Verse 9. “Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still retain your integrity? Curse G-d, and die.'”
Verse 10. “But he said to her, ‘You speak as the foolish women speak. What? Shall we receive good at the hand of G-d, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Iyov did not sin with his lips.”
Iyov’s wife is certainly no source of comfort. She suggests that Iyov offer a blessing to G-d as he did when first informed of the tragedies that fell upon him. Her reasoning goes something like this. The first time Iyov blessed G-d to demonstrate his unwavering faith. G-d’s response is less than beholding.
Instead of relieving Iyov from his suffering He raises it to an even higher magnitude. Whereas the first installment of anguish was focused on the loss of his children and possessions, now his own body has to endure horrific pain and disease.
An additional blessing might shift the target from body to soul. At this point death seams to be a desirable alternative to the present state of affairs. Mrs. Iyov is obviously ridiculing her husband for blessing G-d the first time.
Iyov’s angry response is harsh but under the circumstances understandable. He accuses her of speaking like a lowly character, like one who lacks decency and good sense. How can one expect to receive only the good from G-d and not the bad?
The Malbim finds this to be a revealing statement. The Hebrew text reads something like this: “Shall we receive -also- the good at the hand of G-d, and shall we not receive evil? By stating that ‘we need to accept -also- the good’ i.e., besides the evil, Iyov is suggesting that the good is secondary to the evil. This exposes a paradigm shift in Iyov’s thinking.
Until now Iyov was the most blessed man on the face of the earth. He enjoyed incredible wealth, fame and pleasure. He was uninitiated in the areas of pain and suffering and the new reality forced him to rethink his attitude towards life.
Is life the cherished gift from G-d that he always thought it to be, or a compulsory state of being regardless of personal benefit? (The Talmud records a similar philosophical dispute between the students of Hillel and Shamai. It took them two years of deliberation before they came to a conclusion.)
Iyov did not verbalize these doubts. We can only deduce from his words what was in his heart. Our sages o”bm described it in the following way: Although “Iyov did not sin with his lips”, he sinned in his heart. However, they do not explain what was the nature of this sin.
The Malbim explains that Iyov firmly believed that G-d was the source of all life. All that exists emanates from G-d’s being, i.e., without G-d there is no existence. The bad is part of that reality, therefore we cannot chose to accept the good and refuse the bad. For most people, and Iyov has just joined that majority, life is filled with stress, disease, poverty and countless other forms of physical and emotional discomfort. Times of goodness and plenty are few and far between for most of humanity.
Iyov took this to mean that since the bad is inseparable from the good life itself is essentially bad. According to this line of reasoning G-d created man with total disregard for his well being.
Here we find the seed that brings forth all of Iyov’s theological gyrations throughout this book. This is a major insight into human nature in general and and can help us understand our own struggle to discover our spiritual identity.
The bitterness of Iyov’s plight created a bitter individual. When objective reasons for grief and anguish exist we certainly can empathize with the victim even if he or she becomes a bitter person . That does not mean that bitterness is the only viable choice available to victims of serious misfortune. Humanity has known scores of heroes of the human spirit who raised themselves to the highest levels of nobility of character as a direct result of their own personal tragedies. It is a matter of choice, an exercise of our own free will.
Although we cannot pass moral judgment upon the victims of tragedy and misfortune we can unequivocally state that their outlook on G-d and life in general is negatively influenced if they allow themselves to become embittered. Often we are not aware of the fact that philosophical and theological perspectives are to a great extent the reactionary response of victims of tragedy. That may be fine for the victims but we should keep in mind that their comfort with these view points is subjective to their situation and is most likely not the best approach for others.
It is also important to recognize that many theological qualms are the product of the residual emotional scar tissue that lingers long after suffering personal tragedy. Iyov’s philosophical crises needs to be understood in this light. His ‘sin’ was that he allowed the seeds of bitterness to enter his heart.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Y. Schwartz and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Rosh Hayeshiva (Dean) of Orchos Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem.