerbate fears of not measuring up, of facing a punitive force more significant than any human. The result? An amplification of existential anxiety right at a time when Yamim Noraim calls for introspection and self-evaluation.

The trigger here isn’t just a single word or concept; the emotional and psychological weight comes with it. It’s the cascade of thoughts and feelings that flood in, often unexpectedly, turning what should be a period of spiritual renewal into a tightrope walk over emotional pitfalls.

So, as we prepare for the Yamim Noraim, we must acknowledge these triggers. Understanding that they exist is the first step towards grappling with them meaningfully. The goal isn’t to remove the trigger but to understand its impact and develop strategies for a more comfortable and constructive spiritual experience.

This trigger is complex and layered, like much of Jewish theology. But by recognizing it, we can better prepare ourselves to navigate the emotional complexities that the Yamim Noraim invariably brings up and perhaps even turn them into opportunities for deeper understanding and growth.

Humorous Sidebar: “To Throw or Not to Throw: The Spears of Management”

Okay, let’s take a breather here and inject humor into this heavy conversation. Have you ever had a boss who could’ve doubled as a warrior in their past life—or maybe just on weekends at Renaissance fairs or the flea market? You know, the kind of boss who treats every team meeting like a battle? Perhaps they could learn something from Hashem’s multi-faceted personality as described in the Machzor.

Let’s say Hashem can switch from Warrior to Peacemaker to Healer within a few pages; there’s hope for middle management. Decaf might not cut it for these bosses, but a crash course in divine diversity would help!

Jokes aside, what’s fascinating about the davening is its ability to summarize Hashem’s many roles in our lives—some comforting and some triggering. If Hashem can pull off this cosmic juggling act, maybe we can manage our complex reactions. So, to all the warrior bosses, maybe leave the spears at the door and bring some honey and apples to the next team meeting. It’s almost Rosh Hashana, after all. A little sweetness goes a long way.

All right, humor break over. Let’s get back to navigating those emotional landmines. But remember, life (and the Machzor) is a blend of bitter and sweet, challenges and celebrations. If Hashem can be both Warrior and Peacemaker, then there’s room for us to balance our triggers with a touch of levity, too. I will do my best to try – but I may need your help, and know I’m there to help you.

Tips for Coping: Navigating the Spiritual Landscape of the Machzor

When Rosh Hashana rolls around next week and we’re confronted with the multi-faceted portrayals of Hashem in the Machzor, remember that we have options. If the “Warrior” image of Hashem is too triggering, explore the other descriptors that might better suit our spiritual needs. Hashem isn’t a one-note character; He’s also described as “אבינו מלכינו” (Our Father, Our King), “רופא” (Healer), and “שומע תפילה” (Listener of Prayer), among others.

Understanding that the Rosh Hashana tefillot hails from a different era can also be helpful. These texts are centuries old and contain language and metaphors that may feel antiquated or challenging to our modern perspectives. While it’s not a one-size-fits-all spiritual guide, the Machzor offers numerous avenues for finding personal meaning. Just as we wouldn’t critique a classic novel for not aligning with today’s slang, I approach these ancient prayers with a little historical perspective.

We should equip ourselves with some coping strategies to help manage triggers during this intense period. Whether deep breathing exercises, pausing for a moment of mindfulness, or even jotting down thoughts that bring us peace, having a go-to ‘spiritual toolkit’ can be a lifesaver.

Remember, it’s not about ignoring or glossing over the challenging parts; it’s about balancing them with elements that nourish our souls. So, as we prepare to delve into the tefillot, let’s try and keep our compass in hand. It might not have all the answers, but it will help us navigate the complex terrain of emotions and reactions. And hey, if we can manage that, dealing with any metaphorical ‘warrior bosses’ in our life should be a piece of cake.

Conclusion: Embracing the Complexity of Our Spiritual Texts

As Rosh Hashanah approaches, we must confront various portrayals of Hashem; it’s essential to remember that these ancient tefillot aim to explore the multi-dimensional aspects of the divine. Whether we find ourselves resonating with Hashem as a Warrior or as a Peacemaker, let’s keep in mind that these descriptions are far from all-encompassing. It’s not just about “spears and thunderbolts”; it’s an invitation to reflect on the complexities of our relationship with Hashem and ourselves.

Navigating through these texts can be like walking through a spiritual minefield, triggering for some while offering solace to others. But by focusing on coping strategies and understanding the historical context, we can better prepare ourselves to find personal meaning. As the countdown to the Yamim Noraim continues, let’s use this time to deepen our understanding and connection to the many faces of Hashem because life is too short to get hung up on just one interpretation of the divine.

About the Author
Stuart is a co-founder of the Nafshenu Alenu mental health educational initiative founded in 2022. He currently serves on the Board of Visitors of McLean Hospital, affiliated with Harvard University Medical School. He serves as Chairman of the Board of OGEN – Advancement of Mental Health Awareness in Israel; chairman of Mental Health First Aid Israel and a partner in “Deconstructing Stigma” in Israel. He is on the Board of Directors of the Religious Conference Management Association. He has counseled over 7,000 individuals and families in crisis
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