In God’s Footsteps

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Due to some crossed wires behind the scenes at Hirhurim, we have a second review of a book that was discussed here: link.

Guest post by Shmuel Sofer

Where’s My Miracle?
By Rabbi Morey Schwartz
Published by Geffen Publishing

Rabbi Morey Schwartz in his authorial debut has chosen to tackle one of the most vexing philosophic/hashkafic problems facing the believing Jew. His book “Where’s My Miracle?” looks at the age old question of “Tzadik V’Ra Lo” (as well as the converse “Rasha v’Tov Lo) ie why is it that the righteous suffer and the wicked seem to prosper? Rabbi Schwartz attempts to glean from Jewish Tradition an approach if not an answer to this dilemma.
Rabbi Schwartz comes to the task with much personal experience. At the relatively young age of twenty he found himself bereft of both his parents. This book is the culmination of his personal search for an answer. Along the way Rabbi Schwartz earned his degree in psychology and  later entered the rabbinate, as a pulpit rabbi and more recently as an educator in Israel after having made aliya. He  recounts several personal experiences with suffering and tragedy in his personal life, his professional career and during his residence in Israel during the years of the Intifada. Likewise, he recounts episodes of human tragedy which effected others with whom he shared no connection other than a common humanity. As a rabbi he had the task of attempting to comfort bereaved families and trying to make sense of their personal tragedies, an admittedly impossible task.
The book looks at tragedy and suffering through the eyes of chazal, as they interpreted various texts, and as they personally  experienced various tragedies or tried to help others  deal with their own suffering. Along the way, he analyzes issues of theodicy, “natural disasters”, “man on man” evil and violence and man made disasters.
Rabbi Schwartz is acutely aware that the most prevalent approach found in the classroom and that often verbalized by clergy and lay people relates to suffering as a manifestation of Divine Providence. Rabbi Schwartz is clearly uncomfortable with this approach for several reasons that he lists throughout his book. He therefore has culled through numerous biblical, Talmudic and midrashic texts to find what he feels are alternate approaches. Citing traditional and contemporary interpretations as well as offering some creative interpretations of his own R Schwartz argues that there is no singular Jewish approach to suffering but rather several alternatives that  can be derived from the sources. His approach and reading of the sources while often sensible, at times stretches credulity. In the end he generally prefers to “leave God out of it” which I find is a bit strange for a rabbi to do. He himself recognizes that some may argue that his approach to the issues and some of the texts  may border on the heretical, but he clearly wants and is searching for a way to deal with a most difficult problem from within our mesorah.
In his concluding chapter, R Schwartz acknowledges that when faced with seemingly disparate approaches and contradictory texts there are two ways to approach the task. One approach is to attempt reconciliation and resolution. Another, one he prefers, is to accept the texts and conflicts at face value and  argue that there is no singular approach, rather they are reflective of various acceptable approaches that may be appropriate  under varying circumstances.
This is as uncomfortable a book to read as one would expect it to be. Filled with horrific tragedies, the reader is likely to be bothered by the same questions that nagged at Rabbi Schwartz. While he proposes his own approach, Rabbi Schwartz recognizes that it too is unlikely to comfort the victim of a tragedy and the others caught up in its wake. Then again who could really expect an answer? Tradition tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu was so bothered by this phenomenon that he asked G-d Himself for an explanation but was not granted a full and clear answer. The best he could hope for was to see God’s “back” and try to make sense and interpret what R Ahron Soloveichik z”l referred to as the “footsteps of God as they march through the sands of time.”

About Shmuel Sofer


  1. “mycroft on July 30, 2010 at 5:15 am
    “I thought it was the height of bad taste, not to mention hutzpa, considering that for six million people, there wasn’t exactly a happy ending.”
    I have not read the book but in general I agree with Nachum-I can’t stand books or speeches that talk about the “miracle” of ones survival. That implies the other people were punished by God.
    BTW-I dislioke such talk not only about the Shoah but people who were not in the WTC on 9/11 etc.”

    I have read the book in the past month-it was a new book in my local library-my wife took it out and unlike most popular books on this topic I read the whole book. I have recommended it to others. R Morey Schwartz IMHO fairly describes the various viewpoints in this area.

    Rereading Gils post from half a year ago I especially felt the following are important:
    “After laying out the various approaches like a buffet kiddush, Rabbi Schwartz encourages people to take whatever satisfies them. Whichever approach works best for you. His last chapter is devoted to defending this approach of a do-it-yourself Judaism.

