Part 16: Chapter 3, Verses 20-26
Verse 20. "Why is light given to him that is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul;"
Verse 21. "Who long for death, but it does not come;"
Verse 22. "And dig for it more than hidden
treasures; who rejoice exceedingly, and are glad, when they can find a grave?"
Verse 23. "Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, and from whom G-d has
Verse 24. "For my sighing comes before I eat, and my roarings are
poured out like the waters."
Verse 25. "For the thing which I had feared is come upon
me, and that which I was afraid of is come to me."
Verse 26. "I had no repose, nor had
I rest, nor was I quiet; yet trouble came."
Iyov continues his indictment of everything and anything. Yes, there are
people who are blessed with good fortune in this world. But does that justify
or compensate for the misery of the multitudes of sufferers in the world? It
appears that Iyov is blaming the fortunate ones for the unfortunate who must
endure life. If there would be no life at all the unfortunate would not
suffer. Why should the unfortunate suffer through the 'gift' of life that is
appreciated only by the fortunate?
"Why is light given to him that is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul;
who long for death, but it does not come; and dig for it more than hidden
treasures; who rejoice exceedingly, and are glad, when they can find a
Light is a great blessing. It ushers in the good of a new day. But for those
who suffer the light of a new day is a curse. 'One man's cup of tea is the
other man's poison', so goes the old adage. A new day of life brings with it
new pain and suffering. For the unfortunate the new break of dawn ushers in
another day of hope and anticipation of the end.
Alas, the end can be insured
only by death. As absurd as it sounds, death itself becomes the raison
d'etre. But death is allusive.It always seems to skip over the unfortunate
when they are in greatest need of it. They have only bad luck, their life is
filled with misery and anguish. Death would be a gift, and that would be
totally inconsistent with their life of misfortune. After all; they are
destined to suffer, that is their lot.
So the unfortunate must suffer. But that does not mean that they have no
hopes and desires. The unfortunate can be as focused and determined as the
fortunate. They can strive for a goal that will bring them gladness and joy.
In their misery-twisted minds death is the greatest of all gifts and they
seek it like riches. Only death is the balm for their aching soul. When it
finally comes they will be happy. All forms of delusion are dangerous but
this attitude is clearly self-destructive. Life itself ceases to have any
meaning at all. Effort to succeed is futile because 'success' is death
and the equality of death obviates the need to succeed.
The Malbim interprets this verse in a different way. When does death present
itself? When one least expects it. The climax of misfortune occurs when the
sufferer is about to attain some hope of good fortune. Just as he is about to
discover 'hidden treasures' death strikes with cruel surprise.
suffer can never prosper because suffering is their destiny and duty. Often
they must do it in a 'big way'. So Iyov is the quintessential sufferer. He
acquires wealth, fortune and fame only to tragically lose it all.
Iyov concludes that he has never had a good life. Even during his years of
prosperity he suffered the constant fear of losing it. The wisest of all men
put it like this: " ...the prosperity of the rich man does not allow him any
rest." (Ecclesiastes, 5:11). The elements of his good fortune turn into the
bitter bile of misfortune.
The poor man who never experienced wealth and fame
will not miss them. Iyov knew the taste of the good-life and when he lost it
the pain was intense.
At this point Iyov is dangerously depressed. Not only does the pain obscure
his understanding of the present and hopes for the future, it corrupts his
memory of the past. His previous happiness and good fortune are all
forgotten. In fact he denies that they ever existed. In retrospect his entire
life is one long nightmare that he wishes would come to a quick end. Death is
the only viable option in his fatalistic mind.
The Medrash Rabbo, Exodus 30: 11, likens Iyov to a drunkard who goes on a
rampage to destroy a prison and releases all of the prisoners. Then he
proceeds to smash the statue of the king who judged the prisoners. Only later
when he is confronted by the king himself does he become aware of his foolish
One possible interpretation of this medrash is that Iyov is intoxicated with
pain. The prisoners are the living who are incarcerated in a bitter life. The
king is G-d. Iyov views the living as prisoners of a destiny that is outside
of their control. They are shackled by the forces of power beyond them.
as prisoners do not have the privilege to exercise their own free-will to
determine their future, so too man is not capable of influencing or changing
his fate. It is interesting that the medrash refers to a statue of the king.
The king himself is not near the prison and most likely knows little about
what is going on there. Iyov believes in G-d but the incongruity of a just
G-d and human suffering forces him to remove G-d from the arena of human
existence. G-d is reduced to a statue that represents a great power but has
litttle to do with reality.
Many 'thinking' people have come to a similar conclusion about G-d after
experiencing or witnessing personal pain or tragedy. They simply cannot live
with the notion that G-d is 'out there' and remains passive in the face of
horrific human suffering. The paradox of this theology is that rejection of
the G-d of justice eventually promotes injustice and suffering by eliminating
any source of absolute and immutable morality.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Y. Schwartz and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Rosh Hayeshiva (Dean) of
Orchos Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem.