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CALEV BEN DOR. Reward, Punishment & Evil in the World. Direct Connection (Cause and Effect).

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Reward, Punishment & Evil in the World

Direct Connection (Cause and Effect)

13 And it shall come to pass, if you shall hearken diligently to My commandments which I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14 that I will give the rain of your land in its season, the former rain and the latter rain, that thou may gather in your corn, and your wine, and your oil. 15 And I will give grass in thy fields for your cattle, and you shall eat and be satisfied. 16 Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them; 17 and the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and He shut up the heaven, so that there shall be no rain, and the ground shall not yield her fruit; and you will perish quickly from off the good land which the LORD gives you.

יגוהיה, אם-שמוע תשמעו אל-מצוותיי, אשר אנוכי מצווה אתכם, היום--לאהבה את-יהוה אלוהיכם, ולעובדו, בכל-לבבכם, ובכל-נפשכם.  ידונתתי מטר-ארצכם בעיתו, יורה ומלקוש; ואספת דגנך, ותירושך ויצהרך.  טוונתתי עשב בשדך, לבהמתך; ואכלת, ושבעת.  טזהישמרו לכם, פן יפתה לבבכם; וסרתם, ועבדתם אלוהים אחרים, והשתחוויתם, להם.  יזוחרה אף-יהוה בכם, ועצר את-השמיים ולא-יהיה מטר, והאדמה, לא תיתן את-יבולה; ואבדתם מהרה, מעל הארץ הטובה, אשר יהוה, נותן לכם. דברים פרק יא

Rav Ami said ‘There is no death without transgression, and there is no suffering without sin. There is no death without transgression as it says ‘the soul that sins – it shall die, the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, nor shall the father bear the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him’ There is no suffering without sin as it is written ‘I shall visit their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with plagues’

אמר רב אמי אין מיתה בלא חטא ואין יסורין בלא עון אין מיתה בלא חטא דכתיביחזקאל יחהנפש החוטאת היא תמות בן לא ישא בעון האב ואב לא ישא בעון הבן צדקת הצדיק עליו תהיה ורשעת הרשע עליו תהיה וגו'. אין יסורין בלא עון דכתיבתהילים פטופקדתי בשבט פשעם ובנגעים עונם

The distressed wife [of a young scholar who had died] visits the synagogues and study houses in search of an explanation. The text provides no answer until the sudden introduction of Elijah the prophet – a sign perhaps that the reasons for such a death lie beyond ordinary minds, Under Elijah’s prolonged interrogation, the woman admits that she and her husband had once slept in the same bed during the last 3 days of her menstrual cycle, though she was fully clothed so as to preclude intimate contact in accordance with the law. Elijah responds – ‘Blessed be God who killed him, for thus is it written in the Torah – ‘you shall not approach a woman as long as she is impure by her uncleanliness’ – (Avot De-Rabbi Natan )


Deferred Compensation (but God intimately involved)

A Father one commanded his son to get some bird's eggs from a nearby tree. The son climbed up the tree, shooed away the mother bird (thus performing both the Mitzva of honouring one's father and shooing away the mother bird, both of which are explicitly rewarded by the promise of long life) and on his way down fell and died. Where is his long life? [This caused Elisha ben Abuya to exclaim, "there is no judge and there is no justice" and subsequently became a heretic.]

But it means ‘it will be good for him’ in a world that is wholly good and ‘his days will be increased’ in a world that is wholly long (Kidushin 39b)

הרי שאמר לו אביו עלה לבירה והבא לי גוזלות ועלה לבירה ושלח את האם ונטל את הבנים ובחזירתו נפל ומת היכן טובת ימיו של זה והיכן אריכות ימיו של זה אלא למען ייטב לך לעולם שכולו טוב ולמען יאריכון ימיך לעולם שכולו ארוך

Said Rabbi Jonathan, ‘A potter does not test defective vessels, because he cannot give them a single blow without breaking them. Similarly, the Holy One Blessed be He does not test the wicked but only the righteous. ‘ Said R Yose Bar Haninan, ‘When a flax maker knows that the flax is in good shape, then the more he beats it the more it will improve and glisten. When it is not of good quality, if he beats it just once he will split it, so the Holy One Blessed be He does not test the wicked but only the righteous. (Bereshit Rabbah 34)

Is it Really Connected to Sin? (God’s involvement ambiguous)

