Part 5: Chapter 1, Verses 6-7
Verse 6. "One day the sons of G-d came to stand before the Lord and Satan came
Verse 7. "And the Lord said to Satan, Where have you been? Satan said "I've been
going back and forth, and walking up and down across the earth."
The Vilna Gaon adds a new insight to the Satan's appearance with the
children of G-d. The heavenly 'family' has a sole purpose. It is their task
to advocate and safeguard the honor of G-d. To this end they convene the
heavenly tribunal and judge the violators of the Divine Will. In reality
the Satan is also concerned with protecting and promoting G-d's honor.
However, his uses a different approach. His mission is to create the
obstacles and difficulties we find in fulfilling G-d's plan. When we
overcome these obstacles the honor of G-d is elevated. To stumble is to
The most obvious question on this verse is why does G-d need to ask the
Satan where he came from? Here too the Vilna Gaon's commentary sheds some
light on the issue. The heavenly tribunal cannot begin its deliberations
until given permission by G-d. This rule of court applies to the
prosecution (the Satan) as well. He cannot begin to argue his case until
granted permission to do so. G-d is not usually inclined to lend his ear to
the condemnations of the Satan just as no parent likes to hear about the
faults of his or her children. This is an expression of G-d's great love
for His children. On a deeper level we can understand from this that the
forces of evil are not totally free to wreak havoc upon the inhabitants of
this planet. Rather, they are contained by predetermined guidelines and
limitations that are established by the Master of the universe.
Let us look at one story in the Bible that demonstrates this. Most of you
are probably familiar with the story of Joseph and his brothers. Briefly
(and superficially), the story goes as follows. Joseph's father, Jacob,
displayed favor towards Joseph which caused his brothers to become jealous.
The brothers respond with hatred. They kidnap Jacob and conspire
unsuccessfully to kill him. In the end they sell him as a slave to nomads
with the hope that he will never again have the freedom to interfere with
their lives. As things turn out Joseph becomes the second most powerful
person in Egypt and facilitates the eventual salvation from famine for his
father, brothers and the entire Hebrew tribe. At the momentous occasion
when Jacob is reunited with his brothers and reveals himself to them he
responds with the following:
"And Joseph said to his brothers come close to me and they came close, and
he said I am Joseph your brother that you sold [me] to Egypt. And now do
not feel sad nor should there be cause for anger in your eyes that you sold
me here because G-d sent me before you to supply you with food. Because
there is already two years of famine in the land and there are still five
more years that will not have any plowing nor harvesting. And G-d sent me
before you in order to make a remainder of you and to sustain you that you
may become a great remnant. And now, it was not you who sent me here
rather it was G-d, and He made me an elder to Pharaoh, a master of his
entire household and the governor of the entire land of Egypt." (Genesis
The point that Joseph was conveying to his brothers is that in the final
analysis G-d exploited their wickedness by inducting it as a conduit for
goodness, i.e. the salvation of their entire family and future Israelite
nation. Not only does their ability to chose evil not interfere with the
Divine plan for universal redemption, it helps facilitate it. Let us make
no mistake, their choice to perpetrate evil is in no way exonerated by the
fact that G-d exploited their wickedness in fulfilling His own agenda for
the benefit of all mankind.
The Satan does not have an unlimited reign over evil. He must function
within the guidelines of His creator. Those guidelines are specifically
geared to ultimately direct humanity towards their own redemption. G-d's
query as to the whereabouts of the Satan is not and information seeking
question. It is permission to begin the indictment against Iyov.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Y. Schwartz and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Rosh Hayeshiva (Dean) of
Orchos Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem.