13 April 2005


Meta-questions for Discussion at the Passover Seder

By David Steinberg


Home page http://www.houseofdavid.ca/


The questions below are designed to get at the major issues lying behind the haggadah text and its relevance to the modern Jew.  Due to time and other factors only one or two could be addressed at an average seder.  You may wish to choose one as a “theme for this year”.



The Task

“For many of us, the traditional set of images that characterized Judaism from antiquity on has been irreparably shattered. The new individualism, our historical awareness, and the critical temper of our time have done their work. The belief system that our ancestors carried with them-and that carried them through to modernity-doesn't work for us. Nor do we have any powerful desire to recapture that mental set in its classical form.”

 “… we … know that we can never discard the fragments of the old, however inadequate they may seem to us. To do so would be to lose our link with our community-and without a community, where and who would we be? In fact, an extended modern homily on both the biblical verse and its rabbinic interpretation might teach that we must refashion our new tablets precisely out of the fragments of the old.”

From Sacred Fragments by Neil Gillman



  1. Myth (see below) – Modern scholarship of the Torah indicates that the Exodus story was written many centuries after the time of the Exodus if, indeed, any such event took place.  If there was a historic Exodus, it would have had no resemblance to the description in the book of Exodus.  How can we relate to an Exodus which may have been written by much later Israelites to elucidate their view of who they were, where they came from and their relationship to God but which may have no bases in actual events?


Neusner on the Mythic Structure of Classical Judaism[1]


In the beginning, two thousand years before the heaven and the earth, seven things were created: the Torah, written with black fire on white fire and lying in the lap of God; the Divine throne, erected in the heavens. . . ; Paradise on the right side of God; Hell on the left side; the Celestial Sanctuary directly in front of God, having a jewel on its altar graven with the name of the Messiah, and a Voice that cries aloud, Return, Oh you children of men.

Redemption is both in the past and in the future. That God not only creates but also redeems is attested by the redemption from Egyptian bondage.  The congregation repeats the exultant song of Moses and the people at the Red Sea, not as scholars making a learned allusion, but as participants in the salvation of old and of time to come. Then the people turn to the future and ask that Israel once more be redeemed.

But redemption is not only past and future. When the needy are helped, when the proud are humbled and the lowly are raised-in such commonplace, daily events, redemption is already present. Just as creation is not only in the beginning, but happens every day, morning and night, so redemption is not only at the Red Sea, but every day, in humble events. Just as revelation was not at Sinai alone, but takes place whenever man studies Torah, whenever God opens man's heart to the commandments, so redemption and creation are daily events.

The great cosmic events of creation in the beginning, redemption at the Red Sea, revelation at Sinai-these are everywhere, every day near at hand. The Jew views secular reality under the mythic aspect of eternal, ever-recurrent events. Whatever happens to him and to the world, whether good or evil, falls into the pattern revealed of old and made manifest each day. Historical events produce a framework into which future events will find a place, by which they will be understood. Nothing that happens cannot be subsumed by the paradigm.

The myths of creation, of the Exodus from Egypt, of the revelation of Torah at Sinai, are repeated not merely to tell the story of what once was and is no more, but rather !o recreate out of the raw materials of everyday life the "true being," life as it was, always is, and will be forever. Streng says, "Myth and ritual recreate in profane time what is eternally true in sacred reality. To live in the myth is to live out the creative power that is the basis of any existence whatever."  We here see an illustration of these statements.  At prayer the Jew repeatedly refers to the crucial elements of his mythic being, thus uncovering the sacred both in nature and in history. We therefore cannot say that Judaic myth does not emphasize a repetition of a cosmic pattern in cyclical, or mythical time, for what happens in the proclamation of the Shema is just that: the particular events of creation sunset, sunrise-evoke in response the celebration of the power and the love of God, his justice and mercy, revelation and redemption….

The mythic structure, built upon the themes of creation, revelation, and redemption, finds expression not only in synagogue liturgy, but especially in concrete, everyday actions, or action-symbols, deeds that embody and express the fundamental mythic life of the classical Judaic tradition.

These action-symbols are set forth in halakhah. This word is normally translated as "law," for the halakhah is full of normative, prescriptive rules about what one must do and refrain from doing in every situation of life, at every moment of the day. But halakhah derives from the root halakh, which means "go," and a better translation would be "way." The halakhah is "the way":   way man follows the revelation of the Torah and attains redemption.

