How can anyone believe in God when there is so such suffering?

February 15, 2021 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Ask the rabbi…

Rabbi Raymond Apple

SUFFERING & BELIEF IN GOD

Q. How can anyone believe in God when there is so much suffering?

A. A British philosopher, Dr CEM Joad, was an agnostic for many years but turned to religion during World War II.

He said that previously he could find no room for God in the world because of the vast problem of suffering. Then he began to ask a different question: what gives human beings the power to survive and rise above all their suffering?

He came to the conclusion that there had to be a higher Power that sustained people in times of adversity and enabled them to believe that there would be light at the end of the tunnel.

This might help to answer your question. For more information about Joad’s metamorphosis, read his book, “God and Evil”.

Let me add something from another British writer, GK Chesterton, who was no great friend of Jews or Judaism.

Chesterton once said, “When men cease believing in God, they do not believe in anything.” One can criticise Chesterton for many things, but this observation is amply proved by history.

Jews tend to say a similar thing, though the Jewish way of expressing it is more likely to be, “Hard as it may be to understand the world with God, it is infinitely harder without Him”.

STATUE OF A RABBI

Q. In Prague I saw a statue of the Maharal (Rabbi Yehudah Loew ben B’tzalel) who purportedly made the Golem. What is your view about statues of rabbis?

A. The Ten Commandments are against making “the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth” (Ex. 20:4).

The Talmud specifically says that one may not produce a representation of a human being (RH 24b). The Shulchan Aruch quotes a view that this applies only to the full form of a human and a partial view could be another thing (Yoreh De’ah 141:7).

Though this is due to a fear that the representation will become an object of worship, the rule applies even when the picture or statue is not for purposes of worship.

In the Talmud there are references to statues of kings and other leaders but I doubt whether there is any evidence of statues of rabbis.

If the Maharal had been asked about erecting a statue in his honour he would certainly have said “No”. He would have told people that if they wanted to honour him they should read his books and heed his teachings.

The rabbis were probably not consulted about the statue in Prague and the odds are that it is part of the local culture and narrative.

I know from my own visit to the city that the story of the rabbi and his Golem is on the tourist agenda because of its romantic content, and the Jewish community is probably pleased to think that a Jewish contribution to local culture is so famous.

It is quite another question to ask why the Maharal’s community had to suffer so much antisemitism.

PURIM GIVING

In contrast to Chanukah when it is customary to give gifts of money known as Chanukah gelt, the gifts we give on Purim are edible.

According to the Megillah it is a time of “sending portions to one another and gifts to the poor” – “mishlo’ach manot ish l’re’ehu umattanot la’evyonim”.

Significant lessons are derived from this wording. From “mishlo’ach” (sending), we learn that the gifts should be delivered by others on your behalf; money gifts in particular are usually given anonymously. This saves embarrassment – the giver does not see the neediness of a poor recipient, and the recipient does not have to be ashamed of his of her poverty.

From the plural “manot” (portions), and “mattanot” (gifts), we learn to give at least two gifts.

From “ish l’re’ehu” (one to another), we learn to give to at least one other person.

From “mattanot” (gifts), we learn to give charity.

From “la’evyonim” (to the poor), we learn to give what the other needs.

An interesting comment of the Jewish law codes is, “We are not fussy about whom we give to on Purim; we give to anyone who stretches out his hand”.

The edible gifts which are given – usually two kinds of food and drink – depend on local custom.

There was a practice in North Africa to give sweet cakes with coloured icing depicting figures from the Book of Esther, and the gentile population called the day “the sugar feast”. European communities gave Hamantaschen (“Haman pockets”; known in Hebrew as “Oznei Haman”, “Haman’s ears”).

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.

Comments

One Response to “How can anyone believe in God when there is so such suffering?”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    I guess it’s easier when it’s someone else’s suffering…….words come come cheap.

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