Divine Judgment

Rabbi Daniel Myers


Q. When readin g the Tochacha in Parshat Ki Tavoh, one is reminded of the many tragedies that have occurred to the Jews over the centuries up until present times. When witnessing horrible Yissurin all around us, should our reaction simply be "Tziduk Hadin," acceptance of the Divine Judgement, or is there another approach?

A. This topic is a most complicated and painful one. I am not prepared to elaborate on it, I can only wish Nechama to all of our bereaved brothers; however, I think it would be beneficial-for those who are prepared to learn about this issue-to quote from the words of the Ramban found in Shaar Hagmul, The Gate of Reward. (Part 5, 6) After discussing various approaches to understanding Divine reward and punishment, the Ramban writes the following:

"Notwithstanding whether one understands God's justice or not, he should believe that there is after all justice, good discernment and knowledge (Tehillim 119:66) in God's judgement-although in a hidden way-and that everything is in righteousness, justice, loving-kindness and compassion. (Hoshea 2:21) You may ask us the following question: 'Since there is a hidden element in Divine judgement and we must believe in His righteousness as the True Judge, praised and exalted be He, why then do you trouble us by commanding us to learn the previously explained arguments regarding God's justice? Why can we not thrust everything upon the belief, which we must ultimately rely on, that God is the One with Whom there is neither unrighteousness nor forgetfulness since all of His words of decree are effectuated with justice?'

This is an argument of fools who despise wisdom. With the enlightenment that we have attained, we can benefit ourselves by becoming wise and knowing God, blessed be He, through His manner and deeds. Moreover, we will believe and trust in His faith-in both the known and hidden matters -more than other people because we will be learning to understand the concealed matters from the explicit ones. We will recognize the fairness of the Divine judgement and the justice of the Divine decision. Thus, it is the duty of every person who worships God out of love and fear to search his mind in order to justify the Divine decision and to substantiate the judgement as far as his ability allows. This justification should be done according to the method of the Sages, which we have explained on the basis of their words. In addition, I offer this warning to the one who desires to be classed with the righteous: he should not endeavor to inquire into this problem based on material of the texts and most speakers on this theme. The great Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon of blessed memory has already voided much of the problem with his arguments in the twelfth chapter of the book "The Guide of the Perplexed." (3:12) He states: 'When people think that the evils in the world are more numerous than the good things, and when they compare the happiness of man and his pleasures in the times of his prosperity with the anxieties, deep grief, mishaps and sicknesses, it seems to them that man exists for his own evil. However, most of the evils which occur to individual persons come as a result of their lack of understanding. We complain and seek relief from our own faults, and we worry about and suffer from the evils which we have willingly brought upon ourselves, as Shlomo said The foolishness of man perverts his way, and his heart fretteth against the Eternal. (Mishlai 19:3) Most evils to which mankind is exposed are those which people cause to happen to each other, such as quarrels and wars, or those which people bring upon themselves, such as overindulgence in food and other passions. The person who goes into battle irrationally and shoots arrows should complain only against himself if he is harmed. Similarly, he who eats bad food and becomes a leper (heart attack in today's terms, or a smoker who suffers from lung cancer) should be vexed only about his own foolishness. So too, you will find people who endanger themselves in the desserts and seas in order to become richer than their neighbors and to trample under foot the pieces of silver and gold. (Mishlai 68:31) When troubles overtakes them, though, they go around wishing to be delivered, complaining about the fortunes of the time and wondering at their evil lot. The Holy One, blessed be He, does not, however, renew wonders and miracles in the world in order to help the insane in their unworthy efforts. You will further notice that one who has gathered sufficient money for his needs will regard himself less fortunate and worse in position than one who has gathered diamonds in his treasures; the former even complains about his fortune! The one who has attained these additional diamonds has not attained anything intrinsic to himself and his own strength, but he has instead acquired some vainglories or mockeries or things which may bring about his downfall. He who lacks them, though, has not missed anything.'

It is true that the Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon of blessed memory instructed many and strengthened the falling knees with his explanation that the good things necessary in the world -such as the water and food needed to sustain life -are extremely abundant and are found in all places. It is appropriate that every thoughtful person should take all of this to heart in order to understand the order of the Creator, blessed be He, in His world and the good care He takes of His creatures. However, the question of a particular righteous man who suffers still remains. We have no propensity for seeing the world in its totality."

In summary, the Ramban writes the following:

A. There are various approaches to the topic of Divine reward and punishment. (Ramban elaborates on these approaches in sections one through five.)

B. Often, one can not understand God's decree; he must simply accept that there is justice in God's judgement-although in a hidden way. However, like all true knowledge of Hashem's ways, whatever insights one can have into this complicated topic is beneficial and spiritually uplifting.

C. Much of the hardship that people go through are actually self-inflicted.

D. In general, the basic needs that are essential for mankind are extremely abundant and readily available. Therefore, it is appropriate for each individual to see and appreciate the order and beauty in God's creation, and the good care that He takes of his creatures. Let us hope and pray that we merit Hashem's salvation speedily in our days.