Why Does G-d Care About the Little Things?



Dear Mordechai,





You have written about some of the Laws of Sabbath, about little things like carrying a feather across the street, and using a pencil to make a check in a box.

I’m going to ask the same question that got me in a lot of trouble when I was a youngster. Why? Not why these specific rules, but why would G-d care about such things as «using a pencil to make a check in a box on the Sabbath» to begin with? Why are there so many little rules about little things? Why should G-d care about these at all?



Randall





Dear Randall

You asked «Why would G-d care?» There is much to say on the matter of these details of Jewish Law, and it shall be my pleasure to answer as best I can.

I will begin with one teaching concerning this matter, but please bear in mind that it is not all there is on this subject — not by a long shot.

The Talmud teaches:



Rabbi Chananyah ben Akashya says, G-d wanted to give merit to Israel, so He gave
them an abundance of Torah and Mitzvos (Commandments).

— Makkos 3:16

The purpose of the Torah is to give merit. But it is more than that. The Hebrew word for
merit is «zachus», which comes from the word «zach», which means «pure». In Judaism,
getting merit means becoming pure. And this is the purpose of Torah. The more we do, the
better we become. If we discipline ourselves to follow G-d’s commands even in matters we
cannot understand, we become pure and «attached» to G-d. That is, we develop our
relationship with G-d.

Think about it: What makes a good marriage? Well obviously, there are a few things that are
very important. If there is a lack of money in the house, the marriage might suffer, in many
cases, anyway. If the two of a couple are so revolted by each other that they cannot even look
at each other, there’s a problem in that family.

But what about the little things? There are couples that stay together though they have long
ago given up enhancing their marriage. She doesn’t bother to ask him how his day went; he
doesn’t consider helping her around the house. This is not a good relationship. In a healthy,
growing marriage each thinks of ways to please the other, and most often with the little
things. He might buy her little gifts every now and then. He might take the kids off her hands
for an hour each week. She might make his favorite dinner once a month. He might take her
out for dinner every so often. He might come home and smile at her instead of being grumpy.

These people are working at improving their marriage. These people really care for each
other, and these people do things for each other. These people have an enhanced, growing
marriage. And why? Because of the little things.



Doesn’t a woman want to hear her husband say that he loves her? Doesn’t she want to see him
prove it, every once in a while? Just saying that he loves is not enough. He has to show it; he
has to show he really cares. He does this with many little things.

Rabbi Shlomoh of Karlin (1738-1892) would tell a parable. There was a king who used to
collect crumbs of food and take them away. Whenever he saw someone eating he would
gather the leftover crumbs of their meal. No one understood why.

One day, a neighboring king came with an army and besieged the capital city. His army
encamped around the walls of the city, and blocked off all food imports. Not long afterwards,
obviously, the people ran out of food, and no one could obtain anything to eat. But help came
from an unexpected source. The king opened his warehouses, and made available all the
crumbs he had collected over the years. There was so much food that the people of the capital
city outlasted the besieging army, and after a while, the enemy army folded camp and
returned to their own country.

What saved them? The collected crumbs. All these crumbs eventually made up enough food
to feed a nation for untold years.



So too, does G-d act with us. Every time someone does some little Mitzvah, some little act:
he refrains, perhaps, from making a check in a box on the Sabbath, he gives a penny to
charity, he smiles at people he knows instead of growling at them, he sticks out his hand behind
him as he goes through a doorway and holds open the door so the person behind him can go
through the door more easily, he teaches a stranger in the synagogue a few passages of Torah; G-d collects those. G-d collects each and every little tiny act of obedience to His Torah. And when the day of reckoning comes, when the Accuser stands before the Heavenly Court and lists the great sins of this man, G-d opens the warehouses. And because G-d has made His Torah so vast, because G-d has made His Torah so full of Mitzvos, this man now stands a much better chance of being acquitted before G-d.

Because G-d made so many Commandments, it is utterly impossible for a person to go
through one day without doing at least one meritorious act. Thus does the Talmud teach that
«The worst Son of Israel is as full of Mitzvos as a pomegranate has pips» (Berachos 57a). And this is the meaning of Rabbi Chananyah ben Akashya’s teaching, that G-d wanted to give merit to
Israel, so he gave them an abundance of Torah and Mitzvos. It is so easy to do a Mitzvah. All
you have to do is not write on the Sabbath. All you have to do is not speak gossip. All you
have to do is not carry a pencil or feather outside your house on the Sabbath. And for this, you get merit! It is the most astounding opportunity you will ever get in your life!

One more parable on this matter: The Maggid of Dubno, Rabbi Yaakov Kranz (17??-1805)
was very famous for his parables. One parable he was known to tell was the one about the
architect and his apprentice. Once, the architect was commissioned to design a very elaborate
building. Since he was a busy man, he drew up the plans and diagrams, and left to work on
some other important commissions. He instructed his new apprentice to copy the plans, and
to render a faithful copy of the blueprints to the foreman of the construction crew. The master
architect then left the job in the hands of his assistant, returning only for the dedication of the
building on the day of its completion.

As the esteemed architect began his dedication speech, standing before Europe’s finest
dignitaries and ambassadors, suddenly the dome of his gorgeous building collapsed, utterly
destroying all floors below! All the attending dignitaries and notables ran away in fright, and
the architect was left to survey the ruin of his masterpiece, his magnum opus. As the crew
cleared away the rubble, the architect and his assistant pored over the blueprints.



«What happened to this section of the blueprint?» the master asked his assistant. «Didn’t you
implement my design here?»

«This section? But all you have there are tiny dots!»

«You idiot! Those dots are the pillars that hold up the entire building!»

We here on this earth see only some little dots. We don’t know G-d’s plans. We can’t read the
blueprints. (Or as others might say today: we don’t have the source code.) We don’t know
what those dots mean. We have to faithfully render the work given us. We have to know that
the plan was drawn up by the Master, that the blueprints are perfect in every painstaking
detail. We cannot, on our own initiative, implement changes or delete items according to our
own understanding. We must follow the plan, because we don’t know what’s big or small.

Who’s to say what’s little and what’s big? How do you indeed know that what you consider
small is small in the eyes of G-d?

The Torah says, «The hidden things pertain to Hashem our G-d, but that which has been
revealed applies to us and our children forever, which is, to keep all the words of this Torah.»
(Deut. 29:28)



We don’t know all the secrets. We don’t know what is big in the eyes of G-d, and what is
small. The Talmud says that the most difficult Commandment to fulfill is that of honoring
your parents (Exodus 20:12). The easiest to fulfill is that of shooing away a mother bird when
taking the eggs or little ones (Deut. 22:6-7). Yet, the Torah promises the same reward for
both — long life. (Actually, it doesn’t really mean long life, but that’s another story.)

The point? That we cannot estimate the value of a Mitzvah. We think one should be bigger
than another, for whatever reason. But only G-d can estimate the value of the Mitzvos.

What Kind of G-d do the Jews Have?



A man wrote me about his search for a better understanding of G-d’s plan, and he wrote of his opinions about G-d, saying that he disagreed with the Jewish concept of G-d. It turned out that he didn’t really know anything about the Jewish concept of G-d. He just thought he did. So I resolved to write something about it. Here is his statement, and my response.



«The G-d I envision bears little resemblance to the One worshiped by my ancestors, and
that’s why I’m not particularly observant. The traditional Jewish G-d is far too vindictive,
vain, and controlling for my tastes. My personal deity is more teacher, less judge (and that, I
know, is blasphemous!)»



My Response:

Actually, G-d, as you believe in Him, is actually very close to What Judaism teaches about
G-d, and is very close to What your Jewish ancestors worshiped. I am surprised you think otherwise. I will attempt to respond to all your points.



If you study what Jewish tradition has to say about «the traditional Jewish G-d,» you will
never find anywhere that G-d is referred to or thought of as vindictive, vain, or controlling. Since you use the word «traditional,» we can take examples only from that Tradition. I challenge you to find me even one such statement anywhere in Jewish teachings.



Quite the contrary, our Holy Tradition says only good things about G-d. Let us study the
record through the generations.



We’ll start with Abraham, the father of our People. Abraham prayed for mercy, and said to G-d: «Shall the whole world’s Judge not act justly?» (Genesis 18:25) Here we see that Abraham said that G-d is a just Judge, and not vindictive at all.

When Isaac blessed his son Jacob, among other things he said: «May G-d grant you the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth….» (Genesis 27:28) Evidently Isaac believed that G-d gives people good things.



Jacob likewise understood G-d to be Provider and Protector. Jacob prayed, «If G-d will be with me…If He will protect me on the journey that I am taking, if He gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return in peace to my father’s house, then Hashem will be my G-d» (Genesis 28:20-21). That is what G-d is to us: the Ultimate Provider and Protector.

Most of Jacob’s children were named with thanks to G-d. Reuben was because «G-d has seen my troubles.» (Genesis 29:32) Simon: «G-d has heard….» (Ibid, 29:33) Judah: «I will praise G-d…» (Verse 35) And so on.



