Job: Am I Allowed to Be Angry at God?
Job: Am I Allowed To Be Angry At God?
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
Job: Am I Allowed to Be Angry at God?
Rabbi Dovid Fohrman: Job fits within Kesuvim (Writings), it fits within wisdom literature, it's generally called within Writing. There are some disputes about who wrote it, its authorship is unknown. There is a Talmudic tradition that Moses wrote it, but the exact author we don't know. There is a dispute in the Gemara also as to whether or not, as to when Job lived, or if he lived at all.Generally speaking, I would argue, the Gemara talks about Job living during the times of Pharaoh, during the time of Moses, Job living during the time of the spies, and then finally there is one response to the Gemara which is, "Iyov lo haya velo nivra," Job never existed at all, but he is kind of an allegory. I would go so far as to say, although I can't prove it, that even the opinions of the Gemara that say that Job existed, and try to identify him during a time period, are themselves not making an historical point but also making an allegorical point. They are saying that whatever was going on at the time of the spies, whatever was going on with Pharaoh, that was Job.
Just to give you an idea, I don't want to get too involved in this, but to give you an idea of what I'm talking about, they say, for example, that -- the school of thought which says, the Talmudic opinion that says that Job lived at the time of Pharaoh, says that there were, if I remember correctly, there were a number of people who were in on it with Pharaoh's decree against the Jews. There was Balaam, there was Jethro and there was Job. The idea was Job was saying, yes, kill them, if I am not mistaken; and Jethro was saying, no, don't do it; and Job was silent. So it's interesting.
The point there, I think, is less that this Talmudic sage says, he's got archeological evidence that can place Job at that time, and he thinks that Job was (inaudible). Really, he is talking more about a commentary on Job which is that the way he views Job's persona, is Job was the silent guy, i.e., you can't pin anything on him. He's not a bad guy, he's tam, yashar, yarei Elokim, but if you look carefully at all of those virtues, tam, he was whole, which is that he wasn't incomplete. Yashar, he was straight, straight and narrow, honest.
Yarei Elokim, he feared God. All of those virtues have what quality in common? They are all sort of negative which means that you don't do bad, but they are not necessarily the existence of good in the positive way. So that's school of thought seems to be saying, he is a guy who in the face of evil might be silent, because he won't be proactive in a good way, but you can't sort of pin anything on him being bad. But it's more of a commentary on Job than it is an attempt to actually locate him historically.
Audience Member: Are you saying Job is a possibility of being fiction?
Rabbi Dovid Fohrman: In a way, but fiction is a loaded word. Fiction can be true also, in other words, it can be an allegory. Job could be one long, elaborate allegory, but it's true in a very deep way in the sense that it's a portrayal of suffering at this level. The question of whether Job actually existed or whether Job didn't exist I think is not all that interesting, because either way, Job could exist. Job could have existed. His plight rings true and what he goes through rings true and how he deals with it rings true. So the book lives or dies on that more than whether he was an historical figure or not. So I don't think the Gemara is too concerned about that issue, although it sort of debates both sides. But again, I don't even think it's really debating it.
So back to this triangle, how do all the different characters in the book relate to it? The book opens, just to give you a sense of it, it's a very strange and sort of intentionally provocative opening I think to the book. "Ish haya b'eretz Utz," by the way, I think this is where L. Frank Baum got the Land of Oz. There was a man in the Land of Oz or Utz, "Iyov shemo", Job was his name. "V'haya ha'ish hahu tam v'yashar v'yarei Elokim v'sar meira", and this person was straightforward, he was a good guy. He had lots of kids, "shivah banim v'shalosh banot" -- 10 kids; seven males, three females. Lots of cattle. Look carefully at the numbers, "vayehi mikneihu shivat alfei tzon u'sheloshet alfei gemalim".
What does that remind you of? It reminds you of the children. If you look at the numbers, the way the cattle are broken up exactly parallels the breakdown between male and female children. There is this equivalence between cattle and children, which is strange. Don't get any ideas, but it seems to be some sort of commentary, I think in the book, which is significant.
Anyway, Chapter 1, Verse 3: "Vayehi ha'ish hahu gadol mikol bnei kedem", this person was greater than all the people of the time in the ancient world. "V'halchu vanav v'asu mishteh", and his children went and they made a feast. "Beit ish yomo", every day, a different child would host the feast. "V'shalchu v'kar'u lishloshet achyoteihem", and they would call to their three sisters, "le'echol v'lishtot imahem", to join them in this feast. There were seven boys so it worked out, one for every day of the week, and they would just sort of go around and they would make these feasts and invite their sisters.
"Vayehi ki hikifu yemei hamishteh", and it happened that as the circuit would close and they finished doing seven days of feasting, and they would continue, that at a certain point in that cycle, "vayishlach Iyov vayekadeshem, v'hishkim baboker v'he'elah olot mispar kulam", that Job would get up and wake up in the morning, and he would offer offerings for each of them, for each of his children. "Ki amar Iyov, ulay chat'u vanay uveirchu Elokim bilvavam", because Job said, maybe my children have sinned and they have cursed God in their hearts. "Kacha ya'aseh Iyov, kol hayamim", so he would offer these sort of preemptory offering on behalf of his children, and this is what Job would do all of his days; whenever they finished a cycle of these feasts, that's what he would do.
