December 9, 2016

Protest as Prayer (Part 6): The Ayeh Stories

This post is continued from Part 5

By Marc Gafni

R’ Nachman, I would suggest did not originate this understanding of Ayeh — rather it emerges out of a tradition of Biblical ‘Ayeh’ stories.

In the book of Judges, a messenger of God comes to Gideon at a time in which Israel has suffered greatly at the hand of the Midianite nation. The messenger of God offers certainty to Gideon: “God is with you, hero of valor,” and Gideon rejects this pat offer of security: “You tell me that God is with us? Then why is all this…” He cannot even give it a name. The silent questions ring out in the spaces between the words: ‘Why has all this suffering, why has all this pain, defined our lives for so many years? Why are men killed? Why are children orphaned?’ And the text goes on: “‘Ayeh’- where are all of his great wonders of which our Fathers told us, saying God took us out of the land of Egypt. And now, God has abandoned us.”

Gideon the Judge, in the tradition of Abraham, turns to God and says, “Does the Judge of the entire world not do justice?” Gideon the Judge challenges God, challenges the messenger and challenges the message. The divine response seems unclear, enigmatic and troubling; but also powerful, inspiring and deeply directive. God answers Gideon: “Go with this strength of yours and save Israel … behold, I have sent you.” (Judges 6: 12-14)

What “strength” is God referring to? I would suggest, and at least one Midrash implicitly supports my reading, that God meant: ‘Go forth with the power of your uncertainty.’ God is confirming that if Gideon has the ability to doubt that this is the best of all possible worlds, this means he shares a common moral language with God. The wrestling with God in itself implies messengership on behalf of the divine: “Behold, I have sent you.” God confirms the Chassidic tale that initiated this chapter: to grapple with God is indeed to touch God, and to enter into the wrestling ring is to be a representative of all Israel, to plead redemption for all the world.

Gideon says to God’s messenger: “Where, ayeh, are all of His great wonders?” — echoing Moses’ and Abraham’s uncertainty about God’s dealings in the world.

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