The Book of Job
Rabbi Israel Chait
Student’s edited notes from taped lectures
In his “Guide” discussing the book of Job, Maimonides describes the different levels of men who can withstand certain pains, but cannot stand others. He concludes that nobody can withstand the pain that is within his own person: “the person will murmur against God either with his heart or with his tongue.” There are two possibilities for man’s troubles: 1) God is ignorant of the person in pain; or 2) God is aware, but does nothing about it. It is this second view, which causes many to rebel against God. However, it is striking how the person in pain never murmured against God, while other people were in pain. This unveils the small-mindedness of this person. The complaint is due to an emotionally subjective view of reality, and not based on one seeking justice.
We ask, “Why has this person in pain never recognized injustice in the world, until it happened to him?” However, this is not the theme of the Job. The book of Job focuses on what happens ‘after’ the pain strikes: how does man deal with it? Job was not someone who ran away from God. Even while he possessed all his wealth, he served God perfectly. After every feast, he offered God sacrifices. He never allowed his success to run away with him, or delude him with feelings of security. He placed his security in God. Most successful people act otherwise.
We must question if, as the verses imply, it was just for God to take away all that Job had, in order to discern if Job would remain faithful to God. Did Job deserve these tragedies?
We cannot suggest that these things that God took were for Job’s good. For the only reason the physical is taken away from someone, is because he is not using it as a means towards perfection. But if someone is leading the proper path, then, the more physical he possesses, the more perfected he can become. In fact, we read that Job made good use of what he had (sacrifices). On this point, the Rabbis teach, “For every fruit that a persons passes without benefiting, he will be judged.”
We also cannot suggest that God punished Job so mankind will behave for the correct reasons. An illustration of this impropriety is a teacher who occasionally hits a good child, in order that the other children will behave for the right reasons. The other children should behave because it is the right thing to do, and not to avoid pain. This would not be justice: the good student is not receiving what he deserved. Thus, Job too could not be punished to scare humanity towards a better path, for this would be an injustice to Job. God does not operate except with perfect justice.
Additionally, to maintain that the book of Job is to teach of a man who possessed certain evil traits, and that punishments came to remove those evils, is an untenable position. This theory is already known, and a separate book of Job would be redundant. Conversely, the verses tell us that Job was perfected, “Ish Tam v’yashar v’yerai elokim”, “A perfect man, and upright, and God fearing.” Thus, Job had no sins, for which he required punishments.
We must discount Job’s situation as a test of any sort, for God to “learn” how Job might function in certain situations, for this imputes ignorance of God, the omniscient. Therefore, since Job’s evils could not afford God any new knowledge, God must have delivered these tragedies to Job, for Job. This implies that Job must have possessed some imperfection if this trial is to help him. For one is only helped in as far as he needs help. But this would mean that Job has not truly reached perfection, contradicting the verses! So what does the verse mean by “tam v’yashar”, “perfect and upright”? A possibility was offered: trials are those uncomfortable situations, in which God perfects man through the situation itself. However, this reasoning is wrong. Judaism maintains that man perfects himself in only one way: attainment of knowledge. The only time man is in pain so as to help himself, is when he must uproot a poor character trait, as Maimonides teaches, we must go to the other extreme, and this carries some temporal, emotional stress. But after this trait is neutralized, any further pain will only serve to keep man away from the best state of mind for perfection. Pain cannot contribute to man’s perfection. Additionally, Job was “perfect.” There were no character traits, for which he required perfection.
If Job required no correction, perhaps his pain is a good, in that it conditioned him to handle pain for the rest of his life. Perhaps this is why God troubled Job. In order to answer this suggestion, we must know how the pain is perfecting him. Pain straddles two parts of man: 1) physiological - the scream after being inflicted with a wound, and 2) psychological - the fact that he feels he cannot go on with life due to the physiological aspects of the pain. In regards to physiological aspects, the scream is unavoidable. This is the inevitable, emotional reaction to a sense perception. The human condition demands this must occur. So if one maintains that the endurance of pain is perfecting, it must be limited to the psychological sphere. Wherein lies this perfection? If we suggest that perfection is in the ‘acceptance’ of this state, why is that any different than the acceptance of any other reality? The truth is that it is not any different. Therefore, when we talk about accepting pain, we are really talking about ‘accepting reality’.
What is it that allows a person to accept reality? It is knowledge of the causes that were responsible in bringing about that reality. What follows is that if knowledge is the factor that allows one to accept reality, endurance of the reality should not play any role. It does not seem to help at all. It is the knowledge of this specific reality that makes it easier for man to accept it. Therefore, we cannot be of the opinion that Job was given pain to prepare him for future pains. If God wished to teach Job how to better accept pain, he would have given him knowledge, and not pain. However, one may yet maintain that pain may help a person obtain knowledge of the causes of reality. But of course, this theory is baseless, as physical pain is unrelated to the attainment of knowledge.
The last possibility is that the endurance of a great pain prepares one for a smaller one. Why would one think this way? The reason is that as long as a person can remember his tragedies, anything less seems like pleasure. If, for example, someone would experience a great pain on January 1st and then a lesser pain on January 2nd, he would think the lesser pain was not (as) painful: his current grief over his previous day’s troubles obscures the lesser pain today. But if the lesser pain arrived at December 31st, the person would definitely view it as painful, since the past year was free of pain. By comparison, the pain received on December 31st, a full year later, registers as a real, acute pain. Therefore, this theory of “training” a person in greater pains so lesser pains are tolerable by comparison, does not achieve its objective, and is not a satisfactory explanation.