So, when you get that sort of introduction, you have to ask yourself, why am I getting that sort of introduction? Why are these details relevant to the story that unfolds? That's an interesting question and something which you should focus on if you want to look at this book in detail. I will give you some sort of -- I think there are some clues that unfold; we'll read a couple more verses and you will get a sense of some of those clues.
"Vayehi hayom", this is one of those phrases in Tanach (Jewish Bible) that separate the setting from the story. It's sort of like in every story, first you have the setting, and then you have the actual story. Vayehi hayom is one of those phrases. Interestingly enough, vayehi hayom is a rare set of words, it's a rare phrase; you'd think it would happen all the time, vayehi hayom -- and it happened one day, like every good fairytale has a 'happened one day', but actually the phrase vayehi hayom is rare in the Jewish Bible and only happens four places in all of the Jewish Bible. It happens here in Job. The other four places -- does anyone know the other four places? Any other vayehi hayom? Where else do you have vayehi hayom? Where?
Audience Member: The brit bein habetarim (Covenant between the Parts)?
Rabbi Dovid Fohrman: No, you don't have it in the Covenant between the Parts. You have it in the Book of Samuel, you have it with Hannah. There is the setting of the story, it was set up there was Hannah, there's Peninah, there's Elkanah. Hannah doesn't have any children; Peninah has children and every year they go to the Temple and they offer offerings; kind of similar to here. Then "vayehi hayom", and it happened one day, and then something happens.
You have it in the story of, I think it's in Chapter 14 of I Samuel, the story of Jonathan and Jonathan and Saul's war against the Philistines. It's the second war of Saul, actually, his first war was against Nahash, the king of Amon. HIs war against the Philistines, there is a vayehi hayom over there. There also is this interesting progression where there is this setting where there is this uneasy detente between the Philistines who vastly outnumbered the Jews, and the Jews who have this pitiful little force, and then vayehi hayom, one day, something happens. The something that happens is that Jonathan with his armor bearer, bearing the only two swords in the entire country, decide that they are going to make a preemptive attack on the Philistines, even though it looks like a suicide mission. That's the vayehi hayom there.
Then the third vayehi hayom is in the story of the Shunammite woman, which is in II Kings and it's the story of the woman whose child dies, that Elijah revives at a certain point. Vayehi hayom happens there, also the setting of the story.
The reason I point it out is because the stories, if you think carefully about them, here's a little homework for you, if you look at these four stories, they seem to have a lot in common, more than just the fact that there is vayehi hayom used to separate the setting from the story. But the deeper themes of the story seem to be almost the same. If you look at those four stories, they kind of form a kind of matrix and it gives you a very interesting way of thinking about the Book of Job.
On a deep level, if you think about the common denominators of each of the stories, what happens in these stories? Hannah and Peninah, what happens in that story? What's that story about? What happens in that story? Think about it, Hannah has children, Hannah is begging for a child and then she finally has a child, and what does she do with that child? She gives that child to whom? To God. What's her language? She named the child Samuel. Why Samuel? "Ki me'Hashem she'iltiv", because I have borrowed him from God. So now what's she doing? "Vegam anochi hishiltihu la'Hashem", and now I am lending him back to God, she says; I borrowed him, I am giving him back to God. That's Hannah.
Think about the Shunammite woman, what does that remind you of in the story of the Shunammite woman? What's the story of the Shunammite woman about, that woman from Shunam? She too doesn't have children, and then all of a sudden she has them. Elijah says, so I see you don't have children. You've been so nice to me, I want to give you something, I will give you a child. What did she way? She says, I don't need it. I am not interested in any favors. "Betoch ami ani yoshev", I'm fine, I'm doing fine, I'm doing my own thing, I don't want favors from a prophet. He insists, no, I see, you don't have a child, I will give you a child. And she says, "al tisachek bi", don't joke with me. He gives her the child and she has the child, then what happens? The child dies. Then what happens?
Normally if your child died, what would you do? You would bury the child, you would have a funeral. She does not have a funeral. She takes the child, she puts the child up into the attic, the attic where the prophet slept, and she leaves him there. That's exactly the opposite of a funeral. In a funeral you put the body where? In the ground. She's taking the body upstairs and she leaves the body upstairs. Then she goes, and she doesn't tell her husband where she is going, she goes on a journey, and on that journey, she doesn't tell anyone where she's going, she doesn't tell her husband where she's going. She goes and she does her thing and she saddles her donkey and goes, and she wakes up early in the morning and she goes on top of the mountain.
By the way, what journey does this reminds you of? A person saddles their donkey, wakes up early in the morning, goes to the top of the mountain, it's the story about a child that's either dead or either going to be dead; what story am I talking about? It's the Binding of Isaac, right? But it's the Binding backwards. Because what's the Binding about? The Binding is about a parent who is doing what? A parent who is giving their child back to God. What's this story about? This story is about the opposite.
This story, when she finally gets to the prophet, she goes to the prophet and she looks him in the eye and she has one word for him, she says, "halo amarti", I said to you, "al tishaleh oti", I told you don't joke with me. If you're going to give me the child, give me the child. You can't do this. And she wins the day. The prophet goes back and gives her the child back. The prophet goes and spreads himself over his body and resuscitates the dead and gives that woman her child back.
The other thing she says is, "hasha'alti ben mei'eit adoni", did I ask you for that child? What does that remind you of with Hannah? What does Hannah name that child? "Shmuel, ki me'Hashem she'iltiv", Samuel, because I borrowed him, I asked him from God. Hannah asked a child from God, and gave the child back to God. She says, I never asked for that child from God, so God had better give him back to me; you can't take him. It's exactly the opposite story.
Jonathan; what does Jonathan have to do with this? Think about the Jonathan story. If you look in Samuel Chapter 14 in that story of Jonathan, Jonathan launches this war against the Philistines, and miraculously he succeeds. But at the end of that war, his father, Saul gets upset, seems to get jealous of him, that he was victorious where Saul himself couldn't be victorious and he sets up this lottery. Saul made this decree that nobody could eat during the war, Jonathan ate and the lottery finds the person is guilty. Before he does this lottery, he says, even if the lottery falls on Jonathan, he'll die. It will be a divine lottery. He says, the Jews, all of you guys, you'll be on one side, and me and Jonathan will be on the other side, and we will see which way the lots fall. The lots fall on him and Jonathan. And then he says, okay, Jonathan will be on this side, and I will be on this side, and we'll see which way the lots fall. And the lots fall on Jonathan.
Now it happened to be that Jonathan was the "guilty party". But if you think about it, what are the odds that the lots would fall on Jonathan given that structure? Twenty-five percent. Doesn't seem very fair, does it? Think about it; the entire Jewish People on this side, Saul on that side, 50-50. On the chance that it falls on Saul and Jonathan, 50-50 that it falls on -- you know, it's almost like, what was he thinking? It was like he was setting it up that it could just fall on Jonathan just like that, and it does. In the end, he would have killed him, but the Jewish People redeemed Jonathan and don't allow him to die. They say, Jonathan is the one who won the war, you can't kill him.
What are all these three stories about? These are three stories about parents and children, where death of the child is a real possibility. The question is, on what terms do you give a child back to God?
Vayehi hayom, the fourth vayehi hayom story is Job, where one of the things, the most precious thing that Job loses is his children. And the question is: on what grounds? What do you do? How do you deal with that? Do you willingly give that child back to God like Hannah, or do you demand that child back, like the Shunammite woman? There is no right answer. Because you could say Hannah is the pious one, except the Shunammite woman is also pious, she got her way with God; that worked too. There is no sort of right answer. The question is, where does Job fit?
So when Job has all of his things taken from him, the first thing he says in his reply, so basically there is this bet, the Satan makes this bet with God, and the Satan says, "Vayomer Hashem el haSatan, mei'ayin tavo", God says to the Satan, where have you been? "Vaya'an haSatan et Hashem", and the Satan says to God, oh, I have been hanging out, "mishut ba'aretz umit'halech bah", I've been swimming around in the land, I've been walking around. "Vayomer Hashem el haSatan, hasamta libcha al avdi Iyov", did you check out Job? "Ein kamohu ba'aretz", he's a great guy. Nobody like him in the whole land. "Ish tam v'yashar v'yarei Elokim v'sar meira", he's terrific, this guy.
"Vaya'an haSatan et Hashem", so the Satan responds to God, "hachinam yarei Iyov Elokim? Halo ata sachta va'ado", You've been taking care of him, "uve'ad beito". What happens if You don't take care of him so much? If You don't take care of him so much, "ulam shlach-na yadcha vega bechol asher lo im lo al panecha yevarechecha", You will see he will curse You to Your face if You don't take care of him.
By the way, what was Job most afraid of in the prologue? His children cursing God. Do you think that's a coincidence? Job's great fear is that one day his children would curse God. Ultimately his test is, would he curse God? That's his fear.
So he goes through his first round of losses and you think, all right, so what's Job going to do? He is going to be righteous? Is he not going to be righteous? So Job's response to his first round of suffering is, Chapter 1, Verse 21, "Vayomer arom yatzati mibeten imi", and he says, I came out of my mother's womb naked, "ve'arom ashuv shamah", and I am going to go back naked. "Hashem natan v'Hashem lakach, yehi shem Hashem mevorach" -- famous words, the Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, let the name of God be blessed.
Now you'd think, that's where the book should end. Right? We're done! Here is this guy, you know, and he lost everything, but thank God, you know, when he had the chance to curse God, because that was the test, right? Are you going to curse God or not? He uses that same word by the way, because cursing God, we don't use the word klala (curse), right, we use the euphemism which is bracha (bless). The Satan says, "halo al panecha yevarechecha", You see, he is going to curse You. But we won't even use the words "curse God", so you see that he is going to bless you.
But then he really blesses God. What does he say? "Yehi shem Hashem mevorach", let the name of God be blessed. He really blessed God. So he won! Right? That's it. But the book does not end there. There's another 38 chapters in the book to go. The Satan gets to come back for round two. That's fair? The Satan comes back, "bechol zot lo chata Iyov velo natan tiflah l'Elokim", in all of this, Job did not sin and he did not ascribe arbitrariness to God.
