Jewish World Review Dec. 26, 2002/ 21 Teves, 5763

Rabbi Avi Shafran

Spiritual misguidance | Most Jews -- and at least as many non-Jews -- know that the Ten Commandments were introduced by G-d to Moses and the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai over three thousand years ago.

The New York Times, however, apparently believes that the Decalogue materialized more recently, presumably at some large interfaith gathering, where "the three great monotheist faiths," according to the paper's introduction to a series of articles, "latched onto" them.

The Times, for its part, decided to do some latching on of its own, employing the venerated laws as journalistic hooks for the personal stories of ten individuals or couples, as a creative way to relate their personal struggles to either "comply" with the Commandments, "reject them" or "simply cope with them."

The series' first offering, which appeared on December 15, was entitled "Unending Journey Through Faith and Heartbreak." It presented the wrenching portrait of a couple who lost their 9-year-old daughter suddenly and are still grieving 26 years later.

The first of the Ten Commandments is actually a statement, in which G-d sets the foundation for the laws to follow by establishing His relationship to His people as its liberator from servitude in Egypt. Thus, the article surmises, the First Commandment concerns accepting G-d's will.

That is something the bereaved father and mother have not done. It is telling, and tragic in its own right, that they received encouragement in their dismissal of that Jewish basic from their secular rabbi.

He told them that the Ten Commandments are essentially ten suggestions, mere human constructs that can be accepted or rejected, that there is no afterlife in which ultimate justice can be realized and that the existence of tragic occurrences beyond our understanding refutes the concept of divine justice.

"How can I," the rabbi rhetorically asks, "as a post-Holocaust Jew, accept that suffering of innocents is willed by G-d?"

The Holocaust, however, was not the first expression of evil, nor was it the last, though its scale may indeed have been unparalleled. What is more, many of the Holocaust's survivors emerged with their faith in G-d unscathed, and came to collectively form the bedrock of what are today thriving religious Jewish communities in the United States and Israel.

Theodicy, or the question of evil in the world -- whether evident in the acts of human beings or in natural disasters both communal and personal -- is not a new theological concern; it is raised in the Talmud. The theological bottom line is that if one insists on understanding G-d's ways, then one is insisting in effect on being G-d's equal. Accepting a G-d Who is perfect and all-knowing means being unable at times (most times, in fact) to fathom His actions. Which is why the Jewish response to tragedy is a simple and straightforward acknowledgment in the form of a blessing: "Blessed are You. our G-d. the true Judge."

There is, to be sure, ultimate justice; that, too, is an essential of Jewish belief. But too much is hidden from us for us to understand why things happen as they do. There are factors at work in history and even in our own personal lives to which we are entirely oblivious. Not to mention the other missing piece of the cosmic puzzle: the world-to-come. Unfortunately, the couple's rabbi dissuaded them from that basic Jewish belief as well.

"I almost wished I was Catholic," confessed the bereaved mother, "just for the comfort of believing in an afterlife."

What she should have wished for instead was a rabbi who subscribes to the theology of Judaism.

One cannot know if the suffering mother and father would have found greater comfort in the knowledge that G-d's actions are inscrutable to us mortals, or in the fact that there is another, very different, world beyond the one we know. I, for one, hope they yet will.

But comforting or not, those concepts are undeniable essentials of the Jewish faith, regardless of what the couple's rabbi, or any rabbi, might say.

Appreciate this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

Rabbi Avi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America. Comment by clicking here.

11/22/02: Most valuable players
11/06/02: Of ethics and ironies
10/25/02: Whose Abraham?
09/11/02: Twin teachings
09/06/02: A time to cry
08/13/02: Rescued from the depths
05/31/02: Them and us
05/16/02: Shavuos: Custom-made for American Jews?
03/27/02: What's with the fours?
02/26/02: Fighting Iron with Irony
01/29/02: Confessions of a Jewish fundamentalist
10/25/01: An unabashedly biased book review
08/09/01: Getting biblical
07/11/01: History abuse
07/11/01: Reminded by science
06/18/01: Mastering McVeigh
05/02/01: Bless Peter Singer's soul
03/01/01: Poisoned pens
02/13/01: Survivors
02/02/01: Gifted
11/04/00: The shofar shoes
08/10/00: A Tisha B'Av memory
06/08/00: Question and Answer
04/18/00: The man on the bimah
01/12/00: Friendly words from a surprising place
12/03/99: The original spin on Chanukah
11/09/99: Heart and soul
10/26/99: Recidivist parents
07/17/99: Wake Up Call?
06/14/99: A Remarkable Reform Manifesto
03/26/99: Message In A Bottle
03/09/99: The Times and The Timeless
01/20/99: Black Hats, Bad Guys
12/10/98: Bringing Wall Street Wisdom To the Quest for 'Jewish-Continuity'
7/06/98: Jaded
7/01/98: Full disclosure

© 2002, Am Echad Resources