Imagine what it must have been like for our ancestor Moses to go before Pharoah and at God’s request, demand that he let our people go. He must have been reluctant when God asked. He must have been anxious and afraid. Perhaps that’s why, in preparing Moses for his mission, God gives him a little pep talk.
“I place you in the role of God to Pharaoh, with your brother Aaron, as your prophet.” What a statement?! God is essentially telling Moses to act as if he himself is God. In most circumstances, this would be the epitome of arrogance on Moses’ part. “Playing God” implies a power and a certainty that is far beyond any human being. After all, for millennia, we Jews have gone out of our way to cultivate our own sense of humility.
Consider the old joke that on Yom Kippur, just as the service reaches the climax, the Rabbi, in front of the congregation, throws himself down on his hands and knees and cries out, “Before You O God, I am nothing!” The Cantor is so moved that she too immediately kneels, sobbing with emotion, “Before You O God, I am nothing!” Meanwhile, Mr. Goldberg, in the front row, is so moved, so inspired, that he also drops to his hands and knees and yells out, “Before You O God I am nothing!” At which point, the Rabbi, noticing Mr. Goldberg, turns to the Cantor and, dripping with sarcasm, remarks, “Look who thinks he’s nothing!"
Yes, a traditional Jew might have a sense of being “but dust and ashes,” as it were. Yet here, God is actually telling Moses to “play God” because it is an essential step in our people’s liberation.
We are taught that human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. I’ve always taken that to mean that there is a divine spark within each and every one of us—there is a little bit of God in each of us. Our task is to take that divine spark and let it shine in our lives and our world.
Julie Manhan tells the story of a small boy who wanted to meet God. He knew it was a long trip to where God lived, so he packed his suitcase with Twinkies and a six-pack of root beer and he started his journey.
When he had gone about three blocks, he met an old woman. She was sitting in the park just staring at some pigeons. The boy sat down next to her and opened his suitcase. He was about to take a drink from his root beer when he noticed that the old lady looked hungry, so he offered her a Twinkie. She gratefully accepted it and smiled at him. Her smile was so pretty that the boy wanted to see it again, so he offered her a root beer. Once again, she smiled at him. The boy was delighted!
They sat there all afternoon eating and smiling, but they never said a word.
As it grew dark, the boy realized how tired he was and he got up to leave, but before he had gone more than a few steps, he turned around, ran back to the old woman, and gave her a hug. She gave him her biggest smile ever.
When the boy opened the door to his own house a short time later, his mother was surprised by the look of joy on his face.
She asked him, “What did you do today that made you so happy?”
He replied, “I had lunch with God.” And before his mother could respond, he added, “You know what? She’s got the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen!”
Meanwhile, the old woman, also radiant with joy, returned to her home. Her son was stunned by the look of peace on her face and he asked, “Mother, what did you do today that made you so happy?”
She replied, “I ate Twinkies in the park with God.” And before her son responded, she added, “You know, he’s much younger than I expected.”
When we let the divine spark within each of us shine in our lives, our marriages, our families, and our friendships, we embody what the Torah comes to teach us this shabbat—that God lives when we live in a Godly way.