Audience Member: Why does God have to accept the Satan's wager? Why does He have to prove Himself?
Rabbi Dovid Fohrman: Right. Very good question. Again, as you read the beginning, the question also is: is this allegorical too? If you think about who is the Satan, one of the great questions here is, who really is the Satan? Again, as I said, one of the problems here is doing Job in an hour-and-a-half is not advisable, but this is just what we're doing, right?
One of the real questions, and we could spend an hour-and-a-half just talking about that is, who is the Satan? On one level, one of the answer seems to be, the Satan is Job's fears. Job's great fear, his worst dark nightmare, is that his children should curse God. So then the question is, are you going to curse God?" By the way, part we skipped over here, here is another thing of what the Satan is, we skipped this a little bit but right after the vayehi hayom, going back Chapter 1, Verse 6, "Vayehi hayom vayavo'u bnei haElokim lehityatzev al Hashem". Well listen to that, ain't that a strange phrase? Can anyone try to translate that for me? No one wants to try and translate that for me.
If you translate that literally, it would mean, and it happened one day that the children of God -- well, what children of God? The children of God came to stand before God with God. "Vayavo gam haSatan betocham", and the Satan came along with them. God started talking to the Satan and said, where have you been, and they were schmoozing and talking. It's like it's a party atmosphere. Parties. What do parties remind you of? His children had parties. Oh really? Who got invited to the parties? The children. How do we say children? Banim, bnei haElokim, God has children too -- the angels, and God is inviting His children to these parties, and there are different kinds of children. There are the children and there's the Satan, and the Satan gets invited and he schmoozes with them. The same way that Job is worried at the party whether someone is going to curse or bless, God starts worrying at one of these parties whether they're going to course or bless. It seems that something happened in the parties with the children that seems to provoke this mirror image event in the heavens, where there is this party being convened in heaven that is somehow a mirror image of Job's parties with his children. So the question of who the Satan is, is a very deep question, and not one that I am prepared to answer here, standing on one foot. But it's an interesting question.
So let's continue. The question is, why does the Satan get round two? Job passed, the book should be over, what do you want from him? You can't get better than that. If you think back, by the way, to the Binding of Isaac, the story which was the mother of all parent losing children/giving children back to God stories, after which all of the four vayehi hayom stories are really patterned after, thinking back to that story, what was Abraham thinking when he was willing to give Isaac back to God? It could only have been some version of Job's words, "Hashem natan, Hashem lakach, yehi shem Hashem mevorach". God gave, God can take away, that is the rationale. He's right, why continue?
So the Satan then goes back to God and God says, see, he passed. What does the Satan say? Didn't hit him hard enough. Watch, give me permission to hit him a little harder and you'll see. What is the Satan saying? What does that really say?
I remember, and again this goes back to the issue, if this book were a philosophical book, again, this is where the book would fail. Because at the philosophical level he passed, he said the right thing, that's it! Right? That's it. Those were the words, that's the concept. But it's not a philosophical book. It's a spiritual book, it's an emotional book. It's deeper than the level of philosophy. At that level, something more has to happen. I don't know, I'm just speculating right now, but my speculations -- I'll relate to you a personal episode, I won't say who.
I was once, years back, at a funeral. It was a terrible thing. It was a girl who died, literally she was in high school, she was in 12th grade, and she was the head of class; wonderful girl. She went to school one morning, she woke up with a headache, she got on the bus, she went to school and she dropped dead; she just died. That was like no one knows, aneurysm, whatever, she was perfectly fine; no health problem, nothing.
They were religious people, they didn't do an autopsy; they managed to not do an autopsy. Imagine what it's like to not be able to do an autopsy as a parent; to not know. Then the father is there, and it's the next day when he is burying his child, and I was at the funeral, I was listening to the eulogies and I remember he quoted Job's words, "Hashem natan, Hashem lakach, yehi shem Hashem mevorach". I was cringing as he quoted those words, it's like I felt, oh my God, don't quote those words, like look what happened to Job. He got a second round after those words. It was so awful, it was so scary.
I remember thinking also that how could he even say those words, right, how could you say those words? How could you with your whole heart dispense with all feelings of anger, frustration, depression, all of that, fury at God for taking away this child that you devoted the first 17 years of your life to raising, that's the only thing that really mattered to you, and in one day to be able to say, "Hashem natan, Hashem lakach, yehi shem Hashem mevorach", it almost seemed to -- look, I wasn't in his shoes and I can't know what he was thinking, so I don't know. But all I can know is that if it were me, and I were in his shoes, God forbid, and you had to -- no one should ever have to know from that, but if you had to struggle with such an issue, that somehow, maybe "Hashem natan, Hashem lakach, yehi shem Hashem mevorach" is the answer, but it's not the answer the day after. You can't say that with the whole of your being the day after, there is more stuff that has to happen.
