Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Treating God worse than the Godfather

I wish to record my admiration for the slight of hand committed here by the Miami Herald, and then I'll have a few words of disapproval for what the article describes. According to the headline:
Cooper City family donates Torah
A Cooper City family honored its youngest son's recovery from once-constant seizures by donating a Torah to its synagogue
a Florida shul appears to have been the beneficiary of a "thanksgiving offering" presented by the grateful family of a boy who no longer suffers seizures. This sort of thing is not unusual. It even has a name in Hebrew (זבח תודה or korban todah) and an unimpeachable pedigree (Ps: 50:23 "...he who offers a thanksgiving offering, honors Me.")

Unfortunately, the article (contra the headline) tells a different story, and I can only presume that the headline was an attempt by the editors to muffle or conceal the vulgarity of what, in fact, transpired:
Gabi Damatov, now 17, suffered from horrific seizures since he was 16 months old.... His parents tried every medicine, every prayer, but nothing worked. Until one day several years ago, when Gabi's mother, Shoshi Damatov, said the family would dedicate a Torah scroll to its synagogue, Chabad of Southwest Broward, if Gabi's seizures stopped. Since then, Gabi has had only a few seizures, going almost three years without one until this past February.
I wish the boy and his family nothing but continued good health, of course, but I'd be abdicating my blogging responsibilities if I neglected to point out that, strictly speaking, the family's gift wasn't a זבח תודה, but a quid pro quo. A payment. After prayer and medicine failed, the family went to the creator of the universe with an offer they thought he couldn't refuse: Cure our son, and we'll buy you something nice. In their imagination, God took the deal, and earned his present, though the favor they requested remains unfulfilled: The boy still suffers seizures!

It all reminds me of how the Italians treated Don Corleone, only the characters in Francis Ford Coppala's movie had the decency to be less direct. Aside for the bumbling undertaker in the opening scene, no one outright offered to pay the Godfather for favors. It was understood that the Don would take care of his friends. Good deeds would be remembered and rewarded. Corleone's people had faith in him, faith in his loyalty, in his justice, and his memory, and to suggest that these things could be improved with a present was to demonstrate disrespect. This attitude, I believe, is closer to the system of schar v' onesh described by the Rambam then the swap proposed by the Damatov family, a proposal that seems to regard God as the sort of favor-seeking bureaucrat who will subvert his own system for the right price.

No comments: