Friday, January 1, 2010

The Jewish calculus of suffering


  1. Thank you for the post. I very much needed to hear that view of the Rishonim.

  2. In our private discussions, we mentioned the views of Rishonim, and whether they are superceded. I view them as all dealing wiht difficult issues using their intelelct, rather than having a recived tradition on every single question. (Even Moses, Aharon and the Kohen Gadol didnt have this tradition, that is why they had to ask - eg using the Urim & Thumim)


    Why do the Eda people atatck the police whenever one of their members murders their children? Doesn't the Torah forbid child sacrifice?


  4. One of the themes early in R JB Soloveitchik's Qol Dodi Dofeiq is the inappropriateness of trying to explain suffering. All attempts come across either intellectually dishonest or emotionally cold.

    R' Soloveitchik invokes the obligation "Just as we bless G-d for the good, so too we bless [Him] for the bad."

    Judaism's question about suffering is not "Why?" but rather "How am I supposed to respond?" This is in line with our general focus on halakhah, action.

    I would add that there is a reason why "aveilus" (mourning) comes from the same root as "aval" (but). There are times in our lives when every explanation simply triggers a "I understand all that, but..." And so the aveil, rather than being told to focus on explanations, is instead encourage to rededicate himself to sanctifying G-d. Qaddish.

    Is that not Iyov's final answer from the whirlwind (38:2,3), "Who is this that darkens advice with words without knowledge? Gird your loins like a man; I will question you, and you will tell me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?..."

    We will not understand, we can not understand and what explanation we do get we can not internalize while still in mourning.

    Life is a conversation with G-d. Anavah (roughly: modesty) is definable as the one whose response is to answer (oneh) Him.


  5. Life is a conversation with G-d. Anavah (roughly: modesty) is definable as the one whose response is to answer (oneh) Him.

    No problem with that, but I am focusing on a different issue - that there is an implicit acceptance of a particular understanding which I am saying is one of the reason for passivity in the face of the suffering of others.

  6. As for whether to focus on the spiritual or the physical...

    If it's someone else's suffering, we have Avraham's response to being forewarned about Sedom.

    If it's one's own suffering, we have his going along with the Aqeidah. (Although, what about Yitzchaq's suffering? And of all the people involved in the aqeidah, the medrash describes Sarah as actually dying from it! My own questions aside, that is the contrast drawn by Chazal.)

    R' Yisrael Salanter writes in numerous letters about this necessary duality. I should disdain honor -- when it comes to my own honor. Someone else's honor should be held dear to me. I should get along with just the things I really need. But when I am helping someone else, I should be more generous. Etc...


  7. People think that the reason Weinstein has not yet been arrested is because he cut a deal with the feds, where as long as he keeps getting more people on tape, he can stay free. There is also a rumor that Weinstein is afraid of physical violence at the hands of his fraud victims. Weinstein never goes anywhere without his driver, AF. Weinstein knows how to drive, so the belief is that AF is actually his bodyguard.

  8. Rav Eidensohn,

    Would you be so kind as to list the Rishonim and Mar'eh M'komos of the view that punishment can exist without Hashem's intent and against His will? I have never seen it inside but have heard the view exists.
    Thank you!

  9. hello, don't need to publish my questions if they will not bring any light to the topic.
    about this lady you met, nothing happened to the rapists? police was never called?
    is not this rule of "acceptance" a sort of encouragement for potential criminals once they know that a religious victim will not talk about it?
    how to know if they commit the same crime inside their own homes against their wives and children?
    halacha consider this possibility?
    what's the limit for this 'acceptance of suffering" rule?
    how does a woman know it's time to talk? my comment also includes men who were raped when children.

  10. Moshe,

    I highly recommend you pick up a copy of R' Eidensohn's "Daas Torah". There is an entire section on providence, and most of the classic positions are very different than those that became popular since the Baal Shem Tov and the Gra. You can see sources on this an hundreds of other hashkafah topics to your heart's content. English and Hebrew originals.