About a hundred years later, Joseph told his brothers: «Don’t be afraid… You might have
meant to do me harm, but G-d made it come out good. He made it come out as it actually did, so that the life of a great nation would be preserved.» (Genesis 50:19-20)

And later, just before he passed away, Joseph told his family: «G-d is sure to grant you
special providence…» (Ibid, verse 24)



And now we come to Moses. If I were to write all the good Moses has said about G-d, this article would be far too long. I shall have to be strict with myself, and quote just a few.

«My strength and song is G-d, and this is my deliverance…(Exodus 15:2)

«With love, You led the people you rescued….» (Ibid, verse 13)

«Hashem, Hashem, Omnipotent, merciful and graciously free-giving, slow to anger,
with tremendous love and truth. He remembers good deeds for thousands of
generations, forgiving sin, rebellion and error.» (Exodus 34:6)

Note that G-d remembers good deeds for thousands of generations. «Thousands» (in plural) means at least two thousand, says the Talmud. If we assume that a generation
is about twenty years (the age when the average generation is giving birth to the next generation), that makes 40,000 years! In other words, G-d benefits us with the rewards of the good deeds of ancestors for 40,000 years! And the Patriarchs, who have the greatest merits of all, lived less than 4,000 years ago. That means we have merits left for us for more than 35,000 years yet to come.



But to continue:

«G-d is slow to anger, great in love, and forgiving of sin and rebellion…» (Numbers
14:18)

«Of course, Hashem did not consent to listen to Balaam, and Hashem your G-d
transformed the curse into a blessing, because Hashem your G-d loves you.» (Deut
23:6)

«You, the Levite, and the proselyte in your midst shall thus rejoice in all the good that
Hashem your G-d has granted you and your family.» (Deut. 26:11)

«The eternal G-d is a shelter above, with His everlasting arms beneath….Happy are you, Israel! Who is like you? You are a nation saved by G-d, the Shield Who helps you, and your triumphant Sword….» (Deut. 22:26-29)

The generation after Moses had Joshua as leader. Joshua constantly spoke to Israel about the good things that G-d promised and gave them. See, for example, Joshua 23:14, et. all. In Chapter 24 Joshua gives a long exposition about all the good that G-d has done for the Children of Israel.

And so on, all throughout the history of the Jewish Tradition. Can you really read the Books of the Psalms and state that the Traditional Jewish G-d is vain, vindictive, and controlling? There is not one word of negativity against G-d anywhere in Psalms. All of Psalms is filled with the goodness of G-d! There are so many examples; I shall just pick a few out at random.



«But you Hashem are as a shield about me, my glory and lifter of my head. With my
voice I called out to Hashem, and He answered me. I lay down and I slept; I awoke,
because Hashem sustains me.» (3:4-6)

«And they will trust in You, those who know Your Name, for You have never forsaken
those who seek You, Hashem.» (9:11)

«I trust in Your loving kindness, my heart will exult in Your deliverance. I will sing to
Hashem, for He has dealt kindly with me.» (13:6)

«And he said: I love You, Hashem, my strength. Hashem is my rock, my fortress, and
my rescuer.

My Almighty, my Rock, I take refuge in Him, my shield, and the horn of my salvation,
my stronghold.» (18:2-3)

«The Torah of Hashem is perfect, it restores the soul; the testimony of Hashem is
trustworthy, making the simple person wise. The precepts of Hashem are upright,
rejoicing the heart; the commandment of Hashem is clear, enlightening the eyes. The
fear of Hashem is pure, it endures forever,; the judgments of Hashem are true, they are righteous — when understood in unison. More desirable than gold, even more than quantities of fine gold; sweeter than honey and the drippings of honeycombs. Even Your servant is careful of them, for in observing them there is great reward.» (19:8-12)

Three times a day we recite Psalm 145. In it, we say, among many other things:

«Hashem is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and great in kindliness. Hashem is
good to all, His mercies are on all His creatures. . . Hashem supports all the fallen, and straightens all the bent. The eyes of all look to You with hope, and You give them their food in its proper time. You open Your Hand, and satisfy the desire of every living thing. Righteous is Hashem in all His ways, and magnanimous in all His deeds.
Hashem is close to all who call upon Him — to all who call upon Him sincerely. . .»

I could go on forever just quoting Psalms for examples of the goodness of the Traditional Jewish G-d. If you want to learn about the Traditional Jewish G-d, study the Artscroll or Metsudah translation of Psalms.

