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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Foreskin's Lament

Foreskin's Lament by Shalom Auslander [1]
Youtube Video [2]

When I was a child, my parents and teachers told me about a man who was very strong. They told me he could destroy the whole world. They told me he could lift mountains. They told me he could part the sea. It was important to keep the man happy. When we obeyed what the man had commanded, the man liked us. He liked us so much that he killed anyone who didn’t like us. But when we didn’t obey what he had commanded, he didn’t like us. He hated us. Some days he hated us so much, he killed us; other days, he let other people kill us. We call these days “holidays.” On Purim, we remembered how the Persians tried to kill us. On Passover, we remembered how the Egyptians tried to kill us. On Chanukah, we remembered how the Greeks tried to kill us.

—Blessed is He, we prayed.

As bad as these punishments could be, they were nothing compared to the punishments meted out to us by the man himself. Then there would be famines. Then there would be floods. Then there would be furious vengeance. This was the song we sang about him in kindergarten:

God is here,
God is there,
God is truly
everywhere!

Then snacks, and a fitful nap.

I was raised like a veal in the Orthodox Jewish town of Monsey, New York, where it was forbidden to eat veal together with dairy. Having eaten veal, one was forbidden to eat dairy for six hours; having eaten dairy, one was forbidden to eat veal for three hours. One was forbidden to eat pig forever, or at least until the Messiah arrived; it was then, Rabbi Napier had taught us in the fourth grade, that the wicked would be punished, the dead would be resurrected, and pigs would become kosher.

The people of Monsey were terrified of God, and they taught me to be terrified of Him, too—they taught me about a woman named Sarah who would giggle, so He made her barren; about a man named Job who was sad and asked, —Why?, so God came down to the Earth, grabbed Job by the collar, and howled, —Who the fuck do you think you are?

And so, in early autumn, when the leaves choked, turned colors, and fell to their deaths, the people of Monsey gathered together in synagogues across the town and wondered, aloud and in unison, how God was going to kill them: —Who will live and who will die, they prayed, —who at his predestined time and who before his time, who by water and who by fire, who by sword, who by beast, who by famine, who by thirst, who by storm, who by plague, who by strangulation, and who by stoning.

Then lunch, and a fitful nap.

It is Monday morning, six weeks after my wife and I learned that she is pregnant with our first child, and I am stopped at a traffic light. The kid doesn’t have a chance. It’s a trick. I know this God; I know how He works. The baby will be miscarried, or die during childbirth, or my wife will die during childbirth, or they’ll both die during childbirth, or neither of them will die and I’ll think I’m in the clear, and then on the drive home from the hospital, we’ll collide head-on with a drunk driver and they’ll both die later.

That would be so God.

The teachers from my youth are gone, the parents old and mostly estranged. The man they told me about, though—he’s still around. I can’t shake him. I read Spinoza. I read Nietzsche. I read National Lampoon. Nothing helps. I live with Him every day, and behold, He is still angry, still vengeful, still—eternally—pissed off.

1 comment:

marronyeux said...

I thought you wrote this. I didn't realize until the very end that it was from a book. Thank you so much for mentioning this book, I will order it and read it!

You know, I feel the same way myself. I don't believe in God but at the same time I feel like God is pissed off at me all of the time, every day. Because that's what I was taught as a child.

Keep it up! Keep on writing! : )

Shlomit