That seems to be what the Satan says. He doesn't get it, he is just numb, he is not talking from his real sense of self. Let's get to the real Job. The word Job is a strange word, the name itself is strange; what does the name mean? Job. It seems related to two different Hebrew words. There's a Midrash that says a fascinating thing. The Midrash talks about Job complaining to God, saying he thinks that God got his name wrong, because Job sounds a lot like what? Oyev, it sounds a lot like enemy, it's seems like God is treating me like you're my enemy. But it also is related to another word which is the opposite of enemy, which is ohev (lover). The question is, who is Job? Is he a lover or is he a hater?
There is another word that appears, again, going back to that Midrash that talks about tam v'yashar v'yarei Elokim v'sar meira, you look at all the qualities by which Job is described, he is never described as a great man. He is never described as a perfect person, he is never described as a person who does lovingkindness or does good things. He is described as someone who doesn't do wrong things, someone who is careful. Even in his descriptions, he is careful to make sure his children don't sin, he is careful right, he just kind of walks the straight path.
One of the words which appears over and over again at the beginning is the word tafel. "Lo natan tiflah la'Elokim", he didn't ascribe tiflah to God. What does the word tiflah mean? What does the word tafel mean? Anyone know what the word tafel actually means, taf-pay-lamed? It actually means bland, blandness. He didn't ascribe blandness to God. I wonder whether at some level Job is about -- Job's original response is almost a bland response. It's almost like the Satan is testing him with the most terrible of test which says you are not going to come out of this bland. One way or the other, by the end of this thing, you are either going to be a lover or you're going to be an enemy. I don't know which it is going to be, but it is not going to be bland. The suffering will take you and you will struggle with it and you will work with it and you will come out and you will be something entirely different from anything you can imagine yourself to be. You will love God or you will hate God. But that sense of detachment, which is there in the beginning, he won't have.
After the second round of suffering, Job has a second response; end of Chapter 2. Enter Job's wife, and we will get back to this triangle in a moment that I mentioned to you before. "Vatomer lo ishto", Job's wife enters and says, "odcha machazik betumatecha", you're still hanging on to your sense of righteousness? "Bareich Elokim vamut", just curse God and die. This is her position.
Chapter 2, Verse 1-, I am reading from right now. "Vayomer eileha", and he says to her, "kedaber achat hanevalot tedabeiri?" You are speaking like a profane person. Now listen to what he says in Chapter 2, Verse 10, "Gam et hatov nekabel mei'ei haElokim ve'et hara lo nekabel?" Shall we accept the good from God and not the bad? "Bechol zot lo chata Iyov bisfatav," the narrator says. In spite of all of this, Job still did not sin with his words.
Now compare Job's first response to his second response and tell me if they are the same. Listen to his first response again. "Hashem natan, Hashem lakach, yehi shem Hashem mevorach", the Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. Let the name of God be blessed. "Uve'chol zot lo chata Iyov velo natan tiflah l'Elokim", the narrator then says. With all of this, Job did not ascribe blandness or randomness, the ultimate evil, to God.
Fast forward to Job's second response. Job's second response to his wife, "gam et hatov nekabel mei'ei haElokim ve'et hara lo nekabel", should we accept the good from God and not the evil? Narrator, "Bechol zot lo chata Iyov bisfatav", and with all of this, Job did not sin with his words. Same or different? Pretty close, but not quite the same. So both of them are what we might call tzidduk hadin (justification of the judgment). Both of them are Job trying to come to grips, and trying to be a good guy and work this out. But it's not exactly the same. How has he changed? Anyone want to take a stab at this? How has Job changed in number 2? Yes.
Audience Member: He is not blessing him, but he is not cursing him.
Rabbi Dovid Fohrman: Good. Notice that he does not bless God as he did in the first one. The first one, "yehi shem Hashem mevorach", I bless God wholeheartedly. "Hashem natan, Hashem lakach, yehi shem Hashem mevorach". Nothing wrong. God giveth, God taketh away, let the name of God be blessed. He is not blessing God, that's difference (a); difference (b), yes?
Audience Member: He actually describes it as evil that God --
Rabbi Dovid Fohrman: Precisely. Think about this, this is very important. He actually defines what has happened as evil, which he did not say in the first. In the first, there is no evil. Listens to this, if God gives and God takes away, what's evil? It's not evil. God giveth, God taketh away, that's just the way it is. If we think that we have certain inalienable rights, like the Constitution says, "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness", but who says? How do you know? Where did you get those from? Where did those rights come from?
All we mean is, given the fact that we're here, we shouldn't try to take each other's life, liberty and pursuit of happiness away from each other. But in an absolute sense, do we really have a claim on it?
That's really what Job is saying. In an absolute sense, God gave it to you, God can take it away. From God's perspective, there is nothing unjust about that; there is no evil there. All of a sudden, Job is talking about evil in his second response.
Now, he says, like a righteous person, that "gam et hatov nekabel mei'eit Elokim, ve'et hara lo nekabel", which really means what? Like the referee sometimes makes some bad calls, you've got to take the good calls with the bad calls; that's what it's like when we play the game. When you play the game, you've got to deal with the referee. God is the great referee in heaven, and you can't just take the good stuff without taking the bad stuff; that's not fair. This is his response now.
Now if you think about that, that's the beginning of something. Job is trying to be a good guy, but once you admit to that, once you go that far, you are already on a slippery slope. Once you make that philosophical confession that God is capable of evil, at that point, you are on a philosophical slippery slope. Why? Because it's only a matter of time before you say, but one second, like, you can't get away with that.
