Is God Unfair? Peering Through the Veil

This past week’s Haftorah portion (for Shemini) was 1st Samuel 6:1-7 with verse 17 added in to complete the story of how the Ark was detoured on its way to David’s home. I always thought it terribly unfair of God to waste Uzzah for instinctively reaching out to protect the Ark when he thought it was about to jolt off the wagon.

Uzzah was just doing what any of us would do when charged with a grave responsibility. He was chosen to walk beside the wagon that bore the holiest of holy items back safely to the tabernacle where it belonged. He was working for his king, just doing his job.

I noticed that I used the word “just” twice when describing this, which is quite telling. I say “just” all the time when I’m trying to make my point, plead my case, or get someone to listen to reason. My version of reason, of course, is superior to that of others. Like all type-A, earnest people-pleasers, I engage in continual juggling of my oh-so-valid opinions with respect for the opinions of others. I usually drop the “others” ball first.

So Uzzah was just protecting God’s property, he was just reaching out to prevent the Ark from falling off the wagon—he was just trying to do the right thing based on his natural understanding of the situation at hand. But the Stone edition of the Torah provides a commentary from Rashi on Uzzah’s sudden and immediate death: “The Ark was so holy that its customary bearers, the Levites, never felt its great weight; they were borne by it. How then, could Uzzah think it was in danger of falling to the ground?”

How can any of us, then, have the luxury of having an opinion? Is that what trust looks like? And if so, how can I divest myself of all these preferences, agendas, and opinions of mine before I too make the fatal mistake of just doing what I believe to be right?

Does drawing closer to God Most High involve just such a process of being willing to remain silent, even paralyzed, while waiting for God to make the next move? Aaron had to remain silent after his two sons were killed for burning the wrong kind of incense, to honor God with his trust in God’s fairness.

I imagine myself in Uzzah’s place and I know I would have been horrified to see the Ark jostled and tipped on the wagon. I would be just as unable to stand by and helplessly watch such an unthinkable event take place without attempting to steady it, to protect it with my life. I would have been unable to show my understandable grief if my children were killed for doing what they thought was a good idea.

Perhaps those were gifts to us from Uzzah, though. Uzzah’s good intentions and his faith in his own ability to protect the things of God shine the light on something we need to learn. Despite our many good intentions, the results are too often ill-timed, poorly communicated, and ultimately harmful. If only we would realize how often we are called to stand still and let things unfold as they will.

If we don’t learn to trust God more and trust ourselves less, we run the risk of causing our own destruction. This is easy to say but nearly impossible to do. I find myself asking God more and more these days to increase my faith, even before I ask for deliverance, protection, or even forgiveness. I realize that all those other requests can only be answered in a lasting way when I deepen my trust in him.

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