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        Pessimism and Negativity -- or Cheer         and Faith

           In parshas Beha'aloscha, the first journey of the Israelites from Mount Sinai occurs. Immediately, their problems begin. Complaints and quarreling take place. In parshas Shlach, the tragedy of the Meraglim (the spies) is told: as a result of their terrible complaints, the Israelites are compelled to remain for 40 years in the desert, until the entire generation expires.


          The Chazon Ish wrote that worry should always be avoided: "upright people don't worry."

           What is the problem of worry? The Maharal has said that a person of faith is always cheerful, not angry. It follows that worry, as well as anger, shows little faith.

             Blessing on Tragic Events

           The Mishnah states, "Just as one makes a blessing on the good, so one makes a blessing on the 'bad.' " A blessing on the 'bad?' Indeed, who could make a blessing on tragedy? Yet, this is not an ethical lesson alone, but it is stated in the Mishnah -- in the tractate dealing with the laws of blessings. It is a legal ruling! "Just as one makes a blessing on the good, so one makes a blessing on the 'bad.' "

             G-d's Mercy and Severity

           The 'Shema' states that Hashem, our G-d, is the the One Hashem. "Our G-d" has the connotation of "Judge." "Hashem" has the connotation of "Merciful." The Shema thus tells us that there is no distinction between what appears -- in our human minds -- to be G-d's strictness and severity, and to what appears to be G-d's mercy.

           On Purim, one is to drink until no distinction can be seen between "blessed is Mordechai" and "cursed is Haman." That is, the merriment of the day should bring us to that realization that the downfall of the wicked is the same as the redemption and elevation of the righteous. (Vilna Gaon on Shulchan Aruch).  So often in our world, though, we see the reverse: the troubles of the righteous and the elevation of the wicked... By analyzing the Books of Job and Samuel, however, the Torah's lesson can be understood.

           King David suffered greatly. His kingdom was overthrown by Avshalom; he lost everything and was publicly cursed and humiliated. How did he react? He bore his shame and did not seek retribution. He continued to sing his Psalms, just as he had during his successes. He saw that everything had come upon him as a result of his mistakes -- and he accepted full responsibility.

           The Talmud states that David's grievous mistakes came about so that he could teach the world the attitude of teshuvah -- repentance. David was the epitome of the penitent spirit. Here is the righteous man who suffers -- his sufferings come for a reason, and he is the first to admit it. In so doing, he becomes all the more blessed.

           The opposite was Job. He, too, was stricken with afflictions. The Talmud says that he was brought into the world in order to earn his eternal reward. G-d tested him with great deprivation -- and he kicked; he began to curse "the day of his birth." The day of his birth -- for he believed that his sufferings must be due to the power of some constellation -- not G-d. Job is the story of the wicked man who succeeds. After lengthy consultations with his friends, he accepted none of their words. G-d left him alone, restoring his health, family and wealth. He was left alone, having his own way. G-d paid him well in this world -- in order that he be driven out from the world to come. (See Commentary to Book of Job by Rav Moshe Eisemann; Ima shel Malchus, by Rav Yehudah Bachrach).

  The Book of Job

           After describing the distinction between David and Job in a speech, several people questioned this account based on the Book of Job. In the first chapters, it is related that G-d convened court with His angels. G-d himself attests to the extreme piety of Job; it is only due to the great protests of 'Soton' that Job is afflicted.

          The truth is that this introduction cannot be taken literally, as Rambam (Maimonides) attests in the Guide for the Perplexed. G-d doesn't argue with angels; there is no separate 'force of evil' as the non-Jewish concept of 'Satan.' The Scriptures are couched in metaphor. Indeed, one could very well say that Job himself imagined this story literally. That was a major part of his error -- to deny that G-d Himself was responsible, to proclaim that some other force had brought about the evil!  There is no distinction between what appears -- in our human minds -- to be G-d's strictness and severity, and to what appears to be G-d's mercy. "Just as one makes a blessing on the good, so one makes a blessing on the 'bad.' "

(c) Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Genesis, '97



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