Suffering and the Unknowable Will of God

It was taught in the name of Rabbi Akiva: A man should always accustom himself to say, “Whatever God does is for good.” Once, while Rabbi Akiva was traveling, he came to a certain town and looked for lodgings but was everywhere refused. He said, “Whatever God does is for good,” and went and spent the night in a field. He had with him a cock, a donkey, and a lamp. A wind came and blew out the candles, a cat came and ate the cock, and a lion came and ate the donkey. He said, “Whatever God does is for good.” The same night some soldiers came and carried off the inhabitants of the town. Rabbi Akiva said to his companions, “Did I not say to say, `Whatever God does is for good.’ “

——- Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 60b-61a

Published in: on July 26, 2009 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  

So, too, with the Holy One

A non-Jew asked Rabbi Joshua ben Korcha, “Do you not claim that God sees into the future?”

“Yes,” he replied.

The man said, “But it is written in your Torah, `And the Lord regretted that He had made people on earth, and His heart was saddened’ ” [Genesis 6:6]; if God knew be forehand that He was going to regret creating humankind, why did He do it?.

Rabbi Joshua asked him: “Has a son ever been born to you?”

“Yes,” the man replied.

“And what did you do [when he was born]?”

He answered, “I rejoiced and made everyone else joyous.”

The rabbi asked, “And did you not know that some day the child would die?”

He answered, “At the time when one should be joyous, be joyous. And when it is time to mourn, mourn.”

The rabbi said, “So, too, with the Holy One, blessed be He.”

——- Genesis Rabbah 27:4

Published in: on July 19, 2009 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Responsibility before God

There was once a couple who had lived in peace and harmony for a good many years. The husband was ugly and always had been deaf; the wife was a shrew and had been blind from childhood. Being blind, the wife never knew how ugly her husband really was, while he, being deaf, was not troubled at all by his wife’s sharp tongue.

One day, they learned of a physician of whom it was said that he could work miraculous cures, and they decided to go and see whether he could heal them of their handicaps. They agreed in advance to pay whatever amount of money the physician might charge them.

And it happened that the physician was successful, so that the wife was blind no more and the husband no longer deaf. Unfortunately, this amazing cure also spelled the end of the couple’s domestic felicity. The husband now heard his wife’s constant scolding and soon lost his patience with her, while his wife, clearly seeing his ugly features for the first time, could not bear to look at him. Therefore, when the physician presented them with his bill, they refused to pay. In fact, they told him, it was he who owed them compensation for having ruined their happy marriage.

When he saw that he could not prevail upon his two patients to pay for his services, he sighed and said: “If it is really true that I have made you unhappy by my cure, I will attempt to restore your happiness to you. If you wish, sir, I can make you deaf again, and you, madam, can easily be returned to your former state of blindness, and then your life will be as happy and peaceful as it was before you met me.”

To this, however, both the man and his wife objected most strenuously.

“Well,” replied the physician, “if you are unwilling to return to your former state, then it is obvious my skill must have made you happier than you were before. Hence it is only fair that you pay me for my services.”


Let this be a lesson, for those who refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. If life, once given to human beings, is so dear that they will not relinquish it voluntarily, it stands to reason that they must pay for the priveledge of living. And what form must this payment take? Responsibility before God for their deeds.

Published in: on July 12, 2009 at 12:55 am  Leave a Comment  

This is not our way!

Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz heard that one of his disciples had secluded himself in a cave for days without food or water. He hurried to the cave and admonished the emaciated young man:

“This is not our way! We don’t starve ourselves to become holy!”

The disciple replied: “But you yourself would tell us many stories about your own teacher, Rabbi Yisro’el Ba’al Shem Tov, how he would go for weeks without eating or drinking and how he became such a great miracle worker!”

Rabbi Pinchas said: “My dear son, my teacher would indeed spend days in the mountains without eating or drinking, the only difference is that he would always take food along with him but would forget to eat!”

——- Oral tradition

Published in: on July 5, 2009 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Any amongst you …

Rabbi Pinchas ben Ya’ir (second century) was on his way to the House of Study, his disciples following behind him, when they came to a raging river.

He said to the river: “What are you accomplishing by preventing me from proceeding to the House of Study?”

The waters withdrew and he passed over the river safely. When he reached the other side, his disciples shouted to him: “Master, may we, too, cross over?”

He shouted back: “Any amongst you who has never insulted another creature may cross over without danger.”

——- Jerusalem Talmud, D’mai 1:3

Published in: on July 5, 2009 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment