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Tisha B’Av: Looking for God in the Dark

Both Rabbi Grossman and Rabbi Stern grapple with the question of God’s role in calamitous events that befall us, either as individuals or as a people. If God is loving and good, it is difficult to understand these catastrophic occurrences–either God is somehow “not present” at these moments or is justly punishing us for our wrongdoings.
There is a danger, however, in identifying God only with those good things that happen to us, with making God overly “nice.” If we affirm God’s presence only in the good, we suggest that God is absent from those moments of hardship and deprivation when we are most in need of divine comfort. Instead, it is important to recognize that God is equally present in everything that happens to us–hence the rabbinic dictum that we must “bless the bad the same as we bless the good.” The prophet Isaiah, himself no stranger to hardship and deprivation, records God as saying, “I form light, and create darkness, I make peace, and create evil–I the Lord do all these things.” (45:7)
As a Reconstructionist Jew, I don’t believe God ordains divine punishment or share Isaiah’s belief that God is the cause of the destruction that befalls us: God did not will the destruction of six million innocent men, women, and children. But I do believe that God is equally present in all parts of our lives if we are open to recognizing it. It’s easy to affirm God’s presence in the miracle of a new life, but God is equally present in the mystery of the end of life, even if we respond to these two events (both far outside of the realm of human understanding and control) very differently.
Tisha B’Av is an opportunity to look for God and affirm God’s presence even in the darkest of places.

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posted July 19, 2007 at 11:37 pm

That’s how I see it, more or less. That God is present everywhere, but we are too limited to understand everything that happens. I consider that a human brain is not an all-seeing, all-knowing brain, it is simply one perspective on existence, beyond which we will never be able to understand because we don’t inherently have the tools. This is how we were made. Nevertheless, having seen a fair amount of sadness and tragedy (though not as much as some people), I conclude such experiences are simply part of life, the human condition, “God’s Plan,” or however one chooses to conceptualize it, and I don’t particularly blame God, because as I see it, it is mostly human beings who carry out the worst of it. Which is not to say I haven’t spent my share of time yelling at God and demanding an explanation. Which, by the way, I never got. That’s how it goes. Deal with it! I think when people imagine God is punishing them, they are making a caricature of God. I don’t see God as an angry parent. I see God as a vast force beyond my comprehension, something I can feel, at the best of times, but never truly comprehend. As for natural disasters, well, they are part of the world, with their own rules. I don’t have an answer for those, either, but I live with my questions, which I feel has been a useful skill to develop. I suffered from severe depression for much of my adult life. Feeling full of ashes and grief, on the edge of life – is like looking through a doorway into a profound silence that is a source of creative energy. And, my father died this year – I watched him deteriorate, his body caved in like a birdcage until finally he stopped breathing and his spirit was gone. My father-in-law also. People die. We might not think we will, but we will all die, sooner or later, and not to be too preachy but I really do believe what’s important is how we live, now, today, in the time we have. Make the most of it. As a friend once said, “Life is not a fruit cup.” It’s not without fruit cups and flowers, but it is a package deal – whether we fight it or not. The silver lining, I suppose, is taking pain and turning it into an opportunity – using it to become more compassionate, or to help others who are suffering with similar problems. Mourning is important. It’s part of healing, part of transformation and renewal, and in that sense mourning is a gift.

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Yael Piranian

posted July 20, 2007 at 10:50 am

Some have said, The Holocaust was caused by our People not Keeping Shabbat. As well as assimilating and forgetting about the 613. As some of us say when we Daven, ” The beginning of Wisdom is the Fear of Hashem, Good understanding to all his practitioners, His praise endures forever, Blessed is his name for his names sake. ” Obeying the Sabbath is equally important as not serving and bowing to idols! Those two Mitzvas are drilled into every child of Israel who reads the prophets.

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Juanita G Ricard

posted July 20, 2007 at 12:27 pm

I believe that Almighty God is ever present. Man forgets that God gave this earth to mankind and then by his disobedience man gave it to Satan. God is not responsible for man’s evil doings. He gave man freewill. When things go wrong it is usually because we make the wrong decisions. However, God still looks after us. Many times without us even realizing it He protects us from harm. Disasters are not God’s fault. Look how we have abused this wonderful earth God gave us. The earth is in turn groaning in anticipation for the Son of God to return. The earth is responding to the abise we have heaped upon it. Man has only himself to blame.

