Judaism for the Thinking Person

What is God? The Scientific Explanation of the Plagues As Essential To Understanding What God Is

January 28, 2020

Judaism has long been in a theological crisis.  Under the shadow of classical Christian supernaturalism and American evangelicalism, most Jews tell me they don't believe in God because they believe in scientific explanations of Biblical narrative instead.  In this sermon, I take this on directly, arguing that the Torah juxtaposes the revelation of God's name as God's essence (in Exodus chapter 6) and the 10 plagues to make a theological point that most of us would agree with:  God's essence is the interconnectedness of everything natural and human.  The "scientific" explanation of the plagues (which I draw from a 2019 Time Magazine article by Olivia Waxman) is the demonstration of God's essence as the interconnectedness of all natural and human systems, and the massive chain reactions that occur when we throw them out of balance.  (In Kabbalah, Moses's revelation was of God's essence as Tiferet, ultimate balance.)  The hardening of hearts --not atheism-- is actually the very definition of avoiding connection to God because our normal mindset is to only see one effect from one cause, rather than radical disruption of systems.  (For example, we might see one toxic spill leading to one or two bad effects, rather than leading us to see the chain reaction to the endocrine system disruption of millions of people, which itself leads by chain reaction to massive upheaval in our natural-human systems.  The reaction, like the plagues, goes on and on, but we are resistant to see it.  Our hearts are hard because we don't want to follow the chain of effects beyond one or two.)  Please note that I extensively use the articulation of this from a short essay by Bill Shackman from the Conservative Yeshiva's Torah Sparks.

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