    I'm inclined to throw in the cliche "No Jewish home should be without one." It's really that good.


  11. I posted this article to a group of Teachers-of-Judaism-and-Chassidut and this was one response that articulately reflected my own sentiments. I would be most interested in Daas Torah's response:

    Dear all,
    I appreciated this article, yet I'm left with some questions with respect to the young woman and her "rape" at the age of 10 by "two young yeshiva students." "Rape" is a serious criminal offence, even if the perpetrators were themselves minors at the time. I would have preferred if the author mentioned what, if any, were the legal consequences for these "students." Was there ever any follow-up with respect to risk assessment, i.e., is it possible that either of these two perpetrators remains a threat to children or other vulnerable people? Depending on where this "theological consultation" took place, there could even be a legal "duty to report" to Childrens' Aid services the possibility of a continuing risk, even many years after the incident. All of this was hopefully dealt with at the time of the incident(s) or subsequently, but I would suggest that whether it was or not, some mention the status of these dimensions of the issue (i.e. legal, child protection) is appropriate when publically discussing such a case, whether as a rabbi, therapist or even a theologian.

    Now as far as the young woman herself: We are told that she is "poised and cheerful"; a point is made to assure us that the suicidal depression and obsession with revenge that plagued her following the "rape" has been fully resolved. It's pointed out to us that there remains "only one issue" for her, which is "Why did G-d want her to be raped?"

    The question is obviously a very powerful, legitimate theological question. However: She sought out the rabbi after having "seen her assailants" engaged in a family life etc., "as if... having never done...evil". Her initial focus was on these two men, their banality, perhaps the apparent "goodness" of their family life etc., in contrast to the the "evil" and suffering that they inflicted on her. Yet her question seemingly disconnects the whole issue from this context, this immediate trigger of seeing her rapists, and focuses exclusively, "only", on G-d. Is that because she is so completely resolved in her feelings about them? Is it possible that there are in fact other important questions/reactions happening for her here, involving the difficult and complex emotions aroused when seeing one's rapists---perhaps for the first time---since they victimized, and, in an important sense--given the suicidal depression--almost killed her? When someone says that this is their "only" question, I might ask: "If there were another question, what might it be?" What is the "only" negating? As uncle Sigmund taught: There is no "No" in the Unconscious.

    Again: the question she asked is a profound one, the classic question of theodicy. Yet I think that the "scene" as described (let's 'title' it: "A Casual Family Stroll in Pious Geula with Rapist Pair") would be a very powerful visceral trigger indeed on several levels, and this in a person potentially with some significant psychological vulnerability, and the manner in which that level of reaction is at play is relevant to how the question itself is to be understood.

    But again to conclude: the main question that must be asked here for those of us involved in any form of counseling/therapy/consulting should be: Could someone be at risk right now by either of these two men?

    Yaacov Lefcoe, MA (Psych)
    PS: the suggestion that these two men remain connected, and were strolling together, years after the event(s), is itself troubling, isn't it.

  12. A Still Small Voice said...

    I posted this article to a group of Teachers-of-Judaism-and-Chassidut and this was one response that articulately reflected my own sentiments. I would be most interested in Daas Torah's response:
    thank you for the articulate and sensitive response.

    1) there is no legal issue here. she and her family didn't want to press charges and it is ten years later

    2) I didn't have any contact with her assailants and she did not reveal who they are. Thus it might be assumed - though I don't know - that they are not viewed as being a danger to others.

    So if we take away the legal issues and the concern with future danger to others we are left with the profound question of how to give meaning to this event on a personal level or rather how people in a religious community are taught to deal with this. And more important what happens if they can't accept the view that their parents, teachers and peers tell them.

    This was in fact the sole issue that she was concerned with when she came to see me. She said that she could live with the answer I gave her. I only saw her once and I really don't know if this answer has helped her.

    One of my professors said that all people tell stories about themselves as to who they are. When a story becomes ineffective you go to a psychologist to get another story. Hopefully it is a better one but it is not the only one or the final one.


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