Now, at this point, what's happened is that the implications of what Job is thinking about have not actually settled in. So Job has grown up as a nice religious Jew, and he is still trying to be a nice religious Jew, so he is putting a nice religious face upon it. But the philosophical concession that he's made is destined to throw him into deeper and deeper turmoil. When I said that it's a spiritual book, here is what I mean. What I mean is that conceptually, I don't think that Job has made any philosophical transition.
Philosophically, he might even be where he was before, which is -- if he would have asked him to write a philosophical treatise on the problem of evil, he still would have given you "Hashem natan, Hashem lakach, yehi shem Hashem mevorach", the Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. He knew it the first time. What has changed? What has changed is his own life experience. What has changed is that it has sunk in. Now life experience doesn't necessarily change your philosophical perspective, but it does change your spiritual world. It does change what you feel like, it changes your gut level response, and at the gut level response, it sunk in now, Job can't bring himself to say, "Hashem natan, Hashem lakach, yehi shem Hashem mevorach". Let me just finish making the point. All of a sudden, there is that part of him saying, but this is evil. Now, the spiritual journey has begun. The spiritual journey has begun which will lead where? Where will this lead? At a spiritual level, where will this lead? If you keep on going, if you connect the dots, where does this lead? Once I say, God is capable of evil.
Audience Member: Cursing God.
Rabbi Dovid Fohrman: It leads to cursing God. Which is the hell with you, God. Right? That's basically what cursing God is. What cursing God is, is it's the final stage of frustration, of anger, where I feel like taking God and shaking him. And really, the question at the heart of Job is, and this gets to what Job's great fear is. Job's great fear is cursing God. It's like the worst thing in the world. The book sort of explores it and says, well, is it the worst thing in the world? How bad can it really be? Maybe you've got to go there or if you go there, what does it look like?
The questions which the book is occupied with is, is it kosher to be angered with God? What does it mean, what does it look like when you are angry at God? Can you justify it, can you be a religious person and be mad as hell at God? What does that look like? Can you do that? Are there lines which you can't cross even as you are angry at God? What can you do? What can't you do? How do you put it together? What does it mean to be a religious person who is struggling, who is dealing with this with integrity? What does that mean? What does it look like? This is a spiritual quest that is different from the philosophical quest because what you are feeling like is not always the same as what you are thinking. That's kind of where Job is going.
Back to the triangle for a moment. Is God Just? Has Job done evil? Is Job suffering? So everybody has got a different answer to this triangle. Let's take Job's wife. What's her position on this? Is Job suffering, according to her? Absolutely! Has Job done anything to deserve this? No. So which leg of the triangle does she compromise? God is not just. Therefore, if God is not just, we're done! I'm out of here! the book ends very quickly for her. This is the last time we meet Job's wife, because she is done. If Job took this position, it would be a very short book. So this approach, you exit stage left very quickly. Yes.
Audience Member: Question about the triangle. We made a presumption that whether God is just or not has a relationship with people suffering? Did we establish that?
Rabbi Dovid Fohrman: Hold on on that point. We are working with an assumption that it does, but that assumption we haven't questioned yet.
Now let's go to meet our next characters; Job's friends. So Job's friends show up at the end of Chapter 2. Really the next 36 chapters are nothing but dialogues, poetic dialogues between Job and his friends. If I had more time, and I am really, really sorry that I don't have more time, I was planning on doing this with you, going through two of these chapters, going through Chapters 4 and 5, which is Eliphaz's first speech to Job which I think is the core of Eliphaz's theology which I believe is the theological underpinnings of Christianity, believe it or not. If you really want to understand where Christianity is coming from theologically, look no further than Eliphaz.
Where Christianity is coming from, I think, is from a certain kind of response to theodicy, to the problem of evil. It's a certain spiritual response to this which Eliphaz takes and almost every characteristic that we know and love, or know and not so much love about Christianity, emerges in a logical cascade straight from this approach, the assumptions which Eliphaz is making. That's Chapters 4 and 5. What I am going to do with you is Chapter 13 which is see as Job's most cogent reply to Eliphaz's theology. If I had to boil down, as I mentioned to you, the two chapters that I would take to the desert island, it would be Chapters 4 and 5, and it would be Chapter 13, that's, in a certain way I think, the guts of the book in terms of the debate. Yes.
Audience Member: Can you encapsulate in some way Eliphaz's theology in five minutes?
Rabbi Dovid Fohrman: I will try.
Audience Member: It's very tantalizing, as you said, so we want to hear it.
Rabbi Dovid Fohrman: I will try to do my best. I can't do it inside, though, which is the real way to do it.
So now you have the friends, so let's talk about the friends. To cut to the chase, basically the common denominator of all of the friends is this: is Job suffering? They are looking at the man, they can't deny that. Okay. Is God just? They are going to come to this with the preconceived notion that no holds barred, whatever else you do, God has to be just. There is no question about that, God is just. So if God is just, and if Job is suffering, there is only one possibility which is? Job must have done something to deserve this.
