For the philosophically inclined!!
It is time to stop justifying God. Morally, His ways are sometimes inexcusable. Allowing a Holocaust in which six million Jews were killed in the cruelest ways imaginable, causing unbearable pain to innocent children, is morally intolerable. Creating earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados and other “natural” disasters is insufferable. Any attempt to justify these deeds of God is to profane His holy name.
God is too great to be justified. In fact, any attempt to do so undermines His very being. It is trying to bring God into the limited dimension of human comprehension, which invalidates His total otherness. It is like explaining a three dimensional reality with the aid of a flat surface – a hopeless task that would ultimately lead to idol worship, the worst of prohibitions. Idol worship is an endeavor to limit the Infinite to the constraints of the finite.
To believe in God is to believe not only that there is ultimate meaning to our existence but also that this meaning is completely beyond our comprehension. We do not know why God created the universe and man; to know that, we would have to be God. We would have to abandon the human condition and confront a metaphysical reality that our brains are not equipped to absorb. A reality that asks us to do the impossible – to utterly reject our thoughts, go beyond the shore of our reason and enter into the unfeasible situation in which God’s thoughts become ours.
As long as we do not know why God created anything, we cannot deal with the question of why God causes, or even allows, so much pain to be inflicted on us. Only if we would know why the world was created would it be possible to see if there is a need for pain and if it could therefore be justified.
The very fact that we do not know why God created the world forces us to admit that we cannot know what place morality plays in the divine scheme of things. It may well be that morality is only one of many necessary elements in creation and that it sometimes has to yield to other divine considerations. Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard spoke of the “suspension of the ethical” when he discussed the moral problem inherent in God’s asking Avraham to sacrifice his beloved son Yitzhak.
From a moral point of view, it is clear that the creation of the world is unjustifiable as long as even the slightest form of pain accompanies it. The anguished cry of even one baby undermines the very pretext of creation. We cannot infer from that, however, that God does not exist or that He had no right to create the world. It only means that by purely moral standards He had no right to do so.
Any attempt to explain all of God’s deeds in terms of moral standards is doomed to fail. It only leads to apologetics, which ultimately produces no satisfactory explanations. That does not mean that God is not moral, or that He lacks the attributes of goodness, mercy and other lofty qualities. What it does mean is that morality is not the whole story. The need for morality is the necessary result of creation, not the purpose of creation. In fact, moral criteria may be required to temper the severe conditions under which the divine purpose of creation had to be realized. This may also be one of the goals of halachic living. It is God who asks us to live by His halacha so as to moderate the consequences resulting from His creating the world in a way necessary for it to exist.
To argue that He created man so as to grant him happiness is of little meaning once we ask why man needs to be happy at all and therefore to exist.
To argue that good can exist only in relationship to that which is bad is to ask why there is a need for good to exist at all when it can only be accomplished through the creation of that which is seriously flawed.
To argue that God formed man so that he can earn his reward in the world to come is of little comfort once we realize that man would be much better off having never been created. What, after all, is the virtue of reward when it constantly comes at the cost of so much pain? It is true that not having been created would deny us happiness, but in what way is this to our disadvantage? If we would not exist, we would never know what we fail to enjoy. Would, then, our non-existence not be more pleasant than our existence? To try and answer this question is to ask for the impossible.
The great rabbinical schools of Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel fully realized this fact. In a most unusual debate, which lasted two and a half years, they discussed whether it is better for man to have been created, or not to have been created. (Eruvin 13b) Their conclusion is most telling. It is better for man not to have been created; but now that he has been created, let him examine his deeds. It is in this knowledge, that man was created despite all moral norms, that he realizes the need to live his life most carefully. And it is in this knowledge that he will find great joy. Only by acknowledging that human existence is beyond all moral comprehension can man realize how important it is to God that he exists. Not because man knows what God’s reasons are, but because he knows that it holds ultimate meaning in His eyes.
To deny God’s existence on the basis of the Holocaust is to misunderstand His supremacy. To try and justify His ways is to violate His omnipotence.
To live a life of Torah is to live a life of the greatest nobility in the presence of God, fully aware that the purpose of life is to live the ultimate mysterious “why” while never understanding it. Therein lies its meaning.
To be continued….
Shmuel Edelblum says
To argue that G-d is responsible for a natural event or the holocaust is to argue that it is the gun that is responsible for the shooting. The gun is not a moral agency; it does what it was made to do. If we, arrogantly, wish to assign agency to G-d for every consequence or result in the universe then we are denying the possibility of our own moral agency and its consequences…and if we are not moral agents then we can not have this debate at all!
