1. Surely a person has a limited time for his life on earth, and his days are set like the days of a hired worker.
2. As a servant who longs for the shade, and as a hired worker who waits for the reward of his day’s work.
3. So I was allotted from Hashem useless months of suffering and nights of affliction have been appointed to me.
4. When I lie in bed at night I say: When will I rise? When the night passes I am filled with restlessness until the next evening.
5. My flesh is covered with worms and my skin is a clod of earth that wrinkles [splits] and melts.
6. My days pass quicker than a weaver’s shuttle and finish without hope.
7. Remember that my life is a breath: my eye shall no more see good.
8. The eye of him who sees me shall see me no more: while your eyes are upon me, I am gone.
9. As the cloud is consumed and vanishes away: so he who goes down to the grave shall come up no more.
10. He shall return no more to his house, nor shall his place know him anymore.
In this chapter Iyov begins to dispute Elifaz’s position that his suffering is G-d’s response to his minor sins and lapses in His service. Furthermore, his suffering will ward off greater punishment in the future. Iyov rejects this based upon his view that man was created in order to achieve a high level of self perfection through the service of G-d.
Their are two ways that this can be achieved. The first is by utilizing all of the time given to a person in total dedication to fulfilling the will of his Creator. The second way is by completing all of the tasks that were allotted to a person regardless of the length of time required or difficulties encountered in the completion of these tasks. Accordingly, Iyov makes two analogies. The servant works for his master from sunrise to sunset. The days of his servitude are numbered, he cannot free himself until his days are completed. Similarly, a person is assigned a certain number of days in this world. He is required to toil for his master all of his fixed days. Self perfection can be achieved by maximizing one’s efforts during all of the days allotted to him in fulfillment of his Creator’s will. Only when his time is finished can he claim that he fulfilled his purpose in this world.
Alternatively, it can be argued that fulfillment of purpose is not dependant on a fixed time period rather on the fulfillment of one’s assigned tasks. This is analogous to a hired laborer who is payed for completion of his work. The time he devotes to the assigned task is less important than its total completion. He will receive little consideration for the obstacles and difficulties he encounters as long as the job remains unfinished. Likewise, a person who fails to achieve an appropriate level of self perfection during his lifetime cannot excuse himself based upon the difficulties and suffering that he encountered during his lifetime. In either case, Iyov disputes the argument that human suffering is designed to atone for past sins since the wasted time and lack of achievement during the period of suffering obviates the completion of ones assigned task in this world.
The servant awaits nightfall so that he can put another day of toil behind him. Similarly, I [Iyov] have suffered greatly. During each new day of pain I long for the night to come to rest my weak body and soul. But this too, is futile. The anguish of my daily suffering afflicts my mind and causes me terror at night. All night I long for the day to end the horrors of my stormy mind and each day I await the night to relieve the afflictions of my aching body.
My flesh is no longer covered with a protective layer of skin. It was eaten away by welts and boils. Instead of skin; soil, worms, and larva cover my flesh like a dead body in the grave. How can I possibly accomplish my task in this world under such conditions? The hired worker awaits each new day so that he can complete his job. For me, tomorrow brings only the futility of biological life.
My days of good are finished. They have disappeared as quick as the weaver’s shuttle passes each thread through the ever expanding fabric. Just as each new thread is unrecognizable after being swallowed into the newly woven cloth, yesterday’s achievements are a thing of the past as each new day approaches. I have no hope for further achievement.
You, Elifaz, claim that my suffering is my own doing, that I was negligent in fulfilling G-d’s will. Furthermore you claim that this is all for my benefit, that it is an atonement for my shortcomings. How can this be so? The only result of my afflictions is wasted time and horrible suffering. There is no hope for any productive service of G-d in the future since I am already like a dead man. If the purpose of my existence is to achieve self perfection through the service of G-d; how can G-d deny me the possibility to do so? Your claim that this is all for my own benefit is absolutely untenable.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Y. Schwartz and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Rosh Hayeshiva (Dean) of Orchos Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem.