The great first-century scholar R. Akiva explained the cause of earthquakes as follows:
“When the Holy One observes heathen temples and their worshipers enjoying peace and prosperity in this world, and sees His own Temple destroyed and in the hands of idolaters – He, if one dare ascribe such feeling to Him – becomes jealous and roars. As a result, heaven and earth shake, as it is said, “The Lord roars from Zion, and utters His voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth shake.” (Joel 4:16)

God is described both in Biblical and rabbinic literature as a jealous god, a notion R. Akiva spells out in black and white in the above midrash. God is described in human dimensions when He is being ignored or neglected; He becomes jealous when His own Temple is abandoned, and worshippers of other gods are faring well. In a parallel midrash, a pagan philosopher and Rabban Gamliel discuss the jealous nature of the God of Israel.

Philosopher: It is written in your Torah “For the Lord your god is a devouring fire, a jealous God” (Deut. 4:24). But why is He jealous of those who worship an idol rather than of the idol itself?”

Rabban Gamliel: I will tell you a parable by which the verse may be understood. “A king of flesh and blood had a son, and this son reared a dog to which he dared give his father name; so that whenever he took an oath, he exclaimed, “By the life of the dog, my father!” When the king heard of it, with whom was he angry? With his son or with the dog? Surely with his son!

Philosopher: In calling the idol a dog, do you not imply that the idol has substance?

Rabban Gamliel: What evidence of this have you seen?

Philosopher: Once a fire broke out in our city, and the whole town was burned, but the shrine of the idol was not burned.

Rabban Gamliel: I will tell you a parable to [explain the verse]. One of the provinces of a king of flesh and blood has rebelled against him. When he wages war against it, will he wage it against the living or against the dead? Surely against the living!

Philosopher: You [earlier] called the idol a dog, and now you call it a dead thing. If it is no more than either, let [your God] extirpate it from the world!”

Rabban Gamliel: If what was worshiped were something the world had no need of, He would have had it cease to exist; but people worship the sun and the moon, the stars and the planets, brooks and valleys. Should He extirpate His world on account of fools?”

And so, teach the rabbis, as long as there are fools, God will continue to be jealous.
And the thunder will continue to roll.

The Book of Legends (Sefer ha-Aggadah), ed. by H.N. Bialik and Y.H. Ravnitsky, transl. by William G. Braude. Copyright © 1992 Schocken Books.



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