Last week the United States witnessed two extreme acts of religious arrogance. The first was the catastrophic terror attack against New York, presumably carried out by religious extremists for whom the United States is the Great Satan. But the second was in some ways even more heinous, as it came from within. Two of this country's most respected religious leaders asserted that the attacks came about because `G-d had removed his protection from the United States' due to the sinfulness of its citizens. These ministers cited gay and abortion rights, as well as the denial of prayer in public schools and the American Civil Liberties Union, as being indirectly responsible for the terrorist atrocities by making America deserving of divine retribution like Sodom and Gomorrah.

Firstly, the utter conceit of any person, be they cleric or laity, to know the mind of G-d is staggering, especially when G-d Himself tells us that "the hidden things belong to G-d, but the revealed things are for us humans and our children to understand, now and forever." Furthermore, what magnitude of arrogance do these clerics have to condemn six thousand victims, none of whom they knew, and affirm that they deserved to be punished? Had they ever met them? Did they know their hearts? But the over-roasted religious chestnut of man deserving the horrible things that befall him due to his sinfulness, deserves greater examination.

Whereas Islam means 'submission to G-d', and Christianity advocates faith above all else, the word `Israel' translates as he who wrestles with G-d. As human beings, it is not our role to concern ourselves with G-d's affairs and offer rationalizations for other people's suffering by saying that it carries an internal, albeit latent good. The moral imperative beholden upon us when witnessing the suffering of another individual is simply to cause it to cease, not to attempt to understand it. The reason that Judaism has traditionally had such weak theodicies is that we have always viewed it as immoral to try and rationalize suffering. Every rationalization is an attempt to make peace, to accept, to come to terms with. And there should be no coming to terms with human suffering. Man was created to challenge G-d, not to submit his head in blind obedience when innocent victims suffer.

The real question which should be posed to G-d upon witnessing a child with leukemia, or a staggering human tragedy like the destruction of the World Trade Center, is not, 'Please G-d, explain to us why this happens and how it fits into Your overall plan for creation?', but rather, 'Master of the Universe, how could You allow this to happen?! Was is not you who taught us in Your Bible that life is sacred and must be preserved at all costs? So where is that life now?! Was is not you who also promised that the good deserve goodness, and not pain? Where is your promise now? By everything which is sacred to You, I demand that this cease, and that these people recover, now!'

Far from being an act of heresy, challenging G-d affirms G-d's plan for the preservation of life. It does not constitute a denial of G-d's providence. By wrestling with G-d we are not denying G-d's higher plan. Less so are we asserting that no positive ends can result from suffering. Rather, we are simply saying it is not our job to justify life's horrors. Life is our business, not death. The last thing that religion needs today are Dr Kevorkians in our midst who think that death and destruction can serve G-dly purposes. Challenging G-d in the face of suffering is a powerful statement that goes something like this: 'We trust in You Oh Lord and believe that somehow these terrible things may be to our benefit and that You are a good and Just Creator. But You are also all-powerful and would it not therefore be possible for You to bring about this desired end through a joyous means?'

Judaism sees death, illness, and suffering as aberrations in creation which were brought about through the sin of Adam in Eden. Man's mission was never to make peace with suffering and death, but to abolish them from the face of the earth for all eternity by joining G-d as junior partners in Creation. By using physical tools such as studying medicine, giving charity, and being there in times of need, and by using spiritual means such as prayer and protest, we help usher in an era where only goodness will prevail over the earth.

Rabbis and priests should be harbingers of redemption rather than prophets of doom. As long as we can explain how people can be gassed, or people die of incurable illness, the pain associated with these losses will be mitigated. And that is not meant to happen. OUR RESPONSIBILITY IS TO DEMAND THAT THEY CEASE.

For those who argue that challenging G-d is sacrilege, let them learn from the great Biblical giants. What was their response upon witnessing human suffering? When G-d came to Abraham and informed him that he was about to crush Sodom and Gomorrah, cities which Abraham himself knew were deserving of punishment, did Abraham bow his head and accept divine Judgment? No! He pounded with his fist and demanded, 'You are the Judge of the whole earth. Shall You not practice justice?' (Genesis 18:25).

In the same vein, when informed by the A-mighty that He intended to devour the Jewish nation for their sin of the golden calf, Moses responds, 'If you do not forgive their sin... blot me out, I pray you, from the Torah which you have written.' (Ibid 32:32). Where in the history of apocalyptic literature does a human admonish the Master of the Universe to remove his name from a divine work, so that he will not be associated with the terrible deed of failing to save the victim?

My argument is not simply that this response is proper because it was practiced by Moses. Rather, it was the A-mighty Himself who demanded that Moses spar with him and defend human life. As G-d says, 'And now [Moses] leave me so that I can devour [the Jewish people] immediately.' (Exodus 32:10) Moses had not yet even begun to speak, yet the A-mighty commands him not to interfere! It seems G-d was summoning Moses to open his mouth and defend the people, not to accept the terrible fate that He had decreed for them.

Once, when I hosted Elie Wiesel at Oxford, a teary-eyed student asked him, "Mr. Wiesel, why did G-d allow the holocaust?" Wiesel just looked at the student sympathetically and said, "I cannot, I dare not answer your question. Because if I do, I fear that you will sleep easier tonight." And truth be told, I would rather stay awake being angry that G-d has allowed this devastation to happen, than to sleep easier believing that those who suffered deserved what they got.

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