Project Genesis

Reward and Punishment

Why "Bad" Things Happen

Angry With G-d

Question: I cannot forgive G-d for the pain He has caused me over my mother’s lengthy and very painful death. This is what I am asking advice on.

Answer: Sorry it’s taken so long to get to your important question. I am, in general, a reasonably busy person, but a question with no easy answer does seem to inspire more than it’s fair share of distractions!

The question of the appearance of injustice in this world is as old as the world itself (in fact, one of the very oldest Biblical commentators – the Second Century Targum Yonason ben Uziel to Gen. 4: 8 ascribes it to Cain in rationalizing his murder of Abel!).

The medieval Jewish philosopher who wrote the wonderful book of Jewish thought, Chovos Halevavos (Duties of the Heart) discussed the matter at length in his section on Trust (“Bitachon”). He precedes his discussion with the disclaimer that, at root, this is a subject that is ultimately unknowable by human beings. Many were the prophets who stood at the abyss and satisfied themselves with the most noble of descriptions: “The Rock is perfect in His actions, for all His ways are justice” (Deut. 32).

Nevertheless, the Chovos Halevavos then enumerates a number of possible scenarios in which what appears as injustice is, in fact, the height of Divine grace and kindness. Here are a few from that list:

  • Sometimes a righteous person might suffer in this world in exchange for a greater share of the next (see Deut. 8: 16)

  • Sometimes it is to enable a public demonstration of noble and patient suffering to inspire other, lesser individuals to greater acts of goodness.

  • Sometimes suffering in this world can act to purify an already refined soul and better prepare it for the warmth of God’s presence in the next world by “burning” out any small imperfections that might have accumulated through a lifetime of experience.

Either way, the fact that the Torah teaches of a final and perfect settling of accounts allows for a somewhat gentler acceptance of this-worldly suffering.

You might also like to read some other thoughts I’ve had on this matter.

With my hope that you will find elevation and inspiration in your mother’s memory,

Rabbi Boruch Clinton

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