Reader: In our tefilos on Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur we say “k’rachem av al habonim”, “as a father has mercy on his children”. We refer to Hashem as our father, asking for His mercy. Today it is Tisha B’Av when we remember the string of tragedies over the millennia. If Hashem is our father, why the death of millions of his children? A human father does not kill his children, even if they behave in the worst way for an endless number of years. Yet our father in “shomayim” doesn’t appear to be a benevolent as a human father. Please explain.
Rabbi: I will quote Rabbi Israel Chait verbatim, “God does not kill his children. If they do not keep the Torah, they are under natural law - they have the ability to protect themselves as does everyone else.”
Reader: This answer is not reconcilable. What do you mean “natural law”? It’s still Hashem’s law. ”Hakol bidday shomayim, chutz m’yiras shomayim”, “All is in God’s hands excluding fear of God”. If children die it’s because Hashem’s desire is that they die. Once again my question is why would Hashem kill his own children. I understand punishment but you can’t be a father and kill your own children. It just doesn’t make sense.
Rabbi: Rabbi Chait explained that God created a system. If we follow the Torah – for our own benefit – He will protect us from all mishap. If we rebel, we are left to natural law, wherein we can defend ourselves. God does not hurt, nor does he help those whom reject Him. As our enemies always exist, once God removes His protection, we are left to what might occur. Let us understand why this must be so.
In the Temples’ eras, the Jews sinned. The Torah maps out the precise tragedies for rejecting God, and they took place. The reason the Jew over all others is subject to such devastation that astounds the nations is because God set up the Jewish nation as a means to instruct the world. Our great fortune and miraculous salvations teach the world that God is the only power in the universe. When we adhere to His system, the Torah’s promised come true and we enjoy protection, in the form of Abraham’s salvation from the furnace; Isaac’s protection from evil rulers salvation from the Akeida and a divinely-provided wife; Jacob’s fortune while in Lavan’s home and his protection from Esav and the Canaanites and Prizzites; Joseph’s elevation from prison to viceroy; our Egyptian exodus for our having heeded His command to destroy Egypt’s god and many other victories throughout recorded history.
When we sin, the Torah’s tragedies come about, again teaching the nations that it was due to our abandoning God, “And all the nations will say, ‘For what reason did God do this to this land [of Israel], what caused this great, furious anger?’ And they will say, ‘On account that they forsook the treaty of God, the God of their fathers, which He made treaty with them when He took them out of the land of Egypt’.” (Deut. 29:23,24) In this manner, God’s words are validated in both the positive and the negative.
Quoting King David, Maimonides (“Guide”, book III, chap. xvii) teaches God’s system of justice, that those who rebel against God are left like animals, where individuals are not under divine providence:
“The relation of Divine Providence is therefore not the same to all men; the greater the human perfection a person has attained, the greater the benefit he derives from Divine Providence. This benefit is very great in the case of prophets, and varies according to the degree of their prophetic faculty: as it varies in the case of pious and good men according to their piety and uprightness. For it is the intensity of the Divine intellectual influence that has inspired the prophets, guided the good in their actions, and perfected the wisdom of the pious. In the same proportion as ignorant and disobedient persons are deficient in that Divine influence, their condition is inferior, and their rank equal to that of irrational beings: and they are “like unto the beasts” (Ps. xlix. 21). For this reason it was not only considered a light thing to slay them, but it was even directly commanded for the benefit of mankind. This belief that God provides for every individual human being in accordance with his merits is one of the fundamental principles on which the Law is founded.”
Nothing protects or shields one beast from devouring another. God does not instruct this lion to devour that antelope. As the antelope is subject to natural law, a rebellious person too has no providence. We must also agree that when an enemy destroys us, God does not act upon his free will, coercing the enemy. For this would be an injustice for God, that the enemy has no choice in his actions. God desires all individuals earn their reward, and suffer their punishments, due exclusively to their own will.
The famous Rashi depicts this well: two people attend an inn – one who murdered and one who killed accidentally. The one who murdered sits under the ladder, while the unintentional killer ascends it, and then falls, killing the murderer below. The murderer received his proper sentence of death, while the accidental killer must now be banished to the cities of refuge, this time having witnesses when he kills through negligence. God does not coerce the accidental killer to kill again…it is his own will to ascend the ladder. And it is the murderer’s will to be sitting beneath. But God, in his wisdom, can arrange the multitude of variables so each person’s free will brings about a just response. The same applies to Israel when we sin. God does not force our enemies to act against their will, but He can if He wills in certain cases, to align the variables to bring about a result.
But we must also appreciate Maimonides’ words that at times the tragedies that occur are not arranged by God, but are the result of nature. All depends on the level of the individual. Maimonides says this:
“The following verse describes how Providence protects good and pious men, and abandons fools, “He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness: for by strength shall no man prevail” (I Sam. ii. 9). When we see that some men escape plagues and mishaps, whilst others perish by them, we must not attribute this to a difference in the properties of their bodies, or in their physical constitution, “for by strength shall no man prevail”: but it must be attributed to their different degrees of perfection, some approaching God, whilst others moving away from Him. Those who approach Him are best protected, and “He will keep the feet of his saint”; but those who keep far away from Him are left exposed to what may befall them; there is nothing that could protect them from what might happen; they are like those who walk in darkness, and are certain to stumble.”
Note that last remark “they are like those who walk in darkness, and are certain to stumble”. Meaning, due to God’s removal of His providence, natural laws are free to affect an unprotected person. Maimonides was well aware that God knows all and that through His removal of providence evils will affect man. Yet, Maimonides says this is “nature” and not God that causes the evil.