“Man comes closer to God through the questions he asks Him, he liked to say. Therein lies true dialogue. Man asks and God replies. But we don’t understand His replies. We cannot understand them. Because they dwell in the depths of our souls and remain there until we die. The real answers, Eliezer, you will find only within yourself.” (Moishe the Beatle, Night ch. 1)
The book of Job is not an easy one to read. It is a story of a righteous man tested by God to almost unbearable limits; he then rebelled against God by cursing the day he was born. Following is forty chapters of heated debate between Job and his three friends about justice and fairness in God’s judgement. Job relentlessly questions the ways of God and rebuts all the defenses offered by his friends. Eventually, God Himself intervened and rebuked Job for his harsh words, expressed dissatisfaction to his friends for answering wrongly to Job. Then Job rested his case.
The Talmud debates on the timeframe of the biblical figure Job. There are six different opinions, one putting him in the days of Abraham; others put him in the times of Moses and even the Temple. At the end of the conversation, one rabbi suggests that Job never existed! The complete forty-plus chapters of detailed dialogue and argument are just one long metaphor (see Bava Basra 15b). Mahral explains that Job more than being a person of flesh and bone, is an idea; he is a phenomenon. The debate in the Talmud is, what the most appropriate time is for his life to have taken place. The rabbi that stated that Job never existed is proposing that Job is relevant at all times and in every person. Job lives in the one who suffers and walks besides them through their pain. He expresses their frustration and gives words to their cry. When we feel lost and on our own, when we feel tortured and bruised, we might think we are the only one there, but then we meet Job. He was there before, he still lives, and he gave a voice to our silent desperation. By limiting him to a specific generation or country, we are compromising the message and lesson of Job.
We are accustomed to think; that a man of perfect faith is one accepts God’s Judgement without questioning it. However, one can make a case to the contrary. For, when one stumbles on a stone and bruises himself, he will get hurt and feel pain. However, if he learns that his father was the one who threw him to the ground, he will feel sad, betrayed, and humiliated. In the same manner, one that goes through hardship and does not feel wronged does not attest to his faith per se, sometimes it might be a product of indifference. For if, it would be clear to him that God’s Hand smote him, he might have been enraged and resentful. Therefore, asking ‘why’ is by definition admitting that God controls the world; and our pain was not the result of a random rock upon which we stumbled.
The monsters of Auschwitz left few survivors. Those survivors were skeletal figures, deformed from inside out. Their eyes witnessed infants thrown under the trains and children burned alive, elderly shot on their beds and weak clubbed to death. After walking out of the valley of death, they looked back at the bloodstained valley and then looked up to its smoky sky and asked, ‘why?’ It was not a rebellious feeling; it was Job’s tears rolling down their face, and Job’s pain aching in their chest. If we listen carefully, we can hear Job’s voice from the barracks and labor camps, wailing and challenging.
“My soul is weary of my life; I will give free course to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. I will say unto God: Do not condemn me; make me know wherefore Thou contendest with me. Is it good unto Thee that Thou shouldest oppress, that Thou shouldest despise the work of Thy hands, and shine upon the counsel of the wicked? Hast Thou eyes of flesh? Or seest Thou as man seeth? Are Thy days as the days of man, or Thy years as a man’s days, That Thou inquirest after mine iniquity, and searchest after my sin, Although Thou knowest that I shall not be condemned; and there is none that can deliver out of Thy hand? Thy hands have framed me and fashioned me together round about; yet Thou dost destroy me!” (Job 10:1-8)
One of the pairs of eyes mentioned above belonged to Eliezer Wiesel, a fourteen-year-old boy from Sighet. Eliezer, ignorant of anything outside his shtetel, uprooted from his haven by the Germans, and relocated in hell. His young spirit drank God’s cup of wrath to the last bit and nonetheless persevered. He watched his father die and his family gas to death; his friends fall to disease, hunger and the majority to cruel torture. His eyes never forgot what they had seen that terrible night, and for the rest of their life, they asked ‘why?’ He did not offer solutions, nor claim to know any answers; faith is not about answers, it is about the dialogue.
This week the world lost the Job of Auschwitz