וַיַּעַן אִיּוֹב אֶת-יְהוָה; וַיֹּאמַר.בידעת (יָדַעְתִּי), כִּי-כֹל תּוּכָל;    וְלֹא-יִבָּצֵר מִמְּךָ מְזִמָּה.גמִי זֶה, מַעְלִים עֵצָה--    בְּלִי-דָעַת:לָכֵן הִגַּדְתִּי, וְלֹא אָבִין;    נִפְלָאוֹת מִמֶּנִּי, וְלֹא אֵדָע.דשְׁמַע-נָא, וְאָנֹכִי אֲדַבֵּר;    אֶשְׁאָלְךָ, וְהוֹדִיעֵנִי.הלְשֵׁמַע-אֹזֶן שְׁמַעְתִּיךָ;    וְעַתָּה, עֵינִי רָאָתְךָ.ועַל-כֵּן, אֶמְאַס וְנִחַמְתִּי--    עַל-עָפָר וָאֵפֶר.

זוַיְהִי, אַחַר דִּבֶּר יְהוָה אֶת הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה--אֶל אִיּוֹב; וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל אֱלִיפַז הַתֵּימָנִי, חָרָה אַפִּי בְךָ וּבִשְׁנֵי רֵעֶיךָ--כִּי לֹא דִבַּרְתֶּם אֵלַי נְכוֹנָה, כְּעַבְדִּי אִיּוֹב. 

1 Then Job answered the LORD, and said:2 I know that You can do every thing, and that no purpose can be withheld from You.3 Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have I uttered that which I didn’t understand, things too wonderful for me, which I didn’t know.4 Hear, I beseech You, and I will speak; I will demand of You, and declare You to me.5 I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You;6 Wherefore I abhor my words, and repent, seeing I am dust and ashes…

7 And it was so, that after the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: 'My wrath is kindled against you, and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of Me the thing that is right, as My servant Job has.


An objection is raised: The ministering angels asked the Holy One: 'Sovereign of the Universe! Why did You impose the penalty of death upon Adam?' He responded, I gave him an easy command, yet he violated it.' 'But Moses and Aaron fulfilled the whole Torah,' they pursued — 'yet they died'. 'There is one event to the righteous and to the wicked; to the good, etc., He replied.  — He maintains as the following Tanna. For it was taught: R. Simeon b. Eleazar said: Moses and Aaron too died through their sin, for it is said, Because you didn’t believe me…hence, had you believed in Me, your time had not yet come to depart from the world. (i.e. no one dies without sinning)

An objection is raised: Four died through the serpent's machinations,. Benjamin the son of Jacob, Amram the father of Moses, Jesse the father of David, and Caleb the son of David…(so there are people who die without sinning)

Who is [the author of this]? Shall we say, the Tanna [who taught] about the ministering angels? — Surely there were Moses and Aaron too! Hence it must surely be R. Simeon b. Eleazar, which proves that there is death without sin and suffering without iniquity.

Thus the refutation of R. Ammi is [indeed] a refutation.

אמר רב אמי אין מיתה בלא חטא ואין יסורין בלא עון…מיתיבי אמרו מלאכי השרת לפני הקב"ה רבונו של עולם מפני מה קנסת מיתה על אדם הראשון אמר להם מצוה קלה צויתיו ועבר עליה.

א"ל והלא משה ואהרן שקיימו כל התורה כולה ומתו א"ל (קוהלת ט) מקרה אחד לצדיק ולרשע לטוב וגו'

הוא דאמר כי האי תנא דתניא ר"ש בן אלעזר אומר אף משה ואהרן בחטאם מתו שנא' (במדבר כ) יען לא האמנתם בי הא האמנתם בי עדיין לא הגיע זמנכם ליפטר מן העולם

מיתיבי ארבעה מתו בעטיו של נחש ואלו הן בנימין בן יעקב ועמרם אבי משה וישי אבי דוד וכלאב בן דוד

…מני אילימא תנא דמלאכי השרת והא איכא משה ואהרן אלא לאו ר"ש בן אלעזר היא וש"מ יש מיתה בלא חטא ויש יסורין בלא עון ותיובתא דרב אמי תיובתא:

ובחזירתו נפל ומת היכן טובת ימיו של זה והיכן אריכות ימיו של זה אלא למען ייטב לך לעולם שכולו טוב ולמען יאריכון ימיך לעולם שכולו ארוך ודלמא לאו הכי הוה ר' יעקב מעשה חזא ודלמא מהרהר בעבירה הוה מחשבה רעה אין הקב"ה מצרפה למעשה ודלמא מהרהר <בעבודת כוכבים> איהו נמי הכי קאמר אי סלקא דעתך שכר מצוה בהאי עלמא אמאי לא אגין מצות עליה כי היכי דלא ליתי לידי הרהור והא א"ר אלעזר שלוחי מצוה אין נזוקין התם בהליכתן שאני והא אמר רבי אלעזר שלוחי מצוה אינן נזוקין לא בהליכתן ולא בחזירתן סולם רעוע הוה דקביע היזיקא וכל היכא דקביע היזיקא לא סמכינן אניסא

And on his way down he fell – where is [this boy’s] good and long life? Etc…

But perhaps this never actually happened? [no], Rabbi Yaakov saw it.

And maybe [the boy] was thinking of a sin?

[no] The Holy One does not combine an evil thought with an act.

And maybe [the boy] was thinking about idol worship (which is tantamount to an act)?

This too is what he was saying: if you are of the opinion that there is reward in this world, why didn’t his Mitzvot protect him [from having bad thoughts at a time of danger]?

[how did the child fall anyway?] Hasn’t Rabbi Eleazar said that ‘those send out to do a Mitzvah are not harmed?’

There is a difference as to whether they are on their way [when they are protected] or they are returning [when maybe they aren’t.]

But didn’t Rabbi Eleazar say that ‘those sent out to do a Mitzvah are not harmed either on the way back or returning?

[in this case,] it was a rickety ladder, so the danger was fixed, and wherever the danger is fixed, we don’t rely on a miracle.


Fixed Danger & Relying on Miracles

Many have been the reactions and post-mortems, the finger points and technical analyses, in the aftermath of last months horrifying heat-breaking and scandalous Versailles wedding hall disaster in Jerusalem, in which 23 Israelis lost their lives and another 377 were injured. But one comment in particular immediately put me in mind of a landmark US Supreme Court case Jacobellis v Ohio (1964), which reversed the obscenity conviction of a Cleveland theatre manager who had shown ‘The Lovers’ a French film about a bored housewife who runs off with an archaeologist. Justice William J Brennan Jr. writing for the Court determined that ‘a work cannot be proscribed unless it is utterly without redeeming social importance’ it was here that Justice Potter Stewart, agreeing wit the decision, immortally opined that while he couldn’t define obscenity, ‘I know it when I see it’

I speak, of course, of the shocking words of Rabbi Reuven Levy, who performed the wedding ceremony of Keren and Asaf Dror, and left the premises before the floor collapsed. Levy, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi, told the Jerusalem weekly newspaper Kol Ha’ir that the floor collapsed because mixed dancing is a form of Gilui Arayot, forbidden sexual conduct, and thus punishable by death. The Rabbi found empirical proof in the fact that ‘there were more people on the floor during the wedding service than during the dancing but the floor did not collapse.’ The grooms grandfather, aunt, uncle, and another score of family and friends all dead – because they deserved to die? You don’t need to be a Supreme Court justice to see this as obscene. Why the pious Rabbi Levy, undoubtedly well aware that a salacious bacchanal would soon commence on the dance floor did not refuse to officiate, or at least issue a fair warning of an impending capital crime, who can say? And why non-Orthodox Jews would have their wedding performed by such a fundamentalist raises a raft of ruminations about the dysfunctionality of Israel’s religious culture. Chief Rabbi Lau, to be sure, deplored Rabbi Levy’s remarks, chiding him for presuming to be a ‘chief accountant for the Lord’. But all in all it was juicy fodder for the papers, another black mark against Judaism, the choicest example of haredi cave welling since Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef’s declaration that seemingly blameless Holocaust victims were the reincarnation of unpunished sinners. Whatever Rabbis Levy and Yosef may have thought about the cause of the Tel Aviv Dolphinarium bombing, which claimed 20 young lives at a mixed-dancing venue on a Friday night, they prudently kept it to themselves.

But now lets consider Mr Justice Brennan’s line about ‘redeeming social importance’. Could there conceivably be some rational utilitarian purpose to Rabbi Levy’s point of view. Here I turn to my own Rebbe, David Hartman, whom I ran into in front of our neighbourhood supermarket on the very morning Levy’s comments hit the newsstands. We exchanged fulminations about the Rabbis grotesque remarks, and Hartman, an Orthodox rabbi and Maimonidean scholar, added that in his considered opinion as a religious thinker, ‘the reason the floor caved in was because of bad construction.’


