Verse 1. Then Elifaz the Temanite answered and said,
Verse 2. If one ventures a word to thee, wilt thou be grieved? But who can withhold himself from speaking?.
Verse 3. Behold, thou hast instructed many, and thou hast strengthened the weak hands.
Verse. 4. Thy words have upheld him that was falling, and thou hast strengthened the feeble knees.
Verse 5. But now it is come upon thee, and thou art weary; it touches thee, and thou art troubled.
Verse 6. Is not thy fear of G-d thy confidence, and thy hope and integrity of thy ways?.
As mentioned in previous lessons, Elifaz was the son of Eisav and grandson of Issac our forefather. Rashi points out that Elifaz took advantage of his illustrious ancestry and the great knowledge and wisdom he received from his grandfather helped him acquire a minor level of prophecy. This should come as no surprise to us since all of our forefathers merited to become prophets.
In verse number 2 we find a good example of how cautious one must be with translations of the Hebrew text. The original Hebrew word nisa can mean to try as in to venture, but it can also mean to try as in to test. Furthermore, the original Hebrew word davar has a double meaning. It can mean word or thing. The translator of the Jerusalem Bible, published by Koren, in both cases has chosen the former. Both Rashi and the Malbim chose the latter meaning. According to their interpretation of the verse it should read something like this: “Were you ever tested with a bad thing?” That is quite different from the translators “If one ventures a word to thee…”! Of course I prefer Rashi’s and the Malbim’s interpretation.
The Malbim and Rashi explain that Elifaz is rebuking Iyov for failing to respond positively to the test that G-d is placing upon him. This is especially incriminating since Iyov had such a blessed life previous to the present tragedies that he is experiencing. This is the first time that he experienced acute pain and loss. Iyov’s bitter response is more fitting for one who has become worn out by extensive suffering than for one who has enjoyed a life of excessive goodness. Therefore Elifaz finds it difficult to hold back his words of rebuke.
It would seem to most of us that Elifaz is demonstrating extreme insensitivity by rebuking Iyov at this time of intense anguish. I have not seen in the great commentaries any criticism of him for doing so. Nor do we find that Iyov was critical of Elifaz for this. I think that the peculiar conduct on the part of Elifaz can only be understood in light of the fact that Elifaz and Iyov are both members of an exclusive family. As previously mentioned Elifaz was a grandson of Issac our forefather and Iyov was also a descendant of Abraham’s family. In fact all of Iyov’s contenders were descendants of Abraham’s family. The Gaon of Vilna writes that these friends of Iyov were exceedingly wise. They are the ones alluded to in the book of Melachim(Kings)1:5 as the wise men of the east as it says ” He (Solomon) was wiser than all other men and Solomon’s wisdom was greater than all of the people of the east.” In other words, Solomon was the wisest of all men even the men of the east. Since this is meant to be complimentary to Solomon obviously the people of the east must have been extremely wise men.
The spiritual and moral standards that this family established for itself are well known to anyone who has made an in depth study of the chumash (Pentateuch). It was absolutely unthinkable for a member of this family to falter in the area of faith and commitment to G-d. They were the forbearers of monotheism and revolutionized the way man thinks and relates with the Creator. The debate between these family members takes on global proportions in light of the fact that it would have a tremendous impact upon the way that the rest of humanity would interact with G-d in future generations. Therefore, Elifaz could not hold himself back, there was too much at stake. Despite Iyov’s intense pain it was not a time for silence.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Y. Schwartz and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Rosh Hayeshiva (Dean) of Orchos Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem.