Monday, June 06, 2005

Loki, Coyote, Eshu, Brer Rabbit... (lehavdil*) YHVH?

And the mixed multitude that was among them became lustful; and the Israelites also went back and cried, and said, "Who will feed us meat? We remember the fish we would eat in Egypt for free — the zucchinis, the watermelons, the leafy vegetables, the onions and the garlic. But now our throat is dry, there's nothing; the only thing before our eyes is the manna!"
And God said to Moshe, "...And to the people say, 'sanctify yourselves for tomorrow and you will eat meat — for you have wept in the ears of God, saying, "Who will feed us meat? For it was better for us in Egypt!" Therefore God will give you meat, and you will eat. Not one day only will you eat it, nor two days; not five days, and not ten days, and not twenty days — but for a full month, until it comes out of your nostrils, and you become sick of it, since you have rejected God who is among you, and you cried before him, saying, "Why, now, did we leave Egypt?"'
          &mdash Bemidbar 11:4-6,16-20

In other words, what God is telling the People here amounts to "OH, SO YOU WANT MEAT? MY MANNA ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH FOR YOU? WELL THEN, FINE, I'LL FRIKKIN' SHOW YOU MEAT, YOU UNGRATEFUL #&*#%)@*%!!!!"


In the study of Religion, Folklore, and Literature there's something called the Trickster archetype. Tricksters are cunning. Tricksters are humorous. Tricksters are too smart for their own (or others') good. And lately, it has become increasingly clear to me that the God of Israel is a trickster divinity.

The first Jewish blog i ever discovered was Mobius's Orthodox Anarchist, and one of his posts, Suck Seek My Face became (for a while at least) a 'classic' of the Judeoblogosphere. A moving, insightful and personal discussion of his views about the nature of God and God's relationship to the world and to Mobius himself, it prompted a number of similarly deep reflections on the subject from commenters. I also responded, and ended my comment with the following description of God-as-Trickster:
God, like those archetypical girls in that Cyndi Lauper song, just wants to have fun. And God is going to have fun with us whether we think it's fun or not. God likes to challenge us, to throw crap our way to teach us not to be complacent, to see how we deal and learn to overcome it. And just for kicks, of course. And sometimes we're wise enough to the ways of the universe to laugh about it afterwards ourselves. Not that i think God expects or wants us to just sit there and take it - i feel that God wants us to challenge God when we think there's a little too much smirking going on at our expence up in heaven. Or when we think God's been watching a bit too much "Jackass" on MTV...

Us rationalist types like to think the world makes sense. That, for instance, if carbon dating, geological stratigraphy, and biological and genetic studies come to certain conclusions about the age of the Earth, the evolution of life, and similar topics, they're probably right. God wouldn't just plant fossils and isotopes in the earth to fool us into believing in biology, geology and astrophysics if all God really did was flip a few switches 5765 years ago!

Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on how you look at it — as a "Tricksterist" i can't actually say that for sure.

I mean, of course it makes no sense.

Sure, it wouldn't be right.

But damn, wouldn't that be the Best Practical Joke Ever?

 * and that's not any old lehavdil, that's a full blown lehavdil elef alfey havdalot bein hahhayim levein hameitim i'll have you know! (nobody accuses me of monolatry!)

The story of Hhoni Hame‘ageil — Hhoni the Circle-Drawer — from the Mishna, Ta‘anit chapter 3:
Once upon a time, they said to Hhoni Hame‘ageil, "Pray for rain to fall." He told them, "Go out and bring the Pesahh ovens inside, so that they don't get water-damage." He prayed, but rain didn't fall. So he drew a circle, stood inside it, and said, "Master of the Universe! Your children have looked to me [for help] since i am like a member of your household. I swear by your great name that i am not moving from here until you have mercy on your children!"
Rain began to drip down. He said, "This isn't what i asked for! I meant rain [that will fill] cisterns, pits, and caves!"
The rain fell violently. He said, "This isn't what i asked for! I asked for rains of goodwill, blessing and graciousness!"
The rain then fell properly, [and continued] until Israel went up from Jerusalem to the Temple Mount because of all the rain.
They said to him, "Just as you prayed for [the rain] to come, so pray for it to go away."...


Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

If G-d cant be called a trickster,can i say He has a sense of humour?And if He has no funny bone explain kindly, the duck billed platypus?or all the wacky irony in our history?

6/06/2005 1:03 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Maybe i was unclear... i was trying to say that God *is* a trickster (i.e. has a sense of humor, etc.)! Hence as you mentioned the platypus, historical irony, the slav meat in Bemidbar...

What gave you the impression i was arguing *against* Tricksterism? I'll go back and edit the post to make it clearer.

Btw, Amshi, my old picture might have made me look like a member of the politburo, but your Jabotinsky picture is pretty cool.

6/06/2005 1:13 PM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

trickster?He is down right twisted,i met a guy in jerusalem with long payos and his father was ss.BTW that not a picture of Zeev Jabotinski thats me.

6/06/2005 1:55 PM  
Anonymous Shifra said...

Generally (and I am NOT a fan of practical jokes) those kind of jokes are only funny if there is someone around to laugh with you and the person who is being fooled.

If G-d fooled the whole world with his mail-order "ACME Dinosaur Bones n' Fossils Kit" who is he laughing with while we humans on earth believe it? A teeny group of ignorant Charedim? Let's hope not.

6/06/2005 2:10 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


Going along with the Best Practical Joke Ever theory, I don't think a "teeny group of ignorant Charedim" would be laughing with God about it; after all, they believe that the existence of fossils, etc., is a *test* meant to trip us up.

From a Tricksterist perspective, there's no point getting worked up over it - since it's not a serious test of faith, it's 'just' a joke; we're supposed to join God in laughing out the inconsistencies of life.

6/06/2005 5:20 PM  
Anonymous Shifra said...

I don't know it doesn't work for me.
If God is joking around with the people of earth and most of them take him seriously and the other small section are all in a panic about it then his joke isn't really working it is?
Since we know that god's work IS in fact perfect then it must be that the dinosaur bones are not a joke.

Did that makes sense? I'm very tired.

6/06/2005 9:00 PM  
Blogger Mirty said...

I think the slav story shows anger rather than trickery. God in the midbar often seems like an angry parent:

"You want pancakes? Fine. Pancakes for breakfast. Pancakes for dinner. Pancakes for supper. Pancakes till you blow pancakes! OK, you rotten kid?"

I'm trying to think of instances of "trickster" acts in Chumash but the only one that comes to mind is Bilaam's ass. (How we loved that story in school. We got to say "ass" out loud.)

6/06/2005 10:51 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Yup, what you're saying makes sense. I just wouldn't agree that God's works being 'perfect' precludes them from also being designed for humorous or ironic effect.

I agree, it is an angry response - but it's not a straightforward angry response. It's an angry response basing itself on irony, which after all is a form of humor. Instead of saying "no, you're all being whiny bums, i'm not giving you want you want," God says "sure, i'll give you what you want; but i'm giving it my way, not how you expected it."
It's like the story of Hhoni Hame‘ageil!

6/07/2005 12:29 PM  
Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

i had a friend who got married later in life and he blamed it on me.he said that i told him to daven for a shiduch and so he did,and so never did he go alone on a saturday night never.but never did he find the ONE.till one day his rebbe corrected his tefilah by telling him to daven for his zivug,and they lived happily ever after.

6/07/2005 2:08 PM  
Blogger ADDeRabbi said...

i don't want to start any blasphemous rumours
but i think that God's got a sick sense of humous
and when i die
i expect to find
Him laughing

-Depeche Mode, "Blasphemous Rumours"

2/09/2006 8:06 PM  
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