Parshat Bo 5770 (from Ireland)

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Then Hashem answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said … Where were you when I laid the foundations of earth?
… who enclosed the sea behind doors? (Book of Job 38)

As we look with incredulity and pain at yet another “natural disaster” – this time in the glorious Caribbean island of Haiti, we think back to other  recent tragedies, tsunamis and hurricanes and inevitably the age-old cry of Moses to G-d rings out, “Why have You done evil to this people?”

As Moses stood in ancient Egypt surrounded by Hebrews with broken bodies and crushed spirits his very human emotions could not deal with the enormity of the suffering. More crucially, he could not grasp the reason for the suffering, hence his heartfelt cry to G-d: Lama harei’ota le’am hazeh! Why have You done evil to this people?

In another instance the Talmud relates how G-d shows Moses a vision of the future, a private screening of what turns out to be a horror film. Moses is aghast as he sees – far in the future – the great sage Rabbi Akiva being flayed to death by bloodthirsty Romans. Once again he cries out in disbelieving anguish: “Is this the reward for Torah study!?” And G-d responds inexplicably, “Be silent – this is (understandable only to those who can fathom) My thought process!”

Philosophers and people of faith have grappled over the millennia to understand G-d’s thought process, to understand the Divine system of Justice, of reward and retribution – to no avail.

To those with indelible numbers tattooed on their forearms and burned into the deepest recesses of their minds this question allows no rest. To those who lose children, parents, loved ones or friends “before (what we consider to be) their time” or to those who see pain and suffering by good and decent people these questions give no peace.

Yet there comes a point that we must decide: Do we inhabit a world of chaos, born of a gaseous explosion with no Divine Creator, a world into which we are born by accident and in which we will die when our parts wear out? Or do we believe that we inhabit a world of beauty and poetry, a world handcrafted by the ultimate Craftsman, lovingly forming each leaf and blade of grass, a world where mortal humans, of finite flesh and blood can have an intimate relationship with an infinite Divine Being?

And if (hopefully) the latter is the case – then we must understand that we can never understand. Much as Pinocchio cannot understand Gepetto, we cannot understand G-d. We can try – in fact we must try, but only in the knowledge that at some point we will reach the limit of our human capacity to understand.

In the famous Holocaust scene where a Jewish Court was convened to “bring G-d to trial” an incredible act of faith took place. After much deliberation and the subsequent “indictment” of G-d, the Court – the very same people who had just ruled G-d was guilty of abandoning His people – gathered together to pray the Mincha afternoon service!

For as long as we recognise that there is a Divine Plan, one in which every piece of the puzzle fits perfectly together, then we can continue. We might struggle with the individual pieces, we might cry and sob, shout and scream, but after all is said and done we turn to G-d to comfort us, and we pray with all our hearts that the time will come when the puzzle makes sense to us too.

Until then, we must live up to the Biblical description that we are created “in the image of G-d,” and do all in our power to bring aid and support to those in urgent need. For when we do that, and we try to make this world a better place for all its inhabitants we can be sure that G-d will take comfort from our persistence, from our unfailing belief, and will place one more piece in its correct place in the puzzle.

Rabbi Zalman Lent

Shabbat Shalom

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