Thursday, December 4, 2008

Questions Arising From the Tragedy

I was asked the following questions by a reader and decided to post my answers.
Your questions are good ones.
Before I begin to answer them, I wish to explain something very essential: I have no idea why such things happen to tzaddikim while the wicked seem to flourish. We don't understand Hashem's calculations. As my father always says, "Until you see Hashem's books, as it were, you cannot possibly understand how He runs His business!" The Arizal revealed that we are all recycled souls. He said that although usually one who goes in the way of Torah and mitzvos has a fairly smooth life even in a physical sense, if things go very hard (Hashem protect us!), this is for reasons that have to do with an earlier lifetime which he does not now recall and everything is for the best. He explains a lot about the pain and suffering both in general and endured specifically by various people from Biblical until after the a very deep work called "Sha'ar Hagilgulim."
Although there are very powerful and compelling answers to your question, the Shela Hakadosh explains (in a very different context) that such answers are above the intellect. Even if it seems to make perfect sense to one, these answers are general and can never be applied clearly to a situation unless someone on the level of the Arizal reveals that person's unfinished business from an earlier life. Even then, Rebbe Nachman said that even a tzaddik can make a mistake.
This is part of why one who loses a loved one (Hashem protect us!) must suffer pain and mourn. The Sefer Chasidim writes that one who is unaffected by such a loss is clearly cruel. This is not a manifestation of faith at all. It is a sign that one is not in touch with himself. (Sometimes such mourning was done in private, but it was always done.)
I am not going to explore even the little I know of such things but I will try to answer your questions.
1) It is important to realize that the concept of atonement through the suffering of tzaddikim is not a Christian concept--it is a Jewish concept that was twisted by the followers of the Nazarene to bring in more Jewish followers.
The moment we understand this from a Jewish perspective, we see that the Christian version of the concept bears little relationship to its original source in Judaism.
Rav Nosson explains (based on the Arizal) that our job is to sanctify Hashem's name. This can either be done by our deeds or through the suffering or death of Jews for being Jewish and especially tzaddikim. In this manner they are like sacrifices for the community. The main thing is to change as a result of the sacrifice. The collective pain we feel about it is itself a great atonement. Everyone sees that there is a lot of pain in the world. The Vilna Gaon explains that without suffering it would be impossible for most to attain the next world. (Again I don't pretend to understand this but this is what is says.) Rebbe Nachman said that it is only through connecting to the tzaddik or at least the teachings of the tzaddik--that one can bear the pain and suffering of this world.
Countless Jews have died to sanctify Hashem's name for thousands of years. The midrash even states that Jews would commonly declare:"Either live as a Jew or die by crucifixion!" (The common way to administer capital punishment in ancient Rome.)
Our sages tell us that "Yeshu" (if he was the same man that our sages discussed--there is over a hundred year discrepancy between the lifetime of the person they discussed to the non-Jewish claim of when he was born) was an idolater.
Either way, he was a false prophet and false messiah who claimed to bring permanent changes to the Torah, and he was soundly rejected by the knowledgable Jews of his time. So his death is irrelevant, and certainly brought no atonement since he was no tzaddik.

By the way, there is a limit to the power of even the greatest tzaddik's atonement. We never find that even a big massacre of thousands or even millions of Jews would insure that everyone was atoned for for all of eternity.
From our point of view he was a Jewish idolater put to death by the Romans. He had a big soul and could have done very great good (as the Kamarna Rebbe writes), but he and we didn't merit this. Instead, he lost out and so did the entire world.

2) Why do good people suffer when the wicked (and even just those who are much less good) prosper?
As far as the suffering of the righteous is concerned, our rabbis explain that Hashem first wished to create the world with strict justice.But when He saw that the world would not be able to exist He joined mercy with the justice to create the world. Of course this teaching is very difficult: surely Hashem already knew that human beings could not survive under a regimen of strict justice alone?
The Maharal (and many other sources) explain that the tzaddikim serve Hashem on the level of strict justice with which the world was originally created. Our rabbis write in many places that the world exists in their merit. We cannot even understand the calculation of regular people, certainly not tzaddikim.
All we know is that for them there is an entirely different calculation. In terms of reward this is worthwhile but it is often hard for us regular folk to bear their loss...

3) If people really die only for their sins, then how is anyone's death an atonement? Presumably he died for his sins?
Let's start with Nadav and Avihu. Aharon caved in to to the Erev Rav's demand that he fashion the golden calf in the hope that Moshe would come down before they were done (and to prevent the magnitude of Divine wrath if they were to kill him for refusing.)
When Aharon's sons died, the Midrash recounts that Moshe said, "I thought you would lose all four of your sons because of the golden calf. I begged Hashem and he took only two."
So we see already that there was a big judgment because of the sin of the golden calf. Before this the Jewish people were on the highest level and had completely overcome death. When they didn't resist the temptation of the Erev Rav, they were tainted and death took hold of them again.
This loss of connection caused a great judgment which was partly mitigated by Moshe's prayer.
Our rabbis also teach that Nadav and Avihu died because they were unmarried. In addition the prohibition to do service while drinking wine is also immediately following their deaths. Based on the juxtaposition, the sages taught that they did the service while inebriated. (This need not mean that they literally drank, but that there was a conceptual relationship between their state of mind and attitude and what we would call intoxication.)

So they did things that were sins *on their level*. They tried to make a big rectification and did, but only at the cost of their lives. If they had not sinned according tot their level, they would likely have lived.
There are very very few exceptions who truly only died becasue of the first sin. This is complicated but generally it is very unlikely that even the greatest tzaddik of today merit this towering level. Even from biblical until Talmudic times only a handful managed this. It is important to remember that what might be considered sinful for a tzaddik could be a great mitzvah for us. Generally, the sins of the righteous are at the more subtle level of intent.

4) What about us? What possible purpose for the greater good does losing the tzaddikim help? After all, when they die we lose their guidance?
We all see that this terrible loss brought about a big feeling of great unity among all Jews. Even the most avowedly secular Jew sees that to these maniacs all Jews--religious or not--are targets of "the Religion of Peace." This is a very great accomplishment.
Another way to generate kiddush Hashem is a feeling of achdus, solidarity between all Jews.Even during the reign of the idolatrous King Achach we were always successful in war because of achdus.
Perhaps this achdus is the main tikkun of the death of the tzaddikim. Certainly someone who is completely unmoved by it gains no protection.
Rebbe Nachman writes that there are some questions which can never have a satisfactory response because of our limited understanding due to the physical nature of this world. He explains that in the next world we will truly understand. He says that if we were to understand cosmic questions regarding Hashem we would have too much of deep grasp of reality to ever sin. In order for there to be fee will there must exist many paradoxes and inexplicibles from our point of view.
Rav Nosson explains that those who choose to immerse themselves in the the material world use these paradoxes to bolster their rebellion (often unknowingly.)
Those who make the mistake of Yishmael feel that no matter what they do G-d will take care fo them and protect them. His "proof: Is not everything from Hashem no matter how we act?
Edom gave up when he fell spiritually at age thirteen. Why did he give up? He said, "It's all a matter of choice. If I blew it I can never correct that."
Of course both points are true although we don't know how to resolve the paradox.
Rav Nosson explains the true attitude of one who really wants closeness to Hashem: We must do our best because everything is depends solely on our choice. If we fall, we must start again, since everything is entirely from Hashem!"
Those who want to connect to their true selves as children of Hashem use their faith to leap over this gap from our perspective. Faith relates to what we cannot understand intellectually.
As Rav Noson of Breslov writes, one must use his intellect to find what is fitting to believe in. As the Midrash states: One who searches for truth Hashem, sends an angel to show them the way...
We should hear only tidings of joy,


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post. Although in a different way, Sefer Beis Yaakov [Ishbitz] explains the wrongdoings of the Dor Hamabul that since they were closer to creation they saw the hand of Hashem clearly and were mistaken in thier believe that even sins are allowed being that they are from Hashem.

Anonymous said...

G-d bless you and yours.
Thanks for answering my question and being on the site, i pray it helps others not to allow themselves be bogged down by happenings but to attach themselves their teachers and the holy tzaddiks.

Micha Golshevsky said...

Hashem should protect us from terror.