Rabbi Israel Chait
Student’s edited notes from taped lectures
(28:1,2) “1. Surely there is a vein for the silver, and a place for gold where they fine it. 2. Iron is taken out of the earth, and brass is molten out of the stone.”
Job’s idea about the silver mine is that there is change in the physical. At one time you will see that a mine will give forth gold or silver, and later, that town that was full of mines will be empty like a ghost town. This phenomenon Job discusses refers not only to geographical locations, but it is also a metaphor for man’s success. Someone can be extremely wealthy one day and the next, he could lose all of his money. Job also maintains that since God acts with wisdom, there must be an explanation as to why this happens.
A question was raised as to how Job could say that there is really wisdom (verse 12) if he never witnessed it: “But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?” The same can be asked about a person who studies physics, and when he sees a certain idea that does not make sense to him, should he negate all of his previous knowledge, discounting all of physics, or should he assume physics as a science remains intact, but attribute his problem to his own misunderstanding? Of course a wise person will opt for the latter. The same applies to Job. He was not about to say there is no system of how God works, because he did not understand this area.
Why in this chapter does Job allegorize wisdom with gold? The reason is because the search for gold is really the search for happiness. However, true happiness only comes via wisdom. So Job equates gold with wisdom. That is why he maintains that gold cannot equal wisdom because gold relies on wisdom for its true value. So here again, Job maintained that there is understanding, but man cannot attain it. He maintained that since God created everything and God works with reason, hence everything must have reason. But he said, “[wisdom] is hidden from the eyes of all living beings” (28:21). Job maintained the reason why man cannot obtain this knowledge (metaphysics) is because this would be tantamount to obtaining knowledge of God, which is impossible. In 28:28 Job describes the kind of knowledge available to him: the fear of God, and doing good. This means that understanding ethics is all man can obtain: “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding”. What is ethics? Ethics embodies two areas: 1) our personal knowledge of a Supreme Source of wisdom, and 2) knowledge of good and evil. This is man’s lot. (We also note that Job did not list metaphysics as an area of man’s understanding.)
Why did Job use the term “fear” of the Lord? This is because man realizes God’s awesomeness, and that we cannot understand Him. The reason Job does not include areas of physics that man does understand, is because it does not fall into the area of philosophy, and this is what Job is addressing. Job also felt he would be at peace with himself if he had this knowledge of metaphysics. (This is why it is better than gold, for he felt it could offer him some comfort.) But why should this metaphysical knowledge ease his pain? It is because when man knows the nature or source of a phenomenon or experience (in this case the Source of the universe) he may then conform his emotions to that nature. But if man remains ignorant of that knowledge, he becomes frustrated and experiences pain. This is why Job felt that if he could understand God in some manner, he would be happier.
Tangentially, this explains the popularity of idol worship. For with tangible idols, man relates directly to the “source.” He has a form with which to attach his emotions, and this is very satisfying. But “forms” do not exist in Judaism, and are prohibited. All cults wherein followers elevate individual leaders are no different: there too, man attaches himself to a tangible person, just like an idol.
Job is seeking to remove his frustration; realizing an explanation for his suffering would alleviate him. He felt that with an answer for why he is so troubled, he would no longer be painfully trapped with his unanswerable question.