Volume 10 Number 82
                       Produced: Fri Dec 24  6:42:51 1993

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Bontshe and Suffering
         [Yosef Bechhofer]
Contemporary Judaism and Sociology
         [Mike Gerver]
Suffering (2)
         [Bennett J Ruda, Shaul Wallach]


From: <YOSEF_BECHHOFER@...> (Yosef Bechhofer)
Date: Thu, 23 Dec 93 23:24:15 -0600
Subject: Bontshe and Suffering

 Frieda Birnbaum asked recently whether my objections to  Bontshe 
are based on the censored or uncensored version. I was  referring  to 
the uncensored version (I believe)  in  which  the  Heavenly  Tribunal
is shamed by Bontshe's  smallness,  and  the  Prosecutor  gleeful. 
Susan Slusky asks me to explain my perspective  on  Judaism  and 
suffering.  Which I will try to do...
 Of course  we  believe  that  one  should  try  to  avoid 
suffering, alleviate others' suffering, and not  bring  suffering 
upon  oneself, but, as the Gemara in Kesuvos 6b (or is it 7b, the
Aveilus discussion) notes, G-d often does ordain  suffering  on  an 
individual,  and  the individual's challenge is to grow from that
experience,  difficult  as that may be (Victor Frankl deals, from a
secular standpoint, with this concept extensively in his logotherapy).
This, I stress, is  not  self imposed suffering, which, with rare 
exception,  is  not  condoned  by Judaism. Rabbi Dessler (vol. 4 p.
98) has a  beautiful  discussion  of when suffering is "hard-wired"
into a  person's  life,  and  it  would require a change of the
"Heavenly plan" (remember Tevye?)  to  change, such as in Ta'anis 25a
where R. Elazar b. Pdas is told  that  to  give him riches would
require starting the world from scratch  over  again, and when in fact
one can change one's degree of suffering. The point I found most
objectionable in Bontshe is  that  the  Heavenly  tribunal, i.e.,
Hashgacha, stands accused at the end of the story.


From: <GERVER@...> (Mike Gerver)
Date: Wed, 22 Dec 1993 2:14:14 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Contemporary Judaism and Sociology

Yosef Bechhofer, in his posting in v10n57, says that the level of observance
in the Jewish community is "unfortunately, sociologically determined," and
that "peer and social pressure and trends of the society one is affiliated
with...too often are the standard we live by." All of this is true, but
Yosef's remarks emphasize the negative side of this phenomenon, and I would
like to point out there is a positive side too. Social pressure is the
most powerful factor affecting human behavior, in any society. I am
convinced that, on a day to day basis, it is primarily social pressure,
not yirat shammayim [fear of heaven] or ideological principles, which
makes observant Jews continue to be observant.

To illustrate this, consider a mitzvah that almost everyone is tempted to
violate: not talking in shul at an improper time (e.g. during the
repetition of the shmoneh esreh) or on an improper subject (not necessarily
leshon hara [gossip], but any purely secular topic). In certain shuls,
almost everyone violates these mitzvot while in other shuls almost no one
does. Can it be that everyone in the second group of shuls has more yirat
shammayim, or more knowledge of halacha, or more will power, than in the
first group? Surely the explanation is peer pressure. Even in the shuls
where almost everyone talks, there are a few people who do not. Almost
certainly, these few people also belong, or used to belong, to shuls
where the norm was not talking, and are able to withstand the pressure to
talk by identifying with the other non-talking shul, even when they are
not physically there. And in shuls where almost no one talks, if there
are a few people who do talk, they always sit together in the back. They
are never found scattered in groups of two or three throughout the shul,
since they could not withstand the social pressure against talking if
they were surrounded by people who disapproved of it.

Or consider people who become ba'alei tshuvah. They may have felt,
intellectually, that they should be observant for a long time before they
actually became observant. The key thing is finding a social group of
other observant Jews to be a part of. To be sure, doing that may require
breaking the social conventions of the group they were previously part of,
and they may do that partly for intellectual reasons. But few people, if
any, could continue to be observant for very long, flouting the social
pressure of a non-observant community and never becoming part of an
observant community. Even heroic people like Sharansky, or Ida Nudel,
were able to resist the social pressure of Soviet society by becoming
part of a subsociety of Jewish activists, and considering themselves
part of that subsociety even when they were physically separated from it.

