17 March 2008

Boruch Hashem?

I've long ago agreed with a concept that I've heard stated by Orthoprax, namely that if you believe in God, it is kind of difficult to complain about Theodicy and other related issues. In other words, since God is so great, it is beyond us to make statements such as "If there is a God then how come there is evil or why does he want me to shake a Lulav or how come........". And I can agree with that. It's always possible that "we" simply don't understand.

But what I can and do question is OJ's response to Theodicy.

Here are several examples.

Many years ago, I've heard it said in the name of Rav Shmuel Birnbaum, who, I might add, was not a bad fellow at all, that any Baal Habos who lived through the Holocaust and remained "Frum" is a Tzaddik Yesod Olam. He is a a righteous person who is the foundation of the world. Let us put aside the implied insult to Baaleh Batim here. I also have no way of knowing whether Rav Shmuel Birnbaum really said it. But go along with me on this. Because if he didn't say it, I'm sure some other Rav did. Here's my problem. Why must it be that only someone who personally endured the Holocaust is a Tzaddik? Does Rav Shmuel Birnbaum have any doubt that the Holocaust occurred? Can I not empathize with people who lived through the Holocaust? If living through the Churban is given a pass, why is not absolute knowledge of the holocaust also enough to question the existence of God and his mercy? After all, we are expected to honor the dictates of TMS even though we did not personally experience it! Why shouldn't the certain knowledge of the evils of the holocaust be considered enough to warrant the same consideration of being a Tsaddik Yesod Olam!

I think this is a chink in orthodox theology.

Now here's the flip side. A while ago, I was conversing with someone who was doing very well but who's industry was expected to go through a very severe downturns. I asked, "Aren't you worried?". His answer - "Well, the Good Lord hasn't let me down so far!"

I think this is typical thinking in the Frum world. Most of us have not experienced grinding poverty and I believe my typical neighbor thinks he is being rewarded for being Frum. Even those who don't make out well, are quite optimistic because of the relative high standard of living we all have in this wonderful country. Just you wait. They don't understand that what they should be saying is "I have faith that what God does is for the good". Not that it will work out fine according their expectations. Bad economic times for those who expect entitlement may bring the frum world to it's knees.

But what really gets me, is the following. When things go well we are supposed to Thank Hashem. But when things go bad, we're supposed to say it's really for the good. But if that's the case, why do we thank Hashem when it's good! Why do we say Hallel only when it's good? Why don't we say Hallel all the time!? Where's the symmetry? I know, I know, we say Kshaim Shemivarchim al Hatov.... But how can that be the reality? When things are good we're ecstatic and when it's not good the natural thing to do, if we'd really be honest with ourselves, is to be upset with God. For to do otherwise, we can't really be thanking God for the Good. Because it's all neutral. We've changed the definition of Good from something that we experience as enjoyment to some arbitrary "everything is good".

So what brought this on? Why am I into this topic now?

Now, I'm not the kind of person who people envy. I'm not especially wealthy, or smart, or handsome, or anything. I'm just your typical Baal Habos.

Yet, I honestly feel that my life has been quite charmed. It's not perfect. But I consider myself in better circumstances than 99.999999999999999999% of individuals that ever walked the face of this earth!

Within the past several months, I've gone through an unusual series of what I'd call good and even great events. Some Simchas, unexpected refuahs, pretty good financial circumstances, etc, etc, etc.

And that's exactly my problem. I'm so full of good vibes and feeling that I feel bad that I can't thank Hashem the way I used to.

Is the best that I can do to "thank my lucky stars"? Or thank some vague notion of a personal God who may or may not exist?

P.S. I really miss the old days when on XGH's blog everyone would be logged on and chatting at the same time. So here's what I'm proposing. If you've got a comment, and I hope you do, please stop by tomorrow, March 18th at approximately 1 PM EDST. Maybe we can get a minyan together. If you can't make it then, I'll still accept comments at any time. BHB

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