- Death and Afflictions of the Righteous
- Moshe Ben-Chaim
- Reader: I
don't understand how you can say that no suffering comes upon
righteous people in this world. You cite the dictum of our sages,
"there is no death without accidental sin, and no suffering
without willful sin". But, as anyone who studied this section
in Talmud Shabbat 55a-b would know, this statement is actually
refuted in the end.
- The Rabbis actually say that the righteous are
semaychim biyisurim - they rejoice in suffering (see end of Moreh
Nevuchim's discussion of the book of Job). The true benefit
of Torah life is metaphysical; but, since we live in the physical
world, we are subject to its impact in both positive and negative
ways (see Meiri on the section in Shabbat). When we suffer, this
reinforces our sense that true tranquility and completeness cannot
be found in the material world, it must be sought in the domain
of the intellectual.
- Mesora: (I wish to thank my friend Joshua
for exchanging ideas with me on this topic, and for correcting
my reading of a Tosafos, which I have now omitted. I will now
address the reader's question.)
- Your explanation of an ends, (i.e., suffering
reinforces that tranquility cannot be found in the material world)
does not justify the means, that the innocent should suffer.
Where is there justice in the suffering of the innocent? I say
there is none. One who lives in accord with the Torah recognizes
his joy is derived from wisdom. He does not overindulge in the
physical, and therefore, requires no lesson, as you suggest.
- But let us be clear. What is refuted by
the Talmud - via argument - in Sabbath 55b, is that death occurs,
and even without sin. However, the Talmud does not display any
argument against the principle "there is no suffering without
willful sin." First, the Talmud cites four individuals who
never sinned, yet, they met with death. Therefore, we see that
death does visit even those with no sin. But it goes unchallenged
that suffering does not happen unless some willful sin has been
committed. Oddly, although this is not refuted through an argument,
Tosafos make note that the Talmud accepts its refutation. But
I ask, if no argument is presented, why do the Talmud and Tosafos
both accept its refutation? They have no reasoning! But perhaps
their is reasoning. Perhaps they feel if there can be a "harsher"
sentence with no sin (death), then a lighter "affliction"
can certainly visit someone, although no sin is committed. For
the Talmud and Tosafos, it is a simple deduction that lead the
Talmud to subsume Earthly afflictions into the same category
as punishment by early death.
- But as this is a philosophical issue,
we are not bound to adhere to the opinion of the Talmud. Only
in Jewish law must we follow the Talmud and the Rabbis, "al
pi haTorah asher yorucha", "in accord with the Torah
(law) that they teach you..." My research inclines me to
believe that there is no suffering when one has not sinned. Justice
also demands if one has not willfully sinned, he should not receive
suffering. This makes sense, as G-d's sufferings are only a means
to direct one to perfect himself. (We must be clear again: we
refer here only to suffering at G-d's hands. However, man may
suffer at the hands of others, if he is so foolish as to associate
with those who are abusive.)
- A Rabbi once lectured on Maimonides' view
of sufferings, and stated that Maimonides also views suffering
with no sin, as a principle which is against Torah:
- (Maimonides' "Guide
to the Perplexed", Book III, Chap. XXIV)
- "The doctrine
of trials is open to great objections: it is in fact more exposed
to objections than any other thing taught in Scripture. It is
mentioned in Scripture six times, as I will show in this chapter.
People have generally the notion that trials consist in afflictions
and mishaps sent by G-d to man, not as punishments for past sins,
but as giving opportunity for great reward. This principle
is not mentioned in Scripture in plain language, and
it is only in one of the six places referred to that the literal
meaning conveys this notion. I will explain the meaning of that
passage later on. The principle taught in Scripture is
exactly the reverse; for it is said:" He is a G-d of faithfulness,
and there is no iniquity in him." (Deut. xxxii.
- The teaching
of our Sages, although some of them approve this general belief
[concerning trials], is on the whole against it. For they say,"
There is no death without sin, and no affliction without transgression." Every intelligent religious person
should have this faith, and should not ascribe any wrong to G-d,
who is far from it; he must not assume that a person is innocent
and perfect and does not deserve what has befallen him."
- Maimonides teaches that
one who experiences afflictions must have sinned to deserve them.
And those without sin, will not be afflicted. To disagree, Maimonides
says is a violation of the Scriptural principle "He is a
G-d of faithfulness, and there is no iniquity in him." (Deut.
- As we are on the topic, let us examine
the statement, "there is no death without accidental sin,
and no suffering without meaningful sin". What is the relation
between death to accidental sin, and the relation between suffering
and willful sin? It would seem that accidental sin is that, for
which man is less culpable. His very nature demands that he sins,
"For man is not righteous in the land who does good and
does not sin." (Ecclesiastes, 7:20. Tosafos also note that
this verse applies to the majority, as only these four mentioned
never sinned.) Since by design, man must sin, his fate meets
with death. This was only decreed once Adam partook of the forbidden
fruit. G-d's justice demanded His sentiment: "As man cannot
completely follow Me, death must be delivered to him. He cannot
live on Earth eternally as planned." Perhaps, G-d's death-decree
helped Adam, (and us, who follow his design) to withdraw from
the immortality fantasy which contributed to Adam's sin. G-d's
punishments are righteous, and serve a positive purpose. The
realization of our own mortality assists in our removal from
that which is temporal. Since this is true for all mankind, G-d
decreed that all mankind, even those who never sin, must follow
this design, where death meets all of us. Death is not necessarily
a punishment for an individual's sins. Due to Adam's demonstration
of human shortcomings, death must be part of a new human design.
As a Rabbi once put it, Adam partook in his very development
- his actions sealed the fate for his own natural transition
from immortal, to mortal. We now see how death is not due to
one's own sins, although the Talmud does admit that if one does
sin, he can be killed by G-d at a point earlier than initially
- In your question, you quoted "the
righteous are semaychim biyisurim", that means, "the
righteous are happy with their sufferings." You mistook
this to refer to G-d's afflictions, when in fact, this quote
is only discussing man's afflictions of the righteous(Sabbath
88b). In this section, a few positive traits are listed, and
one is of the righteous, who hear others mocking them, and yet,
they do not retaliate. (Rashi) This in no way bears any resemblance
to our issue of G-d afflicting the righteous. Therefore, I remain
of the dictum, "there is no suffering without willful sin."
This principle is sound, and not challenged. I contend that such
human oppression is of no concern or pain to the righteous individual.
He hears their scorn, but places no value in their words.
- This Talmudic section continues, quoting
a verse as a metaphor for such righteous people: "My loved
ones are like the sun, rising in its strength." (Judges,
5:31) What is the metaphor? I suggest the following interpretation:
"Sun" is that which illuminates, this is also true
of the righteous, their ways illuminate us towards truths. "Rising"
is the most contrasting act of the sun; it lightens the darkness
- sunrise is a more dramatic illumination than other day times.
"In its strength" means that the sun follows its own
course, unaffected by other events. So too the righteous. They
are unaffected in their daily mission of illuminating others
- the scorn of others has no affect on their steadfast course.
Just as the sun goes unaffected, so too the righteous are unaffected.
The fact that the Talmud says they are "happy in their afflictions"
(of man) means that they fully accept the world as G-d' design,
they are happy with G-d's design, which also includes the scorn
of others. This emotion which causes others to scorn, is no less
a creation than the rest of the universe. Thus, the righteous
appreciate all that G-d created in His world. But even more beautiful
is this idea: the righteous are not centered on themselves, where
they need to retaliate against their oppressors. No, this is
not their concern. The righteous do not live with the goal of
defending their egos, but conversely, they live to observe the
external world, G-d's universe is their "playground".
They care nothing about defending themselves against attacks,
but are solely concerned with seeing new, exciting truths about
G-d's creation. "His loved ones" means those who desire
G-d's knowledge for the sake of that knowledge, they have no
ulterior purpose. Their lives strive towards seeing new ideas.
They care only for knowledge.
- "Happy with their afflictions",
refers to the realm of "human" affliction. Secondly,
it means they are happy with G-d's creation, despite human oppression.
Thus, this dictum has no bearing on G-d's affliction, and can
not be used to defend your claim.
- Let us view another Talmudic portion,
Talmud Kiddushin 40b: "Rabbi Eliezer son of Tzadok said,
"to what are the righteous compared to in this world? To
a tree (whose trunk) stands fully in a pure place, and its branches
reach out over an impure place. It's branches are cut, and it
now stands fully in a pure place. So also, G-d brings afflictions
upon the righteous in this world, in order that they inherit
the next world." We see clearly, this quote discusses the
righteous, but not the "wholly righteous". These righteous
people quoted, have "branches in an impure area", that
is, they have stretched their hands into impurity - they committed
sins. Had they not sinned, this Talmudic section teaches that
G-d would not have reason to visit afflictions upon them. Here,
the term "righteous" does not mean without any sin.
It means the majority of this person's life was righteous. Only
when one sins, does G-d see it fit to remedy his flaws with afflictions.
Giving the righteous afflictions, G-d forces them to reflect,
they discern their flaws, and they repent. But one who finally
perfected himself, now with no flaws, would need no moral instruction.
- Many verses in the Torah depict what we
- Psalms 121:7: "G-d will guard you from all evil."
- Psalms 134:20-21: "Many are the evils of the righteous, and
from all, G-d saves him. He guards all his bones, not one is
- Talmud Brachos 5a: "Afflictions cleanse all of man's sins."
If there are no sins, then afflictions do not come.
- Proverbs 16:6: "When man's ways please G-d, He even makes
his enemies at peace with him."
- Proverbs 19:23: "Fear of G-d is to life, and satisfied will
he sleep, no evil will visit him."
- Malbim on Proverbs 21:19: "A man of honesty and integrity needs no atonement.
Moreover, should a faithless man seek to kill him, he himself
will fall victim in his stead, and the upright man will emerge
- G-d's justice. What is it? Is it exact?
We must affirm. How can it not be exact? G-d has complete knowledge.
"Justice" is a system where G-d metes out reward or
punishment which is deserved. G-d created the system of justice,
of which we apprehend only a minute degree of its workings. Thus,
our great ignorance must be no grounds for dismissing unexplained
and seeming "deviations" in G-d's justice. This is
what Maimonides says is the main lesson in the book of Job, that
we cannot compare our ways with G-d's:
"Guide to the Perplexed", Book
III, end of chap. XXVIII)
- "In the same manner, as there
is a difference between works of nature and productions of human
handicraft, so there is a difference between G-d's rule, providence,
and intention in reference to all natural forces, and our rule,
providence, and intention in reference to things which are the
objects of our rule, providence, and intention. This lesson is
the principal object of the whole Book of Job; it lays down this
principle of faith, and recommends us to derive a proof from
nature, that we should not fall into the error of imagining His
knowledge to be similar to ours, or His intention, providence,
and rule similar to ours. When we know this we shall find everything
that may befall us easy to bear; mishap will create no doubts
in our hearts concerning G-d, whether He knows our affairs or
not, whether He provides for us or abandons us. On the contrary,
our fate will increase our love of G-d; as is said in the end
of this prophecy:" Therefore I abhor myself and repent concerning
the dust and ashes" (xlii. 6): and as our Sages say:"
The pious do everything out of love, and rejoice in their own
afflictions." (B. T. Shabb. 88b.) If you pay to my words
the attention which this treatise demands, and examine all that
is said in the Book of job, all will be clear to you, and you
will find that I have grasped and taken hold of the whole subject;
nothing has been left unnoticed, except such portions as are
only introduced because of the context and the whole plan of
the allegory. I have explained this method several times in the
course of this treatise."
- We also must not invalidate G-d's system
of justice when we behold a righteous soul living in much anguish
and pain. Just as we do not invalidate 2+2=4 as a truth when
we cannot comprehend other mathematics, so too we must not invalidate
what is just in the Torah when we have questions. G-d knows all.
Man knows but a drop in the sea. We have no possible claims against
G-d's workings. His knowledge is complete, ours, tragically incomplete.
How can our idea of "justice" be more correct, than
that of He Who made it?
- Proverbs 24:12:
"Does not He Who weighs hearts comprehend? And does He Who
guards your soul not know? And will He not pay every man according
to his actions?"