Strangely, the Mussar movement of Rabbi Israel Salanter seems to have viewed
social convention as bad in itself, from the little I have read about it.
Perhaps someone more knowledgable could explain this. It seems a strange
attitude, since it is hard to imagine any society functioning without
strong social pressures to keep its members in line.

Mike Gerver, <gerver@...>


From: <bruda@...> (Bennett J Ruda)
Date: Thu, 16 Dec 93 22:56:50 -0500
Subject: Suffering

Susan Slusky wrote:

>I infer from this that Yosef is saying that Judaism does say that
>suffering is for our benefit. This does not ring true to me at all.  If
>suffering were to our benefit, then we would not be commanded to
>alleviate the suffering of others. After all, shouldn't we allow the
>suffering to reap the full benefit of their suffering? However we are
>commanded to feed the hungry, clothe and shelter those in need, comfort
>the bereaved, etc. So from this I infer that suffering is not a benefit.
>In fact, the idea that suffering is a benefit, and therefore is
>something to be sought out, is something I associate more with
>Christianity (l'havdil) than with Judaism.

>Yosef, am I misinterpreting your words?

On the question of the foreigness of the concept of suffering,
the Rav zz"l wrote in Halakhic Man that this concept, to the extent that
it was embraced in the Mussar Movement, led to the opposition to musar
being brought into the yeshivot in Europe.

"This [musar] movement, at the beginning of its growth, symbolized
the world perspective of the univversal homo religiosus, a perspective
directed toward the transcendent, toward that existence lying beyond the
realm of concrete reality. The emotion of fear, the sense of the lowliness,
the melancholy so typical of homo religiousus, self negation, constant
self-appraisal, the consciouness of sin, self-lacerating torments, etc., etc.,
constituted the primary features of the movement's spititual profile in
its early years."

"...The halakhic men of Brisk and Volozhin sensed that this whole mood
posed a profound contradiction to the Halakhah and would undermine its
very foundations. Halakhic man fears nothing. For he swims in the sea of
the Talmud, that life-giving sea to all the living. If a person has sinned,
then the Halakhah of repentance will come to his aid One must not waste
time on spiritual self-appraisal, on probing introspections, and on the
picking away at the "sense" of sin." (pages 74-75)

The topic reminds me of the time I asked my class to define what a tzaddik
is. They responded that it is someone who is dirt poor and thinks he is
nothing. We had a long discussion that besides the concept of Hakarat HaTov
there is also the idea of Hakarat HaEmet, that one must recognize the truth
of ones own value and importance. While the Chafetz Chaim may have brushed
aside the many accolades of others, clearly he thought himself a worthy
person, or he would not have written such a monumental sefer halakhah as
the Mishnah Berurah.

By the same token, my understanding of the Jewish approach to suffering
is that suffering is not so much something that is actively sought out,
as it is something that is welcomed when it occurs. Suffering is not
something to be wallowed in as much as a nisayon that presents the
opportunity to raise oneself a notch or two and overcome one's situation.
Inherent in this is the idea that the nisayon is within the person's
ability to overcome. I believe this is reflected in the midrash on
the Akeidah that just as someone who works with pottery will test the
pottery that he believes are strong, so too HaShem tests those who are
capable of withstanding the test.

As to why we help those who are suffering as opposed to allowing them to
reap the full benefit, I think this can be answered with the musar concept
of "devar v'hippucho". I regret that I do not have my source for this in
front of me: Rabbi Hillel Goldberg's second book on musar (I think the
title was Illuminating the Generations (?) (the first one being The Fire
Within) which I lent to friend and do not have in front of me. The idea of
devar v'hippucho as best as I recall is that we have 2 valid concepts in
effect which are in conflict with each other. In this case, although it
is true that suffering is an opportunity for me to transcend and grow,
nevertheless I dare not at the same time stand back when I see someone
else suffering and say to myself that it is for their own good. I cannot
apply the same searing criteria to others as I do for myself.

(speaking of suffering... my wife just walked in and told me that she drove
 into another car...no joke. It should be a kapporah.)

