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Evil in the World: Our Response to Suffering

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CALEV BEN DOR. Evil in the World: Our Response to Suffering. Acceptance with Love.

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Evil in the World: Our Response to Suffering

Acceptance with Love

The time the Romans took out Rabbi Akiva in order to execute him, was also the time for reciting the Shema. Even as they were torturing him, he accepted upon himself the yoke of heaven. Akiva’s students said to him ‘Rebbe – even this much?’. He responded "All my life I was worried about the verse, 'with all your soul,' (which the sages expounded to signify), even if He takes away your soul. And I said to myself, when will I ever be able to fulfil this command? And now that I am finally able to fulfil it, should I not? Then he extended the final word Echad ("One") until his life expired with that word.

בשעה שהוציאו את ר' עקיבא להריגה זמן ק"ש היה והיו סורקים את בשרו במסרקות של ברזל והיה מקבל עליו עול מלכות שמים אמרו לו תלמידיו רבינו עד כאן אמר להם כל ימי הייתי מצטער על פסוק זה בכל נפשך אפילו נוטל את נשמתך אמרתי מתי יבא לידי ואקיימנו ועכשיו שבא לידי לא אקיימנו היה מאריך באחד עד שיצתה נשמתו באחד. יצאה בת קול ואמרה: אשריך, ר' עקיבא, שיצאה נשמתך ב"אחד";

When they arrested R. Hanina Ben Teradion, a decree was imposed upon him to be burnt together with his scroll. He recited the verse ‘the Rock His work is perfect’. His wife recited the verse ‘A God of faithfulness and without deceit’. Their daughter recited the verse ‘great in counsel and mighty in deed, Your eyes are watching over the ways’…

בשעה שיצאו שלשתן צדקו עליהם את הדין הוא אמר (דברים לב, ד) הצור תמים פעלו [וגו'] ואשתו אמרה (דברים לב, ד) אל אמונה ואין עול בתו אמרה (ירמיהו לב, יט) גדול העצה ורב העליליה אשר עיניך פקוחות על כל דרכי וגו'

Religious Challenge / Protest

‘Your Brothers blood cries out to me / against me from the ground…” Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said It is difficult to say this thing, and the mouth can not utter it plainly. Think of two gladiators wrestling before the king; had the king wished, he could have separated them. But he did not so desire, and one overcame the other and killed hum, he [the victim] crying out [before he died] ‘who will plead my case against the king’ (Bereshit Rabbah 22)

"קול דמי אחיך צועקים אלי מן האדמה" - אמר ר' שמעון בן-יוחאי: קשה הדבר לאמרו ואי אפשר לפה לפרשו: לשני אתליטין שהיו עומדין ומתגוששין לפני המלך. אילו רצה המלך - פרשם. ולא רצה המלך לפרשם. נתחזק אחד על חברו והרגו. והיה מצוח ואומר: מי יבקש דיני מלפני המלך? כך "קול דמי אחיך צועקים אלי מן האדמה".

Today is judgment day. David proclaims in his psalms today all Your creatures stands before You so that You may pass sentence. But I, Levi Yitzchak, son of Sarah of Berditchev, I say and I proclaim that it is You who shall be judged today! By Your children who suffer for You who die for You and the sanctification of Your name and Your law and Your promise (from Elie Wiesel: Souls on Fire)


Ambiguity (Submission, Anguished Cry or Silence?)

א. וַיַּעַן אִיּוֹב אֶת-יְהוָה; וַיֹּאמַר.ב.  יָדַעְתִּי, כִּי-כֹל תּוּכָל; וְלֹא-יִבָּצֵר מִמְּךָ מְזִמָּה.ג  מִי זֶה, מַעְלִים עֵצָה--בְּלִי-דָעַת:לָכֵן הִגַּדְתִּי, וְלֹא אָבִין; נִפְלָאוֹת מִמֶּנִּי, וְלֹא אֵדָע.ד  שְׁמַע-נָא, וְאָנֹכִי אֲדַבֵּר; אֶשְׁאָלְךָ, וְהוֹדִיעֵנִי.ה  לְשֵׁמַע-אֹזֶן שְׁמַעְתִּיךָ; וְעַתָּה, עֵינִי רָאָתְךָ.ו  עַל-כֵּן, אֶמְאַס וְנִחַמְתִּי--עַל-עָפָר וָאֵפֶר.

1 Then Job answered the LORD, and said:2 I know 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’ve uttered that which I didn’t understand, things too wonderful for me, which I didn’t know.4 Hear, I beseech You, & 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…

John Briggs Curtis argued that the only plausible object consistent with Job's speeches is God Himself. Curtis points out that Nichamti, in the Nifal normally expresses regret, not repentance, and can also mean 'I feel sorry'. He takes ‘Afar VaEfer' as 'man's frailty before the divine'. He accordingly understands Job as saying 'Therefore I feel loathing contempt and revulsion [towards you God]; and I am sorry for frail man.

Walter Michael goes a step further, pointing out that the object suffix 'kha' (you) that accompanied the two preceding verbs suggests an ellipsis; 'with the hearing of my ear I have heard You, but now my eyes have seen You, and therefore I despise [You].

Like Curtis, Michel believes that only Job's rejection of the deity of the God speeches preserves his integrity. In a recent commentary, Yair Hoffman acknowledges that Job's answer is ambiguous 'it makes no sense for someone to express full repentance in such evasive language. In formulating Job's answer in this manner, the author must have intended to leave open the question as to whether Job was really convinced by God's inconclusive speech, and throws the ball back to each one of us.