For the Judaic tradition, this way is absolutely central. Belief without the expression of belief in the workaday world is of limited consequence. The purpose of revelation is to create a kingdom of priests and a holy people. The foundation of that kingdom, or sovereigntv, is the rule of God over the lives of man. For the Judaic tradition, God rules, much as men do, by guiding men on the path of life, not by removing them from the land of living. Creation lies behind, redemption in the future; Torah is for here and now. To the classical Jew, Torah means revealed law, commandment, accepted by Israel and obeyed from Sinai to the end of days.

The spirit of the Jewish way, halakhah, is conveyed in many modes, for law is not divorced from values, …man's beliefs and ideals. The purpose of the commandments was to show the road to sanctity.

…The first consideration is ethical: Did the man conduct himself faithfully? The second is study of Torah, not at random but everyday, systematically, as a discipline of life. Third comes the raising of a family, for celibacy and abstinence from sexual life were regarded as sinful, but the full use of man's creative powers for the procreation of life was a commandment. Nothing God made was evil. Wholesome conjugal life was a blessing. But, fourth, merely living day-by-day according to an upright ethic was not sufficient. It is true that man must live by a holy discipline, but the discipline itself was only a means. The end was salvation. Hence the pious man was asked to look forward to salvation, aiming his deeds, directing his heart, toward a higher goal. Wisdom and insight-these complete the list. for without them. the way of Torah was a life of mere routine, rather than a constant search for deeper understanding.


  1. Ha Lahma – Jewish views on hospitality and social equity - how do they relate to us as a society and individuals?



  1. The Four Questions - the Jewish concept of freedom - how do they relate to us as a society and individuals?


The Four Questions really amount to one question-why do we celebrate Pesah? In addressing this issue, the Haggadah conforms to the talmudic principle,

"Begin with degradation and end with glory" (Pesahim 116a)

The meaning of degradation is debated in the Talmud by Rav and Samuel. Since Samuel equates degradation with slavery, he thinks we should start by reciting

"We were slaves" (Avadim hayinu)

Since Rav equates degradation with idolatry, he advocates starting with

"In the beginning our ancestors served idols" (Mitehilah)

We read both passages at the Seder because both passages are equally relevant. From slavery to idolatry is a movement back in time from the Exodus to Abraham, who set our saga in motion, for he set the scene for ultimate redemption when he rejected his father's gods

From Passover Haggadah: The Feast of Freedom, Rabbinical Assembly 1982


Yes, we do accept both definitions but we recite Samuel’s (degradation=physical slavery) first.  Perhaps, because only truly exceptional people can know spiritual liberation while physically unfree.  For most, physical liberation, and an absence of extreme poverty are required before they can turn their minds to spiritual things.

  1. Maggid - how to make Jewish tradition relevant to the new generation of Jews?


  1. MaggidJewish Concept(s) of Justice


According to the Torah, God’s plan was to consign the people of Israel to 400 years of slavery though they were guilty of no sin which might justify this punishment. 



"He said unto Abram:


Know for certain that your offspring shall be strangers in a strange land, and shall be enslaved and afflicted for four hundred years. But know with equal certainty that I will judge the nation that enslaved them, and that afterwards they will leave with great substance'" (Genesis 15: 13-14).

From Passover Haggadah: The Feast of Freedom, Rabbinical Assembly 1982


Whole generations were born and worked to death presumably without moral reason and without hope of redemption.  How does this square with Abraham’s God?


17 Now the Lord had said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do…. 19 For I have singled him out, that he may instruct his children and his posterity to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is just and right …." 20 Then the Lord said, "The outrage of Sodom and Gomorrah is so great, and their sin so grave! 21 I will go down to see whether they have acted altogether according to the outcry that has reached Me; if not, I will take note." …. 23 Abraham came forward and said, "Will You sweep away the innocent along with the guilty? … 25 Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?"

Genesis Chapter 18


The key assumption of the Haggadah is that we are bound by gratitude to God for rescuing us from Egypt.  Should we not be angry with him for consigning us to Egyptian slavery for no reason?  What is our attitude to divine providence?



  1. MaggidJewish Concept(s) of God



“From our vantage point today, we know that Maimonides "Aristotelianized" the biblical image of God, that the rabbis of the Talmud borrowed liberally from Plato and Hellenistic thought, that Jewish mystics were influenced by an ancient, pagan tradition rooted in oriental religions, that, in fact, the Bible itself reflects the rich and complex culture of the ancient Near East within which it was composed.


