Interesting Times: Helping to create a rock you can't lift

The bat mitzva of a daughter triggers the answer to the question of why it was important for God to give people free will.

0808-saul (photo credit:)
0808-saul
(photo credit: )
Earlier this summer as we read Parshat Shlach Lecha - the story of the spies - our oldest daughter Noa celebrated her bat mitzva. Here is my attempt to meet her challenge by addressing the biggest questions she could think of. Noa is a night person. So when it is already an hour past her bedtime, she will start asking questions. Big questions. Anything to stay up a little bit longer. Among her favorites are: "How can God create a stone that he can't lift?" and "Why are there bad people in the world?" The first I would tend to brush off as a trick question. It is another way of asking "How can God do impossible things." I wanted to answer, "How am I supposed to know that?" To the second question, I would give the somewhat unsatisfying answer that philosophers and Jewish tradition have been giving for centuries: that God gave people free will, and free will includes the ability to do bad things and not just good things, or it would not be free will. But this answer is also just another way of asking why was it so important for God to give people free will. A few months ago - as we were walking somewhere on Shabbat - an answer to both these questions dawned on me. I told Noa then that I would answer her questions, but that she had to wait for the bat mitzva. Now that time has finally come. FOR ME, the answer to these questions comes from you, Noa, and your sisters, and thinking about what we want for you. We, your parents, want you to be like us, but we also want you to be better and different than us. We are proud when you can do things that we teach you, but we are even more proud when you can do things we can't do. The dream of many parents is to raise children who transcend them. Some day, Noa, when you are a parent, God willing, you will understand what it means to want your children to go beyond you, and that when your children do that, it is as if you have helped create a rock that you couldn't lift. So you see, the answer to both your questions is that God is like a parent. As we say in our prayers, God is our father or mother and we are God's children. And God wanted to create a rock that He couldn't lift, so He created people who would do amazing things - not because that was the only thing they could do, but because they chose to and learned to do it themselves. God could have created people to be like robots who were incapable of doing evil. But such people would never be capable of transcending Him. They would not have surprised God, either for good or for evil. I'm sure it was not easy for God to give people such freedom. It must hurt God to see what people sometimes do. It is also not easy for parents to give their children freedom. Giving them freedom to succeed is easy, but what about freedom to make mistakes? The story in your parsha is exactly this, of God letting go, of letting the Children of Israel make a terrible mistake. Why did God let the spies go when He knew their mission would end in betrayal and disaster? Because He had to or His children would never have grown up. The rabbis teach us the famous story of a halachic debate in which Rabbi Eliezer calls on a tree to move, a stream to change direction, the walls of the yeshiva to lean in, all to prove his point. Rabbi Yehoshua responds, "One cannot bring a proof from a tree, a stream or walls." Then came a voice from God himself: "Why are you arguing with Rabbi Eliezer, even though the law is always as he says?" And Rabbi Yehoshua responds simply that "It is not in heaven." From another story we learn that when God heard that He had been overruled by His creations, He smiled. To me, this shows that God is proudest of us when we transcend Him, because it means that He has created something that recreates itself, and therefore that He could not have created directly. In other words, He has created a rock that He couldn't lift. I don't know if this answers your excellent questions, Noa. What I know is that we are very proud that you are asking such questions, and that you are answering them by becoming a mature, independent person who cares so much about her sisters, her family, her friends and making the world a better place. We love you, and thank God for the privilege of sharing in the wonderful person that you are and are becoming.