Sunday, May 9, 2010

An Interesting Read Part II

More profound thoughts from Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo, as an addendum to the essay of his that I posted previously:
What do we mean by professing that G-d is good and man was created in His image? When G-d allows and even causes unbearable pain to befall man, afflicting him with sickness, cruel death, earthquakes and the most horrible wars, there seems little room for these claims. If G-d, by our moral standards, cannot be justified for many of His actions, as we have suggested previously, how are we to revere Him?

Is pain, then, completely pointless in man's eyes, his suffering of no value, his perseverance to survive against all odds nothing but an emotional need to see purpose in his life while there really is none? Is G-d the only one who knows the story, refusing to give man any insight? And is this the G-d who is to be emulated by man?

Moreover, what do we make of the biblical claim that man was created in His image? If G-d is the cause of so much evil and pain, does this not pave the road for man to be cruel and evil, as he was created in that very image?


Jewish tradition has never denied that G-d is the creator of evil. The Bible itself attests to this: "I make peace and create evil" (Isaiah 45:7). The sages never lived in a psychological vacuum denying the realities of life. There was no attempt to cover up all the terrible things that could befall man. They tried only to understand where evil belonged in the scheme of the divine creation.

When Jewish tradition claims that G-d is good, even in the face of all evil, it speaks the Truth. But it can only make that claim from within the system of divine purpose. "G-d is good" does not mean in the moral sense of the word but in the sense that there is ultimate meaning to man's existence, known only to G-d.

With evil abounding all over the world, it is clear that the "moral good of G-d," as generally understood by man, is not the whole story. There must be a reason for all this evil, but it can only be justified in terms of divine meaning, not in moral terms. The unfathomable meaning of all existence becomes clear the moment that evil becomes apparent. It is in the deviation and violation of G-d's own moral standards as expressed in the Torah and felt in the heart of man that it becomes clear that the purpose of the creation of the world requires G-d's "teleological suspension of the ethical." The world was not created for the sake of ethics; it was created for the sake of divine meaning.


To argue that evil needs to exist so that man can grow spiritually has no bearing here. We remain with the unanswerable question of why man needs to exist so as to be able to grow. True, the sages stated that man needs to examine his deeds when evil befalls him (Berachos 5a) and that the Holy One blessed be He brings suffering upon the righteous so that they may inherit the World to Come (Kiddushin 40b). But this does not shed any light on why evil needs to exist, since it does not answer the question of why man must exist to examine his deeds or why he must suffer to merit a share in the world to come. All these arguments are a posteriori.

This is not to imply that there is no meaning to man's suffering, or that pain has no function and moral dilemmas no purpose. Throughout history we have seen how much these have contributed to the spiritual and moral greatness of man. It is through these challenges that people of moral stature have emerged and inspired millions. It has certainly been meaningful in human terms. But this is so only because there is an a priori reason for man to exist that surpasses any reason for him to be moral. The latter can never be seen as man's ultimate significance. It is of secondary importance in the overall divine meaning of existence. It is a by-product, albeit a deliberate one that G-d intended.

In fact, it is in the absence of knowing why G-d created the world that man is able to find meaning. To be part of G-d's world and play a crucial role in it without knowing exactly just what role one plays, or why there is even a need for it all is by far the most profound awareness man can ever experience.


What gives life its grandeur is living with the knowledge that one plays a role in some plan that is much greater than one can ever fathom. It is recognizing that the value of human existence is in living with fundamental questions which, like diamonds held up to the light, show the spectrum of colors without ever being able to unite all these colors in a well formulated position. The moment these questions would be answered, the light would dim and the colors refracted in it would lose their splendor.

Every answer is a killer since it destroys the art of searching, the very element that makes life exciting. A world that makes total sense is a world not livable. It is endless human curiosity, which can never be satisfied, that is the drive behind all meaningful life. It is not the knowledge of something that gives us joy. It is the relationship between what is known and what remains an ultimate question — that is what gives man the satisfaction of "being". Lacking this mystique, man can achieve nothing noble. It is G-d's gift to mankind, and for that He is to be revered.

It is this unknowable mystique that mitigates man's pain even when tortured. What raises our indignation against suffering is not the torment itself but its senselessness. What makes the anguish of a suffering child intolerable is the inability to raise it to the level of meaning. As such, it is the most disturbing form of "teleological suspension of the ethical." It is this particular case of a child's suffering, demonstrating the complete absence of divine justice, that proves morality is not at the core of all creation.

For man to truly live life he must live for the sake of G-d. Our love for G-d is tested by the question of whether we seek Him or His gifts. A G-d of only mercy is a G-d unjust. To live for His sake means to feel and sustain the ultimate "wherefore" that cannot be answered. This is what the Kotzker Rebbe meant when he said: G-d, I do not need to know why I suffer, but I want to know whether I suffer for Your sake. "For Your sake we are killed all the time" (Psalms 44:23).

It is possible for G-d to exercise mercy and benevolence only as long as His ultimate meaning for this world's existence is not violated. It is seemingly despite this divine purpose that mercy exists, not because of it. In this sense, mercy is a novelty because its existence may run contrary to G-d's purpose in creating the world. This may be a disturbing observation — it violates our understanding of who we believe G-d is and who we want Him to be — but it cannot be circumvented. It reminds us that G-d is not there for the use or benefit of man, nor does He fall within the parameters of man's understanding. No reason can be given for the nature of G-d because that nature is the foundation of rationality but not rationality itself.

It is in the image of this divine mercy that man was created in G-d's likeness. It is despite G-d's ultimate reason for the creation that man needs to live in His image. Man is asked to undo the amoral effects of G-d's ultimate purpose for His creation, since the need for morality is an integral part of G-d's being but is not His totality. G-d's demand that man live in His image is in partial contradiction to the fundamental purpose of His creating the world. It is only in its a posteriori intention that this demand can be made. Since man has no part in the reasons for this creation, he cannot play a role in its entire fulfillment; he can only do his part, which is to try to be ultimately good, as G-d's likeness. G-d's likeness is only His image, not His divine totality.
A lot more food for thought. Again, this article is courtesy of the Jewish World Review website.

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