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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Skorka

Bechukotai - The suffering of the just

In this parashah the biblical text describes the blessings that will come to the righteous (those who live with goodness and rectitude) and the punishments that will befall the wicked. The account of the blessings is brief, while that of the curses is long and horrifying, no doubt to serve as a warning. Both the blessings and curses refer to earthly things, giving the impression that divine justice prevails in the earthly reality. But we see that this is not always so: there are righteous people who suffer and evil people who prosper.

Since biblical times, the question of the suffering of the pious and the triumph of the wicked has occupied the minds of believers (e.g., Jeremiah 12:1 and Psalm 73). The entire text of Job devotes its 42 chapters to the subject. Rabbi Yanai, one of the Talmudic sages, concludes that it is not given to us to know the causes of the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous (Avot 4:15) Rabbi Tarfon emphasizes, in the same text, that the payment for their good deeds is received by the righteous in the future to come (Avot 2: 16).

For many people after the Shoah this question reoccurred with extreme intensity.

In the Talmudic treatise of Makot (23, b-24, a) it is taught that the number of commandments or mitzvoth entrusted to the people of Israel is 613. Then biblical paragraphs are cited to summarize their purpose and essence. The quotations grow shorter as the text unfolds, ending with the words of the prophet Habakkuk (2: 4): “the righteous person will live by faith”.

It is not revealed to us in our human condition either the form or the implementation of divine justice, or indeed the certain meaning of existence. However, a subtle intuition leads us to believe that “there is Justice and there is a Judge” (Bereshit Raba 26 : 6) and that existence has a meaning. It is the faith that illuminates the righteous.

Shabbat shalom!


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