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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

In Vitro Fertilization

I’ve been married for three years and have yet to get pregnant. I’m getting on in age and don’t want motherhood to pass me by. We are considering IVF but thought it may be circumventing God's will.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

I commend you for consulting with a rabbi before moving forward.

IVF is not a problem of circumventing God's will, because it was God Himself who gave mankind the wisdom and tools to develop IVF in the first place.

Many contemporary Sages allow IVF under certain circumstances, such as when other options have been exhausted. But there are Jewish legal issues involved with IVF which can be problematic, and therefore it must be conducted under strict rabbinic supervision of the process.

(See Rabbi Nebenzahl – Assia 34, Tishrei 5743; Rabbi Ovadia Yosef – Yabia Omer EH 8:21; Rabbi E. Waldenberg – Tzitz Eliezer 15:45; Nishmat Avraham – Vol 3, p. 15)

Why Bad Things Happen

If God is omnipotent and merciful as the Bible claims, why do bad things happen to good people?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Dr. Gerald Schroeder, double-Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics and Earth and Planetary Sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, explains:

It is true, notwithstanding the bad we occasionally see around us, that the God of the Bible is described as merciful and long-suffering, filled with righteousness and truth (Exodus 34:6). Equally confounding, at the end of the Six Days of Creation, we are told that God saw all that was done and "behold it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). Not just good, but very good.

Still, young children get multiple sclerosis and earthquakes cause buildings to topple and crush the innocent. The same God that streaks the sky with a rainbow of red at sunrise and produces the beauty of a flower must also be connected to these horrors.

Although we may see it as unfortunate, bad things happening to good people is consistent with the biblical description of God's role in the world. By chapter four, Cain has murdered Abel. According to the Bible, Abel was the good guy. God had accepted his special offering while rejecting Cain's run-of-the-mill sacrifice. God had the power to prevent Abel's murder but chose not to.

Isaiah hints at why: "I am the Eternal, there is no other. I make light and create darkness. I make peace and create evil" (Isaiah 45:6, 7). God, the infinite source of light, creates darkness by withdrawing some of the light. Similarly God, the infinite source of peace, creates evil by shielding a portion of the peace. The biblical definition of creation is the partial withdrawal of God's presence. God pulls back, and in so doing creates the universe with its laws of nature. For the most part, nature takes its natural course.

Only when events get way off course does the Bible recount that God steps in and overrides nature. A natural-looking world is an essential part of the biblical game plan of life, namely the exercising of our free will. "I call to you witness today the heavens and the earth, I have placed life and death before you, the blessing and the curse. Therefore choose life so that you may live, you and your progeny" (Deut. 30:19).

If humans are to have the will to choose freely, the world must look natural. A natural world has radiation which produces crippling mutations and earthquakes which crush the innocent.

Suffering: Why?

I have had a very difficult life, beset by illness, unemployment, and disappoint from those who had pledged to care for me. I am having trouble seeing the benevolent God in all this. What do you say, rabbi?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

I am very sorry to hear about the difficult times that you have had to endure. The trials that you have gone through no doubt have obviously made your relationship to God a difficult one. I can understand why.

As a rabbi, I have witnessed the most horrendous situations imaginable. I have experienced a 20-year-old who lost both of her parents in a car crash. Can you imagine a girl so close to her parents and in one day they're gone? I've lived through a husband coming home to find that his wife has collapsed, and in two days she's dead. There was nothing wrong with her before. And on and on and on.

When someone is in the midst of suffering, that's not the time to offer answers. It's a time to listen and empathize and be with the person as best you can. If there's anyone going through a painful time and is looking for a sense of relief, I am skeptical whether these intellectual answers will offer any kind of relief.

Dealing with pain and suffering is never easy, particularly since we often feel so helpless and out of control. But one thing we do have control over and that is our attitude. Try to stick to this 3-part formula:

    1) Look for the positive side to things.

    2) Try not to judge God, Who knows more than we do.

    3) Ask God for the clarity to understand how this is for the best.

Our perceptions of good and evil are directly related to our understanding of the world. An African tribesman who never saw a hypodermic syringe in his life could think upon seeing a doctor inoculate a child that the doctor was actually trying to hurt the child! Our perceptions change with information.

Therefore the Jewish approach to "suffering" is that everything happens for the good, but since we are finite and cannot see the whole picture, we perceive some things as bad.

God has more information than we do; thus we cannot judge Him and say He is doing something bad. We trust God and say, "I haven't yet figured out why, but God knows this is for the best."

The Talmud tells the story of Rebbe Akiva who was traveling on the road late one night. His only source of light, a candle, blew out; his mode of transportation, a donkey, ran away; and his only source of food, a chicken, died. The next morning Rebbe Akiva realized that armed bandits had plundered everything in the area. Had they seen his candle, or heard his chicken or donkey, they would have victimized him as well.

We can accept pain and suffering in the world by trying to see what positive side it may have. For example, a woman whose child was killed by a drunk driver went out and started MADD - Mothers Against Drunk Driving. This organization was responsible for revolutionizing the laws against drunk driving in America, and as a result has surely saved thousands of lives. It could be said that the purpose of this child was to elevate his mother to the towering heights of greatness that she indeed achieved as a result of the tragedy.

Of course it is not always easy to find the positive side. But even the attempt helps tremendously. It is interesting that if we look back on our own lives, the times we have grown the most are not when things have gone easy, but when they've been difficult. So many times what appears as "bad" or "negative" ends up being a blessing. A person could lose their job, for example, only to realize later that was the opportunity they needed to break into a growing, new field!

In the meanwhile, we have invested so much time and energy into worrying or regretting - all for nothing and all to our detriment. It is wise to remember that worry is defined as "interest paid in advance on a debt which often times never comes due." So when we are having problems, we can ask ourselves, "What have I learned or gained?"

Also, there are two excellent books I can recommend: "Why me, God?" by Lisa Aiken (published by Aaronson), and "Confronting the Loss of a Baby," by Yamin Levy (Ktav).

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