Elisha Ben Abuya

Elisha ben Abuya is a Talmudic character of high interest.  In fact the book As A Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg is a fictional account of his life.  In one story about this Sage of the first century is in the Talmud (Hullin 142a) where the he witnesses a boy climb a tree at his father's request (honouring his father) to get eggs (and remembers to shoo away the mother bird). Fulfilling two commandments that the Torah declares the reward for is a long life.    Elisha remarks, 'This boy is surely going to have a long life.' No sooner than he says this, the boy falls from the tree, breaks his neck and dies. Elisha's faith in God and true judgement evaporates and in that moment declares there is no true Judge in reference to God.   Elisha becomes an apostate, and is given the name Ocher ( the other one ), and becomes the foil throughout the Talmud for teaching the right way to approach the text.  


I thought of this story this morning when a friend, filling me in on her life, told me of two recent deaths.  One, her father-in-law, a man of age but still even with grandchildren left this world too soon.  The other was harder.  A ten year old, sent to bed with what was diagnosed as a flu fell victim to the misdiagnosed pneumonia that stole his last breath.  Each story added to the other's tragedy for my friend.  But the more I thought about it I was reminded of the story of Ocher.   Sometimes we are confronted with the things in our lives that defy explanation.  We strive to find meaning and sooth ourselves with the phrases like "everything is for a reason".  Sometimes it is not.  Sometimes it is the randomness of the universe more dynamic that we can imagine.  Sometimes the branch breaks.  


I think about this when I hear friends talk about both the profound and the ordinary events in their lives.  They use language like "God has another plan".  It is a comfort and I would think a curse to live with that as a belief.  For Ocher it destroyed his faith so much he became at times a personification of every kind of evil, even in one myth getting to visit paradise only to pull up all the flowers.  I cannot believe in a God who has so much involvement in the little details and if I did I would wonder why a God would have let that little boy go to bed.  I think it too easy to see God in the every day set backs and the great tragedies of our lives.  I remember the moment when this struck me the most.  It was almost 25 years ago and those who know me know of Linda's story.  I remember a man telling me that her death was God's way of telling me to live differently.  How can that be a God I worship?   


I will never see God as a player and me a pawn in the game.  My God is one that I seek to bring and express in the world.  I still can't wrap my head around the death of a child, but it is easier to believe in a God created universe where children will die for a variety of reasons without meaning, than one who would take a child just to force a single person to think differently.  Ocher was right in one respect.  There is no true judge, that isn't God's job, it is our job to create a world where we don't need one.

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