Indeed! This is the answer that was given by the Creator to Job. As long as Job, as a slave of fate, philosophized about reasons, and motives, and demanded insight into the essence of evil, continually asking and murmuring: “Why and wherefore does suffering come,” the Holy One answered him sharply with the pointed question: “Did you know?”(Job 39:1).
[Did you know] [w]ho it is who darkens counsel by speaking words without knowledge? Gird up now your loins like a man, for I will demand of you and you shall declare unto Me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare if you have such understanding. … Do you know the time when the wild goats of the rock will give birth; when the hinds will calve? — Job 38:2-4, Job 39:1.
If you do not know the alphabet of creation, why be so impudent as to ask questions about the workings of the world? But once Job realized how strange his question was and how great his ignorance, and acknowledged it and was not ashamed to say: “[T]herefore I have uttered that which I did not understand; things too wonderful for me which I know not" (Job 42:3), then God was able to reveal to this man of destiny the true principles which are concealed in suffering, as expressed by the halakhah. The Holy One said: Job! True, you will never understand the inner essence of the why, the reason for suffering and its purpose, but there is one thing that you are obligated to know: the basis for the repair of suffering. If by your suffering you are able to elevate yourself to the spiritual level that you have not heretofore attained, you will then know that your travail was intended as a device for your perfection in both spirit and soul. Job! When My graciousness engulfed you in the manner expressed by the prophet, “Behold, I will extend prosperity to [him] a like a river” (Isaiah 66:12) and you were well known and a man of influence (“And this man was the greatest of all the children of the East” [Job 1:3]), you did not fulfill the role that My grace placed upon you. You were a sound and just man, God-fearing and avoiding of evil. You did not use your power and wealth for ill. You gave much charity (“Righteousness I wore, and it robed me, my justice was a robe and turban” [Job 29:14]). You did not hesitate to offer assistance and support to others, and you stood by them in their hour of peril and distress (“Did I not deliver the poor that cried out and the orphaned that had none to help him?” [Job 29:12]). However, you were still short of attaining that great trait of loving-kindness in two respects: (a) never did you bear the communal yoke, nor did you participate in the trouble and grief of the community,A and (b) you did not feel the pain of [i.e., empathize with] the individual sufferer. As a man blessed with a good heart, you may have momentarily pitied the orphan. You had vast amounts of money and you wanted for nothing, hence you gave a respectable amount of tzedakah [charity]. However, loving-kindness encompasses more than fleeting sentiment and cheap sentimentality. Loving-kindness demands more than a momentary tear and a cold coin.B Loving-kindness means empathizing with one’s fellow man, identifying with his hurt and feeling responsibility for his fate. You did not possess this attribute of overflowing loving-kindness [in imitation of the Creator], neither in your public nor in your personal relationships.
You were a contemporary of Jacob,4 who wrestled with Laban, Esau, and the angel at the stream of Yabok (Genesis 32:23–32). Did you help Jacob with advice? Who was Jacob? A poor shepherd. And you? You were rich and a man of influence. Had you related to Jacob with appropriate sympathy and with steadfast loving kindness, he would not have had to pass through such a multitude of tribulations.
You lived in the time of Moses, and you were numbered among the advisers of Pharaoh. Did you lift a finger when Pharaoh issued his evil decree that “Every son that is born you shall cast into the river” (Exodus 1:22), or when the oppressors enslaved your brethren with back-breaking work? You were silent then and did not protest, for you were afraid of identifying yourself with the unfortunate slaves. To toss them a coin? Yes; but to publicly demonstrate for them? No! You were afraid that you would be accused of dual-loyalty.
You were active in the generation of Ezra and Nehemiah, the returnees to Zion. You, Job, with your wealth and influence, could have hastened the process of settling the Land of Israel and rebuilding the Temple. However, your ear was deafened and did not heed the historical cries of the nation.
You did not storm out in protest against the Sanballites, the Samaritans, and the rest of Israel’s enemies who wanted to destroy the Yishuv and extinguish the spark of the last hope of God’s people. What did you do in the hour when the returnees from the Diaspora cried out from the depths of suffering and despair: “The strength of the bearers of the burdens has faltered and there is much rubbish, so that we are not able to build the wall”(Nehemiah 4:4)? You sat with folded arms! You did not participate in the travail of those who fought for Judaism, for Israel, and the redemption. Never did you bring even one sacrifice on their behalf. All these years you worried only about your own welfare and only for your own benefit did you pray and offer sacrifices:
And so it was when the days of their feasting were over, that Job sent word to his children to sanctify themselves and he [Job] rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings for each of them all, for Job said: “It may be that my sons have sinned, and blasphemed God in their hearts.” —Job 1:5.
Did you once, Job, participate in a stranger’s grief to the extent of making a plea on his behalf? No, you did not! Do you know, Job, that prayer is the province of the community, and that an individual does not come before the Lord to plead before Him and request the fulfillment of his needs until he redeems himself from isolation and self-containment and joins the community? Did you forget that Jewish prayer speaks in the plural (“One should Job always join together with the community in prayer” [TB Berakhot 3a]), and that Jewish prayer is the linking of one soul to another and the fusing of tempestuous hearts. You did not know how to use the formula for prayer fixed by the nation, which is to include yourself within the community and to help bear the burden of one’s fellow man. If your soul wants to comprehend the doctrine of the amelioration of suffering, you must grasp the secret of prayer that brings the “I” close to the other. The original formula that joins the individual with the experience of the community must become for you second nature; and you must understand the idea of loving kindness, which is realized by the one who prays and who is elevated from a personal self-concern to becoming one with the community. You will not fulfill your obligation by generously dispensing the miserable pennies with which you were blessed. You will only save through prayer resulting from the experience of communal travail. You did not understand the teaching of hesed, and you squandered My blessings. Try now to comprehend the lesson of suffering. Perhaps, out of pain and grief, you can undo the errors you committed out of illusory comfort and happiness.
The Holy One said to the friends of Job, “Now, therefore, take unto you seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to My servant Job and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering, and My servant Job shall pray for you” (Job 42:8). Behold, I will test Job yet another time. Let him be tested publicly. Does he now know how to pray for others and participate in their travail? Did he learn anything in the hour of retribution and divine anger? Did he adopt for himself a new style of collective prayer that encompasses the community? If he pleads for you, he will bring his salvation and yours; “For to him I will show favor” (Job 42:8). Then you shall know that Job was redeemed from the narrow straits of egotism and entered into the vistas of communal empathy; and that social isolation has ended and communal affiliation has appeared in its stead. A wonderful thing happened. Job suddenly understood the nature of Jewish prayer. He discovered in one moment its plural voice and the attribute of loving-kindness that sweeps man from the private to the public domain. He began to live a communal life, to feel the community’s hurts, to mourn its disasters and rejoice in its moments of celebration. Job’s sufferings found their true repair in his escape from the prison in which he had found himself, and God’s wrath was assuaged. As it is written: “And the Lord changed the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends” (Job 42:10).