I.) The sudden and all-enveloping nature of the current pandemic is surely unsettling. It has many shaken by the instability of life itself. I am one of them.
But for me it's an old story. I have been pondering this painful question for years: is life all random, accident, and freefall or is there some guiding purpose or pattern controlling what happens to us?
I would certainly like to believe the latter.
The reason I began probing such thoughts at such a tender adolescent age, was that my younger brother Elliot, age eight, died suddenly in one day. He was a sweet and innocent young man and since that time I have been trying to puzzle out why such things happen. I am still searching.
Possibly as a result of that trauma, I found myself later in a yearlong course on the "Book of Job," in the class of an eminent Biblical scholar, Dr. Robert Gordis.
We probed every word and every idea. And it gave me a way forward.
II.) Job’s story is familiar. He is prosperous, pious, and patriarchal. But Satan persuades God to test him by taking away family and fortune and leaving him scraping his skin to relieve a painful oriental disease. He goes from affluence to pain in one fell swoop.
At first, Job does not waiver. He remains steadfast. "Shall we accept the good from God and not accept the evil?"
When reality sets in however, Job curses the day he was born. Friends come but their consolation is hurtful, "Job, you have sinned and are being punished, there is no pain without reason. Renounce your errors, repent and be restored." Job responds, "Tell me how I have sinned — you are sorry comforters — the world has been turned over to the wicked."
Job is rebellious, but he does take the occasion to reset. He acknowledges, "The life and love that God has given me." And further, "You have guarded and protected my spirit."
III.) Upon reflection, Job regains perspective. He recalls the majesty and the harmony in the world that he has seen. He goes on to say, "I know my Redeemer lives, even if He arises last on earth – from my flesh I will see God — though he slay me, I shall yet hope in him."
Therein lies Job’s greatness and the exemplary instruction to all who have suffered but hold on to face a new day.
And then suddenly, God appears to Job out of the whirlwind. Job feels confirmed.
He is prodded to move to a higher ground, to see the world in its orderliness, fullness, and harmony. Job is directed to a wide variety of human, animal, and plant life, both mysterious and awesome. He comes to know what Louis Armstrong ("Satchmo") would later sing, "What a Wonderful World," (1968) that is to say that he comes to realize that gratitude is better than grumbling, planning the future is better than mourning the past.
He is alone, but not abandoned, neither by God nor by his community. With these in mind, he can continue into the future. He realizes that there is more mystery and grandeur in the world than he could ever imagine. So, he moves to a higher ground to see the world in its full blossoming.
This is what Job did and what we must do as well in this hour of crisis.
Be well and stay well.
Rabbi Myron M. Fenster is the rabbi emeritus of the Shelter Rock Jewish Center in Roslyn, N.Y. A graduate of Yeshiva of Flatbush, Yeshiva College, and the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Fenster also studied in the graduate school at Columbia University for a degree in philosophy. He was the first American rabbi sponsored by the Rabbinical Assembly to an Israeli congregation. He has written for several publications, including Newsday, the Jerusalem Post and Hadassah Magazine. Read Rabbi Myron Fenster's Reports — More Here.
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