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Rabbi Doniel Staum on Parshios Bhar Bechukosai 5770 - Casual Cruelty
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Once upon a time, in Somewhereville, America a group of atheists filed a legal discrimination suit against the religious leaders in their community. They claimed that while everyone had their own religious holidays the atheists had no such days.

The judge deliberating the case listened to their claim and immediately dismissed their suit. When the atheist’s lawyer requested an explanation the judge replied that indeed the atheists had a day on the calendar that was dedicated just to them.

The judge promptly opened up the Bible to Psalm 14:1 and read it aloud, “The fool says in his heart that there is no G-d.” The judge continued, “According to the Bible every atheist is a walking fool, and everyone knows that April First is All Fools Day!”

In parshas Bechukosai the Torah warns of the doom that would befall Klal Yisroel if they do not properly adhere to the Torah. When the Torah delineates the horrors that would occur there is one concept mentioned repeatedly, i.e. Klal Yisroel serving G-d "בקרי", with nonchalance, casualness, and lack of passion.

“If you behave causally with Me, and refuse to heed Me, then I shall lay a further blow upon you… If despite this you will not be chastised toward Me, and you behave causally with Me, then I too will behave towards you with casualness… If despite this you will not heed Me, and you behave towards Me with casualness…”

The Rambam[1] writes: “It is a positive commandment from the Torah to cry out and blow the trumpets for any tragedy that befalls the congregation… If they will not cry out, and they will not blow, but they will say this thing (tragedy) is a natural occurrence which has befallen us, and this pain is just happenstance, this is a path of cruelty and causes people to cling to their evil ways and add further tragedies and calamities in the future. This is what the Torah says, “If… you behave towards Me with casualness, I will behave towards you with a fury of casualness.” As if to say, when I will bring upon you a tragedy so that you will repent, if you will assert that it is merely a chance occurrence, I will increase against you the wrath of that casualness.”

What does the Rambam mean that one who views a tragedy as happenstance has adopted a path of cruelty? To whom is he being cruel? If the Rambam refers to the cruelty of sinning which warrants retribution and punishment, that is true regarding all iniquities, for every sin is deserving of punishment. Why does the Rambam state here specifically that this attitude is a path of cruelty?

Sir Bertrand Russel, the well-known philosopher and agnostic, once quipped to a cleric that he could not believe in a G-d in whose world a child cries out in pain. The cleric responded that he in turn could not believe in a world in which a child cries out in pain and there is no G-d to justify it.

Rabbi Shimshon Pinkus zt’l[2] explains that the Rambam is not referring to a heretic or non-believer who denies that there is a Supreme Power who created the world. Rather, he refers to the one who believes in an Almighty Creator, but he doesn’t believe that the pain and suffering of this world could have been orchestrated by that Creator. He concludes that the evil of this world must all be chance occurrences.

The Rambam warns that believing that all of the challenges and struggles of life are only happenstance is not only a lie, but it is also downright cruel. Such a belief espouses that the pain and suffering of this world is ultimately futile and worthless.

A believer understands that G-d is only good and everything that occurs is for the best, the fact that many events that occur in his life defy logical comprehension not withstanding.

Recently I had the privilege to hear a lecture from Rabbi Ezriel Tauber shlita. Rabbi Tauber quoted his rebbe, Rabbi Michoel Ber Weissmandel zt’l who said that a Torah Jew should know what is happening in the news, but that he should only read the headlines. He explained that it is important for a person to be aware of the events that are transpiring in the world because the news is ‘G-d’s mussar shmooze’[3]. However, one should not read the editorials because they contain the biased and adulterated views of the columnists, and reading their views and opinions will quash our ability to contemplate the divine message behind the event.

We live in an unsettling and disconcerting world. There are events transpiring constantly that are simply incredible and unimaginable. To name just a few: The Icelandic volcano which shut down air travel across Europe for a week, the deadly tornado that tore through the Midwest killing more than ten people, the winter that just ended replete with incredible storms and unprecedented snowfall in certain areas, the current strained US-Israel relations, the recent bomb-scare in Times Square, and at this moment tons of gallons of oil are flowing into the Gulf of Mexico threatening the ecology of the entire area with potentially disastrous results.

If one lives a godless life he cannot afford to ascribe divine motives to these occurrences because doing so would shake him to the core. But a Torah Jew has the obligation to view everything as a message.

In Lashon Hakodesh every word defines its essence. This is not true in other languages, including Modern Hebrew. When one wants to understand something he asks “Why?” The word “why?” essentially has no bearing on the answer. The same is true with the word “por qué” in Spanish, and “pourquoi” in French.

But in Lashon Hakodesh the word is “מדוע madua” or “למה lamah”. The word “madua” can be read as “mah deiah - what is the wisdom?” and lamah can be read as “limah – for what?” In other words, whenever something difficult or challenging occurs our outlook must be to try to define what growth and message there is in what transpired. The ‘why’ has to be viewed as trying to understand the higher purpose. In the words of one philosopher, “He who has a why can endure any how.”

Part of our problem is that everyone seems to know the message that G-d intends for everyone else. But no one can seem to figure out the message that applies to himself!

No one can know exactly why G-d does what he does. But we must realize that there is a “because” which we are not privy to. If one does not recognize that truth he is a cruel person for he is willing to believe that suffering is without purpose and meaning. But a believer clings to his faith during challenging times, taking solace in knowing that everything that happens has a divine reason and purpose. There can be no greater comfort than knowing that every trivial event and occurrence has meaning and purpose.

“If you behave causally with Me”

“A path of cruelty”

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