“God doesn’t work for us.” I don’t know Talmidat Hakhamim Racheli Fraenkel, but from the moment I read those words of hers, she became a hero to me.
At first glance, the statement “God doesn’t work for us” may seem self-evident, but we often harbor a latent belief in God as some sort of Genie or all powerful Santa Claus. We are given formulas of psalms, prescribed in an exact number and order to obtain a certain result. We are told that tzitzit are more effective than an armored vest at stopping bullets, shrapnel and knives.
Instead of teaching our children the reality of how the world works, as in “There is a righteous man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his evil-doing” (Koheleth 7:15), we teach them that learning and prayers are a better protection than a well trained army. They are given amulets, red strings and other such nonsense and told that these things have the power to alter reality, to heal the sick and to protect from all harm.
This type of thinking relegates God to nothing more than a force that can be manipulated by means of spells and incantations.
And what happens when it doesn’t work? When one has been taught all these things from birth, what conclusion do we draw when we pray and God doesn’t answer? What happens when we see pious Jews slaughtered in the midst of their prayers?
What happens when you rub the lamp and don’t get your 3 wishes? What happens when you put out the milk and cookies, but Santa never shows?
All too often, one of the following will happen.
A) We could conclude that God doesn’t exist (halilah). Or at the very least, “What’s the point in praying or being shomer mitzvot, since it doesn’t ‘work’?”
B) We offer up a scapegoat. If we did all the steps in the correct way, the spell should have worked. Sometimes, we are told that we got the spell wrong (The Genie has been known to kill over just one poorly formed letter in a mezuzah). More often than not, the blame is placed on Zionism, immodest women, smartphones, gainful employment or some other hashkafic boogeyman.
We do our children no favors by instilling in them a belief in the Yiddishe Santa, the Great Genie or the Great Pumpkin. If we believe that the creator is manipulated by the creation and that certain acts guarantee certain results or make us impervious to bullets, knives and the like, then ultimately we believe that God serves us and not the other way around and unfortunately, the aforementioned A and B are the inevitable result.
A strong faith is essential to a healthy Judaism, but that faith must also be grounded in reality. The Almighty does miracles and wonders for us, but He does not do our bidding.
In the midst of pain that most of us cannot imagine, Racheli Fraenkel uttered one of the most profound klalim of the Jewish faith. From now on I will say it like this, “אמרה רחלי, “הקדוש ברוך הוא, לא עובד אצלנו.