We are aware of the fact of history. We see change and development everywhere. The God of the Genesis narratives is very different from the God of the later prophets, of the medieval philosophers and mystics, and of Mordecai Kaplan…. In one sense, (the Torah) is the Torah from Sinai; we copy it painstakingly onto a scroll and read meticulously from it in the synagogue. But in another sense, it is also an eternally new text, read anew by every generation as Jews seek to uncover another of its infinite layers of meaning. Was Maimonides aware that he was radically transforming the plain sense of the biblical text? The answer to that question is not clear, at least to this writer. But we surely are aware-both of what Maimonides did, and of what we do as well. Therein lies our peculiarly modern challenge.

From Sacred Fragments by Neil Gillman


We think of the biblical God as omniscient, omnipotent and just.  Do we have to let go of one of these attributes?  Some modern theologians (e.g. Kershner[2]), consider that god suffered with the victims of the Holocaust i.e. he is just but not omnipotent.  This is foreshadowed in the Haggadah


And it is written, "I shall be with Israel in trouble" (Psalms 91:15). And it is written, "In all their afflictions He was afflicted" (Isaiah 63:9).

From Passover Haggadah: The Feast of Freedom, Rabbinical Assembly 1982


The question of God’s omniscience is raised, indirectly in the Haggadah


We cried out to Adonai, the God of our ancestors; and Adonai heard our plea and saw our affliction, our misery and our oppression.

(Deuteronomy 26.)


  1. MaggidPesach is the only occasion when all parents are expected to produce or read a midrash – normally a scholarly activity – scholarship is a major Jewish value; it is thinking god’s thoughts after him.  How do we relate to this value?


  1. Empathy - we are required to see ourselves as if WE went out of Egypt.  How do we empathize as required?  Should it make us empathize with the oppressed of the world?


  1. The Hallel is about gratitude expressed in praise – What is the nature of gratitude as a Jewish value?  How does it relate to us?


  1. The seder before the meal looks back in time; after the meal it looks to the future.  How will our past be reflected in our future?


  1. Birkat Hamazon – What is our attitude to the Land and State of Israel?  Do we see ourselves in exile?



Annex 1

Myth and Midrash

From Sacred Fragments[3]

by Neil Gillman


“A myth should be understood as a structure through which a community organizes and makes sense of its experience. The world" out there" does not impinge itself on us in a totally objective way, tidily packaged and organized into meaningful patterns. Our experience of the world is a complex transaction between what comes to us from "out there" and the way we structure or "read" it. Myths are the spectacles that enable us to see order in what would otherwise be confusion. They are created, initially, by "reading" communities, beginning with their earliest attempts to shape, explain, or make some sense out of their experience of nature and history. Gradually, as the mythic structure seems to work, to be confirmed by ongoing experience, it is refined, shared, and transmitted to later generations. It becomes embodied in official, "canonical" texts and assumes authoritative power. In its final form, it becomes omnipresent and quasi-invisible, so much has it become our intuitive way of confronting the world.

“The more global the myth-the more it tries to explain-the more inventive and imaginative it seems, and hence the more fictional it appears to be. But though a myth has an inherently subjective quality-for it can never be directly compared to the reality it represents, and objectively confirmed to be true or false-it is far from a deliberate fiction. We may never be able to stand outside of the myth to measure its correspondence with reality, for we can never have a totally a-mythical perception of that reality. The issue is never myth or no myth but which myth, for without a myth our experience would be literally meaningless. But every myth is dictated by experience, however much it shapes that experience in the very process of being constructed.

“Myths are intrinsic to communities. In fact, myths create communities. When they assume narrative form, they recount the community's "master story," explaining how that community came into being, what distinguishes it from other communities, how it understands its distinctive history and destiny, what constitutes its unique value system. A myth provides a community with its distinctive raison d'etre.

“Religious myths do all of this for a religious community. They also convey the community's distinctive answers to ultimate human questions: Why am I here? What is the meaning or purpose of my existence? How do I handle guilt, suffering, sexuality, interpersonal relations? What happens when I die?

“Myths promote loyalty to the community, motivate behaviour, generate a sense of belonging and kinship. Because they emerge from and speak to the most primitive layers of our being, they are capable of moving or touching us in the most profound way. People die for their myths, so coercive is their hold.

