There is a well-known analogy: A simple man enters a hospital and stumbles into the amphitheatre of the operating room. There he sees a man lying on the table and several men and woman cutting his flesh open and removing his body parts. He is aghast in horror and can’t understand why anyone isn’t doing anything to stop them.

A bystander perceives his agitation and takes him aside and explains. The operation is absolutely necessary for the patient’s welfare. He is under sedation and does not feel pain. The organs being removed are diseased and were they left in place, the patient would die. Hence, the people performing the operation are not barbaric, but rather kind and merciful.

The analogy is to the manner in which G‑d controls the world. As mortals, we cannot perceive the full picture apparent to His omniscience. Thus there are times when we do not understand why He does what He does and, like the simple person, we object at what appears to us as cruelty when in truth, His providence is an expression of His kindness.

Is the analogy appropriate or too simplistic? Can we always excuse G‑d’s providence because of the limits of our understanding? And are we justified in judging G‑d, as it were?

Parshas Bechukosai

This week’s Torah reading opens with a promise: “If you will follow My decrees... I will provide your rains in their time and the land will give its produce,” promising blessings for the observance of the Torah and the opposite for the failure to observe.

Now this raises an obvious difficulty, for we have all seen men and women whose conduct appears righteous and yet they suffer difficulty and privation. Whereas, there are others who appear to be far from worthy and yet live in comfort and ease.

The first attempts at resolving this issue explain that our understanding is limited. We cannot judge as G‑d judges. Although a person appears righteous, he may have certain sins that require expiation. Conversely, even a person who appears wicked may have performed some meritorious acts that are worthy of bountiful reward.

These answers resolve the issue somewhat — but only somewhat. For there are times when good people are obviously suffering far beyond what could possibly have been warranted by their conduct.

There are those who try to resolve this further difficulty using a similar explanation. G‑d’s judgment is all encompassing, including factors which our mortal understanding cannot grasp and comprehend. For example, they explain that the good or evil a person experiences may be a result of his or her conduct in a previous lifetime. Or because of the deeds of his family, his fortune may be augmented or diminished beyond what is due him individually. Or the conduct of the Jewish people as a whole — or over the course of history — is also taken into consideration. When all these factors are added up, they explain, the workings of G‑d’s scales of judgment can be explained. We as mortals, however, can never see this picture in its totality and so we cannot fathom His judgment.

No matter how thorough this argument, however, there is something about the explanation that is disturbing to many. True, some of the objections stem for the fact that there are those who, like children, don’t like to accept the notion that one’s behavior will have consequences; they don’t want to deal with the concept of judgment at all.

But not all of the objections stem from immaturity. Instead, there are those who understand simply, G‑d is the ultimate of good and so everything that He does must be good. He does not have to balance good with bad. Instead, He should be the source of unmitigated good, good that is overtly apparent as good.

Since they see the existence of evil in the world, they postulate that G‑d has withdrawn. On the plane that evil exists, He does not. This, however, leaves us with an existential reality with nothing to rely on, for if G‑d has withdrawn, what is left?

But if we refuse to think of G‑d as withdrawing, how can we understand the existence of evil and the undesirable things that happen to man?

The answer is that we have to go beyond our understanding. For the true nature of G‑d transcends logic and understanding and this is the dimension of Him with which we seek to identify.

This begins an interactive process. By designating ourselves as “His men” and identifying with Him above understanding, we motivate Him to identify with us and provide us with good and wellbeing even when there is no logical reason to expect such a positive outcome.

Looking to the Horizon

The challenges and struggle we feel in our efforts to identify with G‑d is a result of living in a world that lacks redemption. G‑d desired “a dwelling in the lower realms,” i.e., that in a realm where He is not recognized naturally, man will come to recognize Him. But when man takes the effort to identify with Him above those challenges, the challenges will no longer be necessary. Thus throughout this phase of the world’s existence, man confronts challenge, struggling to recognize G‑dliness against the primary current of the world’s nature. When he has succeeded in overcoming these challenges, they will cease to exist and he will be able to relate to G‑d directly, perceiving Him as He truly is.

Why is this necessary? Because man’s existence is also a product of the concealment of G‑dliness that characterizes our world. The only way it is possible for Him to perceive G‑d’s light in its natural pristine state is for him to undergo a process of transforming darkness into light, perceiving the challenges of his worldly existence as the medium that enables Him to identify completely with G‑d.