web analytics
July 5, 2015 / 18 Tammuz, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Op-Eds »

From Hurricane Sandy To Sandy Hook: The Jewish Response To Darkness

As God's junior partners, we must always react in ways that help build and sustain the world and humanity.

Brander-010413

Over the past few months the Jewish community in the New York metropolitan area has suffered great trauma and intense tragedy.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, families in places like the Five Towns, Bayswater, Far Rockaway, Seagate, and Belle Harbor sustained tremendous physical loss. In most cases, these families’ homes, possessions and cherished memories were completely destroyed.

And then twenty children and six adults from our tri-state community were brutally murdered by a mad gunman.

As people of faith, how are we to deal with such challenges, be they natural occurrences or tragedies choreographed by deranged personalities?

The Talmud in Tractate Shabbat (30b) mentions that prior to the canonization of Tanach by the Anshei Knneset haGedolah (Men of the Great Assembly), there was a movement among rabbinic leaders to remove certain books from the collection, namely Mishle (Proverbs), Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) and Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs).

The Talmud notes that rabbinic authorities felt the “contents of [Kohelet and Mishlei respectively] contradicted themselves” (Shabbat 30a). Shir haShirim, on the other hand, portrays esoteric, even controversial, imagery meant to represent a romantic relationship between God and the Jewish people.

It is interesting to note that rabbinic authorities never contemplated removing the most challenging book in Tanach, Iyov (Job), from the canonized text. This sefer presents multiple answers to the most perplexing question of theodicy: Why do bad things happen to good people?

It is the question Moshe asks of God directly (Exodus 33:18): “hareine nah et kevodecha” (“show me Your glory”). God responds that it is impossible for any human being to confront this issue head on or to receive a response to this question, including individuals as sharp and spiritually sound as Moshe. And yet the Book of Iyov boldly addresses this very quandary.

Moreover, when the Talmud in Tractate Baba Batra (14b-15a) discusses the authors of each of the books of Tanach, it does so with great clarity and very little ambiguity: “Yehoshua wrote his book and the last eight verses in the Torah; Shmuel wrote his book, Judges and Ruth, etc.” However, when discussing the author of Iyov (and details surrounding when Iyov himself lived), the Talmud seems perplexed.

One opinion claims Iyov lived in the times of Moshe. Others say he was a contemporary of the patriarchs Yitzchak, Yaakov or Yosef. Yet another authority suggests that Iyov never existed at all.

The ambiguity surrounding Iyov’s life is not meant to show a lack of clarity. It is meant to stress the fact that Iyov and the contents of his book are relevant to every generation. Whether in the times of the patriarchs, the period of the Jewish people’s slavery in Egypt and sojourn in the desert, or the era of the diaspora, the question of why bad things happen to good people is a challenge every generation must face.

Perhaps Iyov did not exist in any particular generation – perhaps an element of Iyov exists in each and every one of us.

While the rabbinic authorities argued over whether other complicated books of Tanach should be included in the final canonization, the inclusion of Iyov was never the subject of such debate. Theodicy is something we all struggle with and should continue to struggle with throughout our lives. We all ask how it is possible that innocent people – good, pure and generous people – could suffer so greatly as a result of natural disasters or heinous manmade tragedies.

Still, the observant Jew must realize that while we will always struggle with these questions, it is our responsibility to move past the “why” and focus on how we respond when bad things happen to good people.

Will we imitate God and act mercifully and generously toward our fellow Jews and all humankind, as instructed by the Talmud (Gittin 61a)? Or will we fall prey to our baser emotions and act and react without thought or compassion?

It is not coincidental that the Hebrew word “aychah” – which is used in Tanach to ask, “How could this tragedy have happen?” – first appears in the Torah as “ayekah,” when God asks Adam and Chava, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9).

The dual nature of this word highlights the responsibility of religious Jews to recognize that our questions should not center around why bad things happen to good people. Rather, we must ask, “How do we respond when these bad things happen?”

As God’s junior partners, we must always react in ways that help build and sustain the world and humanity. In this way we will create light amidst the deepest darkness.

About the Author: Rabbi Kenneth Brander is the David Mitzner dean of Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future (www.yu.edu/cjf), the largest provider of service learning and experiential education trips for Orthodox students. Its missions focus on helping impoverished individuals - Jews and non-Jews - around the world.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “From Hurricane Sandy To Sandy Hook: The Jewish Response To Darkness”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Prime Minister Netanyahu in 2012.
Hillary Clinton Says She Will Be Better Friend than Obama to Israel
Latest Indepth Stories
U.S. postage stamp honoring Haym Solomon.

Haym Solomon, overlooked hero of the Revolutionary War, was America’s “Funding Father.”

Jelgava Synagogue, Latvia

Latvia, July 4, 1941 they forced many Jews in the shul putting it on fire; everyone was burned alive

United Nations Building, New York City

There’s blood on the reporters’ hands AND New Israel Fund for funding groups feeding lies to the UN

Zuckerman-070315

Respect & appreciation for our country is not only a civic value but an essential Jewish one as well

When words lose meaning, the world becomes an Orwellian dystopia; a veritable Tower of Babel

Israel, like the non-radical Islamic world. will be happy see the ISIS beheaded for once.

Kids shouldn’t have “uninstructed” Internet access, better to train them how to use it responsibly

What if years from now, IS were to control substantial territory? What world havoc would that wreak?

Rambam writes the verse’s double term refers to 2 messiahs: first King David; 2nd the final Mashiach

The Gaza flotilla has been rightfully and legally blocked by Israel’s Navy, with greetings from Bibi

The president described the attack as “an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress…”

“The only [candidate] that’s going to give real support to Israel is me,” said the 69-year-old Trump.

And whereas at the outset the plan was that Iran would have to surrender most of its centrifuges, it will now be able to retain several thousand.

Now oil independent, US no longer needs its former strategic alliances with Gulf States-or Israel

More Articles from Rabbi Kenneth Brander
Brander-010413

Over the past few months the Jewish community in the New York metropolitan area has suffered great trauma and intense tragedy.

It comes as no surprise that in a world where many neglect the importance of community, iPhones, iPods, and iPads constantly and consistently appear as the trendiest gadgets. These devices represent a culture that desires to deconstruct the power and purpose of community, placing all importance on the needs of the individual.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/from-hurricane-sandy-to-sandy-hook-the-jewish-response-to-darkness/2013/01/03/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: