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Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?


It's probably the oldest question in the history of human thought. It's surely the most disturbing, the most frequently asked and the least satisfactorily answered: Why, oh why, do bad things happen to good people?

Everyone asks the question: philosophers, theologians, butchers, bakers and candlestick-makers. No one really answers it. The Bible devotes the 41 chapters of the Book of Job to the subject, offering several interesting explanations only to refute them all, the conclusion being that finite man cannot fathom the ways of G‑d.

For most, the protest against evil is something that rises out of one's own encounters with the rough spots of life. To a true leader who feels the pain of his people as his own, it is a bottomless cry issuing from the seemingly bottomless well of human suffering.

It didn't take long for Moses to issue that cry. Shortly after G‑d appeared to him in a burning bush to appoint him liberator of Israel, Moses was back.

And Moses returned to G‑d and said: "My G‑d, why have You done evil to this people?! Why have You sent me?! For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done worse to this nation; and You have not saved Your people!'' (Exodus 5:22-23).

And what does G‑d say? Hold on just a little longer and you'll see that it all turns out right at the end. Encouraging words, especially when coming from G‑d Himself; but still no answer for the ultimate Question.

Was it a failing on the part of Moses that he protested G‑d's way of doing things? A cursory reading of the Talmudic and Midrashic expositions on Moses' dialogue with G‑d would suggest that it was. Moses is criticized for not measuring up to the unquestioning faith of the Patriarchs; by some accounts, he is even punished for his outburst.

But a fundamental rule of Torah scholarship is that "the Torah does not speak negatively even of an impure animal" unless there is a positive, constructive lesson to be derived. To what end does the Torah tell us about Moses' "failing"?

Some would say that this is to teach us that even great men such as Moses can experience doubt and despair. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, however, takes a different approach. Moses' protest to G‑d , says the Rebbe, was not a breach of faith, but an act of faith of the highest order.

Indeed, the question/protest/outcry, "Why have You done evil to Your people?!" can issue only from the mouth of a true believer. The non-believer, too, may be outraged by the cruelty and suffering our world abounds with, but just who is he outraged at? The blind workings of fate? The oblivious and apersonal god of physical law and evolutionary process? The random arrangement of quarks that make up the universe?

Even people who believe in G‑d are not necessarily driven to confront Him as Moses did. They may not believe that He is truly responsible for all that transpires in the world. They may not be convinced of His ultimate goodness. They may think that it's pointless to protest to Him, since He doesn't really care how they feel about it. Or maybe everything's just fine in their lives, and what's happening to the rest of the world just doesn't concern them.

The true believer, on the other hand, knows that everything that happens happens only because it is ordained from Above. He knows that G‑d is the essence of good and that only good flows from Him. And he also knows that man can talk to G‑d and expect a response to his entreaties. So he cannot but cry out: "My G‑d, why have You done evil to Your people?!"

This is what we must learn from Moses. We must speak to G‑d, confront Him, ask Him: Why is there evil and suffering in Your world? We do not know enough to comprehend the answer; we must, however, believe and care enough to ask the question.

By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.
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Richard Brazil December 27, 2017

Good and Evil Why do evil thing happen to good people? one aspect of this is that there are no people who are 100% good or 100% evil we all contain both good and evil intentions. We might try and portray ourselves as good but G-D knows all our innermost intentions so we may be able to fool some people some of the time but never the divine. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil that stood in the center of Eden is central to this problem. Only G-D can know what is good or what is evil because in his omniscience he knows all. What may appear good from one perspective may appear evil from another persons viewpoint. We are partial beings with inadequate knowledge to judge. This is a bit of a council of perfection as it is easy to point to apparent injustice and view it as evil but who knows the purposes and the intention of G-D? surely that is what faith is. To suspend judgement at least in as far as it is possible for us frail humans to do so and stand firm in the mercy and justice of G-D. Reply

D.P.R. December 21, 2014

"If bad things never happen then we would just be people that may not now good nor evil". Reply

Steph Thomas Santa Monica, CA, USA April 7, 2012

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? Dr. Avraham ben Rafael Schapera, you speak with the voice of a thinking man!

Rare and far between...Thank you so much for resoring my faith in humanity a bit! Reply

Tamar Balkind johannesburg, south africa December 27, 2010

BSD A Jew must always protest about evil and be indignent when bad things happen to the Jewish nation, But its enough now we must demand revealed goodness that we can see with eyes of flesh in the here with kindness for the Messiah now. That is the answer. Reply

Dr. Avraham ben Rafael Schapera October 10, 2010

Why?- is the single most important word in language. Jews must never cease questioning why? To do so leads to complacency and indifference
for the suffering of others.
It is said that Moshe Rabbeinu was offered the opportunity to have the question why? answered by G-d, but that he refused to know why? He wanted to retain his sense of outrage and compassion - which lead to action. If he had understood the reason why?.....he might have become indifferent. Reply

Anonymous Easingwold, UK April 18, 2010

Humility is the answer How can we hope to understand G-d's intentions. We are human beings not divine creators. All we should be doing in the spirit of humility is asking G-d's help and instructions as to how we should overcome pain and evil that befalls us. That does not mean standing idly by, but it means relying on G-d for guidance rather than questioning Him. Reply

Miriam Miami, Florida August 22, 2008

Why Seems like we all forget the blessings and the curses. G-d said IF you obey THE commands then you fall under the protection if not then the curses of the Egyptians will be for you. We forget that we where created by our father for our father even though we have the choice we must obey or we will have a tough time. We suffer and grieve because we do not obey and because we want G-d to bend our way instead of us reaching out to G-d. Do not have any gods before me. That is why we ask why. If we were in tune to G-d we would never ever doubt or ask why. Reply

Steve Katz Melbourne, VIC/Australia February 22, 2008

Why? Not why; but what. You get what you concentrate upon.
If you want peace but you are concentrating upon conflict then you will get conflict. Reply

Al Milgram San Jose, CA via December 27, 2007

"My G-d, why have You done evil to Your people?!" In the above sentence, there is a negative , non-constructive and non-beneficial thought expressed. This goes against the desirable communication between man and man and between man and God. (God is supposed to do only good, so how is it possible to assign evil to God?). It seems that Moses is still under the influence of his Egyptian upbringing at this point, and he must struggle to learn the appropriate interaction with God. "Rome was not built in a day." Reply

Jake June 5, 2007

like your comment, David
thanx for sharing! Reply

David Kyzylov brooklyn, ny January 8, 2005

Thouts on subject Today I spoke to one man who is not even jewish, who's trying to become convert and he told me beautiful thought which I never heard before even from rabbis. I complained to him that I try to do something for the sake of heaven, putting all of mine human and unhuman efforts, and the thing which I want to happen - does not. My question was simple: "Why does G-d fails to do his part"? His answer was astonishing "He never fails! What he does it's the best possible way the things could be done. What about if what you want to do is going to turn disastrous for you, G-d simply does not let it happen. Why don't you judge G-d favorably?" Reply

Shmuli January 6, 2005

Evil Great article. Y.T does a great job bringing out the Rebbe's view on current events from this weeks parsha! However the usage of the word evil throughout the article is wrong. Who ever said that bad is evil? Suffering is not evil. In a sentence like "For most, the protest against evil..." it would be more correct to use the word suffering or the like, not evil. The same with the translation of the posuk "My G-d, why have You done evil to this people?!" I would translate (as many chumashim actually do) "why have You done harm to this people !?" Reply