So the more Job tells them, guys, I didn't do anything, the more frustrated they become, and the more determined they become to try to find the thing that he did that made this tick and the more upset they become with him. That is the friends. So the friends and the wife are at opposite sides of the spectrum. Now the question is, where is Job? Here is the argument that I want to make about Job's greatness.
The greatness of Job is that Job lives with a broken triangle. He will not compromise any leg of the triangle. He will not compromise what he knows to be true, even though it doesn't add up and he doesn't have a way out. So if you ask Job, are you suffering, Job? He will say, yes, I am suffering. Look at me. I am suffering. If you say Job, is God just? He will say, I am not willing to give up on God being just, God has to be just. Then you say Job, have you done anything to deserve this? He says, no, I haven't. I will look you in the eye, I am confident, whatever sins I've done do not deserve this. I know that to be true as sure as I know anything else. Then you will say to Job, how could you say this? Your triangle does not add up! What would he say? He would say, okay. So I'm stuck! I have a broken triangle. But I can't compromise what I know to be true. So I don't have a theory, sue me! But this is where I'm at. This is it! This is it!
Really in a nutshell, what Job is about is what it means to go through suffering with integrity, which means, what does it mean to live with a broken triangle. So you don't have a theory, but these are the legs and it doesn't work out. Now when it doesn't work out and you don't have a theological model and nothing seems to fit, and you've got to work through this with your relationship with God, that's the drama of the Book of Job. What does it actually look like? What does it look like when you have to negotiate not only your relationship with God, but you have your friends telling you how bad you are the whole time. How do you deal with that too? Yes.
Audience Member: But I remember just very vaguely a Gemara somewhere where there was a Talmudic sage who said, I haven't done anything wrong, why am I suffering? And they keep saying to him, keep searching to figure out what you did wrong. Then he figures out some really obscure thing that he did wrong to somebody somewhere along the line, and he figures out, now that must be why I'm suffering. They don't quote Job, but it has to have something to do with the --
Rabbi Dovid Fohrman: It would be an interesting study. I am not going to comment without going through the exact Gemara. But you have to look at the Gemara carefully because these Gemaras, again, you have to interpret them carefully. So let me not quite go there. Guys, I have very precious little time, I have seven minutes, so just let me talk for a second and if you want to stick around, I will entertain questions afterwards, okay.
The question is, what does it means to live with a broken triangle. Another book you might want to look at aside from Mortimer Adler's book, another book you might want to look at is Thomas Kuhn's book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; great little book. It is a fascinating read, and basically what he does there is he makes an argument about how scientific revolutions happen, the Copernican Revolution, the heliocentric universe coming to being and displacing the geocentric universe, the theory of relativity, these revolutions. He says, every scientific revolution that takes place, you would think it takes place by someone coming up with this great question and overturning the previous paradigm. He says that's never how it happens. It's never like someone says, oh, wow! This disproves your paradigm. And everyone says, oh yeah, I guess you disproved it. I guess you're right. That's not how it works.
The way it works is that the previous paradigm starts to get in crisis because there are little problems which you can't deal with and the little problems accumulate and there are lots of problems. The death by little problems is much more significant than death by any single one big problem, and over time it gets in crisis. But here is the fascinating thing. The fascinating thing is that people don't actually abandon the old paradigm until they have a new one to replace it. So they can know that their paradigm is in crisis but they aren't going to abandon it. And what people do with that time, what lesser scientists will do is they will start making excuses for the paradigm. So they will say, well, if we just throw in this constant over here, then we can sort of make it work. It's true that the stars over there are going in different directions than the other one, but if we add another sphere to the whole thing, then maybe we can work if it tilts on its axis this way. And they keep on, it's like in Gemara where you use your thumbs, and you keep on using your thumbs and you keep on adding other things, and you keep on compromising this, keep on compromising that.
The great scientist can come along and say, you know what we've got guys? We've got a broken triangle over here. This is a broken triangle, we're living with a broken triangle, and we are living in crisis, we don't have another paradigm yet, but another paradigm needs to emerge. Ultimately that is the tension which Job lives in.
Since I mentioned briefly Chapters 4, 5 and 13, let me see if I can say something about them in a very short amount of time. In Eliphaz's first speech, in Chapters 4 and 5, it pays to go through it. The speech is poetry, and it is a very religious speech. It sounds like the most pious thing you would ever want to read. But I believe it is laced with malice. Just underneath the surface, there is so much anger in Eliphaz, it is incredible. You would think that Job should be the guy who is angry, but there is anger just underneath the surface of Eliphaz.
Let's see if I can read you a little section of it. In the beginning it is kind of comical. Chapter 4, Verse 1, "Vaya'an Eliphaz hateimani vayomar", Eliphaz then said his first words. He says, "Hanisa davar eilecha til'eh", you know, if I would try talking to you, you seem so fragile, you would probably fall apart if I even said anything to you about what was going on. At the beginning by the way, they are quiet, when they see Job they are quiet and the words (inaudible) "ki gadol hake'eiv", because they recognized how terrible the suffering is.
A non-Jewish colleague of mine who wrote a book on Job once said that that was the greatest thing the friends ever did; they shut up and they were quiet for seven days. If they had just kept quiet, that would have been fine. Once they opened their mouths, that's where things went downhill.