Bennett J. Ruda        || The World exists only because of
SAR Academy            || the innocent breath of schoolchildren
Riverdale, NY          || From the Talmud 
<bruda@...>  || Tractate Shabbat

From: Shaul Wallach <f66204@...>
Date: Fri, 17 Dec 93 08:45:51 -0500
Subject: Suffering

     Susan Slusky questions the benefit of suffering (yissurim) in
Jewish thought in the face of our obligation to alleviate the suffering
of others. In reply, I think examination of the sources in the Torah
and in the Talmud will show that suffering does indeed have a beneficial
purpose in Jewish thought. Thus, suffering as a means of testing the
individual is mentioned in the Torah (Deut. 8:2):

"And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God caused you
to go, these forty years in the wilderness, in order to afflict you,
to try you, to know what is in your heart, whether you will keep His
commandments or not."

And likewise in Deut. 8:16:

"Who fed you manna in the wilderness, which your fathers did not know,
in order to afflict you and in order to test you, to do you good in
your end".

    When suffering comes upon a Jew, he is to examine his behavior.
If he finds no sin, he is to blame his neglect of studying the Torah,
and if this is not missing then he is to regard the suffering as a
sign of love. Thus reads the Talmud (Berakhot 5a):

    "Said Rava, and some say Rav Hisda, if a man sees that suffering
comes upon him, let him search his deeds, as it is said (Lamentations
3): 'Let us search our ways and investigate, and let us return unto
the Lord'. If he searched and did not find, he should attribute it to
neglect of the Torah, as is said (Psalms 94) 'Happy is the man whom
you afflict, O Lord, and from Your Torah do you teach him.' And if
he attributed and did not find, it is known that they are sufferings
of love, as is said (Proverbs 3) 'For whom the Lord loves he rebukes."

     And on the same page of the Talmud we have the saying of Rabbi
Shim`on Ben Yohai: "The Holy One, Blessed be He, gave Israel three
good gifts, and did not give them them all except by means of suffering
(yissurin), and they are: Torah, and the Land of Israel, and the World
to Come..."

     Now to Susan's difficulty with suffering and our obligation to
alleviate it in others. This is no real difficulty. The above sources
show us how each individual should accept yissurim when they befall
himself; however, when he sees them befall someone else, he is not
to stand by idly but is to help him out by performing the mizwa of
Gemilut Hasadim (acts of kindness). These are two separate accounts
which do not conflict with each other.

     This dichotomy recalls the following passage in the Talmud
(Bava Bathra 10a):

     ... And Tornosropos the wicked asked Rabbi Aqiva this question:
     If your God loves the poor, why does He not sustain them? He said
     to him: So that we can save ourselves through them from the
     judgment of Gehinnom. He said to him: On the contrary - this is
     what obligates them to Gehinnom. I will give you a parable - to
     what is it similar? To a human king who was angry with his servant
     and jailed him in prison, and ordered that he not be fed and not
     be given to drink, and one man went and fed him and gave him to
     drink. And when the king heard, doesn't he become angry with him?
     And you are called servants, as it is said (Lev. 25): "For the
     Children of Israel are mine, as servants." Said to him Rabbi
     Aqiva: I will give you a parable - to what is it similar? To a
     human king who was angry with his son and jailed him in prison,
     and ordered that he not be fed and not be given to drink, and one
     man went and fed him and gave him to drink. When the king heard,
     doesn't he send him a present? And we are called children, as it
     is said (Deut. 14): "You are children to the Lord your God." He
     said to him: You are called children and you are called servants.
     When you are doing the will of the Ominipresent you are called
     children, and when you are not doing the will of the Omnipresent
     you are called servants, and now you are not doing the will of the
     Omnipresent. He said to him: Here he says (Isa. 58), "Shall you
     not slice your bread for the hungry, and bring home the
     complaining poor?" When shall you bring home the complaining poor?
     Now! And He said, "Shall you not slice your bread for the hungry?"

     As Rashi comments (ibid. 9a), the Roman government is always
complaining, so the words of the prophet apply now. Thus we are to
feed the hungry now even though Tornosropos was right in comparing
us to servants with whom the king is angry and has ordered that
they not be fed. See also the comments of the Maharsh"a on this
passage, especially in his Mahadura Bathra.


Shaul Wallach


End of Volume 10 Issue 82