There is an even more dramatic ambiguity in the final clause 'VeNichamti Al Afar VaEfer' is usually translated as 'I repent in dust and ashes'….dust and ashes occurs just three times in the Hebrew Bible; twice in Job and once in genesis. This is its context as Abraham asks to spare Sdom…Avraham, like Job, challenges God to act justly. He is aware that he is 'dust and ashes' of no inherent worth to the Creator of the Universe, but he nonetheless speaks – and God nonetheless listens. If afar VaEfer is a code phrase for Avraham, we have an alternative for Job's final words. Rather than saying 'I am sorry, sitting on the ash heap,' Job says 'I am sorry about Avraham' or 'I recant my belief [concerning] Avraham. (Kevin Snapp, a Curious Ring in the Ears)

אמר לפניו רבונו של עולם הראיתני תורתו הראני שכרו אמר לו חזור [לאחורך]. חזר לאחוריו ראה ששוקלין בשרובמקולין אמר לפניו רבש"ע זו תורה וזו שכרה.

א"ל שתוק כך עלה במחשבה לפני.

Then said Moses, "Lord of the Universe, you have shown me his Torah, show me his reward." "Turn around," said He; and Moses turned around and saw them weighing out his flesh at the market-stalls. "Lord of the Universe," cried Moses, "such Torah, and such a reward!"

He replied, "Be silent, for such is my decree.“ (Menachot 28b)



Emotional Identification not Theological Justification

רבי חייא בר אבא חלש על לגביה ר' יוחנן א"ל חביבין עליך יסורין א"ל לא הן ולא שכרן א"ל הב לי ידך יהב ליה ידיה ואוקמיה.

ר' יוחנן חלש על לגביה ר' חנינא א"ל חביבין עליך יסורין א"ל לא הן ולא שכרן א"ל הב לי ידך יהב ליה ידיה ואוקמיה אמאי לוקים ר' יוחנן לנפשיה אמרי אין חבוש מתיר עצמו מבית האסורים

רבי אליעזר חלש על לגביה רבי יוחנן חזא דהוה קא גני בבית אפל גלייה לדרעיה ונפל נהורא חזייה דהוה קא בכי ר' אליעזר א"ל אמאי קא בכית אי משום תורה דלא אפשת שנינו אחד המרבה ואחד הממעיט ובלבד שיכוין לבו לשמים ואי משום מזוני לא כל אדם זוכה לשתי שלחנות ואי משום בני דין גרמא דעשיראה ביר א"ל להאי שופרא דבלי בעפרא קא בכינא א"ל על דא ודאי קא בכית ובכו תרוייהו אדהכי והכי א"ל חביבין עליך יסורין א"ל לא הן ולא שכרן א"ל הב לי ידך יהב ליה ידיהואוקמיה(ברכות ה"ב)

R. Chiyya b. Abba fell ill and R. Yochanan went in to visit him. [R. Yochanan] said to [R. Chiyya b. Abba]: Are your sufferings welcome to you? [R. Chiyya b. Abba] replied: Neither they nor their reward. [R. Yochanan] said to [R. Chiyya b. Abba]: Give me your hand. [R. Chiyya b. Abba] gave him his hand and [R. Yochanan] raised him [up out of his sick bed].

R. Yochanan once fell ill and R. Chanina went in to visit him. [R. Chanina] said to him: Are your sufferings welcome to you? [R. Yochanan] replied: Neither they nor their reward. [R. Chanina] said to him: Give me your hand. [R. Yochanan] gave him his hand and [R. Chanina] raised him. Why could R. Yochanan not raise himself? They replied: The prisoner cannot free himself from jail.

R. Eleazar fell ill and R. Yochanan went in to visit him. He noticed that he was lying in a dark room so he bared his arm and light radiated from it. Thereupon he noticed that R. Eleazar was weeping, and he said to him: Why do you weep? Is it because you did not study enough Torah? Surely we learned: The one who sacrifices much and the one who sacrifices little have the same merit, provided that the heart is directed to heaven [Menachot 110b]. Is it perhaps lack of sustenance? Not everybody has the privilege to enjoy two tables [both learning and wealth in abundance]. Is it perhaps because of [the lack of] children? This is the bone of my tenth son! He replied to him: I am weeping on account of this beauty that is going to rot in the earth. He said to him: On that account you surely have a reason to weep; and they both wept. In the meanwhile [R. Yochanan] said to him: Are your sufferings welcome to you? [R. Eleazar] replied: Neither they nor their reward. [R. Yochanan] said to him: Give me your hand, and [R. Eleazar] gave him his hand and [R. Yochanan] raised him.

Examining how the Rabbis sought to handle this problem, is a more about religious anthropology than philosophical theology. For some, suffering is bearable if it results from the limitations of finite human beings, but it becomes terrifying and demonic if it is seen as part of the scheme of their all powerful Creator. Others would find life unbearably chaotic if they could not believe that suffering, tragedy and death were a part of God’s plan for the world (David Hartman).


Changing the Question – Not Why but What Now?

Man is born as an object, dies as an object but it is within his capacity to live as a ‘subject’. According to Judaism, man’s mission in this world is to turn fate into destiny – an existence which is passive and influenced, to an existence that is active and influential; an existence of compulsion, perplexity and speechlessness, to an existence of will and initiative.

(Yosef Dov Soloveichik, Kol Dodi Dofek, ‘The Voice of my Beloved Knocks’)

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way….One could make a victory of those experiences, turning life into an inner triumph, or one could ignore the challenge and simply vegetate, as did the majority of the prisoners.

(Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning)

One can either be a victim of fate or an initiator of destiny (Esther Wachsman)