Religious myths are canonized in Scripture, in the sacred books that record the authoritative version of the communal myth and become the text for communicating it to succeeding generations. They inspire liturgies, poetic recitations of portions of the myth, to celebrate significant events in the life of the community and its members. They also generate rituals, dramatic renderings of the myth, this time in the language of the body. Frequently, liturgy and ritual merge to create elaborate religious pageants which bring the myth into consciousness and give it a concrete reality in the life experience of the community. The Passover seder and the Jewish rites of passage are superb examples of such pageants.

“If myths are subjective, impressionistic human constructs, in what sense are they "true"? Why should one be preferred to another? There is no simple answer to these questions. Myths are clearly not objectively true in the sense that they correspond to some reality out there. We simply do not have an independent picture of that reality against which we can measure the myth, for we literally can not see the world except through the spectacles of our myth.

“But myths are also not capricious inventions. They emerge originally out of our experience of natural and historical patterns. They may select, identify, and organize these specific patterns, but they can do all of this because the patterns are there to be seen, selected, and organized in the first place. They can then be seen to be roughly consistent with our experience of the world. To use our earlier language, we are able to falsify some mythic claims. For example, many of us would not want to account for the death of six million Jews in the Nazi Holocaust by invoking the traditional mythic explanation of suffering as God's punishment for sin. That explanation has been falsified for us; it does not cohere with our experience. It does not provide an adequate explanation. We may not be able to produce a better explanation, but we know this one can not be true.

“It is one thing to falsify a myth but quite another to verify or confirm one. Though no single mythic claim may capture reality in a totally accurate way for everyone, some claims may be more or less accurate than others…. 

“Beyond this, myths can be subject to a pragmatic test that determines whether they work, whether they do what they are supposed to do: explain, motivate, generate loyalty, create identity, and so forth. The pragmatic test is frequently invoked by scientific myths. Freud's psychoanalytic theory, for example, will be judged "true" to the extent that it works to predict human behaviour and cure pathology. It will be replaced if and when another equally mythic theory does all of this more effectively….

“In the course of its earliest experience as a people, the biblical community tried to do much more: understand the world in its entirety and its own place in that world. The classic Torah myth, embodied in Scripture and celebrated in liturgy and ritual, is the result of that inquiry. The only way our ancestors could make sense of their experience of the world was by invoking a supernatural, personal God who created the natural order, entered into a uniquely intimate relationship with a man, his family, and ultimately his progeny. He delivered this people from slavery, entered into a covenant with them whereby they pledged to constitute themselves into a holy people devoted exclusively to Him and His revealed will, punished them for their disobedience, rewarded them for their loyalty, guided them through the desert to their promised homeland, exiled them, and subsequently returned them there again. It is nothing less than astonishing that this classic mythic structure, elaborated and refined throughout the generations- notably by the addition of a vision of the end of days as the ultimate fulfillment of this community's hopes for itself and for mankind-remains in place to this day.

“Is this structure objectively true? There is no way of establishing that. …

“But like the symbols out of which it is fashioned, a myth can live and die, flourish or simply cease to function effectively. But here the similarity ends. Precisely because a myth is a complex of many symbols, it can usually survive the death of anyone or even of a group of its symbols. Beyond this, a living community will strive valiantly to preserve the vitality of its communal myth; nothing less than its own raison d'etre as a community is at stake.”

“For many of us, the traditional set of images that characterized Judaism from antiquity on has been irreparably shattered. The new individualism, our historical awareness, and the critical temper of our time have done their work. The belief system that our ancestors carried with them-and that carried them through to modernity-doesn't work for us. Nor do we have any powerful desire to recapture that mental set in its classical form.”

“When a portion of its myth dies, the community will be impelled to replace it through a process that we call "remythologizing" or, in Jewish sources, midrash.”

“… A midrash is traditionally understood to be a talmudic homily that expands on a biblical word, verse, or narrative in order to give it a new, more comprehensive meaning…. “

“The assumption that underlies all of midrash is that although the text itself may be closed, it still remains open to infinite layers of reinterpretation…. “

“In this situation, we too have to carve out our own new set of tablets (i.e. myth). But we also know that we can never discard the fragments of the old, however inadequate they may seem to us. To do so would be to lose our link with our community-and without a community, where and who would we be? In fact, an extended modern homily on both the biblical verse and its rabbinic interpretation might teach that we must refashion our new tablets precisely out of the fragments of the old.

“Every midrash, then, is a temporary consolidation, a plateau, the outcome of a struggle to rethink a tradition that has become, at least to some Jews, irrelevant. It is then inherently transitory, itself easily becoming anachronistic, lingering until we are shocked out of our complacency when our children tell us that we no longer" speak" to them.

“…. Midrash can also be understood as a process or activity, rather than an outcome. It denotes the process of encountering a text, challenging it with an ever-new set of questions, and struggling to extract from it equally new answers. If we emphasize the process over the outcome, it is because of our peculiarly modem concern with the tentative, individualistic, and even fragmentary nature of the entire enterprise. We can never boast that our readings of Judaism are secure and permanent. We are all, more or less, always "on the road"; our work is always m process….

“It is one of the glories of the Jewish philosophical tradition that there never was one ultimate authority-a pope, chief rabbi, or panel of philosophers-who had the power to declare one statement of Jewish belief authentic or another heretical. The concerned community decides-by its very willingness to study and teach, appropriate and transmit, that statement to its children and students. The very readiness to do all of this is itself testimony to its truth. It is this, concerned community that lends coherence and integrity to the process of midrash, however individualistic it may be.”



Annex 2

The Mashchit (more precisely mašīt) - DESTROYER


This mysterious figure appears out of nowhere in the biblical text.  I have found the following useful  It is quoted from S. A. Meier’s article in Karel van der Toorn’s Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, 1999

'Destroyer' is the designation of a supernatural envoy from God assigned the task of annihilating large numbers of people, typically by means of a plague. The noun is a hiphil participle of the root št which is not attested in the OT in the qal. When the root appears in the hiphil, hophal, piel, and niphal stems, it describes the deterioration, marring, disfiguring, damaging and destruction of people and things, such as textiles (Jer 13:7), pots (Jer 18:4), vineyards (Jer 12:10), trees (Deut 20:19), cities (Gen 13:10) and buildings (Lam 2:6). It represents the kind of activity performed by plundering thieves (Jer 49:9)…. 

“The Destroyer must be distinguished from those supernatural figures who, in their capacity as angels/messengers of death, visit all men and terminate the lives of single individuals. In the Bible, the Destroyer does not kill all humans, nor is he dispatched by God to kill isolated individuals. Furthermore, unlike the angels of death who bring death of any sort (both natural and premature), the Destroyer brings specifically a premature and agonizing death….

The Hebrew word mašīt, explicitly describing a supernatural creature commissioned by God to exterminate large groups of people, appears in only two contexts in the Bible (Exod 12:23; 2 Sam 24:16 parallel to 1 Chr 21:15). The activity of such a creature can be further detected in at least four other passages, even though it is not there explicitly identified as a mašīt (Num 17:11-15 [16:46-50]; 2 Kgs 19:35 parallel to Isa 37:36; Ezek 9 …).

The death of the firstborn in Egypt, in concert with all of the other plagues, is primarily attributed to the activity of YHWH throughout the Bible: "I will kill … your first-born" (Exod 4:23; cf. 11:4-5; 12:12-13.23a.27.29; Ps 78:51; 105:36). Nevertheless, YHWH's involvement is further qualified in one passage: " YHWH will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, YHWH will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer (mašīt) to enter your houses to strike you down" (Exod 12:23).

The relationship between YHWH and the Destroyer in this passage is hardly extraordinary in the context of the ancient Near East. One is to picture YHWH, accompanied by a retinue of assistants, going against his enemies in judgment…. Both YHWH and his entourage can be depicted as active in the same conflict, and if YHWH decides to restrain his weapons, he must also give orders to desist to the supernatural warriors that accompany him. In Exodus 12, therefore, YHWH and at least one supernatural assistant are responsible for the deaths of the Egyptian first-born (cf. Ps 78:49); when YHWH sees Iamb's blood on door-posts, not only does he not kill, but he gives orders to the accompanying Destroyer to exercise similar restraint (biblical and later sources affirm that a number of plague and destroying angels do God's work; cf. Ps 78:49…).

The means by which the Destroyer slew the Egyptian first-born is not immediately obvious, although the Hebrew term and its translation in the early versions point to a violent or painful death….  This is confirmed by the statement that the Destroyer must be restrained from "smiting", lingoph (Exod 12:23), a verb whose root is identical to the root for the word 'plague' or 'pestilence' …. The word translated 'plague', negeph, is used in connection with the death of the first-born (Exod 12:13), as maggepha describes the other 'plagues' (Exod 9: 14). There can be little question, therefore, that the Destroyer in Exod 12:23 belongs to the class of plague deities broadly attested in the ancient Near East.


[1] From The Way of Torah: An Introduction to Judaism, Second Edition by Jacob Neusner, Dickenson 1974

[2] From When Bad Things Happen to Good People by HAROLD S. KUSHNER, Schocken, 1981 pp. 37, 38, 45, 84, 85

To try to understand the (biblical) book (of Job) and its answer, let us take note of three statements which everyone in the book, and most of the readers, would like to be able to believe:

A. God is all-powerful and causes everything that happens in the world. Nothing happens without His willing it.

B. God is just and fair, and stands for people getting what they deserve, so that the good prosper and the wicked are punished.

C. Job is a good person.

(Job 38, 39)

As long as Job is healthy and wealthy, we can believe all three of those statements at the same time with no difficulty. When Job suffers, when he loses his possessions, his family and his health, we have a problem. We can no longer make sense of all three propositions together. We can now affirm any two only by denying the third.

If God is both just and powerful, then Job must be a sinner who deserves what is happening to him. If Job is good but God causes his suffering anyway, then God is not just. If Job deserved better and God did not send his suffering, then God is not all-powerful. We can see the argument of the Book of Job as an argument over which of the three statements we are prepared to sacrifice, so that we can keep on believing in the other two….

If we have grown up, as Job and his friends did, believing in an all-wise, all-powerful, all-knowing God, it will be hard for us, as it was hard for them, to change our way of thinking about Him (as it was hard for us, when we were children, to realize that our parents were not all-powerful, that a broken toy had to be thrown out because they could not fix it, not because they did not want to). But if we can bring ourselves to acknowledge that there are some things God does not control, many good things become possible.  

We will be able to turn to God for things He can do to help us, instead of holding on to unrealistic expectations of Him which will never come about. The Bible, after all, repeatedly speaks of God as the special protector of the poor, the widow, and the orphan, without raising the question of how it happened that they became poor, widowed, or orphaned in the first place.

We can maintain our own self-respect and sense of goodness without having to feel that God has judged us and condemned us.  We can be angry at what has happened to us without feeling that we are angry at God.  MNore than that, we can recognize our anger at life’s unfairness, our instinctive compassion at seeing people suffer, as coming from God who teaches us to be angry at injustice and to feel compassion for the afflicted. Instead of feeling that we are opposed to God, we can feel that our indignation is God's anger at unfairness working through us, that when we cry out, we are still on God's side, and He is still on ours….

The Holocaust happened because Hitler was a demented evil genius who chose to do harm on a massive scale. But he did not cause it alone. Hitler was only one man, and even his ability to do evil was limited. The Holocaust happened because thousands of others could be persuaded to join him in his madness, and millions of others permitted themselves to be frightened or shamed into cooperating. It happened because angry, frustrated people were willing to vent their anger and frustration on innocent victims as soon as someone encouraged them to do so. It happened because Hitler was able to persuade lawyers to forget their commitment to justice and doctors to violate their oaths. And it happened because democratic governments were unwilling to summon their people to stand up to Hitler as long as their own interests were not yet at stake.

Where was God while all this was going on? Why did He not intervene to stop it? Why didn't He strike Hitler dead in 1939 and spare millions of lives and untold suffering, or why didn't He send an earthquake to demolish the gas chambers? Where was God? I have to believe, with Dorothee Soelle, that He was with the victims, and not with the murderers, but that He does not control man's choosing between good and evil. I have to believe that the tears and prayers of the victims aroused God's compassion, but having given Man freedom to choose, including the freedom to choose to hurt his neighbor, there was nothing God could do to prevent it.

Christianity introduced the world to the idea of a God who suffers, alongside the image of a God who creates and commands. Postbiblical Judaism also occasionally spoke of a God who suffers, a God who is made homeless and goes into exile along with His exiled people, a God who weeps when He sees what some of His children are doing to others of His children. I don't know what it means for God to suffer. I don't believe that God is a person like me, with real eyes and real tear ducts to cry, and real nerve endings to feel pain. But I would like to think that the anguish I feel when I read of the sufferings of innocent people reflects God's anguish and God's compassion, even if His way of feeling pain is different from ours. I would like to think that He is the source of my being able to feel sympathy and outrage, and that He and I are on the same side when we stand with the victim against those who would hurt him.

[3] Pp. xxv-xxvii, 26-30, 88