We are deeply moved by the tragedy that has befallen your people. We watch with admiration as you courageously resist your tears knowing that the loss of your loved ones is inwardly wrenching your hearts.
Your bravery in this hour of crisis is evident to all.
For generations people have found some consolation in the story of Job. Perhaps you might also find here some comfort and strength.
One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house,
a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby,
and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house,
when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised.”
In the midst of your tears and sorrow for your loved ones, and as you mourn for all that is lost, may you also know that all is not lost. May you know the comfort of Job.
May you know the strength to pray even as my own people have prayed for generations. At our gravesites, in our homes during the days of “shiva” mourning, or amongst the ashes of Auschwitz, we stand, and through our tears, we find the courage to pray...
“yitgadal v’yitkadesh shemai raba…”
“Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world which he will renew, reviving the dead…
rebuilding the city and his shrine therein;
uprooting idolatry from the earth and restoring divine worship to its site…”
Our dearly beloved people of Japan. May you find the courage to stand in hope in the hour of your distress.
Even as it is written,
“These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
And He who sits on the throne will dwell amongst them.
They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat;
for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Rev.7:14-17
Since the beginning of the tragic events in Japan, I have been receiving a number of letters from people saying that God allowed this tragedy because of a negative statement made by the Japanese government last year about Israeli settlers in Judea and Samaria. And it really bothers me. It reminds me of some rabbis in Israel when they claim that there was another terror attack because not enough people kept the Sabbath, or that Israeli soldiers are killed in battle because they didn’t eat kosher food.
These conclusions are based on a false assumption that suffering is always the result of sin. It is the same misunderstanding and false teaching that Job’s friends had when they accused Job. They came to the conclusion that the tragedy that had fallen on him was the result of his sin. These friends had no other way of understanding his punishment (Job 2:7). But they were wrong (Job 42:7).
The Book of Job does not give us the answer of why humans suffer. It only leaves us with the mystery of why bad things happen to good people. Our conclusion must be that there is no answer to the problem of suffering in the world. Life is far more complicated than we can ever imagine and there are many things that we cannot understand. It is even as the sages taught, “It is not in our power to understand either the suffering of the righteous or the prosperity of the wicked” (Pirkei Avot 4:15).
So why do some people think that they can accuse God for bringing this tragedy on Japan because of some anti-Israel statements? Do they think that they can frighten the Japanese into becoming believers by pointing the finger? Did Job come closer to God because ofhis friends’ accusations? In fact, it is these kinds of accusations that only make God into a narrow-minded and grudgeful vindicator.
What we can learn from Job is how to endure our tragedies. It is the lesson that all those who suffer must learn; how to walk through the tragedies of life without losing our sense of mystery and awe. Job argues with God at every point and questions him with fervor. But in the end he can only confess, “Therefore I spoke but did not understand, wonders beyond me that I did not know… Therefore do I repent…” (42:3-6 ).
Troubles have a way of teaching us more than we know. Suffering broadens our capacity for tenderness and teaches us to resist the temptation towards bitterness and desolation. It is in suffering that we learn that we can find the good, even amongst the devastation. We learn to endure through hardships, not because we understand, but because we are willing to take another step towards compassion.
May all those who think that they have the answers learn to be quiet when tragedy strikes. May they not attempt to place blame on the victims, but rather learn to offer real comfort to the people who are suffering. Real comfort comes from acts and words of kindness and concern, not from false accusations.
I am indebted to Reuven Hammer, former president of the International Rabbinical Assembly for some of the material found in this blog adapted from his article "Job and his Comforters," Jerusalem Post, March 25, 2011