That old question
Since we began this journey into Rabbinical work, barely a week can go by without the returning question, “Rabbi, why do bad things happen to good people” – One eventually has heard it asked in multiple ways and designs over the years at various times by a variety of persons.
In general, the time when people tend to ask this question tends to be during a personal or familial crisis in which case the individual is seldom able to explore the philosophical answers as they grapple with grief and other complex emotions, rapidly changing circumstances and feelings of powerless vulnerability.
That isn’t to say that there are not excellent answers to some of these questions, ultimately the great mystery of why exactly we are here continues, in each of our classical sources that deal with these questions the overriding conclusion that the events in our lives personally and collectively are for a profound purpose and meaning, that all actions flow ultimately from the same Divine source.
In the East, this question is absent, the general acceptance of the majesty and calamity of life existing as a dichotomy at the whim of God, or Gods is obvious. Throughout the pantheon of their Divine characters , many embodiments are symbolically associated with death and destruction.
It is perhaps because we have accidently ingested a western paradigm that we too often fail to grasp this, often some fall into a “vending machine model of God” they push the right buttons, pray the right way, do the sacred acts and expect reward or at least protection from evil.
However a Jew’s purpose is to perceive Hashem in this world, Hashem is the creator of all things including what we perceive as Good and Evil as it says in the book of Isaiah 45:5-7:
|I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God: I will strengthen you although you have not known Me.
|אֲנִ֚י יְהֹוָה֙ וְאֵ֣ין ע֔וֹד זֽוּלָתִ֖י אֵ֣ין אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֲאַזֶּרְךָ֖ וְלֹ֥א יְדַעְתָּֽנִי:
|In order that they know from the shining of the sun and from the west that there is no one besides Me; I am the Lord and there is no other.
|לְמַ֣עַן יֵֽדְע֗וּ מִמִּזְרַח־שֶׁ֙מֶשׁ֙ וּמִמַּ֣עֲרָבָ֔ה כִּי־אֶ֖פֶס בִּלְעָדָ֑י אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה וְאֵ֥ין עֽוֹד:
|Who forms light and creates darkness, Who makes peace and creates evil; I am the Lord, Who makes all these.
|יוֹצֵ֥ר אוֹר֙ וּבוֹרֵ֣א חֹ֔שֶׁךְ עֹשֶׂ֥ה שָׁל֖וֹם וּב֣וֹרֵא רָ֑ע אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה עֹשֶׂ֥ה כָל־אֵֽלֶּה:
This idea is a central one, in many other religions the deification or embodiment of evil to other beings other God, such as the Devil etc., are in fact problematic in terms of monotheist theology since it ascribes power to a being other than God, some try to find a resolution by the comparison to angels and “agency” as a mechanism of the Divine’s interaction with this world – regardless of the action and its true metaphysical mechanism, Judaism ascribes all power, all creation to the Infinite God and does accept the idea of Demi-God(s) at all.
It is perhaps less comfortable to ascribe negative experiences that happen to us as having being uniquely fashioned for us by God, it is perhaps a comfort to distance us from it in some way. However the acceptance that all things are purposeful could also become an equal escapism unless we recall that whilst our circumstances may be beyond our control, our reaction to it is.
When an individual is in crisis and asks these questions the only answer is the current crisis, the dominating focus being the tragedy at hand can have no philosophical answer that can turn the tide of grief or emotion, and rightly so, the focus during these times does not to be on questions that have few certainties during deeply uncertain times.
It is our conclusion that a meaningful life is one that is lived meaningfully and in our tradition we believe that there is a metaphysical reason for what is happening that causes us to continue in this quest of experiencing being to the fullest of our capacity. Not all answers are known, not all secrets uncovered, but we believe in the mystery and are committed to it.