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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Punishment In Which World?

It's hard to believe that for over two years, Ariel Sharon, the once-bulldozer has been hospitalized in an undignified, helpless vegetative state.
Before then, he was one of those people you either hated or loved or both, but you could never be neutral.
The neighborhood I live in was his "inspiration." On a visit to Shiloh in early 1981, he was shown around the small Shiloh community near the ancient Tel. he heard the plans and looked around. Two hills up and over a kilometer away was a gorgeous, large, mostly flat piece of land, much more suitable for building than where Shiloh's founders were excavating for their permanent homes. When they seemed doubtful of his idea, he sweetened it by offering fifty pre-fab homes.
Chazal, our Sages, say that the righteous are punished in this world, so the next will be all rewards. Arik Sharon built, but he also destroyed. He destroyed Yamit so that Begin could give the Sinai to Egypt, and then he was the Prime Minister who declared Disengagement. Only G-d knows how much longer he will have to suffer in this world. Sins between man and his fellow man are the most difficult to repent.

Now, why am I thinking of Arik?

It was announced that Teddy Kennedy of
Chappaquiddick Island infamy has a malignant brain tumor.

Does G-d punish non-Jews in the same way as Jews?


Friar Yid said...

Hi Batya,

Given that our politics and religious beliefs are so different, I'm not surprised that I disagree with your take on this.

However, the fact that my mother recently "celebrated" her 5th year of surviving a brain tumor gives me an intimate perspective on this sort of thing.

I have always rejected theodicy, while recognizing that this places me at odds with many people who need to attribute all suffering to God to make the world make sense, who need to make God a punisher as well as a healer. I understand that, but I cannot accept it. I could not accept it before. I certainly cannot after spending long evenings with my mother in the hospital, helping her in the years after her recovery, when she had forgotten the most rudimentary basics of her life, such as her times tables, or how to read.

My mother was never religious, and still seems confused or uncomfortable when she sees me doing things like baking challah, making kiddush, or hosting a seder. Repeatedly, however, the one question she does seem interested is, "Do you think I am being punished?" "Do you think I did something to deserve this?"

And as always, my answer is no. Just as there was no sin that justified the Holocaust, there was no crime that my mother committed that would have justified being cursed with a growth the size of an orange squeezing against her brain, nothing she could have done to deserve a series of seizures and internal bleeding that wiped out her ability to multi-task, engage in rapid memory recall, or any of the other activities she formerly excelled at. The fact that deep down, she thinks that maybe, just maybe, she considers her permanent disability something she earned makes me both furious and sick.

Keeping this in mind, while there are plenty of groups and politicians I find distasteful, I cannot support people imagining themselves in the role of God, trying to sort out why this punishment is appropriate for this person, or that group.

I do not consider myself a religious person. But I call this blasphemy. Just as I would if the "target" of the theodicy were someone I intensely disagreed with, such as Ronald Reagan or Mordechai Eliyahu. I do not believe that THEIR medical problems are divine retribution anymore than Sharon's, Kennedy's, or my mother's were. Furthermore, I find it hypocritical that some people are so quick to guess at what Sharon or Kennedy are being punished for while they seem a lot less eager to theorize what past ""sins" might have landed the esteemed Rav in the hospital.

I believe that anyone who has lived with or cared for someone with a brain tumor, Alzheimer's, cancer, heart disease, or a myriad of other illnesses would be hard-pressed to find a theology that neatly lines up these heart-breaking episodes with a convenient or appropriate "sin." And frankly, I feel that any God who visits such punishments on average Joe schmoes (or even morally questionable politicians) while allowing some of the greatest murderers of our age to die in their sleep (Stalin and Pol Pot) or take their own lives (Hitler) is not worth believing in.

Batya said...

I guess I wasn't clear.

I don't believe in direct punishment, nor direct reward. G-d's accounting system is not for this world to understand.

I also consider it terribly dangerous to raise children to believe that "if they're good, only good things will happen."

I'm really sorry about all these misunderstandings.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

Hi Batya,

I appreciate the apology, though it's not necessary- as you said, it was just how your mind associated. I just have a particular chip on my shoulder regarding theodicy in general and on this particular occasion, the similarities just hit way too close to home.

I am still, however, troubled by how theologically dicey concepts like assuming one knows who is punished for what sin" seem to slip so easily into political partisanship. The coincidence of Kennedy and Eliyahu being hospitalized on the same day is a very interesting one. Before people presume to point fingers at reasons for Divine Punishment they should think about how they would feel if they heard such things when it was THEIR friends, heroes, etc., who were in pain or dying. I hope the people that love and are praying for Rav Eliyahu will be spared such hurtful speculations and comments such as some that I have seen around the Jblogosphere relating to Kennedy. Theology can only be debated to a point. Derech Eretz is a different matter.

Batya said...

Glad you're not angry.
I didn't pay attention to the fact that both Ted and Rabbi Eliyahu were hospitalized the same day.
There are so many interesting coincidences. My son-in-law was born the very same day my aunt died. They are very different, but I do feel that there's a connection...