Sunday, December 03, 2006

LiveBlogging the Rav I: David Shatz, The Rav and The Problem of Evil

Rav in 1950s: religion not a crutch, but a raging torrent of man’s experience – IOW, s’iz shver tzu zein a yid. H’ appears to man “out of the whirlwind”. – Amalek, Akeidah, Chariot – all associated with man’s experience of God –tumultuous. Why this thought?

1) Biographically – personal suffering. Colon cancer 1959, lost mother, brother & wife all in 1967. These essays from just after these experiences. “I am not sure I will make it to my daughter’s chuppah” – she was at the time engaged to RAL. Loved ones are onlookers who cannot help. I stand before G-d, no one else is beside me. This was in ms. of essay. Dr. T.L. said “impossible he could have said that in public”. Sure enough tape bears her out.

2) Spiritually: Distinguishes between pain & suffering. Pain e.g. childbirth. Suffering e.g. knowing one has cancer, but feels no pain from it. Suffering belongs to spiritual personality. Suffering, pain, grief, elevate us above other beings. Story: Jewish anxiety: two Jews waiting to ambush Czar. Czar doesn’t pass them for half hour, hour, two hours. One says to other, “I hope nothing happened to him!”

Why is there evil in the world? R’ Ami in Shabbos: suffering & death are consequences of sin. Jewish view: Chazal, contra R’ Ami: there are people who suffer & die without having sin. Medrash has same memra, without refutation.

Rashi: Jews not to go out when Destroyer comes through Egypt, because plagues don’t differentiate between good & bad people.

Suffering as kapparah

Suffering as yissurim shel ahavah (take away punishment from afterlife; or, to allow tzadikim to rise to higher levels of faith (Iyov)).

Sourcebook: MK: Amar Rava –chayei, banei, umezonei, lo bizchusa talya milsa, ela al mazala talya milsa. Life, children and food depend on luck, not merits.

Rav deals with this in Out of the Whirlwind

How to deal with this? Moral position: Make war on evil. Theodicy has you make peace. Stuck between tziduk hadin vs. fighting evil.

Before this, Rav divides between topical halacha (surface), and thematic (root) halacha. I.e., halacha as set of rules, or as embodying certain metaphysical, philosophical ideas. E.g.: Shabbos – is it 39 melachos, or is it a value of kedushah? RDS thinks thematic halacha means aggada.

Kiddushin: To what are righteous compared in this world? A tree standing in a place of tahara, with a bough haning over into a place of tumah. Cut off the bough, the tree stands only in taharah. So Hashem cuts off the evil from the next world: thematic halacha.

Thematic halacha maintains that evil is a chimera. Even evil is good “vehinei tov me’od” on the whole of Creation. Rebbe Meir – even mavet is tov me’od. Oseh shalom uvorei ra.

Topical halacha: whole structure of mourning, insist on baruch dayan emet bracha. No accommodation for evil within framework of topical halacha, realistic framework which cannot have a place within for evil. Deal with evil, ethic for suffering, rather than accommodating evil, having a metaphysic for suffering.

Ethic of suffering: what can you get out of it, feeling of mortality after the cancer. NOT a metaphysic of suffering.

Three pillars of halachic ethic of suffering:

1) Evil exists, and is bad. World is not free of faults in interhuman relations

2) One must never acquiesce in evil, or accept it. Scientific intervention in struggle for control of man’s environment is all good.

3) Won’t repeat it; see the book.

By this point, thematic halacha is left in the dust. Topical halacha is what really matters to him. Or so it seems.

Story: 1965: Dean of Stern, Dr. Vogel writes to the Rav for summary of his discourse: Judaism does not deal with evil under the speculative, metaphysical aspect. Man cannot answer “why evil”, so must only deal with “how do I deal with evil.”

RDS reading of the discourse – if you have a thematic answer to evil, it will paralyze you, hence useless.

RDS thinks the deeper reason not to speculate, because speculation interferes with your moral agency.

In closing: (story: at conference, speaker says “in closing”, 8-y-o kid in front of him says “10 more minutes)

In the vikuach (?), Ramban gives what he thinks is adequate theodicy from Chazal (details unimportant). However, critic writes, if we know that God’s inscrutable judgment is righteous. So why did you bother to construct a theodicy? Ramban: this is argument of fools. We need to know God better, and trust Him better, since we learn the concealed matters from the explicit ones. Thus, it is the duty of everyone who serves God out of love and fear to investigate God’s mind, why God allows evil. Theodicy is an imperative, contra the Rav who pushes it into the corner. Ramban: why must we learn theodicy? Kedei shetityasheiv daato be’inyan.

This is key to diff between Ramban (Yishuv hadaas), and the Rav (hachavayah hadatit hi chavayah seivli)

* * *

Q: Kaddish: topical or thematic?

A. Don’t think it’s meant to justify God’s ways, rather to create change in the person.

Q:: Rav said elsewhere that evil is due to continuous lack of morality in the world, doesn’t that push responsibility back on us?

A: Connection between evil & morality not that evil is explained by lack of morality, rather, morality is proper response to evil. Kol Dodi Dofek, comes close to saying that Iyov suffered because he sinned.

Q: Rashi in Noach brings down innocent being swept up in destruction, how would Rav deal?

A: Dealt with above.

* * *

2 applications: Versailles wedding hall collapse. Contra stmt that improper dancing led to collapse. What is the effect of saying this? People got what they deserved, no tragedy. This is wrong. Takes away our sensitivity to magnitude of what happened.

9-11: Zohar about 70 days before Moshiach, two big buildings will be destroyed. R’ Yosef Blau writes contra this idea: Some years ago, helicopter crashes, many turn to “fulfillment of prophecy” idea – it’s a coping mechanism. RDS: The Rav would fiercely oppose this, because it falls into thematic halacha, and we have to act through topical halacha – it removes our sensitivity.



From Torah in Motion conference on The Legacy of Rav Soloveitchik