I knew exactly what he meant, for as it happens, in Hartman’s weekly class in Jewish philosophy we have been discussing the ancient conundrum of why innocent people suffer. Here are the options: either God is not all-powerful, or God doesn’t care, or God wants righteous people to suffer – or that those who suffer are guilty and must be punished.

Thus the Rabbis of antiquity, lest the experience of apparently divine injustice undermine the raison d’être of Jewish society, constructed such argument as following, in the Mishnah (Shabbat 2:6) ‘On account of 3 transgressions do women die in childbirth - Because they are not meticulous n the laws of menstrual separation, the dough offering and in the kindling of he Shabbat lamp.’ Indeed, prior to our wedding in 1987, my wife and I were each treated by the Israeli rabbinate to a mandatory training session (gender segregated of course) in the laws of family purity. I lucked out with a fascinating ultra-Orthodox rabbi who was into modern psychology and movies, including a few that might have been banned in Ohio. My wife, on the other hand, learned that women who violate the family purity laws have babies with birth defects.

In the Talmudic tractate Kiddushin (39b), Rabbi Yaakov tells a story about a man who sends his son up a ladder to fetch eggs from a birds nest. The son climbs up, thus fulfilling the commandment to honour one’s father, and chases away the mother bird, per another well-known and humane Torah commandment; and on his way down falls off the ladder and dies. Since these are both commandments where the Torah explicitly says, do this and you will live a long life, and the son has just performed them both, there must be, says Rabbi Yaakov, another explanation, namely that ‘long life’ refers to the world to come. But clearly this disturbs the Talmudic authors, who go on as follows. Maybe the story didn’t really happen (nope Rabbi Yaakov saw it). Maybe the son was thinking evil thoughts? Better yet idolatrous ones? Wont work since he was a shaliach mitzvah, on a righteous errand for his father, and thus immune from harm. And so goes the pilpulistic pretzel, with no satisfying answer in sight. Finally Rabbi Eleazar declares ‘it was a rickety ladder, so that injury was likely, and where injury is likely, one must not rely on miracles.’ In other words, the floor collapsed because of shoddy construction.

That’s fine, but what of the Dolphinarium? Children with brain tumours? The sainted Rabbis at Auschwitz? God only knows, or doesn’t, and our quest for meaning goes on, and so does the world’s cruelty. But wherever possible, I think its best not to rely on miracles in this rickety life – and perhaps not to judge more harshly than necessary those whose vulgar religious pronouncements reflect a deep existential anguish no less human than our own (Stuart Schoffman, Jerusalem Report July 2001)


The World Pursues its Normal Course

ת"ר שאלו פלוסופין את הזקנים ברומי אם אלהיכם אין רצונו בעבודת כוכבים מפני מה אינו מבטלה אמרו להם אילו לדבר שאין העולם צורך לו היו עובדין הרי הוא מבטלה הרי הן עובדין לחמה וללבנה ולכוכבים ולמזלות יאבד עולם מפני השוטים אלא עולם כמנהגו נוהג ושוטים שקלקלו עתידין ליתן את הדין דבר אחר הרי שגזל סאה של חטים [והלך] וזרעה בקרקע דין הוא שלא תצמח אלאעולם כמנהגו נוהג והולך ושוטים שקלקלו עתידין ליתן את הדין דבר אחר הרי שבא על אשת חבירו דין הוא שלא תתעבר אלא עולם כמנהגו נוהג והולך ושוטים שקלקלו עתידין ליתן את הדין

Our Rabbis taught: Philosophers asked the elders in Rome, 'If your God has no desire for idolatry, why does He not abolish it?' They replied, 'If it was something of which the world has no need that was worshipped, He would abolish it; but people worship the sun, moon, stars and planets; should He destroy the Universe on account of fools! The world pursues its natural course, and as for the fools who act wrongly, they will have to render an account. Another illustration: Suppose a man stole a measure of wheat and went and sowed it in the ground; it is right that it should not grow, but the world pursues its natural course and as for the fools who act wrongly, they will have to render an account. Another illustration: Suppose a man has intercourse with his neighbour's wife; it is right that she should not conceive, butthe world pursues its natural course and as for the fools who act wrongly, they will have to render an account.' (Avodah Zarah 54b)

Not Merit but ‘Mazzal’

Raba said; length of life, children and sustenance depend not on merit but rather on Mazzal. For take Rabba and Rav Hisda. Both were Tzadikim. One master prayed for rain and it came, the other master prayed for rain and it came. R. Hisda lived to the age of 92; Rabbah only lived to the age of 40. In R. Hisda's house – 60 marriage feasts, in Rabbah's – 60 bereavements. At R. Hisda's house there was purest wheat bread for dogs, and it went to waste; at Rabbah's house there was barley bread for humans – and that could not be found.

