It’s hard to say what G-d would choose for His Vegas show. He has been known to favor the old and chintzy, faded feathers and flashing lights; pure and demented. He might paste on mutton chops and run a chapel made of plastic and marry elopers in Holy! MatriMOny! Some would even argue (and certainly they’d be right) that G-d works off the strip, where the lights fade away and the short buildings squat in shame against the mute emptiness of His dusty earth.
But I, for one, think G-d might throw in with the magicians.
Not just because I’ve been obsessed with magic videos of late and could watch Mac King’s rope trick ten times a day or repeatedly kick myself at the brashness of Juan Tamariz’s Three Clubs (he’s cheating, of course, but not in the way you expect). Not just because magic is a multi-dimensional art which puts every tool of physical and psychological deception and often thousands of hours of backbreaking practice into the most childish of endeavors, making an audience feel stupid, monk-like devotion and dozens of parts producing one simple effect that everyone already knows — the world is not explicable. Not just because, like religion, the answers to all the questions would both ruin and elevate the mystery, with both sides pulling at our hearts, the equal tension placing us in the stance of maturity.
No, G-d would have a magic show because His tricks aren’t tricks.
I don’t mean He does miracles. That is rather unimpressive, for G-d. G-d can’t cheat like Juan Tamariz because Juan Tamariz has all sorts of rules he can’t get around like mortality and logic and diminishing returns, death, taxes, gravity. G-d isn’t bound by any rules and so cannot cheat.
But I don’t mean He doesn’t do miracles. G-d follows the rules because he chooses to make them; he is locked up only because He chooses to be locked up; even Houdini could reasonably argue that the chains are solid and the shackles are real because the chains and shackles do not depend at every moment upon Houdini to cause them to exist. G-d putting on shackles would fool no one.
No, G-d’s stage show would be confined to a very small number of classic performances that are not performances, doing tricks that are not tricks. He would do them because He can do anything, but we would only understand them because He does not do anything but rather exactly what we expect. Better yet, the audience would only experience the trick to the extent they are certain they are not witnessing a trick; the more certain they are nothing is happening, the more they would know they were being entertained.
Are you watching closely?
Yankel stabs Hershel in a back alley (we can recreate in on stage with some dead-end backdrop work and low lighting) with a butterfly knife. Yankel is not compelled and chooses freely. Hershel is not compelled to be there; he chose freely as well. But Yankel cannot stab Hershel unless Hershel truly deserves it, and the moment was known to have happened since the beginning of time.
Did you catch it?
Try again: Yankel stabs Hershel. This is inevitable; it has happened already, before either was born. It’s only because it is inevitable that they can choose it freely; Yankel cannot stab Hershel unless he has already done something to justly deserve it; Hershel cannot be stabbed by Yankel today unless he already was and always will be because it must happen.
Look, it only must happen because they choose it freely. If they could not choose freely, they would not exist; it’s their ability to choose that makes them interesting; that’s why G-d brings them on stage. It is only because they can freely choose that this inevitability arises, and it is only because it’s inevitable that they are able to choose it.
A magician never repeats the same trick twice, and if there is a G-d in Vegas (having happened in Vegas, would De stay there?) he never insults his audience with a second stabbing. Instead, he regales them with a classic, no assistants necessary.
For my next trick…
A box. Don’t saw it in half; didn’t you see Raiders? The box sits in the holy of holies, and, like most things that sit, indeed, most things that are, it takes up space. It has a measure; bring your tape, lay it down on the floor (don’t mind the rope around your waist; keep your eyes from wandering and you certainly won’t come out lightly toasted) next to the box. It has a measure, yes? Now look along the length of the tape and see the room has a measure. But pay attention to the space beyond the ark on either side and see that it is the entire length of the room. Somehow (this has been known to cause slight migraines), depending on where you’re looking, the ark takes up space and does not take up space, simultaneously.
Some wag says, “That’s mighty impressive, G-d, but Penn & Teller down at the Rio (who don’t believe in You, by the way) perform miracles every night. They shoot bullets into each others’ mouths; the quiet one cuts a plant by cutting its shadow and instills a rubber ball with a playful intelligence. What’s another miracle in Vegas?”
You missed it, you see. It’s not a miracle. If it were a miracle, it could happen. If it weren’t a miracle, it could happen. So this doesn’t happen.
What doesn’t? Well, a miracle doesn’t happen, because the only object that can possibly take up no space in the Holy of Holies is indeed the holy Ark. No other box would do it. They simply are not the right conditions for this event. They would take the ark out to war, and you never hear about any strange measuring problems there. No, it’s what happens when you take this specific item made to a particular measure in a certain way — in short, you take the actual, real, ark of the covenant — and place it in a room built to specifications, right in the center (which you must measure to find) that all of a sudden something strange happens. It can’t be a miracle; you just measured this to make sure it was the correct length for it to be considered “the ark in the holy of holies.” And only because it is made to that precise design it no longer seems to exist at all.
The other way? It can’t be natural, of course. It doesn’t take up space! Of course a miracle is taking place. But if a miracle is taking place, that in fact proves that the ark of the correct measure has been placed in the correct position; this is the most certain way of knowing it was made to specifications! You can imagine the building inspector being invited up to the stage with his clipboard, wiping his glasses, circling the holy of holies, making sure everything is up to specification. He measures to either side of the ark, sees that it takes up no space, and declares, “Ah, it must take up exactly the correct amount of space!”
And so, you have witnessed, here in the theater, tonight, neither a miracle nor the absence of one, a non-trick trick, something strange proving something normal and vice versa, and you are not quite sure if your tastes are refined enough to even be certain you have witnessed anything at all. It is almost as if that same niggling sense you’ve had since childhood that nothing must be the way it is, that there is no reason for anything to be this way, has been justified all along, but you find all it proves is that everything is precisely as it must be.
When they get that at the Rio, let me know.
For this time of year?
The king favors Esther, and Haman is hung from his own gallows.
The victory does not involve G-d. The Jews had the right people in place at the right time to fend off disaster. The victory only involves G-d; Haman’s rise to power is a direct effect of the Jews valuing the princes of men over the divine, and his destruction represents their choice of G-d over the world.
It is precisely because G-d is not involved, because His name is not printed in the megillah, that He saved the Jewish people at all; Esther chose to fast for three days in an act of faith before appearing before the king at her least radiant, and it was this real and natural danger that proved the key to our salvation. But it is precisely because G-d is involved that the salvations happened at all; Esther finds favor in the King’s eyes because it is so written; it has been written since before the earliest emanation, that Haman will fail and the Jews will succeed, and that is what allows for nature to take its course.
The miraculous salvation occurs because it is not miraculous.
The chosen people are chosen because there never really was a choice in the first place.
The curtains fall.
Tomorrow, you will not succeed in accurately describing the show you saw; or is it the show you didn’t see? You’ll only be able to say that it was G-d, on his own terms, and He wasn’t wearing a Prince Albert frock and a bow tie.
Go; it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen, and strangely like everything you’ve ever seen, and your applause both is and is not appreciated.