One of the most talented people I know just posted a video of himself singing a classic song from my childhood — “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” A standard in my own father’s repertoire (second only to “On Top of Old Smokey” if I’m being honest), these sudden lyrics caused me a moment of nostalgia. But they also caused a sort of epiphany, something the world seems to be having quite a lot of lately. Well, memes and epiphanies, that is.
But my epiphany involves an ostrich, the last tissue, and one hella sassy creator of the universe.
Recently my Jewish brothers and sisters celebrated Purim, a holiday in honor of Esther and her heroic rescue of the Jewish people who surely would have been slaughtered at the behest of Haman. Side note: I am partial to this celebration because fifteen years ago my then-pre-school daughter and I collectively booed Haman while dressed as L.A. Dodgers Shawn Green and Mike LoDuca during her Gan‘s Purim celebration. That being said, a vibrant element of Purim is the costuming. Some call it the Jewish Halloween.
In fact, the well respected 19th Century rabbi known as B’nei Yissaschar speaks from the Megillah, explaining that the practice of wearing costumes echoes both the Jews’ pretext of worshiping Achashveyrosh’s idols as a means for survival and G-d’s false intentions of allowing his people to be annihilated, like ever.
So the wearing of masks is introduced at my school mere days before the wearing of masks is introduced across the globe.
I chose to dress as Lady Macbeth, hands bloodied with red Expo marker, a site I was sure would entertain. The student who chose to dress as Jesus and won the costume contest did not have bloodied hands. But she did have a crown of thorns. And as jarring as that was to me as a Christian, I was not angered or offended. To be a follower of Jesus at a Modern Orthodox school is to understand that Jesus not only means nothing to my community but that He also represents, rightfully so or not, the source of centuries-long antisemitism.
But back to Purim-costume-Jesus.
If Jesus is nothing but a crazy, blasphemous Jew whose overwhelming legacy is one of discord for the Jewish people, why shouldn’t he be a popular costume that garners much applause and laughter? (You know, like maybe a Jose Altuve jersey.)
While most of the world wrestles with the COVID-19 pandemic, I have replayed that singular scene in my heart and in my mind and in my soul ad nauseum.
And what I have been able to rest upon — or in, really — is G-d’s hands. His huge, pure, powerful hands. Hands that are free of blood, free of ridicule, free of stealing the signs of the opposing coaches’ hands, free of germs, free of despair. And, most importantly, full of “the whole world!”
Yes, antisemitism — G-d’s in control. Jesus’ sometime-piss-poor PR firm (read: us Christians)? G-d can handle it. The Astros? Please. But a pandemic? Yes, G-d is still sovereign.
So the question for me is not whether as a Christian I was complicit in the mocking of my savior — by people whom I love — but rather do I trust God enough. Is the whole world really in His hands?
Consider Job, or Iyov (איוב), from the Tanakh.
When Job dares to question G-d about his seemingly endless suffering, losses that had nothing whatsoever to do with forgetting to wash his hands or failing to do the Transylvania cough, he is met with a sass attack I’ve yet to see the likes of. Even from my seventeen year old daughter, who, by the way, tried to get out of our Kelsey “home church” Sunday evening one eye-roll by one excruciating eye-roll.
To no avail, however, as my should-have-been-a-pastor husband was teaching on Job 39:13-18 — the ostrich to be exact. Not the cliched head-in-the-sand ostrich, but the joyful, unmindful, sometimes harsh ostrich. Why would G-d answer Job’s teleological inquiry with this awkward bird? Why would you keep reading a blog that would mention this awkward bird? Ah, but here you are. And there was Job.
And here I am looking in the mirror and seeing an ostrich.
I too am G-d’s perfect imperfect creation, and I am floored with gratitude to know that I do not have to be anything else. I do not have to be anxious, focused, and always gentle. I’ll write it again — I do not have to be anxious, focused, and always gentle. Nor do you.
God points to the ostrich as an example of a creature whom He loves, for whom he provides, upon whom He smiles with pride. An ostrich. Me. You.
He tells Job the ostrich “flaps” its wings “joyfully” even though the stork’s feathers are far more beautiful. He reminds Job that the ostrich is careless with her eggs, but He still watches over them. He admits to Job that He “did not endow” the ostrich “with wisdom… or good sense.” Yet, he concludes to Job, when the ostrich runs, “she spreads her feathers,… she laughs.”
I am far from pleasing to HaShem. I am careless with my children. I am foolish and lack good sense — just ask my husband. But what is stopping me from stretching my arms to run with laughter? Toward life. Toward G-d.
I admit I’m drawn to the sassy side of the Lord, whether it’s Jesus’ flipping the tables of money changers in the temple or straight up punking Job and his puny complaints. The same hands that made this gigantic bird pop Job on the nose. Our G-d protects our “eggs” for us because without Him, we would surely end up stomping on them.
And that is why this verse speaks to me while my family is locked down at home fighting over the last tissue.
We are no better than the ostrich. We are but a filthy rag of a world in the wondrous hands of a mighty G-d. Baruch HaShem and Thank G-d! (But still wash your hands.)