… Leviathan that You formed to play with. (104:26)
The central images in this Psalm about God as creator depict God as provider. The trees and the earth get their water, the lions get their prey, the cattle get their grass, and human beings get wine and oil. Yet buried in the description of the sea are a few words which describe the creator God in very different terms — God plays! What a wonderful concept, a God who creates with playful enjoyment.
First, let’s be clear that all language about God is symbolic. God has no arms, legs, fingers, eyes, or nose. God is not a lover or a warrior. God is not happy, sad, angry or jealous. All such language describes the human body-centered condition. However, human language is all we have to share ideas with each other, so when we talk about God we by necessity describe God in human terms.
We describe God using terms of negative emotion because a dash of anger is sometimes appropriate, as is a hint of jealousy and a certain amount of sadness. Other descriptions of God are aspirational – we imagine that God is loving to challenge ourselves to be loving. We describe God as just because we believe in the principles of human justice. The depiction of a playful God reminds us that while work and study of Torah are important, so too it is important that we set aside time to be frivolous. God didn’t create the world so we could spend every moment in serious contemplation and service. The world contains items with no purpose other than for our amusement and so it is our duty to be amused by them. The Talmud tells us that God will hold us accountable for every earthly pleasure we denied ourselves to which we were entitled (Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 4:12). While the Talmud spoke about the pleasures of food, it is equally true with respect to other physical or emotional pleasures. God is playful, and we, too, should be playful.