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laura t mushkat

posted July 20, 2007 at 2:08 pm

Ok I believe in 1 Supreme Being-who I refer to as G-d. I do not believe in the Devil or any siuch thing. I believe G-d alone made the world for us to use to the best of our abilities. When things done by man go wrong and cause havoc in the world G-d is not to blame nor is the Devil. When things go wrong in nature they are not caused by G-d to punish but is the result of natural occurences only.
If you believe tha G-d punishes then you do not believe that G-d keeps promises. The rainbow is our reminder that G-d said humans would not be punished in this way-floods (and other natural phenomina)-ever again.
The terrors bought on by man such as war, floods because humans did not do things to protect themselves, famine because we refused to care for the land properly, etc is not G-d’s fault, nor is it if the floods and famine and such were a result of something that could not be prevented.
It is only when we take responsibility for our actions that we can truly accept G-d as intended. That includes not blaming the Devil for bad things.
We are also responsible for all the good we do, and not G-d or angels or beings who we think help G-d-a Supreme Being who needs no help.

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posted July 20, 2007 at 6:57 pm

I refuse to believe that the Shoah was God’s punishment for Jewish lack of observance. Talk about “blame the victim.” That’s like saying the atrocities committed not only against Jews but others who became Nazi targets and died in the camps…were justified. How can the evil acts of the Nazis ever be justified in God’s eyes (or anyones?) Nope, I don’t buy it. I think it is a form of idolatry when people believe they can control God through prayer or observance – or the lack thereof. I would think we should do those things because they are right, not out of fear of punishment if we don’t, or for rewards. What’s moral about that? Where is the moral compass in a person who believes that? It is essentially amoral and superstitious reasoning. Good behavior shouldn’t be a bargaining chip. It should be for its own sake – to be closer to God, to make the world a better place. Look at all of the bad things people do that appear to go unpunished forever – if the bad behavior itself isn’t enough of a contaminant of the soul to deter someone or make them miserable. Do people really believe God punishes anyone? Is this true? And if so, what makes you think it is true? Wouldn’t God be violating His own commandment about not putting a stumbling block in front of a blind man? And if the Jews are honestly to believe we’re here to heal the world – why would God order a bunch of Nazis to kill us off because we’d become lazy about it? Doesn’t that seem a bit out of proportion? The rape, torture, murder, gassing and burning of men, women, and children because someone didn’t pray on the Sabbath?

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Bonnie Marrow

posted July 20, 2007 at 9:36 pm

I have been taught that “WE” choose the events that confront us in this sphere of our being. That everything we do is our “choosing” and we were aware of the events that would behold us even before we were born. How we confront the events that occur in our lives or better said, how we choose to confront or handle those things that come in our direction is up to us. We have Torah in our hearts and it is up to us whether the yetzer tov has more influence or the yetzer hara has more influence over us in our decision making. Life is nothing more than making decisions. Hashem gave Adam one commandment to keep, thus, one decision to make….whether to keep the commamdment or not to keep the commandment. That is what it is all about. Keep the commandments and blessings will abound you….if you don’t keep the commandments, then sin is sitting at the door waiting to consume you. All you have to do is do what is right. None of this has to do with the calamities that befall us,it has everything to do with how we choose to handle our calamities. Life is not meant to be a bed of roses, but when we smell the roses, do we smell the sweetness of success through our difficulties or is it a bitter rose that we smell.
Are we able to find something in our hard times that teaches us a golden lesson to strenghten us or do we take the low road and look at it as a raw deal that was dealt to us to weaken us? Is Hashem really setting us up to fail or do we cause ourselves to become failures?

