Verse 1. “Call out, is their anyone who answers you; to which of the holy angels can you turn?”
Verse 2. “Because the foolish man is slain by anger, and envy and anger causes the death of one driven by sensuality.”
Verse 3. “I have seen the foolish taking root: and suddenly I cursed his dwelling, saying, 4. Let his children be far from safety, and let them be crushed in the gate, with none to rescue them.”
Verse5. “Let the hungry eat up his harvest, and take it to the thorn hedges, and let the thirsty swallow up their substance.”
Verse 6. “For affliction does not come out of the dust, nor does trouble spring out of the ground;”
Verse 7. “but man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.”
Verse 8. “But I would seek to G-d, and to G-d I would commit my cause:”
Verse 9. who does great things and unsearchable; marvellous things without number:”
Verse 10. “who gives rain upon the earth, and sends water upon the fields:”
Verse 11. “to set up on high those who are low; that those who mourn may be exalted to safety.”
After concluding his prophetic admonition, Elifaz continues his words of rebuke. At this point one might ask; if G-d desired to inform Iyov of his sins and errors in theology, would it not make more sense for G-d to address these remarks directly to Iyov? This is why, according to the interpretation of the Malbim, that Iyov held some reservations about the authenticity of Elifaz’s prohecy. We will come back to the answer to this question later.
The outstanding commentary of Rav Yosef Karo offers an intersting answer to this question. Elifaz tells Iyov that G-d does not ordinarily respond to the complaints and accusations of every ‘wannabe’ theologian, especially those who direct their accusing finger at G-d. This is eloquently expressed by King David in Psalm 50:18-21 “If you see a thief and join him, and with adulterers you place yourself etc., I [G-d] kept quiet=[no prohetic response]… I will rebuke=[discipline] you directly”. Iyov, on the other hand, thinks that if G-d is genuinely concerned with Iyov’s conduct He should address him directly. Elifaz argues that it is not the way of G-d to respond those who offer critique to his methods of justice. The response of G-d comes in the form of disciplinary action.
G-d’s communication takes the form of suffering and hardship to those who violate His will and remain obstinate. Elifaz taunts Iyov to evoke a Divine response. Of course, G-d will not answer. The answer has already been delivered. Suffering and pain are the answer to disobedience.
“Because the foolish man is slain by anger, and envy and anger causes the death of one driven by sensuality.”
Elifaz continues; you [Iyov] know that G-d will not respond to your blasphemous quarrel with Him. Your behaviour is typical of the wicked. When they are on the receiving-end of G-d’s discipline they lash out with angry abuse. You are like the foolish man who’s death is the result of his own contempt and anger. Instead of anger, if you would have practiced the art of silence in the face of calamity, perhaps G-d would have had mercy upon you.
This amazing interpretation by Rav Yosef Karo sheds new light on our subject. Severity of the sin is not the only criterion that G-d uses to determine the harshness of punishment. He also considers the response of the accused. G-d is more likely to mitigate, rather than to exact punishment, when the defendant has the integrity to bear the responsibility for his or her actions. However, if the sentence is met with anger and denial the judgement will be delivered with intensified force.
The anger of the wicked is inflamed because they feel persecuted. They accept no responsibility for their foolish actions. When they fall victims to their own wicked deeds they lash out at G-d in wrathful denial. Besides perpetuating their wickedness, this type of mind-set inevitably produces more pain and sorrow for everyone concerned.
The Malbim takes a different approach to this verse. Accordingly, Elifaz challenges Iyov’s deterministic view of human fate. His arguement reflects earthy simplicity. How often have we witnessed how the self destructive force of anger kills its host, and how jealousy gnaws away at internal serenity. Wrath and jealousy are conscious choices. One can chose not to be angry or jealous. Often it is not an ill-fated destiny that causes death, but man’s own self destructive choices.
The Malbim also points out that the death of the fool in verse #2 is described as being ‘slain’, whereas the one driven by materialism and sensuality ‘dies’. The fool refers to a person who has serious doubts about Divine providence and justice. When the vicissitudes of life bring undesirable results these type of people become angry at G-d. Anger, when directed towards G-d, may evoke punitive action, even a conviction of death. Hence the fool is ‘slain’ because of his anger.
People who are driven by sensuality and materialism are filled with jealousy. When life does not supply them with the pleasures that they desire they are consumed with anger and jealousy. There is no need to punish them, they simply self destruct. Envy and anger cause their death. Death is the natural consequence of their state of being; not a punishment.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Y. Schwartz and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Rosh Hayeshiva (Dean) of Orchos Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem.