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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Recap for 17 lyyar 5774, discussion of Parsha Bechukotai and the Virtuous Response to Evil and Suffering


This past Shabbos, David Schlesinger led discussion. We discussed Parsha Bechukotai and how the Torah seems to be out of order.  Why is it that we now seem to be making a covenant with Hashem?  Was this not already done, and was the Torah not given at Mt. Sinai?  We discussed how the sin of the Golden Calf resulted in our covenant being null and void, however we kept receiving the Torah.  We discussed how hard it is to learn Torah for a “half time” and then return for the rest.  Therefore, we received the whole Torah at once, so that we can learn it, but because of our actions the covenant was nullified.  And now, later in history, we receive the entire Torah again and make a new covenant with Hashem.

Yaki talked about the sections of the Parsha stating that we must “walk the walk”.  Simply learning Torah is not enough.  We must also follow the Torah.  The first time we were given Torah, we may have learned it, however in the middle of its revelation we committed the sin of the Golden Calf.  We discussed how the consequences of not following the Torah are already built into nature.  We also discussed how there is some randomness and unpredictability in nature.  For example, only some of those who smoke will get cancer.

David led discussion of an article written by his father, on the topic of the virtuous response to suffering. David’s father, Dr. George Schlesinger, HaRav Natan Ben HaRav Shmuel, discusses theories that have been proposed as to why there is evil and suffering in the world, and some of the problems with each of these theories.  Dr. Schlesinger then goes on to discuss his own theory.

Dr. Schlesinger starts off by discussing theories that have been proposed by others.  The first theory that we discussed, that is discussed in the article, is that there is suffering as a form of punishment. The problem with this theory, however, is that we see many cases in which those who deserve punishment, do not seem to be receiving it, and conversely, cases in which those who do not deserve punishment, are suffering.  We often see "bad things happen to good people".

The article goes on to discuss reincarnation, and the possible theory that we have consequences in our current life for our actions in a previous life. We discussed this idea, and Dr. Schlesinger’s thoughts in his article, that this does not seem plausible because no one seems to be aware of what events occurred in any previous life. The purpose of reward and punishment is to encourage or discourage behavior, but if one is not aware of the behavior, what would be the purpose of reward and punishment?

Dr. Schlesinger then proposes his own theory that the reason why Hashem created a world in which evil and suffering occur, is so that we have the opportunity to have a virtuous response to the suffering.  Hashem’s goal was not to create a world with minimum evil and suffering, but to create a world in a way that maximizes our opportunity to have a virtuous response to events in a life, do mitzvah, follow Torah, and get close to Hashem by imitating his ways.  If the world was created so that we all just hung out in the garden of eden with pleasure with our needs magically met, we would not need free will and not be human beings.

Dr. Schlesinger goes on in his article to discuss a possible problem with his theory: if suffering is “good” because it leads to a virtuous response, why is it not “good” for man to create and encourage suffering in order that there be a virtuous response from other men?  David talked about how if we let man create suffering, there would be no limit.  There is also the fact that Hashem created a world in which suffering is allowed in general, but does not necessarily pick and choose the specific suffering that will occur.  Much of the consequences of our world are already built in and happen automatically.  Hashem’s intervention would be to stop or reduce suffering, rather than to create a specific instance of suffering, so man creating suffering would not be doing the same thing as Hashem.

We then went on to discuss Dr. Schlesinger's thoughts on the holocaust. One of the biggest arguments against there being a God, is that if there was a God the holocaust would not have been allowed to occur. David talked about how his father believed that we should argue back to the non- believers, and logically counter their arguments.  We can counter the "holocaust" argument, by pointing out that the virtuous response to the holocaust is still going on today and will be going on for many many years.  And we also discussed, how if there is going to be suffering in the world, all kinds of suffering are going to be present at one time or another, especially given that man has free will.

I admire all of Dr. Schlesinger’s knowledge and wisdom, much of which he developed on his own.  I appreciate our learning in which much of the material at our Kiddush originates with him.  This material is fascinating, inspirational, and brilliant. Click here to read a tribute including a list of all his books and articles: http://www.theapj.com/tribute-to-professor-george-schlesinger-obm.

This is a summary of what we discussed this past Shabbos. No Halachic rulings are intended or should be inferred.
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