That's very true for the beginning of what Eliphaz says. Eliphaz says, you know, I could see how fragile you are and if I would just speak and say the littlest thing, it looks like you would fall apart. But "vatzor b'milin mi yuchal", who could hold themselves back? I have to talk. And this is like the paradigm for everything that the friends do which is that yeah, of course you're suffering, but I have something I have to get off my chest to you. It's all about them as opposed to about Job. That's the great mistake that they make. When you are comforting Job, it should really be about them.
The truth is that Job's suffering, and more than Job's suffering, I want to argue, Job's own response to his suffering, is very threatening to the friends, because it calls their paradigm into question, because they have a way of dealing with this. They are going to compromise that leg of the triangle. In order for God to be just in their minds, they have to make Job evil. So what are they going to do? The only way they can make this happen is if Job will finally confess to them how evil he is. But if Job is never willing to do that, that's a thorn in the side of that paradigm that is very, very threatening to them. It's going to bring down their whole worldview.
So Eliphaz is very bothered by Job's insistence that something is wrong here. The thing by the way that Job had done in the previous chapter, in the first chapter, Job was the first person who spoke actually, not Eliphaz, is that Job had cursed, but he didn't curse God. In the first chapter that Job speaks, he curses the day that he was born in a very poetic language. The sense that you get from reading it, is that he would like to curse God if he could and theologically, he is in a position to do so; again, once you admit to evil on the part of God, that's going to lead you into a position where you are ready to curse God. But he can't spiritually do that. So instead, he displaces it upon cursing himself. He takes all the anger that he is feeling to God, and directs it at himself. It's a death wish, it's a suicide wish, or even worse than a suicide wish, it's a never been born wish, which is very similar to a suicide wish.
A lot of times when you think about suicide, when you think about people dealing with a lot of anger, they take sometimes a lot of the hatred which they feel but they can't -- let's say you're angry at your father, let's say you are angry at somebody, the priest or the rabbi, somebody that's not so kosher to be angry at, and of course, the granddaddy of all of this is being angry at God. So let's say you are really angry about that, but that's so threatening to you that you are angry at that that you can't even admit that you are angry about that. So if I can't admit that I am angry about that but I feel all this anger, it's got to go somewhere; so it's going to go against me if it can't go anywhere else. So that's Job's first response.
So Eliphaz's response is basically, he says, I really shouldn't speak, but I've got to speak anyway and then he starts giving it to Job. "Henei yisarta rabim", you know Job, in the past you used to be the guy who used to walk around being the preacher and telling everybody how they've really just got to deal with the suffering and God is good and they were bad. You were one of us. We remember when you were one of us. Now, Verse 5, "ki ata tavo eilecha vateile", when it comes to you all of a sudden you fall apart. "Tiga adecha vatibahel", when evil touches you, you start trembling like you've never seen. "Halo yiratcha kislatecha", your piety from before is making you look like a fool now.
The Gemara uses that as the paradigm for what it calls ona'at devarim which you can't do, which is, hurting someone with words, torturing someone with words. The Gemara has four examples of torturing someone with words. The four examples of torturing someone with words are when you say to a convert, how could you be part of our People; look what your fathers did. Look how your father used to worship idols. When you say to a returnee to Judaism, the mouth that ate cheeseburgers is talking Torah? Or when you say to someone suffering, "halo yiratcha kislatecha", your previous piety is making you look like a fool.
Now what's interesting is that, and maybe with this I will close, and if you want to stick around I will talk to you about Eliphaz. But what's interesting about all of those examples, if you play the Sesame Street game, which one of these things is not like the other, the Gemara gives four examples. Three out of the four examples are people who made this wonderful, radical, good change in their lives and it's wrong to tell them, remember how bad you used to be. The fourth example seems to be the opposite.
The fourth example is Job, the fourth example is when someone used to be so pious and all of a sudden now he is struggling, don't tell him your piety makes you look like a fool now, or what you're doing now makes you look like a fool in your piety. What is the common denominator of hurting someone with words? The common denominator of hurting someone with words is that people change, people are dynamic, sometimes people make a change, and life is changing, life is about change. It's not about being static; we change in life. When you see someone changing, give them the space to change, because there is no one more vulnerable than someone in a process of change. The way you stop someone in a process of change -- because actually, the person who feels most vulnerable by someone changing, is the person who is not changing.
So if I am standing here static watching you change, your change makes me nervous because what am I doing? I'm moping along, doing my thing. If you're engaged in dynamic change, so I have a need to stop you at that point, so I will stop you any way I can. By I stop you by saying your change makes you look foolish, you're inconsistent, you used to be like that, and now you are like that. Don't do that. People change. Sometimes, we all need changes, let people change. Job's development is still a development. At the philosophical level, at the pious level, you might say Job is going downhill because he used to be more pious than he is now; now he is angry. But at the spiritual level, this is a process of growth because you've got to be honest. Job's honesty is taking him on a process of growth that he doesn't know exactly where it's going to go and where it's going to end up, but you've got to give someone the room. Eliphaz doesn't give him the room.
I am really sorry, I am out of time. If you want to stick around later, we could do this, we could do a night on the origins of Christianity and Eliphaz.