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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Suffering of Children

I believe that God is just, yet I cannot reconcile this with the countless innocent children lost in the Holocaust. Did these children do terrible misdeeds? How can we justify God allowing this terrible suffering?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

The idea that no one suffers unnecessarily is a fundamental concept in Judaism. The reasoning is as follows:

It is unthinkable to imagine that God would create a world and walk away from it, even momentarily. That would make God less responsible than His very own creations!

Therefore, it is a truism that God is very much involved in what happens in the world, and does not allow madmen to do as they please without license.

Your question is how to understand suffering in the lives of children. Since a child is not responsible for his actions until the age of 13, how can the child's suffering come as a result of their misdeeds?

One answer is that the misdeeds which brought about the suffering may not have been done by this particular soul in this lifetime, but rather in a previous lifetime.

Although the soul is in a child's body, the soul is actually much older than the body. When the child is born, it is for the purpose of refining and perfecting the soul which has been placed in this particular child's body.

Indeed, when the soul reaches perfection, the child may die, having fulfilled its mission in the world.

Another possible understanding of children's suffering is that God doesn't only deal with individuals, he also deals with nations.

For example, when God decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorra, Abraham asked God, "If I can find enough righteous people in Sodom and Gomorra, will you spare the cities?"

Apparently there were some righteous individuals, and although they were not the catalyst for the disaster, now that the disaster is going to happen, you need a tremendous amount of merit to be saved from it in a miraculous way. Because God deals both on a national and individual realm. And that complicates our understanding of the equation.

The bottom line is that it is very difficult for us to "judge" God, because we are stuck in time and space and thus limited in knowing which ground rules God is employing. When "bad" things happen, there are so many possibilities why. "Is this a challenge in life that was given to me so I could become an example to inspire others? Or is this to get me to fix a wrong I've done? Or is this due to historical/national forces that are affecting me as an individual?"

In Exodus 33:13, Moses asks God, "Make Your ways known to me." The commentators explain that there are "50 Gates of Wisdom," and Moses had reached the 49th Gate. This means that only one aspect of existence was still unknown to him. And which was that? The issue of "why bad things happen to good people."

God answered Moses: "No, you can never fully understand this. Perhaps in retrospect you can see how the pieces fit into this complex jigsaw puzzle. But in general, you ultimately are not to privy to the reason.

Still, God has a terrific track record, and we are certain that He knows what He's doing. That knowledge alone - that God has a reason - goes a long way in helping us cope with suffering.

Suicide Bombers

Israel has suffered from many gruesome terrorist attacks. What I cannot understand is that a suicide bomber is a human being, born in the image of God. So what makes a person do such a thing? I am trying to understand this behavior.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

First of all, I would like to dispel a myth which ascribes suicide bombing to poverty and despair. The New York Times claimed that suicide recruits are "commonly young men raised in poverty," and Associated Press said that "grinding poverty could breed more such attackers." And yet, a research study of 250 aspiring Palestinian suicide bombers and their recruiters showed that "none were uneducated, desperately poor, simple-minded or depressed." In fact the opposite may be true. According to the London-based Arab daily, Asharq Alawsat, a study of Palestinian suicide bombers showed that many bombers come from the most intelligent, accomplished, idealistic and motivated strata of society.

No, the common denominator of these terrorists is not poverty or lack of education. Rather it is blind hatred instilled by militant Islam. Far from being depressed, suicide bombers are the smartest of smart bombs, idealists who want to change the world. Their motivation comes from aspiration, not desperation.

One thing that makes the security situation so difficult in Israel is that many people have been indoctrinated into a reality that, for the rest of us, doesn't exist. Therefore they're operating outside the normal rules of humanity.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg explains it like this:

Nobody wakes up in the morning and says: "I'm going to do evil today." Everyone considers themselves good, based on their own definition. A terrorist believes he is doing the highest holy act.

That’s why a proper definition of "good" is the starting point of everything you do in life. Obviously you can't just invent your own definition of what "good" is. You have to investigate reliable sources, and then analyze which one best describes the human condition and reality.

Be careful! If you don't work out the definition accurately, you'll end up with a warped idea of good.

In Gaza, the definition of "good" may be someone whose willing to strap a bomb to his belly and detonate it in a crowded Israeli market.

In America, the definition of "good" is financial success. People become pulverized by depression because they're not wealthy. "I can't get a job. What's wrong with me? Get me a therapist!"

Always ask yourself: Am I defining "good" as that which looks good to the prevailing forces of society, or am I defining "good" as that which has true meaning, and makes a valuable contribution to society?

In Judaism, the definition of good is found in the Torah. It spells out how a person should act toward his friends, family, and society as a whole.

So keep your definitions straight. And be careful. The wrong definition could bring a lot of death and destruction.

Original Sin

I want to know about the concept of "sin" due to Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of Knowledge. The Christian concept of sin revolves around the fall of the man and the "original sin." Does Judaism view it the same way?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Adam and Eve were punished according to their actions. In other words, God laid down the conditions for Adam and Eve to live in the garden, provided they would not eat from the Tree of Knowledge. However, if they were to eat from that tree they would be punished by experiencing death. (If they had not eaten from the tree, they would have remained immortal.)

This sets down the basic principle in Judaism of Reward and Punishment. Basic to this is that every person has the choice of doing good or bad. When a person chooses "good" – as defined by God – he is able to draw close to God. In other words, every individual has a chance to "gain salvation" through his own actions.

My understanding of Christianity, however, is that the Original Sin has infected all of mankind to the point where individuals are incapable of achieving salvation through their own initiative. Man is "totally depraved" and therefore his only hope of salvation is through the cross.

This belief is contrary to the teachings of Judaism. From the Torah perspective, an individual does not need to rely on anyone else to atone for them. In Judaism, sins can be "erased" altogether by sincere repentance and a firm resolution never to repeat the mistakes.

For more on this, read "Their Hollow Inheritances" by Michael Drazin – www.drazin.com