Later, the Prophet Isaiah (circa 620 B.C.E.) also declared the goodness of G-d: «…our G-d, who is abundantly forgiving.» (Isaiah 55:7) And the Prophet Ezekiel (circa 428 B.C.E.) said, «Do I desire at all the death of the wicked? asks the Master, Hashem. Isn’t it his returning from his ways, so that he may live [that I desire?]» (Ezekiel 18:23) And the Prophet Nehemiah (circa 347 B.C.E.) said, «You, O G-d of forgiveness, are gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abundant in kindness and truth, and abundantly beneficent.» (Nehemiah 9:17)

G-d’s goodness is not only «Traditional,» it is basic to our beliefs. This is why prayers
composed by Prophets and Rabbis throughout all the ages speak only of G-d’s good. You will find nowhere in Jewish writings that G-d is vindictive. Even after there were no longer any Prophets, the Rabbis continued the teaching of the Tradition that G-d is good.



As the Era of Prophecy came to a close, the Prophet-Rabbis of the Great Assembly (circa 345 B.C.E.) formulated universal prayers from the many prayers that existed from former years. The Shemonah Esray (also called the Amidah) prayer was one of these. We pray this three times a day as well. In part of it, we say:

We gratefully thank You . . . for our lives, which are committed to Your power, and for
our souls that are entrusted to You; for Your miracles that are with us every day; and
for your wonders and favors in every season — evening, morning, and afternoon. The
Beneficent One, for Your compassions are never exhausted, and the Compassionate
One, for Your kindness never ends, for we have always put our hope in You.

Only 200 years later, Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach (circa 139 B.C.E.) wrote a prayer that we say every Shabbos and Holiday. Part of it says:

G-d of all creatures, Master of all generations, acclaimed with a multitude of praises,
Who directs His world with kindness and His creatures with compassion.

Hashem is alert; He neither dozes nor sleeps. He rouses those who sleep and awakens those who slumber; He gives speech to the mute; releases the fetters of captives; He supports the fallen and straightens the bent. To You alone we give thanks.

Even were our mouths filled with song like water fills the sea, and our tongues filled
with rejoicing like its many waves; and our lips filled with praises as vast as the sky;
even if hope lit up our eyes as bright as the sun and the moon; even if our hands were spread out in prayer like the wings of the eagles of the sky, and even if our feet could dance as lightly as deer — we still would not have the ability to thank You enough, Hashem, our G-d, and G-d of our ancestors, nor bless Your Name for even one thousandth, one millionth, or one hundred millionth of all the favors, miracles, and wonders that You have done for our ancestors and ourselves.

And just about 270 years later (circa 132 CE), the Rabbis composed a new blessing, which was added on to the end of the Blessings after Meals:

Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, Mighty G-d, our Father, our
King, our Might, our Creator, our Rescuer, our Maker, our Holy One, Holy One of
Jacob, our Shepherd, the Shepherd of Israel, the King Who is good and does good to
all. Who, each and every day, has done good for us, does good for us, and will do good for us; He has bestowed, He bestows, and He will forever bestow upon us grace,
kindness and mercy, relief, rescue and success, blessing and salvation, consolation,
sustenance and nourishment, compassion, life, peace and everything good; and may He never cause us to lack any good.

That is the traditional Jewish G-d; no other. Judaism has always taught that G-d is good. The Tomer Devorah (Palm Tree of Deborah), by Rabbi Moshe Cordevero (1522-1570) explains what Moses meant when he said about G-d: «Who is like You?»

Imagine that you wanted to hit your friend. He not only lets you hit him, but he actually picks up your arm to help you hit him.

Whenever you commit a sin, you use the energy G-d gave you to do so. You sin with the very ability of movement granted you by your Creator. G-d not only refrains from taking away your ability and energy, He sustains you while you’re in the midst of the very act of rebelling against Him! He actually gives you the energy with which to reject Him!

That’s controlling? That’s vain and vindictive?

What you have described as the «traditional Jewish G-d» is actually what the Christians have always told the world the Jew supposedly believes. But it is not what the Jew believes. It is merely Christian propaganda. The Christians would have the world believe that they invented the concept of the merciful G-d. The Christians and other detractors look only at the relatively few places where G-d warns us of the consequences of evil deeds. They refuse to look and see that throughout the Torah G-d speaks of love and compassion.

The good, love, and compassion with which the Torah speaks to us outnumbers the dire warnings by at least five hundred!

The truth is that the Torah is replete with the concept of G-d’s mercies, and it is the very
essence of Judaism. It is in fact antithetical to Jewish Law to believe that G-d is cruel.

The Torah tells us: «You should know in your heart that just as a father chastises his son, so does Hashem your G-d chastise you.» (Deut. 8:5) The Torah is not referring to a deranged man who chastises his son out of cruelty. Hashem chastises us because He loves us, and He wishes for us to walk the path that will be good for us. When we deviate from that path, we are pulling ourselves away from the good that Hashem has in store for us. Somehow, we must be warned.

Look through all of our prayers. These prayers come from the basics of our beliefs and
principles. You will see only good things said about G-d.

And by the way, the prayers were not created because G-d needs our prayers. G-d has no need for anything we do or say. (Nevertheless, G-d wants our prayers, and delights in them.) We need the prayers, and we need the good deeds.

G-d created the world so that there would be recipients to whom to give goodness and
pleasure. Not recipients who merely sit back and enjoy undeserved good, not freeloaders who have no conception of the good being done for them, but people who have worked hard to become holy, and that way have become worthy of that good reward.

You go on to say: «My personal deity is more teacher, less judge (and that, I know, is
blasphemous!)»
Again, I don’t know where you get the idea that this is blasphemous. Not
only is it not blasphemous, it is in fact what Judaism believes. Every day, in the morning
prayers, we say:

Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, Who has made us holy with
His commandments and commanded us to engross ourselves in words of Torah. Please, Hashem our G-d, sweeten the words of Your Torah in our mouth and in the mouth of Your people, the House of Israel. May we, our offspring, and our offspring’s offspring, and the offspring of all Your people, the House of Israel — all of us — know Your Name and study Your Torah for its own sake. Blessed are You, Hashem, Who teaches Torah to His nation Israel.

We say this every day. Yet nowhere in the daily prayers do we bless G-d for constantly
judging us. We mention judgment once during the Amidah, where we bless G-d «Who loves charity and judgment.» G-d is charitable and merciful in judgment.

And in yet another daily prayer we say:

With an eternal love You have loved us, Hashem our G-d; with exceedingly great pity have you pitied us. Our Father, our King, for the sake of Your great Name, and for the sake of our forefathers who have trusted in You and whom You taught the laws of life, to do Your will wholeheartedly, may You be equally gracious to us and teach us.

Our Father, merciful Father, Who acts mercifully, have mercy on us, and instill understanding in our hearts to understand, to elucidate, to listen, learn, teach, safeguard, perform and fulfill all the words of Your Torah’s teachings with love.

Enlighten our eyes in Your Torah, attach our hearts to Your Commandments, and unify our hearts to love and fear Your Name. . .Blessed are You, Hashem, Who chooses His nation Israel with love.

The only time we make repeated references to G-d judging us is on Rosh Hashonoh and Yom Kippur, and even then we bless G-d not for judging us, but for forgiving us! If you wish to understand the «Traditional Jewish G-d,» read through the prayers of Rosh Hashonoh and Yom Kippur.

In fact, on both Rosh Hashonoh and Yom Kippur we even pray that G-d not judge us, but to look upon us as a father looks upon a son, and if we must be judged, let G-d strengthen mercy over judgment. If G-d were «controlling, vain and vindictive,» as you claim, we would not have that hope.

And this is not simply a mere hope. The Torah assures us that G-d forgives us on Yom Kippur, and therefore we are required to believe that! For this reason, it is the custom of Chassidim to gather together after breaking the Yom Kippur fast and dance and sing with joy, because the Torah has assured us that we have been forgiven.

The difference here is that you look on judgment as if it were a harsh, cruel thing, something bad. To Traditional Judaism, G-d’s judgment is pure and good, as in Abraham’s prayer: «Shall the whole world’s Judge not act justly?» that I quoted above, and in King David’s Psalm 19 that I quoted earlier: «…the judgments of Hashem are true, they are righteous—when understood in unison.»

But you have to learn all of G-d’s judgments, to see the full force of the goodness of G-d’s judgments.

When G-d judges us, we are assured of mercy. When the Prophet Gad told King David that G-d offered a choice of any one of three consequences for a dangerous act that had been committed, King David said, «Let us fall into G-d’s Hand, for His mercy is great, and let me not fall into the hands of man.» (II Samuel 24:14) In other words, «let whatever happens be only in the hand of G-d.» For G-d is merciful, not «vain and vindictive.» For that matter, G-d had given the choice to King David, and this brings into question your assertion that the G-d of the Jews is «controlling.»

To us as well, Traditional, Orthodox Jews, G-d is more Teacher than Judge. How can you
state that «the G-d [you] envision bears little resemblance to the One worshiped by [your] ancestors,» when you are in fact unaware of how your ancestors envisioned G-d? You do not know how Traditional Judaism views G-d. I think you would enjoy finding out what your ancestors actually believed. Throw away your mistaken preconceptions, and come learn the truth. Come have the Torah be sweetened in your mouth as well, and learn the truth of what the Torah teaches.

Then you will have that «better understanding of His plan,» for which you say you are
searching.