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5.18.03 Arguing with God

Jim's daughter Heidi is raising her children in her husband's Jewish tradition, so this weekend we are celebrating his granddaughter's bat mitzvah. This coming-of-age ceremony is a big deal. The child must learn Hebrew and chant alone in front of a crowd of friends and relatives and make a speech reflecting on a passage in the Torah.

For her sermon, Olivia continued an important Jewish tradition of arguing with God. Her Torah portion was one of those Old Testament warnings: if you are good, God will reward you; if you are bad, God will punish you. Wait a minute, Liv said. You mean to say that all those Jews were slaughtered in the Holocaust because they deserved it?? You mean to say people get rich and powerful only because they're so good?? As a young woman who goes to a multi-cultural city school, she is keenly aware of injustice. She's unafraid to speak out, even to God.

I'd been thinking about the topic as well. I recently had a conversation with someone about the contrast between certain people genuinely interested in good work (a.k.a. "our team") and those driven by ambition and self-promotion and could care less about a shared vision (a.k.a. "the bad guys" -- they don't work together enough to be called a "team").

"My father always told me," he said, "that it catches up with them sooner or later."

A comforting thought. What goes around, comes around.

On my drive home, however, reality struck. Good guys win in the end? The black hats get their comeuppance? I don't think so!

In fact, I think that's why we had to invent Hell and complex concepts like karma. What goes around, will come around only if there is an afterlife and a cosmic scorekeeper. Sweet justice happens all too rarely on this earth. Isn't OJ Simpson still playing golf? Isn't Uganda's Idi Amin still living in comfort in Saudi Arabia? Can Enron officials ever really be publicly humiliated enough to make up for their employees' lost life savings?

Everyone was proud of Olivia -- who is mostly still a giggly little girl who didn't much enjoy Hebrew lessons -- for her very adult perception of the world.

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