Kol Dodi Dofek
The Righteous Suffer צדיק ורע לו
1 א

One of the deepest of mysteries, troubling Judaism from the dawn of its existence, is the ‎problem ‎of suffering. At a propitious moment of Divine compassion, Moses, the master of all ‎prophets, ‎pleaded before the Lord of All to be enlightened as to the workings of this ‎impenetrable ‎phenomenon.1 I Moses knocked on the gates of heaven and cried out, “Show me ‎now Your ways, ‎that I shall comprehend You, so that I might find grace in Your eyes … instruct me ‎as to Your glory” ‎‎(Exodus 33:13, Exodus 33:18).‎

2 ב

Why and wherefore are hardships visited on man? Why and wherefore do the righteous ‎suffer ‎and evildoers prosper? From that wondrous morning when Moses, the faithful ‎shepherd, ‎communed with the Creator of the Universe and pleaded for the comprehensive ‎solution to this ‎question of questions, throughout the generations, the prophets and sages of ‎Israel have grappled ‎with this conundrum. Habakkuk demanded satisfaction for this affront to ‎justice; Jeremiah, King ‎David in his Psalms, and Solomon in Ecclesiastes all pondered this problem. ‎The Book of Job is ‎totally dedicated to this ancient riddle that still hovers over our world and ‎demands its own ‎resolution: Why does the Holy One, blessed be He, permit evil to have dominion ‎over His ‎creations.‎

3 ג

Judaism, in quest for a safe harbor in a world split and dismembered by existential suffering, and ‎in ‎its search for a solution to the mystery of the suffering that (to all outward appearances) ‎pervades ‎without limits, came to a new formulation and definition of this problem that has both ‎greater ‎breadth and greater depth. Posing the question of suffering, claims Judaism, is possible in ‎two ‎separate dimensions: the dimension of fate and the dimension of destiny. Judaism has ‎always ‎distinguished between an “Existence of Fate” and an “Existence of Destiny,” between the ‎‎“I” ‎which is the progeny of fate and the “I” which is the child of destiny. In this distinction lies ‎hidden ‎the Jewish doctrine of suffering.‎

4 ד

What is an Existence of Fate? It is an existence of duress, in the nature of “against your will do ‎you ‎live” (M. Avot 4:22).2 It is a factual existence, simply one line in a [long] chain of ‎mechanical ‎causality, devoid of significance, direction, and purpose, and subordinate to the forces ‎of the ‎environment into whose midst the individual is pushed, unconsulted by Providence. The “I” ‎of fate ‎emerges as an object. As an object, man appears as acted upon and not as actor. He is ‎acted upon ‎through his passive collision with the objective outside, as one object confronting ‎another. The “I” ‎of fate is hurled into a sealed dynamic that is always turned outward. Man’s ‎existence is hollow, ‎lacking inner content, substance, and independence. The “I” of fate denies ‎itself completely, ‎because the sense of selfhood and objectification cannot dwell in tandem.‎

5 ה

It is against such a background that the experience of evil surfaces in all its terror. There are ‎two ‎stages in fate/existence. From the start, the man/object, imprisoned, against his will, [bound ‎up] in ‎the chains of existence, stands perplexed and confused in the face of the great mystery ‎called ‎suffering. Fate mocks him: his existence, crazed and torn, opposes itself and denies its worth ‎and ‎importance. The fear of extinction assails him and crushes his body and soul. The sufferer ‎wanders ‎lost in the vacuousness of the world, with God’s fear spread over him and his anger ‎tensed against ‎it; he is entirely shaken and agitated. His agonies are devoid of any clear meaning ‎and they appear ‎as satanic forces, as outgrowths of the primal chaos that pollutes the creation ‎whose destiny it was ‎to be a reflection of the Creator. At this stage of perplexity and ‎speechlessness, of numbness of ‎the heart and confusion of the mind, man does not ask at all ‎about the reason for evil and its ‎essence. He simply suffers in silence and is choked by his anguish, ‎which silences his complaint and ‎suppresses questioning and inquiry.‎

6 ו

After the psychic quaking of the sufferer, which comes as a first reaction to suffering, comes ‎the ‎intellectual curiosity of the sufferer, which seeks to understand existence and to strengthen ‎the ‎sufferer’s safety and security. At this stage man begins to examine suffering and to ask ‎weighty ‎questions. He searches for the rational foundations of suffering and evil, and he ‎endeavors to find ‎the tranquility and harmony that lie between the positive and negative and thus ‎to remove the ‎edge from the tension between the thesis, “good,” and the antithesis, “evil,” of ‎existence. From ‎the question and the inquiry, the solution and the answer, he arrives at a ‎metaphysical formulation ‎of evil through which he comes to terms with evil and attempts to gloss it ‎over. The sufferer ‎employs the powers of rational abstraction (with which the Creator endowed ‎him) to the point of ‎selfdeception: denial of the existence of evil in the world.‎

