Part 24: Chapter 4, Verses 17-21
Verse 17. "Shall mortal man be more just than G-d? Shall a man be more
pure than his maker?"
Verse 18. "Behold, he puts no trust in his servants; and his
angels he charges with folly:"
Verse 19. "How much more those who dwell in houses
of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed before the moth?"
Verse 20. "Between morning and evening they are destroyed: they perish for ever
without anyone paying heed."
Verse 21. "Is not their excellency which was in them
gone away? They die; for they are with wisdom."
Here is the conclusion of last weeks lesson: In verses 17-21 the actual
prophecy is recorded. In verse 17 the prophecy raises a crucial question;
can man be more righteous than G-d? These are words of prophecy and it
is unreasonable to interpret them as a facetious provocation. Is man
capable of reaching a higher level of morality and justice than his
Intuitive reasoning dictates that no creation can be greater than the
force that created it. No computer can know more than the sum-total of
information put into it buy its human creators. Similarly no human can
possibly know more than its Creator. Based on this we can interpret verse 17 like this: Since man cannot have greater knowledge than his Creator,
how is it possible for him to be the judge of G-d?
A very wise person once pointed out to me the following observation: One of
man's favorite pastimes is to judge G-d. I have often observed the accuracy
of this observation. The ability to judge requires depth of wisdom,
deliberation, and objectivity. In the best circumstances a human being
falls short on all three counts. But when a person suffers physical and
emotional pain the possibility to be deliberate and objective in judgement
is close to nil.
The Malbim explains verse 18 in the following way: G-d has many creatures;
planets, stars, and numerous spiritual creatures called Malachim=angels
(for a discussion on Malachim see our lessons #2 and #4). All of these
creations have one thing in common; they preform the tasks for which they
were created with flawless consistency. They have neither free-will nor an
evil inclination that could cause them to deviate from their prescribed
duties. Despite all this G-d does not put his total trust in these
creations (verse 18).
Some of the commentators explain this in the following way. In addition to
their influence and control over all physical phenomena in this world, G-d
created these beings to carry out special missions that are necessary from
time to time (see lessons #2 and #4). The crucial nature of their missions
require that they be given special attributes that exceed the normal
capabilities of human beings.
However, despite their superior nature they are in constant need of support
and sustenance from G-d. This is the meaning of "he puts no trust in his
servants". The most powerful and capable of G-d's creations are beholden to
G-d for their ability to fulfill their destiny. They cannot possibly take
complete credit for the successful performance of their duties. Even the
Malachim, despite their near-perfect fulfillment of G-d's will, cannot be
the judges of G-d.
In stark contrast to the Malachim that are made of pure spiritual matter;
the human body is made of inferior physical matter. One area where this can
be observed is in the phenomenon that physical matter is in a constant
state of motion and change. Despite its solid and fixed appearance physical
matter is given to constant change and devolution... "those who dwell in
houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed before
the moth". First clay, then dust and finally food for the moth.
The reality of human physicality and free-will excludes the possibility of
absolute perfection in almost every area of human endeavor. All the more so
this is true in the area of service of G-d. In addition to this we are the
recipients of unlimited blessings from G-d. The ever increasing debt of
gratitude that we owe G-d for all that we received in the past and
constantly continue to receive is enormous. The probability of one being
able to repay this debt through flawless compliance with G-d's will is not
very high. Even the most righteous will find this exceedingly difficult.
Furthermore, the capricious nature of free-will causes erratic performance
in human beings. In comparison to the Malachim, man is both unpredictable
and undependable. This perspective of man, although harsh, demonstrates
that he is totally unqualified to play the part of the judge of G-d.
Rashi takes a different approach to verse 18. He interprets the servants
mentioned therein to be the righteous. G-d does not put his trust in the
righteous means that their past performance, as perfect as it may have
been, does not guarantee that they will continue to do so in the future.
G-d's desire is that they finish there lives with an unspoiled record. In
order to ensure this He may remove them from this world before their
The Malbim points out in verse 19 that the body of man is described as a
"house of clay". Just as a house, or any other possession, is external to
one's being the essence of a human being is the soul not the body. But due
to the negative influence of the 'house' on its 'occupant' man inevitably
falls short of his commitments to G-d.
Due to the imperfect nature of the human constitution Elifaz argues that it
is impossible for any man to live an absolutely flawless life. In addition
to this the debt of gratitude to G-d is so immense that one can never
achieve full repayment. We remain eternaly indebted to G-d, never the other
way around. Therefore, G-d is justified in exercising judgement even upon
the most righteous.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Y. Schwartz and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Rosh Hayeshiva (Dean) of
Orchos Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem.