The Torah is fantasy. No, not that kind of fantasy, i.e., totally made up stuff. Nor do I mean the wizards/dragons/alien marauders/magical ring stuff that entertains and enthralls. More like the oh-if-only-this-relationship-would-work-out-my-life-would-be-perfect kind of fantasy – a communal dream of grandeur and happy times with deep psychological resonance and lots of prescriptive morality thrown for good measure.
Consider this week’s Torah portion, Eikev. In it, Moses recounts the basic story to the assembled children of Israel, i.e., God brought you out of Egypt and will deliver you to a land of milk & honey: a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill, a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat food without end, where you will lack nothing…
A very sweet place that receives its water directly from the rains of heaven. A place God looks after 365 days a year, 24/7. Everything will be okay there – perfect, really – and it is all yours!
All you – and by that, I mean we – have to do is:
- Dispossess nations greater and more populous than you, great cities with sky-high walls, all with God’s help in destruction.
- Keep all the instruction (“torah”) that I command you this day.
See what I mean? This is really the most fabulous of fantasies – and I mean this as no insult. Life can be perfect. Bountiful. All my/our enemies will disappear and stay disappeared. I will be able to beat them up without an ounce of guilt and get precisely what I want from an all-powerful God who loves loves loves me! And the rules don’t sound too hard…
Who among us wouldn’t want our lives to proceed in this fashion – uncomplicated, full of direct cause-and-effect, watered by Heaven? I know what you’re thinking – you wouldn’t want a life that simple, only filled with pleasure, where figs grow easily and you lack nothing. You’d miss a life where there was no complexity or conflict. How would art be made? How would personal growth happen? Where would the good stories come from?
And I’m with you, but I believe that’s my grown-up mind speaking, the mind that has adjusted to the contingencies of life, the mind that equates progress with adversity. But really, what child (as in “children” of Israel)(as in our id) would want anything more than a logical system of reward-and-punishment, nice stuff, lots of time to play, the bad kids to disappear, and to be Mom’s favorite?
That’s why I say fantasy. Deep and abiding is this wish for a kind of Eden.
Of course we’re not capable of holding up our end of the bargain, what with breaking all the rules and such. Think: golden calf. Think: the person who just cut you off, almost ran into your car head-on, and gave you the finger. Think: our rush to bomb the hell out of each other (although that might be a commandment)(see After Yet Another War in the Middle East).
But still. Wouldn’t it be kind of nice?