Good morning!  It’s so great to be here with you all.  I would like to start by thanking Rabbi and all my teachers here for teaching me Hebrew and getting me here today.  Thank you, Connie and Esther, for helping and tutoring me with my d’var and readings.  Thanks to all my friends and family for coming near and far.  Thank you to my parents for allowing me to face this challenge. Thank you, Nathaniel and all my friends before me for paving the way.  And thank you to everyone who believed in me and helped me get to this moment in time. 

Today, we worship and pray.

In most of the prayers and stories we celebrate from the Torah, our G-d is portrayed as a ‘good G-d’ and otherwise kind of perfect.  We praise G-d for creating all that we have.

We praise Shekhinah, the female presence of G-d, in thanks for her returning our souls in the morning.  We praise Adonai for creating time and everything in existence. For all good things.  Because the Torah teaches that G-d is good, right?   We are asked to look to G-d for being a just and loving listener and companion.  King David in  Psalms 103 tells us:  The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.

G-d is calm.  G-d is fair.  G-d is right. G-d is good.

G-d can also be something totally different.

Let me tell you about Kibroth-Havattah, translated in the commentary of this portion to “The Graves of Craving”. In the portion of the Torah we are reading today, Parshat  B’haalot’cha, we find the Jews wandering in the desert.  They were tired of eating manna, a grain-like food G-d provided in abundance.  The Torah tells us that “the people would go about and gather it, grind it between millstones or pound it in a mortar, boil it in a pot, and make it into cakes.  It tasted like rich cream.”  Rashi said manna was a delight to eat, but the Rambam agreed with the Jews that eating even the same delicious food everyday could get boring.

So our ancestors started complaining to G-d.  Their bickering was non-stop and the Torah actually referred to them with a term that is equivalent to the English word ‘riffraff’.  They missed the meat they claimed they had when they were enslaved in Egypt.  They missed the melons, the cucumbers.  All the different tasty treats they suddenly decided they must have had tons of when they were enslaved.

They were sick of eating free and easy manna. They were complaining so much, begging for meat morning, noon and night.  So G-d decides to give them what they want.

He says, “You will have so much meat that it will come out of your nostrils and become loathsome to you.”  G-d summons a storm of quails two miles on this side, two miles on that side,  and about a person deep.

G-d basically drowns them in meat.

Everyone who begged for meat was stricken with a plague and died.  Our ancestors who survived set out from that horrifying place, leaving behind the Graves of Craving, the very next morning.

Today’s parshah does not present a “Good G-d”.  Personally, I think G-d acted petulant, mad, vindictive.  What is this side of G-d?  The side that is so different from the compassionate, slow to anger G-d of David’s Psalm?

This is the G-d of Horror.

This different side of G-d does not just show up this one time.  While studying, I’ve run into other stories like this one. Stories of this scary G-d.

I’ve read about G-d flooding the earth, the world opening up a huge trench that would swallow families, animals and children in one terrifying gulp.

G-d ordered our patriarch to tie up and offer his son as a burnt offering!!

Anybody remember Sodom and Gomorrah?  The plagues in Egypt?

Fire has rained down from the heavens.  Rivers have run with blood.

Horror more vivid and destructive than ever imaginable.  This is not a baby’s board book of cute animals waddling onto the Ark.

This is a Torah of Horror.

Our Torah includes every aspect of human experience. It deals with everything our ancestors needed in the great cycle of life.  So, does this mean we need horror?

I researched why some people enjoy watching horror movies and reading scary stories.   Why our parents read us twisted fairy tales.

Humans have an inborn need to experience powerful emotions.

Scary stories help us to deal with, confront and move through fears.

I read an article written by journalist, Abby Moss, who experiences severe anxiety. She talked about how watching horror can actually help people deal with anxiety.  While watching a horror movie, she said that all of her previous anxiety is forgotten as her attention is focused on the story.  As she relaxed into the movie’s build up and release of fear, her own anxiety diminishes.

Horror also helps us confront fear.  When it may not be safe to actually face our innermost fears in reality, these terrifying tales allow us to experience it enough times in our imagination to learn to handle the feelings of dread and fright.

Humans turn to these stories because it exposes us to scared, big feelings and when they appear in real life we will know how to confront them.  If we have already experienced these fears and feelings in the controlled environment of a story, we have more of a sense of being prepared for the fears and feelings that happen in the real world, a world out of our control.

Horror stories are the basis for strong bonding experiences with other people, too.  Humans build connection when they share big emotions.

If you are experiencing something scary with a friend, there is a sense that you have faced these fears together, and overcome them together as well.  The shared energy of emotion draws people closer and connects them so they can face the world together.

Once a year my family goes camping in a park called Grayland. Every year we all sit around the campfire and tell stories. One year, my aunt told a story about a crazy “donkey lady”. It actually wasn’t too scary until the end, when she had another friend jump out of the bushes and start screaming like a donkey. Every one around the campfire jumped, then started laughing. But, that night, all of the kids slept in the same tent.

We can also use horror to understand limits and learn lessons.   Horror sets the story in the extreme so the lesson will stick. In my parsha, one lesson is simple, one lesson is deep.

First, we learn that you should be careful what you beg for.  Scream and wail and demand something loud enough and you just might be buried in it.

And second, we see how our ancestors gave into the fantasy that they had it better off in slavery.  They began to beg for that imagined time, one they said was filled with meat.  But they learned that craving for slavery, craving for something we have already survived and been delivered from, is craving for the grave.

As scary as it is, I say we need this Torah, this G-d.

If we focus our emotions, and look and look again at what scares us, this fearsome G-d helps us confront fear and deal with anxiety.

Then, when we are calm inside, when we feel the power that comes from facing fear, we can be ready for the good and sweet G-d of our prayer books and songs.

And, who doesn’t love a good horror story?

Naomi Ninburg
Shabbat B’haalot’cha
June 2, 2018 | 19 Sivan 5778