Your right hand, God, is glorious in power; Your right hand smashes the
enemy into pieces. (Shemos 15:6)
The story of Iyov is the quintessential example of an age-old philosophical
issue, that being why do bad things happen to good people. It is a question,
according to the Talmud, that even Moshe Rabbeinu himself asked God while on
Har Sinai after achieving forgiveness for the Jewish people’s involvement in
the golden calf (Brochos 7a).
Seemingly, Iyov had been a thoroughly righteous person who had done little
wrong to warrant the personal destruction he experienced. Yet, prompted by
God Himself, the Satan, a.k.a. the Accusing Angel, brought upon Iyov
tremendous personal hardship, causing him to lose his wealth, his health,
and even his family.
The rest of the story is about Iyov coming to terms with his personal
tragedy. First he, and then his friends, tried to find a rational
explanation for his misfortune. With the exception of Elihu, they could find
none, and therefore they concluded that Iyov could not have been as
righteous as they had previously thought. For, they assumed, God does not
punish and allow suffering for no reason.
However, Iyov rejected their deduction, knowing full well that he had done
everything in his power to be loyal to God. And, after his friends took
leave of him and God Himself paid Iyov a visit, he took the opportunity to
question God about what had befallen him.
Rather than sympathize with Iyov, God criticized him sharply for even
questioning His judgment. He asked Iyov:
“Who is this who disgraces [My judgment, which is made with] secret wisdom,
with words [which he speaks] without knowledge [of the secret wisdom]? ...
Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell [Me] if you have knowledge to
understand its foundation?” (Iyov 38:1-4)
From there, God took Iyov on an intellectual tour of the universe, showing
him the tremendous wisdom with which He made Creation, and maintains it.
And, in spite of the fact that God did not provide Iyov with a precise
answer for his own personal tragedy, it seemed to have sufficed for Iyov,
whose only response was:
“Behold, I am worthless, so how can I answer You? I place my hand on my
mouth. I have spoken once, and I won’t respond [again]. A second time, I
will not [complain] anymore.” (Iyov 40:4-5)
Humbled by the awesomeness of the Divine wisdom, Iyov felt ashamed that he
ever doubted the workings of his Creator. He came to realize from God’s
response that, as smart as man may be, his vision of reality is still
incredibly limited, and therefore he is never capable of fully comprehending
Divine judgment, if at all.
However, though Iyov himself may not have been aware of the cause of his
suffering, apparently the Talmud was:
Rav Chiya bar Avva said in the name of Simai: Three were involved in that
advice [to enslave and oppress the Jewish people], and they were Bilaam,
Iyov, and Yisro. Bilaam advised to kill them, Iyov remained silent and was
punished with suffering, and Yisro fled and merited descendants who sat in
the office of hewn stone (i.e., the chamber in which the Sanhedrin
officiated). (Sanhedrin 106a)
It is so simple that you don’t have to even resort to Sod to figure it out.
Iyov had remained silent while standing before Pharaoh, and failed to cast
the deciding vote in favor of freeing the Jewish people. And, since, as the
All the traits of The Holy One, Blessed is He, are [based upon the principle
of] measure-for-measure . . . (Sanhedrin 90a)
measure-for-measure, for having remained silent in Pharaoh’s court and
allowing, at least indirectly, the suffering of the Jewish nation in Egypt,
Iyov himself was punished with tremendous suffering. Thus, even on the level
of Drush there is an answer for why bad things happen to good people, at
least with respect to the story of Iyov.
However, anyone who ignores the Talmud and simply reads the Book of Iyov
enters the story in the middle, so-to-speak, and not at the beginning, and
hence, of course questions are going to arise regarding the fairness of
Even though in this case the perplexing question is answered through the
Talmud, in truth, it is still Kabbalah that provides the key pieces of the
puzzle that truly reveal the justice in what occurred to the seemingly
righteous Iyov. It also explains why the Satan plays such a major role in
the story, many years after Iyov had left the court of Pharaoh for his own home.
It took 116 years, but eventually the end of the Egyptian servitude came,
and the Jewish people left Egypt en masse in the year 2448/1313 BCE, after
being in Egypt a total of 210 years. Nevertheless, as the Torah writes,
Pharaoh regretted his decision to free the slave nation and pursued them
with his best soldiers, and trapped them at the shores of the Red Sea.
But, God divided the waters and allowed the descendants of Avraham to flee
to safety once again. The sea splitting also drew the Egyptian army into the
sea after them, after which God returned the waters and drowned every last
Egyptian who entered the sea. Pharaoh, wisely, did not.
Awestruck and extremely grateful, the Jewish people sang praise to God,
reciting the following verse:
Your right hand, God, is glorious in power; Your right hand smashes into
pieces the enemy (Aleph-Vav-Yud-Bais). (Shemos 15:6)
On the simpler levels of Torah learning, there is nothing unusual about
these words to suggest a deeper meaning. However, the Arizal points out, the
letters of the word “enemy” are, in fact, the same letters as that of “Iyov”
—Aleph-Yud-Vav-Bais—and this is not by coincidence, for it was Iyov who
provided themeans for the Jewish nation’s escape across the sea.
How is that? The answer to that question comes from knowing what took place
by the sea, just before it finally split and provided the fleeing Jewish
people with dry land on which to tread. For, as the Jewish people stood in
the water up to their necks and in a grave state of danger, it was then that
the Prosecuting Angel—the Satan—hurled his accusations against the Jewish
people before God.
