God was in this place… The Other Side

11 07 2008

I’m pretty sure one way to keep people from reading your blog is to create posts as long as this one. I certainly didn’t intend it to be this long when I started, but found it necessary to do so in order to attempt to capture the nature of this chapter (which includes some long quotes). If you’re not feeling up to reading all of this, I would suggest at least reading the last section (“Sweetening the Evil in Yourself”).

The third chapter of Kushner’s “God was in this place & I, i did not know” is one that makes me wish I were reading and discussing this book with others. The first time through I was completely confused. …the second time through I started to grasp it a bit better (I think) …and the third time through a bit more. (Of course, it’s quite possible that I’m also way off).

The chapter focuses on the teaching of Hannah Rachel Werbermacher of Ludomir, Poland (1805-1892), which is interesting if not only for the fact that she was a woman. (Apparently a synagogue was built with an adjoining apartment… from where she taught men through a half-open door. “Men learning from a woman they would not allow themselves to see.”)

In a conversation between Hannah and Jacob, Kushner imagines Hannah saying, “When you said God was here and you didn’t know it, you were talking about yourself and what you had done. You were talking about finding God even in your most terrible urges. God is truly everywhere; yes, even in midst of evil.”

Bad and Evil
Kushner distinguishes between “bad” and “evil” in this way:

“‘Bad’ means ‘unfortunate,’ ‘painful,’ and even ‘horrible,’ but it does not mean that someone is necessarily responsible for what has happened. A freak accident, for which no one is to blame, for instance, is ‘bad,’ but it is not ‘evil.’ …if the one who is to blame acted intentionally, then the ‘bad’ is also ‘evil.'” [61-62]

Who’s to Blame?
Where does evil come from? …who’s to “blame”? (If evil is caused by someone who acts intentionally, then there must be someone/something to “blame”). In referring to the Holocaust (and other atrocities), Kushner explains, “The question is not Where was God? but Why do human being do such things? Blaming God not only absolves us but increases the likelihood that we will allow such horrors to happen again. How could God allow such a thing? Why didn’t God to anything? To ask such questions assumes that God occasionally intervenes in human affairs without human agency. Yet countless events remind us that God does not work like that.” [61]

Kushner then describes two alternate worlds – identical in every way, except one. “In one universe, people maintain their ‘selves,’ their sanity, and God by giving evil its independence. Such wickedness, they reason, could not possibly have anything to do with God. There must be some other non-God power that makes it real and gives it vitality, and with whom God is in eternal conflict…

“In the second world, God is somehow part of the evil, present even in its depths… If God is the source of all being and human evil is real, then God therefore must be in it also… God does not cause, tolerate, or even forebear the evil, but God, as with everything else in creation, is in it.” [63-64]

Human Evil and Tearing Apart
Kushner says that the reason human evil exists (why people occasionally choose evil over good) is because of two “primal, psycho-spiritual ‘tearings.'” “In the first tearing, a part of ourselves is rejected and identified as ‘enemy.’ The second tearing involves every human being’s traumatic separation from his or her parents, the process of individuation and becoming autonomous.” [67]

In the first tearing, there are parts of us (actions, urges, etc.) that we label as our “evil other.” Kushner says that this evil other, “comes back to injure and name us during the night. And since it is still a part of ourselves we cannot bear to acknowledge, when we sense it in someone else, we are all the more frightened and angry… Hating something in someone else is easier than self-reproach.

“Once we realize that what we detest in another person only wants to be accepted, taken back, and loved, do we begin to diminish our own capacity for evil. By embracing what was never really other, we neutralize the evil. We heal and redeem it and, in so doing, we heal ourselves and God.” [70]

The second tearing – the separation from parents – Kushner talks about our separation from God (the story of the Garden and the fruit). He seems to argue that what happened there had to happen – that man had to eat the fruit… thus causing separation from God; leading to individuation and autonomy.

This was actually a humorous and thought-provoking section to read. Some highlights:
– Adam: “What about the snake?”
God: “Sammy? Sammy, the snake! That snake has been working for me from day one! Sammy come out here and meet the folks…” [73]

– God to Adam: “You can make them do just what you want for the rest of their lives, or you can teach them everything you know and then hide in the corner with your hands over your eyes while they learn how to drive the damn thing.” [74]

– “Adam and Eve are duped, not by the snake, but by God.” [75]

Sweetening the Evil in Yourself
Kushner ends the chapter with these beautiful thoughts:

“We go down into ourselves with a flashlight, looking for the evil we have intended or done – not to excise it as some alien growth, but rather to discover the holy spark within it. We begin not by rejecting the evil but by acknowledging it as something we meant to do. This is the only way we can truly raise and redeem it.

“We lose our temper because we want things to be better right away. We gaze with lustful eyes because we have forgotten how to love the ones we want to love. We hoard material possessions because we imagine they will help us live more fully. We turn a deaf ear, for we fear the pain of listening would kill us. We waste time, because we are not sure how to enter a living relationship. We even tolerate a society that murders, because we are convinced it is the best way to save more life. At the bottom of such behavior is something that was once holy. And during times of holiness, communion, and light our personal and collective perversions creep out of the cellar, begging to be healed, freed, and redeemed.” [78]


“The conclusion of true teshuva [repentance], returning to our Source in Heaven, is not self-rejection or remorse, but the healing that comes from telling ourselves the truth about our real intentions and, finally, self-acceptance. This does not mean that we are now proud of who we were or what we did, but it does mean that we have taken what we did back into ourselves, acknowledged it as part of ourselves. We have found its original motive, realized how it became disfigured, perhaps beyond recognition, made real apologies, done our best to repair the injury, but we no longer try to reject who we have been and therefore who we are, for even that is an expression of the Holy One of Being.

“We do not simply repudiate the evil we have done and sincerely mean never to do again; that is easy. We receive whatever evils we have intended and done back into ourselves as our own deliberate creations. We cherish them as long-banished children finally taken home again. And thereby transform them and ourselves. When we say the vidui, the confession, we don’t hit ourselves; we hold ourselves.” [79-80]




2 responses

11 07 2008

This is a wonderful blog. Thank you for taking the time and caring enough to post it. G-d bless you! grey.cindy@gmail.com

1 08 2008

Hey man, I just finished this chapter myself, when your around this next week we need to get several cups of coffee and compare thoughts and impressions from this chapter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: