Do we have any sci/fi /fantasy folk around here? Besides me, that is! Have you ever read a book so profound that you want to grab everybody you know, and even some strangers, and say “YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK?” No, I’m not talking about the Torah, although having a familiarity with it certainly helps to understand the background of the story. The book to which I refer is called Good Omens and is a collaboration between Sir Terry Pratchett, z”l and Neil Gaiman, author of Coraline, among many, many other works beautiful and terrifying.
Good Omens begins with a prequel, set just after Adam and Eve are kicked out of Paradise, Gan Eden. The fiery angel, named Aziraphale* in this book, the one who prevents the couple from returning to the Garden, and the serpent, whose name was Crawly, but would later change it to Crowley, are having a discussion about what just happened. Crawly is of the opinion that God overreacted. He said, “I mean, first offense and everything. I can’t see what’s so bad about knowing the difference between good and evil anyway.” They chew it over a bit, the angel and the serpent-demon, and then Aziraphale, the angel says,
“Best not to speculate , really…You can’t second guess ineffability, I always say. There’s Right and there’s Wrong. If you do Wrong when you’re told to do Right, you deserve to be punished. Er.”
They talk a bit more, and the demon notices that the angel has lost his sword, and asks him about it. The angel fesses up that he gave it to Adam and Eve, as protection against the cold and other things out in the “wild world” as Cat Stevens put it. The angel wonders whether he has done the right thing. The devil, meanwhile, wonders the same thing about his role: the whole bit with the apple.
“Funny if we both got it wrong, eh? Funny if I did the good thing and you did the bad one, eh?”
Fast- forward to the end of the book. The Apocalypse (this time, we are referring to the Christian Bible) has happened, only not quite as prophesied. The Antihero, the Devil’s own son, was raised human, with the ability to decide for himself what is right and what is wrong, and to rebel against his destiny, saving the world in the process. Aziraphale and Crowley have their post-Apocalyptic review of their part in THIS story,
“Well,” said Crowley, who’d been thinking about this until his head ached, “haven’t you ever wondered about it all? You know- your people, and my people, Heaven and Hell, good and evil, all that sort of thing? I mean, why?”
“As I recall,” said the angel, stiffly, “there was the rebellion and-“
“Ah, yes. And why did it have to happen, eh? I mean, it didn’t have to, did it?” said Crowley, a manic look in his eye.” “Anyone who could build a universe in six days isn’t going to let a little thing like that happen. Unless they want it to, of course.”
“Oh, come on. Be sensible,” said Aziraphale, doubtfully.
“That’s not good advice,” said Crowley. “That’s not good advice at all. If you sit down and think about it sensibly, you come up with some very funny ideas. Like: why make some people inquisitive, and then put some forbidden fruit where they can see it , with a big neon finger flashing on and off saying THIS IS IT!?”
“I don’t remember any neon.”
“Metaphorically, I mean. I mean, why do that if you really don’t want them to eat it, eh? I mean, maybe you just want to see how it all turns out. Maybe it’s all part of a great big ineffable plan. All of it. You, me, him, everything. Some great big test just to see if what you built all works properly, eh? You start thinking: it can’t be a great cosmic game of chess, it has to be just very complicated Solitaire. And don’t bother to answer. If we could understand, we wouldn’t be us. Because it’s all-all-“
INEFFABLE said the figure feeding the ducks ( who just happened to be Death, personified).
This discussion and angst over good and evil made me think about the Talmudic story of the four sages who visited Paradise. One died, one went mad, one cut himself off from his faith. Only Rabbi Akiva survived the journey. The same Rabbi Akiva who declared of the Song of Songs, that, contrary to being just a description of an intense physical encounter, Shir ha Shirim is a metaphor for the love of God for the Shekhina: God’s other half, as it were, which accompanied the People Israel into Exile. What can this legend teach us on this finale to an entire day of fasting and contemplation? Could it be saying that God longs for our return, too? As we sing at the end of another fast day, Tisha b’Av,
“Hashiveinu, hashiveinu, Adonai eilecha, v’nashuva, v’nashuva, Chadeish, chadeish yameinu k’kedem.”
Turn us unto you and we shall return, renew our days as in the beginning.
Ken y’hi ratzon.