The Story of Job
Rabbi Israel Chait
Student’s edited notes from taped lectures
Severely tortured by successive tragedies, Job’s wife told him to curse God, as this is the natural response. Job responded, “Shall we accept the good from God and not the bad?” Meaning, complaining now that life has become bad, is a distortion: any good life carries some pains, and cursing God would mean I dislike “life” in its entirety; the good with the bad. (The Rabbis say that “with his lips” Jobs did not sin, but he did sin in his heart.)
The verses tell us that Job regressed: at first he did not sin, but later on he did, teaching of Job’s initial philosophy, and its results. His philosophy was that one must accept the good and the bad from God. But the fact that the Rabbis tell us that “belibo chatah” (he sinned in his heart) teaches that the germ of the sin was present. It was only a matter of time before Job would sin. This is illustrated by the fact that after his three friends came to visit; he did not speak for seven days. He was troubled. But on the seventh day he began to verbalize his pain. The Torah is telling us that Job’s philosophy was good, but only up to a point – Job possessed limited tolerance. His philosophy was not proper, because it broke down. The true philosophy of life, by definition, will stand for the duration of “life”, i.e., under all circumstances.
In truth, there was an opposing force that prevented Job from sinning up to this point. Job possessed feelings of rebellion. This is why he yelled at his wife when she suggested he curse God: mainly, because she represented to him those traits that he actually contained. She was an externalization of the very forces that he was fighting within himself. This book may be summed up as an account of a man who was perfect in all areas, except for his philosophy, regressing from one level to the next.
From Job’s first words – “shall we accept the good and not the bad” – we see that he maintained a certain loyalty towards God. Job was one step ahead of the “gam zoo letova” philosophy. The “gam zoo letova” philosophy (lit. “this too is for the good”) maintains something which is absurd: he maintains that God has better knowledge than himself when evil occurs, while the afflicted individual has no knowledge of how it is for the good. But in a severe case (viz. one’s spouse dies) this very individual does not say, “this too is for the good.” The converse is true: he attacks God. The “gam zoo letova” personality is inconsistent in his philosophy.
Job’s initial philosophy was that a person must accept whatever God gives him, since God is the Creator. Job did not qualify his philosophy by saying that there must be some good present. However, why did Job’s philosophy fall apart? It did so, because a human being cannot maintain a philosophy bereft of any benefit. Job was able to maintain this philosophy, with the provision that some personal benefit existed. But now that everything had been taken from him, he perceived no gain in keeping to his ideals. But if Job reached the point where he saw no benefit left in life, why did he go on? And we see that he did in fact reach that point because he said,
“cursed is the day of my birth. It was a dark day…it was better that I never left the womb.”
Job went on with life due to one consideration; he desired to hear what his three friends had to say about his predicament. He thought that there might be some reason to go on.
There may be loyalty between two parties, but that loyalty lasts only as long as the parties feel that there exists a just balance. However, if one’s life becomes wrecked by his loyalty, for what good reason shall he remain loyal? There is also a lesson in the Rabbis’ words, “Job did not sin with his lips, but he did sin with his heart.” This philosophy of loyalty harbors a conflict. With these words, the Rabbis wished to alert us to this conflict. This is seen for example, in the case where a master does a small harm to the servant: the servant’s desire for showing gratefulness overpowers the desire to rebel. This was the case regarding Job. The Rabbis stated that he did not sin with his lips (because of the desire for showing gratefulness) but he sinned in his heart (the conflict was present).
In chapter three, Job voices his complaint, he states that God performed an injustice: God performs all, and God created the day of his birth, which in turn is the cause for all his suffering. Herein, Job made a transition. He first describes in detail how terrible was this day of his birth. He then proceeds to state that had he not been born, he would be at rest. He would share the company of kings. He describes death as equal for all, where all are free from their respective, tragic lives. What is meant by this transition? First, Job was merely describing his state, and his disgust with life. He still maintained the immortality fantasy. But once he saw how temporal life really is, he looked at death as a good: death could save him from his present pain. Since he overcame his immortality fantasy by seeing no purpose in his life, he was able to look at death as something, which catered to his desires. That was the transition. Ecclesiastes 3:11 states, “Gam es HaOlam nasan b’libam…” (“Also the world was given in their heart…”). Ibn Ezra says this means that the feeling of eternity was planted in man. Without this feeling of immortality, man would not move towards accomplishments. Job lost this feeling of eternity. Thus, there are two things in Job’s monologue: 1) it was unjust that he should live and 2) a description of his psychological state.