Sunday, November 05, 2006

Wisdom of the Ancestors: Evil in the world

Quoth David Rosenfeld:
The amount of suffering we witness in this world, both individual and national, just does not lend itself to rational thought or explanation. The world as we see it is not an understandable place, and very few of us -- being the truth-seeking, concerned Jews we are -- possess the mindset to accept that. When we see what appears to man senseless tragedy, the success of evil so twisted as to glorify suicide for the expressed intent of killing and maiming as many innocents as possible, our minds and hearts cry out. And it is not only a cry for revenge. It is something much deeper. It is a cry for truth -- and for reality. The world is too dark and too painful, and it just does not make *sense*. Should not the world be a place of truth and goodness -- a reflection of the all-good and benevolent G-d who created it? But instead we see evil, suffering and distance from G-d, and our very faith in the world and humanity is shattered -- along with the shattered glass, bones, and lives in a world in which evil reigns.

And yet our mishna's words cry out.We must accept such givens -- that we cannot make sense of the world. For only then may we begin to study Torah.

For the most part, we study Torah in order to make sense of the world. Torah study is perhaps the surest manner of infusing our lives with meaning and understanding, of bringing G-d's light to an otherwise dark and terrifying universe. The more we study, the more everything fits in, and G-d's plan for the world and for each individual within begins to make sense and form a pattern.

But there are limitations. We cannot go into Torah study assuming that it will answer all of our questions -- at least in a manner we can understand. Even worse, there are those who -- millennia after the Torah was given -- attempt to "judge" the Torah's wisdom, even making their own observance dependent upon what makes sense to them, as if advanced and sophisticated 21st Century man can behave as arbiter over all which preceded him.
Not all. I still think the idea of "God's plan" is one of the most corrosive in all human theology. Nor do I think that the Torah is sufficient as a source for our ethical and practical morality. But I'm willing to grant it much more leeway than some....

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