Sefer Iyov, the Book of Job, is a complex work. It poses the difficult and well-known question of theodicy: Why do bad things happen to good people? Sefer Iyov begins with a narrative about an extremely righteous person named Iyov, who is to be tormented by Hashem. But why is he to be afflicted? What is the reason for his suffering?
Chapter one describes a wager God made with the Adversary, known in Hebrew as Satan (שטן), a spiritual being who is given the divinely-assigned task of trying to cause people to stumble spiritually. Hashem insists that Iyov would remain true and loyal even if horribly tormented and knowing that he deserves no punishment. What follows is a description of how Iyov’s children all day, and all of his property is lost. Iyov accepts this devastating news with equanimity. The Satan then afflicts Iyov with a horrible disease, but stops short of taking his life as instructed by Hashem (1:12). At this point Iyov can no longer cope. He begins to question God’s justice, though he never questions God’s existence, or even His power.
Iyov’s friends then come to reassure him, but their way of attempting to comfort him is by insisting that Hashem’s justice is absolute, and that he must therefore deserve his terrible suffering. Throughout this surprising remonstration, Iyov gets more upset, and continuously protests his innocence of the suggested wrongdoings. Eventually, Hashem appears and reprimands Iyov for doubting Him, and the friends for sinning against Him, and then Iyov’s formerly-happy life is restored.
Throughout the course of the book, Iyov is meant to learn humility, and to understand that it is not his place to evaluate or question God. By accepting his suffering, Iyov becomes a better person. As the commentary in The Israel Bible demonstrates, sometimes it is those who Hashem loves most that He causes to suffer, because by doing so, He makes them stronger.
Whether or not we can pinpoint a reason for Iyov’s suffering, one thing is clear at the end of the book. We must always remember that there is a Divine ruler who controls the world with ultimate wisdom and a perfect sense of justice. Though we may not be able to understand His reasons for running the world as He does, we must put our trust in Him alone, and believe that everything He does is for the best.
There is a debate among the Sages of the Talmud (Bava Batra 15a) regarding the period during which Iyov lived. A number of opinions are recorded, differing from one another by many generations. There is even one opinion that says he did not live at all, and the story of his suffering is a parable, meant to serve as a model for dealing with suffering and understanding why it occurs. It has also been suggested that the focus of the book is not general, universal human suffering, but the specific suffering of the Jewish people. Indeed, Iyov’s homeland, the land of Utz, is understood by many as another name for the land of Israel.
The Jewish people have suffered considerably over the ages. Throughout history, they have lost everything, from their families to their possessions, their homes and even their homeland.
They have been afflicted physically, emotionally and spiritually, but like Iyov, have been promised that the light of the Jewish nation will never be extinguished. Also like Iyov, they have at times remained strong and at times have questioned, but through it all they clung to their belief in the Creator.
Though we might never be able to fully answer the question of why Israel had to suffer throughout history as much as they did, Sefer Iyov reminds us that we must always trust in Hashem. We believe that Israel’s suffering of is ultimately for the good, and we must have the
confidence that ultimately, the nation of Israel will be fully restored to its former glory, safe and secure in Eretz Yisrael.