As I write this, an old and dear friend is struggling for his life.
This beloved rabbi – 43 years old, married with children, and whose wife is expecting another child in a month – was stricken with pneumonia, which was soon followed by a heart attack and kidney failure.
Life is indeed fragile.
And so, the old question of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” confronts me with painful immediacy.
According to the Talmud (Brachot 7a), Moses himself asked God this very question.
The story of Job, with which we are all familiar, treats this question at length.
Job was a thoroughly righteous person who had done little wrong to warrant the personal destruction he experienced. Yet Job lost his health, wealth and even his family.
The soul of Terach, Avraham’s father, was reincarnated in and rectified by Job (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Ch. 36) because God in His kindness created the concept of gilgulim – reincarnations – so that no soul would be excluded from the world to come. (Ramban, Rabbeinu Bachya).
Indeed, the Arizal explains (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Ch. 38) that in order to cleanse the soul, God creates incarnations so that the transgressor has opportunities to do tshuvah and reach purity. Consequently, it’s next to impossible for us to figure out why we suffer. It is simply incumbent upon each of us to undergo our travails in order to improve our lot in this world and the world to come.
One thing is certain: just as mourners say, as they rend their clothing at the death of a close relative, “God is just,” we have a mitzvah to judge others favourably, even when it seems they are guilty. Furthermore, should they be found guilty in the future, even then we should judge them with compassion, trying to understand with empathy how they arrived at their guilt. How much more so must we trust that God decides justly in every case, even if we fail to understand the judgment at the time!
We human beings are like moviegoers, watching a film on the screen and unaware of the diverse aspects required to make a film. We trust that the director has co-ordinated all of the parts and people to make something of worth and promise, even if we don’t know where the script is going as we watch.
This is quite similar to life, except that in life, we are both viewers and actors. As actors, we know our roles, but as viewers we are unable to fathom the entire plot or to see the technical aspects of the production. We simply commit ourselves to the experience and trust the Director.
When bad things appear to happen to good people, perhaps we can draw comfort from this simple analogy, even though life is not a film, where we can leave the theatre at any time. In fact, God, our Director, as it were, is with us all through and after “the feature” – which is life. Trusting in this idea is a guiding principle and a comfort for us Jews.
We have much to be grateful for!