אמר רבא חיי בני ומזוני לא בזכותא תליא מילתא אלא במזלא תליא מילתא דהא רבה ורב חסדא תרוייהו רבנן צדיקי הוו מר מצלי ואתי מיטרא ומר מצלי ואתי מיטרא רב חסדא חיה תשעין ותרתין שנין רבה חיה ארבעין בי רב חסדא שיתין הלולי בי רבה שיתין תיכלי בי רב חסדא סמידא לכלבי ולא מתבעי בי רבה נהמא דשערי לאינשי ולא משתכח


A Suffering God?

א"ל הקב"ה למשה: אי אתה מרגיש שאני שרוי בצער כשם שישראל שרוים בצער הוי יודע ממקום שאני מדבר עמך מתוך הקוצים כביכול אני שותף בצערן".

God said to Moshe: Do you not sense that I am in distress just as Bnei Yisrael are in distress? Know this from the place where I speak with you – from among the thorns, demonstrating, as it were, that I am a partner in their distress.

בכל יום מקיפין את המזבח פעם אחת, ואומרין, "אנא ה', הושיעה נא" (תהילים קיח,כה), "אנא ה', הושיעה נא"; רבי יהודה אומר, אני והוא הושיעה נא, אני והוא הושיעה נא. 

Every day in the festival of Succot they would encircle the altar and recite O Lord deliver us; O Lord let us prosper (ana Hashem Hoshia na, ana Hashem Hatzlicha na). Rabbi Judah said they would recite 'ani ve-hu hoshia na - I and you; may you deliver us both (Sucah 4:5)

הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר-הָיָה אֶל-יִרְמְיָהוּ, מֵאֵת יְהוָה, אַחַר שַׁלַּח אֹתוֹ נְבוּזַרְאֲדָן רַב-טַבָּחִים, מִן-הָרָמָה--בְּקַחְתּוֹ אֹתוֹ, וְהוּא-אָסוּר בָּאזִקִּים בְּתוֹךְ כָּל-גָּלוּת יְרוּשָׁלִַם וִיהוּדָה, הַמֻּגְלִים, בָּבֶלָה.

The words that came to Jeremiah from the Lord…when he was chained in fetters among those from Jerusalem …who were being exiled (Jeremiah 40.1)…as it were both of them were chained in fetters (Eichah Rabbah Prologue 34)

Heaven doesn’t do ‘Halves’

"And they cried out in a great voice to Hashem their God" (Nechemia 9:4). What did they say…"Woe! Woe! This is what destroyed the Temple, and burned the Sanctuary, and killed all the righteous ones, and exiled the Jews from their land, and it still dances among us. Did you give it to us for any reason at all other than to receive reward for overcoming it? We do not want it, nor do we want the reward for overcoming it!" . . .

They fasted for three days and three nights, and it [the yetzer ha'ra for avodah zarah] was delivered to them. The likeness of a fiery lion cub emerged from the Holy of Holies. The prophet said to Israel, "This is the yetzer ha'ra for avodah zarah." As they seized it, a hair slipped from its mane, and it roared, and the sound went out over an area of four hundred parsaos. They said: "What shall we do? Perhaps, God forbid, Heaven will have mercy on it." The prophet replied: "Cast it into a lead cauldron and cover the opening with lead, for lead absorbs sound."

They then said: Since it is now a time of Divine favor, let us also pray for the Inclination for arayos [to be subdued before us]. They prayed and it, too, was delivered into their hands. Whereupon it said to them: "See that if you kill me the world will become desolate." They imprisoned it for three days. During this time, they sought a freshly laid egg throughout Eretz Yisroel, and it was not found.

They said: "What shall we do? Shall we kill it? The world will become desolate. Shall we pray that half [the Inclination be subdued]? Heaven does not grant a half." Therefore, they blinded its eyes and then released it, and henceforth, a man does not become aroused by it with his close relatives.