Friday, July 11, 2014

Could it Be Any Other Way?

The goal of this blog is to bring peaceful conversation to your Friday night dinner. Please print and share.
In honor of our great friend in Jerusalem, whose birthday was this week - Happy Birthday, Pinchas.


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A young woman phoned me the other day - someone I've never met - with a burning Jewish question, that is so good I offer to you as this week's Table Talk question:

Did God have to create a world with pain and suffering?


It seems to me the answer must be yes....

....or no


Let's start with the no.

The question assumes that we're talking about creating a world with a specific purpose. Let's say that purpuse is for us to achieve a certain thing. So the question is, did God have to create this purposeful world with pain and suffering - was it impossible to create a world with the same potential but without the pain and suffering?

If the answer is "no" - that God could have created creatures with the same potential yet without the pain and suffering, then it seems to point to God the sadist. Why would God make us suffer unnecessarily?

OK, so perhaps God is a sadist.

But if that's so, then God isn't a very successful god. After all, millions of people are happy. Millions of people - despite their pains and sufferings - are enjoying many blessings. If God were a sadist, he's not batting 1000.

So we have to reject the "no" answer and turn to the "yes" answer - that God had to create this purposeful world with pain and suffering, or at least with the potential for pain and suffering (perhaps triggered by our own actions).

That is, we need pain and suffering in order to achieve our purpose.

What is that purpose?

Simply put: knowledge of God.

In other words: the pain and suffering are custom-designed for each person to achieve divine knowledge.

The reason people are confused by this is because our materialistic culture teaches us that our purpose is material (money, leisure).

Judaism is a spiritual culture, teaching us that our purpose is spiritual.

In a materialistic culture, pain and suffering are inherently bad, because they are the opposite of comfort.

In a spiritual culture, comfort is not the goal. The goal is enlightenment, and usually this only comes through discomfort.

The girl's question was, Couldn't God have made a world with the same enlightenment but without the discomfort (pain)?

The answer is no, because learning to deal with discomfort is part of the enlightenment. Without discomfort, we would be missing certain facets of the jewel of enlightenment:

Without someone testing my patience, how will I learn patience?
Without someone testing my calmness, how will I learn calmness?
Without having my honesty tested, how will I learn honesty?
Without feelings of laziness, how will I learn zeal?


And so on.

And here's the real zinger for your table:

What's the greatest discomfort (pain) in the world?

I'm interested in your answers. Here's mine:

The greatest pain in the world is the bruised ego.

That's why the Torah starts with the legend of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Their great mistake wasn't eating the fruit - it was their refusal or inability to admit they'd done something wrong.

Thus the singlemost important thing you and I can do right now in order to become enlightened is to look in the mirror and practice over and over saying the two hardest phrases in the English language:

- "You are right - I'm wrong"
- "I'm sorry."


Only by embracing the pain of saying those two phrases can a person become truly great.

Good luck....

....and Shabbat Shalom



PS - There is another, less painful, route to enlightenment, and you can find it here.


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