It may very well be that, in the absence of the universe, morality is not only not necessary, but impossible. Hence, perhaps the Creator of morality is, and must be, amoral!
We focus on “understanding” when that is a minor player in our lives. We can’t learn to walk or speak or reason by understanding anything! We must practice by rote. No pain no gain. Understanding may figure in as a motivator. But you can certainly play music, walk or talk with no understanding, even perhaps with great misunderstanding, of the processes or attendant “causes.”
Nelson Lee Novick,M.D. says
It was in response to this same question that I wrote this essay two years ago.
G-D, GOOD, EVIL, JUSTICE & THE TORAH
by Nelson Lee Novick, M.D., FAAD, FACP
Mount Sinai School of Medicine, N.Y.
From some blog posts that recently came to my attention on the net on Parshat Emor, it was clear that the subject of the disqualified Kohen raised a lot of fundamental issues of faith, perhaps most importantly those related to suffering and injustice in the world. Certainly, no one would disagree that a Kohen born with a defect of any kind is not to blame for this, and that it appears absolutely unfair, if not inhumane and lacking compassion, to mandate his disqualification from temple service.
The subject clearly had also raised other issues of G-d’s existence, the age-old “Why do bad things happen to good people” question, as well as what perhaps could be best summarized in the oft-quoted “Nogood deed goes unpunished” lament.
Before going any further, I must emphasize that I am neither a rabbi nor particularly learned. However, I am a physician who has lived quite a few decades and has been on a personal odyssey for much of that time to find rationally satisfying answers to many of these same concerns.
There can be no discussion of any these issues without first establishing the existence of G-d. If the workings of the universe were simply the result of numerous, purposeless, random events, then there is little to discuss. There would no issues of fairness, justice, injustices, good or bad. Whatever happens to anyone would simply amount to the “luck of the draw.” However, the argument of professed atheists that belief in G-d is simply a matter of blind, unreasonable faith can be quite easily overturned, and in fact turned back on them. Rabbi Akiva would have agreed that no one can deny that an artistic creation bespeaks a creator, an artist who fashioned it. Should not the mathematically precise workings of the universe, that subsumes the macrocosm of the stars and galaxies and the microcosm of quantum subatomic particles, be proof enough of a purposeful Creator.
Consider the mathematical improbability of achieving a fully functioning, ready to take-off from the tarmac 747 Jumbo Jet by throwing into the air the requisite number of parts and materials in the exact proportions needed. The concept is almost ludicrous. Without being a mathematician, one instinctively knows that the chances of that happening even given an infinite number of attempts would be near zero. Yet, atheists can look at the universe, which is vastly more complex than a 747 jet (a monumental understatement to say the least), and tenaciously maintain that it is the result of pure random chance. I would have to contend that such a belief is even more a leap of “faith” than that of which they accuse believers. The math and the science argue for a Purposeful creation, the way that Shakespearean sonnets argue for a gifted author and not a monkey sitting at the keyboard of a word processor randomly pressing keys.
As an aside, I really cannot say how many true atheists there are out there. Many people who call themselves atheists are simply those that are so angry at G-d for one reason or another that they turn their back on Him to reject Him or get back at Him. But this is not true atheism. This is an emotional reaction resulting from pain, hurt or disappointment and not from a rational investigation of the subject.
So, if the science points to a Creative Entity, why just one entity. Why not a pagan pantheon of gods or a Zoroastrian god of good and god of evil, which would at least answer some of the questions of injustice and trials and tribulations in the world, and evils, such as famine, disease, war and all manner of pain and suffering. As physician and a man of science, I belong to the camp of the “lumpers” and not the “splitters”–a person who looks to find the unity in things. Einstein and others were convinced that the major forces of nature, such as gravity and electromagnetism, etc, were actually all linked into one unified field theory, i.e. interconnected by a unifyng force that links all the other subordinate forces together. To me, this is just scientific jargon for “The L-rd is One.”
Okay, maybe there is this solitary Force that created all of the laws of the universe. That doesn’t mean that It didn’t take off and abandon the creation afterward leaving us to our own devices to be tossed about helplessly by the winds and waves of nature and fortune. What evidence do we have that the Creator intervenes in the affairs of man and nature when He so chooses. If we look at the Bible, there are numerous instances of Divine intervention effected via supernatural means, i.e. outside of natural laws. The destruction of Sdom, the great flood at the time of Noah, and the splitting of the Red Sea are three Biblical instances of this that come readily to mind.
Now you might counter that I am using the Bible as a source, and there is absolutely no proof whatever of the authenticity of the Bible or of revelation at Sinai, for that matter. I would like to use another scientific approach to dealing with this issue. Theories and hypotheses in science are by definition assertions that cannot yet be proven conclusively. Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, to use a well known example, is just that–a very educated assertion supported by mathematics. Nonetheless, it has by no means been proven, although we often talk about it as though it were written in stone. So, what does science do to giant theories that are too huge or difficult to completely substantiate. Very simply, it breaks the theory into little pieces and tries to prove these little pieces in the belief that if the little piece proves true, then the whole theory, by inference, might also be true. We can use this same approach to the Bible.
The most seminal event in Biblical history is arguably the revelation at Sinai with the Aseret HaDibrot, The Ten Commandments, representing a focal point in this momentous occasion. Some have asserted that The Ten Commandments are little more than a replay of earlier moral and ethical codes of civilization, such as the Code of Hammurabi. There can be no question that there is overlap in the areas of not killing or stealing, etc., essential elements necessary for the stability and functioning of any society. However, one commandment found in the Mosaic code is notably absent in these earlier codes, the commandment about honoring the Sabbath day, which the Torah refers to as a “sign forever.” It is so fundamental a commandment that even today the term “Shomer Shabbat’ (Sabbath observer) has become synonymous with being a religious, pious Orthodox Jew.
Consider the epoch in which the Torah was given. It was a primitive time in which most of mankind needed to toil endlessly, 24/7, just to put bread on the table every day. Is it likely that people barely making a subsistence living would mandate a day of absolutely no work each week when they needed every hour of their waking day to survive? But what about the tiny minority of people on the other side of the economic spectrum, the patricians who owned slaves. Is it even remotely possible that the slave-holding upper classes would mandate a day off for the slaves when that would simply mean paying for their human chattle’s upkeep on a day off? That’s very bad business.
The concept of a Sabbath for everyone–Jew and Gentile, including servants and maidservants, slaves and even farm animals, was so revolutionary a concept, and so against the norms of prior civilizations (and most subsequent supposedly civilized empires, including those of Greece and Rome) that it can serve as a kind of “proof” of an Extrahuman origin. And using the scientific paradigm mentioned earlier, this type of proof can serve as support that the rest of the Torah, too, is of nonhuman, or more accurately Divine origin. So, I contend that the Sabbath serves indeed as a sign, or perhaps more accurately, a “test” proof of G-d’s authorship of the entire Torah–a kind of “If the Sabbath concept holds true, other aspects of the Torah may also be true” scenario. Put another way, it becomes at least intellectually plausible that the G-d that revolutionized mankind with his bestowal of the Sabbath may just have done the other things that the Torah ascribes to Him–like the flood, The Ten Plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea, etc.
Up to this point, I have made the mathematical case for the existence of a Creator, a solitary Creator, and one who actively involves himself in the life of man. But this still leaves us with the problems of goodand evil in the world. To better understand this, we must first understand who we really are. In the over forty years I have been in medicine I have unfortunately witnessed on a number of occasions the precise moment of patient’s death. Each time, I couldn’t help but wonder what was different within the microsecond that separated the states of life and death. The temperature of the body had not dropped, the body was still perfectly intact, and the cells had not yet ceased to function. What was the difference? What had happened? What was gone that medical science could no longer restore to bring the body back to life? I could not help but believe that the life force was the “soul,” that supernatural force which the Kabbalists would describe as actually a portion of the Divinity Itself (Chelek Elokai MiMaal, MaMash).
To understand our position on Earth, we might use the analogy from space exploration in which the giant mother ship circling a planet sends down small podcrafts to the planet surface while remaining in orbit. We are tiny sparks of soul from the Godhead encased in flesh and blood and sent down to this world. While the reason for this particular system remains hidden from us, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assert that we weren’t sent here for fun and games. Quite to the contrary. As part of the Godhead we already had perfection, peace, joy, etc. most assuredly greater than any earthly joy or satisfaction imaginable.
Being sent on our shlichut to this world can therefore only be for a mission in which we are continually confronted with challenges and tests–each one of us an Abraham confronted with having to sacrifice of ourselves or be tested to the limit–whether by disease, wars, poverty, emotional illness and all manner of pain and suffering that has been mankind’s lot since time immemorial–the evils of this world. Coming here to this world and contending with it day in and day out, to use the Biblical metaphor, is our being cast out of Paradise to East of Eden where we must fight, by the sweat of our brow, to put food on the table and we must give birth in excruciating pain. In other words, this world is a crucible, a Divine testing ground, and no one escapes being tested in one way or another and, when we scratch the surface even just a little bit, we soon realize that the grass really isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. It also means that if it rains most of the time, we must grab on and cling tightly with both hands to every occasional break in the clouds and try as hard as we can to eke every bit of joy possible out of life, the concept of Ivdu et Hashem, b’simcha.
The theological question always arises about free will and predeterminism, i.e. If G-d determines everything than where is our free will, and if we do have free will, then G-d is not omniscient. The answer is that both concepts are correct. The analogy can be understood from a card game. We have no control over the hand we are dealt. But, we do have complete control over how we play it. G-d, via the mathematical laws of nature that He Created deals us our hand in genetics and environmental terms; how we respond to coping with what we are dealt is our free will, and it is how we exercise our free will, i.e. how we play our hand, our hishtadlut–not the outcome–for which we are ultimately judged.
I’ve heard it said that the true mark of a person of faith is not how hard they shuckle back and forth in shul or whether their tzitzit hang down to the floor or their skirt goes below the ankle, etc. I’m not saying that there is anything necessarily wrong with attention to ritual and detail. Man, by his very nature often needs ritual and discipline. The acid test of a person of faith for any individual, however, is whether or not he or she believes that there is a G-d who is in control of the universe, judges our actions and who ultimately balances the scales of justice.
But, if all this is so, to what end? The world was apparently created intentionally imperfect in order to provide us with the opportunity to interact with it and fix it–asher barah Elokim la-assot–i.e. the world that G-d created, which includes we frail humans of flesh and blood but containing a spark of the Divinity, has been left to us to do whatever we can with it and with ourselves using the Torah as our guide.
So, is there justice down here? Is it fair that a Kohen born with a mum (a birth defect) or hurt in an accident, be excluded from his duties in the Temple? In the Divine scheme of things, it is his test, his particular nisayon, just as we all have our own. All the Biblical characters were watched closely by G-d and judged by Him. If the actions of the forefathers are indeed intended to be a sign for us, everything we do is being judged just as it was for them. Our reactions to all that life hurls at us, whether it is being born with deformities, having children die of disease or accident, or being cast into the hellfire of the Holocaust is being watched, evaluated, and judged from on High.
A. Nuran says
Is God good, or does he simply have the biggest stick which makes opposing and questioning him dangerous?
Alan Shweky says
I love the Rabbi. I truly do. I love his nuanced, thoughtful approach to Judaism. Here, however, the good Rabbi goes way off the “derech.” His attempt to justify God makes him silly and God malevolent. This is the oldest theological trick in the book. Of course, human beings, given their limited perspective, could NEVER understand the infinite multi-faceted omniscience of the Divine. As my British friends would say: Rubbish. Even Kant and Hume made mincemeat of such a foolish argument. So let’s understand that there is simply NO way to understand the Holocaust and Hashem at the same time. Either God, in this this case, is malign or he’s impotent. To blame humans for their limited vision of reality is the worst sort of intellectual dishonesty.
Alan Shweky says
I love the Rabbi. I truly do. I love his nuanced, thoughtful approach to Judaism. Here, however, the good Rabbi goes way off the “derech.” His attempt to justify God makes him silly and God malevolent. This is the oldest theological trick in the book. Of course, human beings, given their limited perspective, could NEVER understand the infinite multi-faceted omniscience of the Divine. As my British friends would say: Rubbish. Even Kant and Hume made mincemeat of such a foolish argument. So let’s understand that there is simply NO way to understand the Holocaust and Hashem at the same time. Either God, in this this case, is malign or he’s impotent. To blame humans for their limited vision of reality is the worst sort of intellectual dishonesty. Reply – See more at: http://cardozoacademy.org/current-thought-to-ponder-by-rabbi-lopes-cardozo/god-is-too-great-to-be-justified-part-1/#comment-40517
Dr. Ladislav MARGULA says
1. I agree, that it is not admittable to ask “why” or to project “responsibility” and “complains” to God, to justify him or the suffering on “occurances” like natural desasters (hitting many as said … “jiram hajam umeloo, teweil vejoschwei ba … depicting a real tsunami) or sikness (hitting individuals or “magefah”).
Theese are known subjects of philosophical “theodizee”, which never touched the believe nor the believer.
2. However I do not agree, if the shoa is reduced to or equalled to “disasters”, in order to cut of further asking.
The shoa was a unique, singular “genocide” against the “am hanivchar”, different to other genocides Ruanda or Armenians.
This spacific genocide of the jewish people marks an uncomparable difference in quality to any disasters or diseases.
A genocide is nowhere mentioned or predicted in our tradition. Not imaginable (not even in echa).
The pure absence of god, when HIS people was to be extinguished, mass murdered without mercy (whre is the “av harachamim” ?), when his followers died with the “scheamh israel” on their lips and “tehilim” in their hearts, not laid to “menucha nechona”.
My parents are survivers of Auschwitz, tatooed identity numbers in their skin, until today readable. They were grown up in true orthodoxy and lost their parents, brothers and sisters in gas chambers. I know what I am speaking of, born 1948 and grewn up in orthodoxy.
2. I agree, that it is not the matter, the question or the subject of proof to justify God´s deeds or wonders or omissions, due to our humble expectations.
3. However the real question is to those who were killed as to the survivers as well as to the 1. generation born after the end of the shoah), why the tefilot when deported to deathcamps, in face ot their being killed their “death on kiddusch haschem” were not heared, not accepted. Each prayer showed as ineffective, even in the ultimate second of life !
4. The question is, if the way of worshiping, the obedience of “asseij” and “lo taassej”, the trust and the strength are not at all mere illusions.
God does not want our Do´s and dont´s at all, because if He would have apreciated our tefilot and the hallel, the extention of the massacer would have had to be inhibited.
We, HIS pepople, were – and are until today – humiliated by the occurance of the unthinkable. Where was, where is our “protector” (tastirenu al kanfeij nescharim ..?).
That the observation of the catalog and exerting 613 mitzvot and all those “dont´s” did not even ease the shoah.
We do not produce sacrifices by “kehina” in the temple as “reiach nichoach … laschechinah”, but just by reading the procedures of “avodah” in the daily prayers.
So where is the “chet” ? Was was wrong ? What IS wrong – because we continue the same unchanged as before 1938.
5. The causes, methodes and the extention of the damage which happened to the am hanivchar in the days of the shoah are absolutely unmatched in the entire history of the jewish pepole, which was seen /meant as an enduring relation to God since “matan torah”.
6. We dont have to aks God “why” shoah happended. We have to ask ourself what WAS “wrong” then, and what IS wrong now in our services, praisings and expectations.
I am convinced (a) we did not detect and do not even look for our errors and (b) we do not let in even the slightest change, even when we are prooved to be wrong and dramatically repating the mistakes.
7. It is cynic and cruel of today rabbanim, to interpret the shoa as of “Gods punishment” (on whom ? for what sin for ?).
That is not less then putting the verdict of death a second time on the victims, as spreading Hegelian “higher wisdom of History”, by self praising judges in order to frighten and intimidate by that interpretation the survivers. Did they ever think of “av harachamim” ?
8. Eiruvin 13b – I think – and “tikun olam” is said for those, who suffer but survive. It is however meaningless to those who were killed for nothing. Plato once said, that a war ends only for those, who lost their live in the war; means survivers will have to face endless suffering.
9. Having my roots in orthodoxy and limudei kodesch, I have to state, that today orthodox way of life is replicating a dangerously and blind Reality-Concept.
The credibility of halachic standards collapses in respect of Human Rights Convention on dignity and equality of any human. I do not want to start the list here.
We live in an umatched accessability of knowledge, as it was never seen in the history of mankind before. Our halacha turns a blind eye to genetic proof of descendency and praises the practicability of the rule of “mater semper certa est”.
Moshe rabenu maried an gentile and his 2 children were part of the jewish people (maybe by gijur ? ok, but that would mean HE and his fatherhood did not count ?).
Why can halacha cut humans, in an undisputed way, off from their biological descendency, as if it would not be of any dignity, only bearing the “ol mitzwoth” (vss) “kibud av vaem” ? Sorry i am angry.
10. Quote: “To deny God’s existence on the basis of the Holocaust is to misunderstand His supremacy. To try and justify His ways is to violate His omnipotence. ”
I think, that questioning the Holocaust, is not at all questioning the existence of God. It is questioning the presence of God, His awareness of and His interest in our fate and – this is my problem – if He is listening at all when we pray. I have strong doubt, that we overestimate our religious practice, and that different things count, which we did not detect yet or that we have to re-evaluate the “jesodot” due to draw an edge against superstition and mysteries (to discern from hidden truth), to eliminate formalities and to be audacious (in the sense of “sapere aude”) on the core powers of judaism.
Further thanks and my apprecitation for your teachings via internet
Dr. L. Margula, Vienna