7 ז

Judaism, with its realistic approach to man and his status within existence, understood that ‎evil ‎does not lend itself to being obscured and glossed over, and that every attempt to diminish ‎the ‎import of the contrast and cleavage in existence will not bring man to inner peace or ‎to ‎comprehension of the existential secret. Evil is a fact that cannot be denied. There is evil in ‎the ‎world. There are suffering and agony, and death pangs. He who would deceive himself by ‎ignoring ‎the split in existence and by romanticizing life is but a fool and a fabricator of illusions. It ‎is ‎impossible to conquer monstrous evil with philosophical-speculative thought. Thus, ‎Judaism ‎determined that man, submerged in the depths of a frozen fate, will in vain seek the ‎solution to ‎the problem of evil in the context of speculative thought, for he will never find it. ‎Certainly, the ‎testimony of the Torah regarding creation — that “it is very good” (Genesis 1:12) — is ‎true. ‎However, this is only stated from the unbounded perspective of the Creator. In man’s ‎finite, ‎limited view, the absolute good in creation is not apparent. The contrast is striking and ‎undeniable. ‎There is evil that is not susceptible to explanation and comprehension. Only by ‎comprehending the ‎world in its totality can man gain insight into the essence of suffering. ‎However, as long as man’s ‎perception is limited and fragmented, so that he sees only isolated ‎portions of the cosmic drama ‎and the mighty saga of history, he cannot delve into the recesses of ‎evil and the mystery of ‎suffering. To what might this situation be compared? To a person who ‎views a beautiful tapestry, ‎the work of a fine artisan, which contains, woven into it on its front, a ‎representation dazzling to ‎the eye. To our great sorrow, we see this image [i.e., the world] from ‎the obverse side. Can such a ‎sight become a sublime esthetic experience? Thus, we are incapable ‎of comprehending the ‎panorama of reality without which one cannot uncover God’s master plan ‎‎— the essence of the ‎works of the Holy One.‎

8 ח

In short, the “I” of fate asks a speculative/metaphysical question about evil, and this question ‎is ‎not given to solution and has no answer.‎

9 ט

In the second dimension of man’s existence, destiny, the question of suffering takes on new ‎form. ‎What is an Existence of Destiny? It is an active existence, when man confronts the ‎environment ‎into which he has been cast with an understanding of his uniqueness and value, ‎freedom and ‎capacity; without compromising his integrity and independence in his struggle with ‎the outside ‎world. The slogan of the “I” of destiny is: “Against your will you are born, and against ‎your will you ‎die” (M. Avot 4:22), but by your free will do you live. Man is born as an object, dies as ‎an object, but ‎it is within his capability to live as a “subject” — as a creator and innovator who ‎impresses his ‎individual imprimatur on his life and breaks out of a life of instinctive, automatic ‎behavior into one ‎of creative activity. According to Judaism, man’s mission in this world is to turn ‎fate into destiny — ‎an existence that is passive and influenced into an existence that is active and ‎influential; an ‎existence of compulsion, perplexity, and speechlessness into an existence full of ‎will, vision, and ‎initiative. The blessing of the Holy One to his creation fully defines man’s role: “Be ‎fruitful and ‎multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Conquer the ‎environment and ‎subjugate it. If you do not rule over it, it will enslave you. Destiny bestows on ‎man a new status in ‎God’s world. It bestows upon man a royal crown, and thus he becomes God’s ‎partner in the work ‎of creation.‎

10 י

As stated above, in man’s “Existence of Destiny” arises a new relation to the problem of evil. ‎As ‎long as man vacillates in his fateful existence, his relationship to evil is expressed solely in ‎a ‎philosophical/speculative approach. As a passive creature, it was not within his power to ‎wrestle ‎with evil in order to contain or to exploit it for an exalted purpose. The child of fate is ‎devoid of the ‎ability to determine anything in the realm of his existence. He is nurtured from the ‎outside, and his ‎life bears its imprint. Therefore he relates to evil from an impractical perspective ‎and philosophizes ‎about it from a speculative point of view. He wishes to deny the reality of evil ‎and to create a ‎harmonistic outlook on life. The result of such an experience is bitter ‎disappointment. Evil mocks ‎the prisoner of fate and his fantasy of a reality that is all good and ‎pleasant‎.‎

11 יא

‎However, in the realm of destiny man recognizes reality as it is, and does not desire to ‎use ‎harmonizing formulas in order to hide and disregard evil. The “Child of Destiny” is very realistic ‎and ‎does not flinch in anticipation of a face-to-face confrontation with evil. His approach is halakhic ‎and ‎moral, and thus devoid of any metaphysical/speculative nuance. When the “Child of ‎Destiny” ‎suffers, he says in his heart, “There is evil, I do not deny it, and I will not conceal it with ‎fruitless ‎casuistry. I am, however, interested in it from a halakhic point of view; and as a person ‎who wants ‎to know what action to take. I ask a single question: What should the sufferer do to live ‎with his ‎suffering?” In this dimension, the emphasis is removed from causal and ‎teleological ‎considerations (which differ only as to direction) and is directed to the realm of ‎action. The ‎problem is now formulated in the language of a simple halakhah and revolves around a ‎quotidian ‎‎(i.e. daily) task. The question of questions is: What does suffering obligate man to do? ‎This ‎problem was important to Judaism, which placed it at the center of its ‎‎Weltanschauung. ‎Halakhah is just as interested in this question, as in issues of issur ‎and heter and ‎‎hiyyuv and p’tur. We do not wonder about the ineffable ways ‎of the Holy One, but ‎instead ponder the paths man must take when evil leaps up at him. We ask ‎not about the reason ‎for evil and its purpose, but rather about its rectification and uplifting. How ‎should a man react in a ‎time of distress? What should a person do so as not to rot in his affliction?‎

12 יב

The halakhic answer to this question is very simple. Suffering comes to elevate man, to purify ‎his ‎spirit and sanctify him, to cleanse his mind and purify it from the chaff of superficiality and ‎the ‎dross of crudeness; to sensitize his soul and expand his horizons. In general, the purpose ‎of ‎suffering is to repair the imperfection in man’s persona. The halakhah teaches us that an ‎afflicted ‎person commits a criminal act if he allows his pain to go for naught and to remain without ‎meaning ‎or purpose. Suffering appears in the world in order to contribute something to man, in ‎order to ‎atone for him, in order to redeem him from moral impurity, from crudeness and lowliness ‎of spirit. ‎The sufferer must arise there from, purified, refined, and cleansed. “An hour of distress it ‎is for ‎Jacob, and from it he should be saved” (Jeremiah 30:7). From the midst of suffering itself he ‎will ‎achieve lasting redemption and merit a self-actualization and exaltation that are unequaled in ‎a ‎world devoid of suffering. From negation sprouts affirmation; from antithesis, thesis emerges; ‎and ‎from a denial of existence, a new existence is revealed. The Torah gave witness to man’s ‎mighty ‎spiritual reaction to suffering inflicted upon him when it said, “In your distress when all ‎these ‎horrors shall come upon you …then you shall return to the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy ‎‎4:30). ‎Suffering requires man to repent and return to God.3 Distress is designated to arouse us ‎to ‎repentance, and what is repentance if not the renewal and supreme redemption of ‎man?‎

13 יג

How pitiful if man’s sufferings do not bring him to a spiritual crisis, and his soul remains frozen ‎and ‎bereft of forgiveness. How pitiful is the sufferer if his soul is not warmed by the flame of ‎suffering, ‎and if his wounds do not spark “the Candle of God” (Proverbs 20:27) within him. When ‎pain ‎wanders in the wide world as a blind force without purpose, a stinging indictment of the man ‎who ‎squanders his suffering issues forth.‎

14 יד

Judaism made this notion more profound when it combined the idea of the repair ‎‎(tikkun) ‎of evil and its elevation with the perfection and elevation of goodness. Judaism ‎states that the ‎kindnesses of God are not given to man as an unconditional gift, without obligation; ‎they require ‎something in return; their very essence impose a moral, halakhic demand upon the ‎man who ‎enjoys them. Indeed, while loving-kindness emanates from the open, overflowing, ‎generous hand ‎of the Holy One, it is not an unlimited or unconditional gift. Such a gift is not ‎absolute. The ‎bestowing of good is always conditional and temporary. When God bestows wealth, ‎property, ‎influence, and honor, the recipient must know how to employ them; how to turn these ‎precious ‎gifts into fruitful, creative powers, how to include others in his happiness and greatness, ‎and how ‎to render loving-kindness with the divine kindnesses that emanate and issue forth to him ‎from a ‎never-ending font. If an abundance of good does not bring man to absolute subordination ‎to the ‎Holy One, then he is guilty of a fundamental sin resulting in the severe distress that in turn ‎reminds ‎him of his obligation to the Creator of the universe for the gift of His kindnesses. Our great ‎sages ‎have taught: “Man is obligated to give thanks for evil as he does for goodness” (M. Berakhot ‎‎9:5). ‎Just as good obliges man to perform deeds of a higher order and demands creative and ‎innovative ‎actions from the individual or the populace, so does suffering require the repair of the ‎soul and the ‎cleansing of life — if at the time of God’s favor and beneficence one was not aroused ‎to action. For ‎it happens that man is summoned to repair, through his afflictions, the damage he ‎caused in God’s ‎creation at the hour when the Holy One extended His bounty. The feeling of ‎subordination to the ‎Almighty and the understanding of one’s obligation to purify and sanctify ‎one’s self by dint of ‎one’s suffering must brighten man’s soul when he finds himself in distress and ‎perplexed by his ‎existence. He must overcome the obtuseness of his heart that caused him to sin ‎when he stood in ‎the presence of God’s bounty. In short, man must solve, not the question of the ‎causal or ‎teleological reason for suffering with all its speculative complexity, but rather the ‎question of its ‎curative role, in all its halakhic simplicity, by turning fate to destiny and elevating ‎himself from ‎object to subject, from thing to man.‎