Between the Lines—Yitro

Weekly Midrash Learning with Rabbi Abigail Treu

שמות רבה (וילנא) פרשה כח

בא וראה שאין מדותיו של הקב"ה כמדת בשר ודם, מלך בשר ודם אינו יכול להיות עושה מלחמה ולהיות סופר ומלמד תינוקות, והקב"ה איננו כן אתמול בים כעושה מלחמה שנאמר (שמות טו) ה' איש מלחמה ואומר (איוב כו) בכחו רגע הים, והיום במתן תורה ירד ללמד תורה לבניו, וכה"א (שם /איוב/ לו) הן אל ישגיב בכחו מי כמוהו מורה, הוי וידבר אלהים את כל הדברים האלה.

Exodus Rabbah, Yitro, 28:5

Come and see that the ways of God are not those of men. A mortal king cannot wage war and at the same time be a scribe and a teacher of little children, but God can [do all these things]. On the sea yesterday, God was like one waging war, for it says "The Lord is a man of war" (Exodus 15:3), and also "He stirs up the sea with His power" (Job 26:12); and today, at Revelation, God descended to teach His children Torah. Hence does it say, "Behold, God acts loftily in His power; how is a teacher like Him?" (Job 36:22). Hence And God spoke all these words.

When I was little, my best friend and I shared a favorite game of Barbie dolls. We pretended they were rock stars, fashion models, pediatricians, veterinarians, and mothers (of six, in a nod to The Brady Bunch) who, of course, looked like Barbie and were happily married to Ken.

As grown-ups, we discover we have only one life to live. Some are luckier than others in being able to shape fulfilling careers or having those six kids that were always wanted; and a few get to morph themselves once or twice over a lifetime, a la President Ronald Reagan or George Forman. The ways of God, who can do everything and its opposite at once, are not the ways of men.

And yet—we are created b'tzelem elohim, in God's image. We strive to be like God, although we are merely mortal. We look to the King Davids of history and see that although we cannot do every single thing and its opposite at once, some people are poets and kings, warriors and musicians. Whether in our professional or personal lives, we struggle with competing interests and yearn, especially in 2011 America, for that elusive goal of balance, sh'lemut. The message of this midrash is that we must strive for such a balance with the knowledge that we are merely mortal, that we live in time and in space and that we must be patient with ourselves; that while God is perfect and has it all, even King David had his faults and limitations.