Evil in the World: Our Response to Suffering Acceptance with Love

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.
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 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
‫ יצאה‬.‫אקיימנו היה מאריך באחד עד שיצתה נשמתו באחד‬
‫ שיצאה נשמתך ב"אחד‬,‫ ר' עקיבא‬,‫ אשריך‬:‫;"בת קול ואמרה‬
,‫בשעה שיצאו שלשתן צדקו עליהם את הדין הוא אמר (דברים לב‬
‫ ד) אל אמונה‬,‫ד) הצור תמים פעלו [וגו'] ואשתו אמרה (דברים לב‬
‫ יט) גדול העצה ורב העליליה אשר‬,‫ואין עול בתו אמרה (ירמיהו לב‬
'‫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)
‫ קשה‬:‫יוחאי‬-‫ אמר ר' שמעון בן‬- "‫"קול דמי אחיך צועקים אלי מן האדמה‬
‫ לשני אתליטין שהיו עומדין‬:‫הדבר לאמרו ואי אפשר לפה לפרשו‬
.‫ ולא רצה המלך לפרשם‬.‫ פרשם‬- ‫ אילו רצה המלך‬.‫ומתגוששין לפני המלך‬
?‫ מי יבקש דיני מלפני המלך‬:‫ והיה מצוח ואומר‬.‫נתחזק אחד על חברו והרגו‬
."‫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?)
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…
.‫יְ הוָ ה; וַ יֹאמַ ר‬-‫ וַ יַעַ ן ִאיוֹב אֶ ת‬.‫א‬
.‫יִ בָ צֵ ר ִמ ְמָך ְמזִ מָ ה‬-‫כֹל תּוכָל; וְ ֹלא‬-‫ כִ י‬,‫ י ַָדעְ ִתי‬.‫ב‬
:‫ ָדעַ ת‬-‫בְ לִ י‬--‫ מַ עְ לִ ים עֵ צָ ה‬,‫ג ִמי זֶ ה‬
.‫ וְ ֹלא אֵ ָדע‬,‫ וְ ֹלא ָאבִ ין; נִפְ לָאוֹת ִממֶ נִי‬,‫ָלכֵן ִהג ְַד ִתי‬
.‫ וְׁ הו ִֹדיעֵּ נִ י‬,‫ וְׁ ָאנֹכִ י אֲ ַדבֵּ ר; אֶ ְׁשָאלְׁ ָך‬,‫נָא‬-‫ד ְׁשמַ ע‬
ְׁ ‫ עֵּ ינִ י ָר‬,‫אזֶן ְׁשמַ עְׁ ִתיָך; וְׁ עַ ָתה‬
ֹ -‫ה לְׁ ֵּשמַ ע‬
‫עָ פָ ר וָאֵּ פֶ ר‬-‫עַ ל‬--‫ אֶ ְׁמַאס וְׁ נִ חַ ְׁמ ִתי‬,‫כֵּן‬-‫ו עַ ל‬.
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)
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)
‫אמר לפניו רבונו של עולם הראיתני תורתו הראני שכרו‬
‫חזר לאחוריו ראה ששוקלין‬. ]‫אמר לו חזור [לאחורך‬
. ‫בשרו במקולין אמר לפניו רבש"ע זו תורה וזו שכרה‬
.‫א"ל שתוק כך עלה במחשבה לפני‬
Emotional Identification not Theological Justification
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].
‫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
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.
‫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
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.
‫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
)‫ידיה ואוקמיה (ברכות ה"ב‬
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)