“Master of the Universe,” he argued, “did not the Jews worship idols in
Egypt as well? Why do they deserve miracles?” (Yalkut Shimoni, 1:234)
The truth was, as the Midrash points out, he had a good point. Indeed, the
Jewish people, because of their previous deeds, warranted Divine punishment,
and should have been left to drown right there in the sea.
However, there was a problem, and that was that God had promised Avraham
Avinu hundreds of years earlier:
On that day, God made a covenant with Avram, saying, “To your descendants I
have given this land ...” (Bereishis 15:18)
And, as the Talmud points out:
Every promise of good that comes from the mouth of The Holy One, Blessed is
He, even if conditional, is never retracted. (Brochos 7a)
This, of course, created a dilemma. On one hand, there was the promise made
to Avraham Avinu to eventually bring his descendants to Eretz Yisroel.
However, the last of those descendants were neck-deep in a raging sea, with
the Egyptian army ready to pounce on them from the other direction, while
the Prosecuting Angel hovered above, removing all possibility of a
miraculous salvation. What to do?
It is at this point that the Book of Iyov begins, reveals the Arizal: God
said to the Prosecuting Angel at that precise time:
“From where do you come?”
And the Prosecuting Angel answered God, “From searching the earth and from
traveling in it [looking for people’s sins].”
And God said, “Have you noticed My servant Iyov, that there is none like him
on earth? [He is] a perfect and upright man who fears God and turns away
from evil.” (Iyov 1:7-8)
The Talmud has an expression:
Do not open your mouth to the Satan (Kesuvos 8b)
and the story of Iyov is the reason why. For, any type of bragging of
righteousness is a direct invitation to the Satan to come and investigate
the merits and demerits of the one being praised. If the investigation finds
fault in the object of conceit, judgment can be swift and costly, perhaps
Thus, speaking so highly of Iyov in the face of the Satan, God was, in
effect, prompting an investigation into the merits and demerits of Iyov, and
it is THIS that resulted in the supreme test he underwent. The only question
is, since God knows this, why did He do it?
The answer is, to pull the Satan away from the Jewish people, in order to
end his prosecution of them by the sea. This way, God could perform the
necessary miracle to save the Jewish people, and fulfill the promise to
Avraham Avinu. In other words, after failing to be the vehicle of redemption
from the Egyptians 116 years earlier when he had the chance to, Iyov, at the
sea, became the vehicle for their redemption from the
However, the story of Iyov is not complete yet; Sod has more to say about
the source of his suffering:
Terach, Avraham’s father, reincarnated into and was rectified by Iyov.
(Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Ch. 36)
The truth is, this is really what Elihu told Iyov when he said:
[Consequently, God] has redeemed his soul from passing into Gihenom, and his
living soul will see the light [of the World-to-Come, when the time comes
for him to die]. (Iyov 33:28)
God in His kindness created the concept of gilgulim—reincarnations—in order
that no soul should be expelled from the World-to-Come. (Ramban, Rabbeinu
Yes, Elihu told Iyov, you are righteous in THIS life. However, what about in
your previous lives, all of which make up the totality of your being. Is it
not possible that you are rectifying today something that was wrong from the
past, before you were even born into this reincarnation?
Indeed, explains the Arizal, the concept of “the reward for a mitzvah is a
mitzvah, and the reward for a sin is a sin” actually spans lifetimes (Sha’ar
HaGilgulim, Ch. 38), making it next to impossible for us to be able to
figure out why we, or others who seem innocent of their pains, suffer. The
best we can do is take note of how what we are going through can be used to
improve our future lot, in this world and the next one.
One thing is certain, as mourners say as they rend their clothing over the
death of a near relative, “God is just.” We have a mitzvah to judge others
to the side of merit, even when it looks like they are guilty, at least
until they are proven to be guilty, and even then, we have to judge them to
the side of merit as to how they may have come to be guilty. How much more
so must we judge God to the side merit, no matter how much the situation
incriminates Him, because He is never guilty of being unjust.
Even in situations where God admits guilt, so-to-speak, as in the case of
reducing the light of the moon, even asking us to bring a Sin-Offering on
His behalf on Rosh Chodesh, if you can imagine such a thing, it is mostly
for show. God, of course, has done nothing wrong, but reduced the light of
the moon for our sake, to give us free-will, and earn eternal reward for
making good decisions.
Hard to see how that is true? Learn the Zohar and its commentaries, which
spend many pages discussing the entire issue, which is a major one in
Kabbalah. The bottom line is that we human beings are like movie-goers, who
watch a film on the screen oblivious to all the technical things taking
place around it. There are film crews, and a whole host of people standing
around trying to make the shoot a success, so that it can become the movie
we are watching.
Furthermore, we don’t know the script, and go along with the plot as if it
is unfolding for the actors as it does for us sitting in the theatre. In
reality, everyone on stage knows the entire plot already, and any suspense
of and misunderstandings that arise along the way are purely those of the
The same can be said about real life. Except that even though we are the
actors, we are unable to fathom the entire plot, or see the film crew, and
have to go with the flow just like the audience would have to. Therefore,
all we can do is be the best we can be at all times, and trust that the
Script Writer has done a perfect job of being just, and at leaving no loose