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Michael Peterson

posted July 21, 2007 at 4:36 pm

Theodicy is a difficult question for those of us who believe in the Judeo-Christian concept of a good and gracious G-d. A better description of G-d is ‘ethical monotheism’, with the emphasis on ethics, i.e., the rules governing how we choose between good and evil and how we react to injustice (e.g., the death of an infant).
I see a relatively simple answer: G-d desires the love of free men, not synchophants. When we stand before G-d in that final arena, we must answer for the free choices we made in our mortal lives. In order to make those choices there must be something from which to choose, vis, good or evil. Justice or injustice.
What has this to do with Theodicy? Well, G-d permits evil and injustice because if He did not, we would not have good and we would not have justice. Put another way, if evil did not exist good could not exist. Thus, for G-d to require us to choose good over evil requires the existence of the latter.
In my own faith, I believe G-d created a world in which his children are constantly confronted by choices. When, for example, natural tragedies occur, G-d expects our choices to be made on moral/ethical grounds. For example, when a baby dies, G-d wants the bereaved mother to choose to turn to Him for comfort.
So, G-d does not create injustice to bedevil his children. He created a world in which evil and injustice exist so that above it men can rise.
peace of the Lord,

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posted July 22, 2007 at 8:20 am

I believe that God is always there, and decides on evertything. It is hard for us to understand why he let the Nazis kill 6,000,000, but I am sure he had his reasons.
In his first of the rabbi books, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin gives the opinion that when a murderer goes out to murder someone, do we think that God took him to that person in particular? Certainly not! But in my opinion, if God didn’t think the victim deserved it, he would have made sure the murder wasn’t successful. He would cause a misfire of the gun, or the victim wasn’t where the muderer thought he was…
If you have full belief in God, you have full belief that at Neila on Yom Kippur or on Hoshana Rabba, your future for (at least) the coming year is signed and sealed.

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posted July 23, 2007 at 12:49 am

Yehuda posts: “But in my opinion, if God didn’t think the victim deserved it, he would have made sure the murder wasn’t successful. He would cause a misfire of the gun, or the victim wasn’t where the muderer thought he was…”
To say that God must perform miracles every moment of every day so no bad thing happens to anyone who does’t “deserve it” raises a number of logical and spiritual condrums.
First, who says dying is punishment? Or Illness, or troules of whatever sort, are punishment? They are tests, yes, and provoicde the means by which we may enoble oursevles.
But if you believe in the eternal life and growth of the soul, then death is a release from a prison– not a punishment.
And asking for miraculous preservation from harm to all who do not “deserve” it attribues to G-d a measure of retribution (and intervention that simply boggle the mind. And at what level of “bad” does this in intervention, assuming there is such, kick in? Will this hypothetical G-d prevent us from being late to work because of an accident if we are “deserving?” Or is only the accident victim “deserving” or “underserving?” what is the harm is a toothache? Finacial woes?
If we are experiences something we do not enjoy are we “undeserving?” or just… in school, learning to detatch from our childish belief we shoud always get what we want when we want it?
Finally– pain and suiffering is part of the way the Universe is contructed. A chill feels pain when it it teething. Athletes suffer to become more skilled. Sush is life.
Just a few thoughts on the perennial quesion of what a G-d who IS love does not prevent all harm or pain from occurring.

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Yael Piranian

posted July 23, 2007 at 9:02 am

Not about “praying on the Shabbat”, Keeping it.. “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son nor thy daughter, thy man servant, nor thy maid servant, nor thy cattle. nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”
Ex. 20:8-1 1.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy G-d am a jealous G-d, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me: And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” Ex. 20:4-6.

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posted July 25, 2007 at 4:14 am

I agree with the authors. After my mother death exactly 45 after Tisha B’Av I can understand what they are talking about. G_d is everyday success and / or fail in our lives, but always for better…

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posted July 26, 2007 at 1:26 pm


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Raymond Gork

posted August 4, 2007 at 5:28 pm

All those millions of words! Does no-one understand that Hashem (I refuse to use the G-word)has only one purpose for mankind? That purpose is for Man to behave like a “mensch” and to look after what Hashem has created. That means, simply “tikkun olam” – nothing else. As for Judaism, the aim of Judaism is precisely as stated above. It’s our duty, as human beings to participate in “tikkun olam”, and as Jews, to maintain our heritage and use that heritage as a “light unto the nations”.That’s not as easy as it sounds; too many of us have perished at the hands of those who disagree with us or don’t understand Judaism’s message, – and the killing won’t stop, either. Those that believe that Hashem has prepared a “new” world after we die are misguided. That belief tells us (subconsciously) that we can destroy our environment to our hearts’ content because – don’t worry! there’s a better place when we die. Hashem already created the perfect world for us. It’s up to us to look after it for our descendants. Talk of satan is BS.That entity is in all of us.

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