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  • Writer's pictureEve Was Right

16. God: The Universe's Middle Manager

Updated: Apr 8

What if God isn't actually God at all? Also: Will our leaders ever stop treating us like idiots?

Parshah Beshalach

TL;DR of the Text

Major Themes

  • People are victims of their governments

  • Qualities of leadership: when should we “toe the company line”? 

  • Is God actually God?

  • Early human psychology and why our myths are so violent

  • Variety is the spice of life

*Important attribution note: All quotes listed in this article are credited to the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash. Here is an Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash: the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.

Exodus 13:17*

“It happened when God sent out the people that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, because it was near, for God said, ‘Perhaps the people will reconsider when they see a war, and they will return to Egypt.’”

People hate war so much that God thought they might return to slavery. This is one of the greatest truths of humanity - we, as everyday people, hate war. Governments go to war, not people. Our governments drag us into it, and we’re getting sick of it.

Governments go to war, not people.

Exodus 14:1-4*

“Hashem spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the Children of Israel and let them turn back and encamp before Pi-hahiroth…

Pharaoh will say of the Children of Israel, “They are imprisoned in the land, the Wilderness has locked them in.” I shall strengthen the heart of Pharaoh and he will pursue them.’” 

Only after Pharaoh expressed his desire to pursue and attack Israel did God strengthen Pharaoh’s heart. Pharaoh exercised his free will before being influenced by God. God gave him rope to hang himself, but he still made the choice independently.

Exodus 14:10-15*

“Pharaoh approached…The Children of Israel cried out to Hashem. They said to Moses, ‘Were there no graves in Egypt that you took us to die in the wilderness?’...

Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear! Stand fast and see the salvation of Hashem that He will perform for you today; for as you have seen Egypt today, you shall not see them ever again!...

Hashem said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry out to Me? Speak to the Children of Israel and let them journey forth!’”

The passage provides an interesting view into Moses’ leadership. The people cried out to Moses, who responded with complete faith in God. Then when God spoke to Moses, His rebuke implied that Moses criticized God once they were alone. 

Moses presented a united front to the people but privately communicated his concerns to God. He toed the company line. Did he make the right choice?

It might’ve been the right choice in Moses’ situation, when the Israelites were in immediate physical danger and widespread panic threatened to erupt. Here’s the problem: we see this tendency everywhere in modern life, from prolonged military and political engagements to middle management leadership in tech companies.

The tendency to toe the line breeds distrust among the general public because, despite what our leaders believe, we are not idiots. We know when our concerns are valid. We know when something doesn’t make sense, and when someone in power tells us that something nonsensical does, in fact, make sense, it underscores just how untrustworthy powerful people are.

Despite what our leaders believe, we are not idiots.

Meme of Heath Ledger's The Joker saying: "Up is Down, Black is White, Left is Right, Right is Wrong"

The current system also breeds incompetence and immorality in the higher rungs of the power hierarchy, because competent and moral people don’t generally toe company lines well.

Competent and moral people don’t generally toe company lines well.

Exodus 13:21, 14:19*

“Hashem went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them on the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel day and night…”

“The angel of God who had been going in front of the camp of Israel moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and went behind them.”

In one verse, we’re told God Himself went before them in a pillar of cloud, and in another verse, we’re told an angel of God moved, and the pillar of cloud moved. 

Which is it - God, or an angel of God? Language using God and “an angel of God” interchangeably happens all the time in the Torah. Rabbis say they’re referred to interchangeably because the angels did God’s bidding, but what if there’s a deeper reason?

What if an angel of God performed most of the works we see in the Torah? Judaism believes every country has a guardian angel - what if the Earth does too? What if the being we know as God is actually more akin to a Director or Vice President of a company, who reports to the CEO?

What if the being we know as God is actually more akin to a Director or Vice President of a company, who reports to the CEO?

He’s experienced enough to create and lead humans, but still trying to find His footing. Many things would make sense, including the mistakes, inconsistencies in management styles, and fits of emotion we see throughout the Torah.

Exodus 14: 26-31*

“Hashem said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea, and the water will go back upon Egypt, upon its chariots and upon its horsemen'…

The water came back and covered the chariots and the horsemen of the entire army of Pharaoh, who were coming behind them in the sea - there remained not a one of them…

Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great hand that Hashem inflicted upon Egypt; and the people revered Hashem, and they had faith in Hashem and in Moses, His servant.”

Egypt’s army was preparing to flee when God killed every last one of them. Was it overkill? Yes, but I’m not sure Israel would’ve followed God if He hadn’t done something of such magnitude.

The Israelites didn’t blink an eye at the plague of the firstborn, so I can’t imagine they would’ve accepted God showing mercy to Egypt after Egypt came to slaughter them. The Israelites might’ve thought that if they came for us once, they’d come for us again and they weren’t exactly in a position to fight back, given they were embarking on a 40-year journey in the wilderness.

Exodus 15:1-3*

“Then Moses and the Children of Israel chose to sing this song to Hashem, and they said the following:...

The might and vengeance of God was salvation for me. 
This is my God and I will build Him a Sanctuary; the God of my father and I will exalt Him. 
Hashem is Master of war.”

Jewish tradition elevates the word “song” to lofty spiritual heights; throughout history, only ten lyrical moments achieved the spiritual level of Song. 

The Torah also calls attention to the Children of Israel choosing to sing the song. God didn’t inspire it; it was a pure manifestation of their free will. As a result, the song’s lyrics teach us essential lessons about the Israelites’ psychology at the time.

God was correct to assume Israel wouldn’t take kindly to displays of mercy. The song bleeds with violence and glorifies God in His most savage aspect. 

Our myths are so violent! Early humans were primitive, not through fault of their own, but because our world was violent and dangerous. In selecting objects of worship, humans wanted the biggest, baddest bully on the block to protect them. 

We’ve transcended this point in our development and are now primed for an improved understanding of God. Having achieved greater complexity for ourselves, we can now manage a more complex concept of God. Imagine the possibilities: mercy even under challenging circumstances, a God Who teaches instead of punishes, and so much more.

Having achieved greater complexity for ourselves, we can now manage a more complex concept of God.

Exodus 15:22-26*

“Moses caused Israel to journey from the Sea of Reeds and they went out to the Wilderness of Shur; they went for a three-day period in the Wilderness, but they did not find water. They came to Marah, but they could not drink the waters of Marah because they were bitter… the people complained against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’

He cried out to Hashem, and Hashem showed him a tree; he threw it into the water and the water became sweet… He said, ‘If you hearken diligently to the voice of Hashem, your God, and do what is just in His eyes, give ear to His commandments and observe all His decrees, then any of the diseases that I placed in Egypt, I will not bring upon you, for I am Hashem, your Healer.’”

The bitter waters served as an excellent introduction to Israel’s time in the Wilderness. God put them in a position to depend on Him for everything - even water. The Wilderness episode deconstructed their mental state upon leaving Egypt so God could build them back up again. Here, we find the real work: creating a brand new people and religion, and convincing them to adhere to it strongly enough to last through millennia.

Exodus 16:4*

“Hashem said to Moses, ‘Behold! - I shall rain down for you food from heaven; let the people go out and pick each day’s portion on its day, so that I can test them, whether they will follow My teaching or not.’”

God tested their greed; He wanted to see if they’d try to obtain more than necessary.

Exodus 16:31*

“The House of Israel called [the food] manna. It was like coriander seed, it was white, and it tasted like a cake fried in honey.”

The Israelites ate nothing but meat and honey cake for forty years. I’m sure a kid would think this sounds awesome, but God used it as a lesson in moderation. Even cake fried in honey becomes disgusting when you eat too much of it. Variety and diversity make life exciting!

*Again with the Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash : the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.


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