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.

See also The Rebbe on the Holocaust