    Here is where we hit a thorny problem because we are dealing with mutually exclusive views. Is everything due to direct divine intervention, some things, nothing? You cannot answer “all of the above.” Only one can be the true way that God runs the universe. If so, we are unable to say that they are all different versions or aspects of truth. That will not work here.

    We can say that we have no tradition on which is true, since we find the different views accepted by a variety of authorities. And we have no way to prove that any of them is true. Therefore, Judaism has to tolerate untrue views — we know that, of the above three, one is true and the other two are not — simply because we lack the tools to conclusively verify them.”

    and “On the particular subject of theodicy and divine intervention, though, we are on strong ground because such influential recent teachers as R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Halakhic Man, pp. 123-128) adopted the view of the Rambam (and most rishonim) that God only intervenes sometimes”

  2. In the words of John Lennon:”Whatever gets you through the night ‘salright, ‘salright
    It’s your money or life ‘salright, ‘salright” (I apply this to parshat haman as well)

    The challenge comes when the whatever has no source or others believe their whatever is the only whatever.

  3. “His approach and reading of the sources while often sensible, at times stretches credulity. In the end he generally prefers to “leave God out of it” which I find is a bit strange for a rabbi to do.”
    How is stating the various viewpoints of Chazal-strange for a Rabbi to do. Probably, the reverse which we hear often that this happened because of this is is closer to blasphemy. Bilaam thought he could understand Gods way and he couldn’t even control his donkey. Often the best response to tragedy is vayidom Aharon.

  4. The simple answer is gilgul.
    I have heard that people or should I say neshomos have to go through everything. Once they come as rich men once as poor etc.
    Today since time is running short, we have this all happening in one life.

  5. The simple answer imho is we don’t know (a la R’YBS – don’t ask why ask what HKB”H wants me to do), unfortunately there is not much comfort in this answer to many.

  6. R’ Joel — I don’t think that answer was ever intended to provide comfort. People who believe it (and certainly those gedolim who articulate it) are typically people whose view of Judaism is based on a “metzuveh v’oseh” type of experience and less of an emotive one.

  7. JP,
    Yea , gotta love us less emotive folks 🙂

  8. Mycroft- It wasn’t that much of a nisayon for Aharon to remain silent. Nadav and Avihu were punished for their sin(eight possibilities in midrashei Chazal)On the other hand for someone whose infant died suffering an incurable disease, not only to remain silent but to proclaim “baruch dayyan ha-emet” takes real gevurah and emunah.

    R’JR-“s’alright” chochma bagoyim ta’amin emunah bagoyim al taamin. Come to think of it I don’t remember much wisdom either in response to Lennons (seemingly) senseless murder.

  9. First of all, who is to say that he or anyone else deserves a miracle?
    Secondly, in my opinion, all is from Hashem, and I do mean all. From the little baby whom the SS smashed against a wheel of a cattle car to a 105 year old man dying of “natural causes”. If you think Hashem wasn’t holding the hand of every Holocaust victim, you’re wrong. He cried, even though He created and implemented it, using the Nazis as his pawns.
    The same God that makes happy times also makes tragic ones. To say otherwise is kefira mamash. It’s ridiculous to think that He created a world and then sits back in His easy chair and says “Wow, I didn’t expect that to happen when I created Hitler.” Get over yourselves. There’s no reason to expect to know the reasons for everything. Don’t become an apikores like Kushner.

  10. mycroft
    Stating the various viewpoints of chazal is not what I find strange. However, arguing that more often than not the good and bad that happens to the world and humans has little to do with God is something I find strange for an Orthodox rabbi to choose as his stated belief, which is what Rabbi Schwartz says in this book.

  11. “Kefira” and “apikores.” Great argument!

  12. I calls it like I sees it. Anyone who says God is not the cause of everything including the most heinous things deserves to be labeled a kofer & apikoris. I’d prefer they be shot actually, but God is more forgiving than I am.

  13. Yiddle: I recognize your passion but the Rambam is very clear in Moreh Nevukhim that most of the bad in the world is man-made and does not come from God.

  14. “I recognize your passion but the Rambam is very clear in Moreh Nevukhim that most of the bad in the world is man-made and does not come from God.”

    Doesn’t this render the principle of reward and punishment kind of meaningless (an ikar akar, as it were)?

  15. Since when do we poskin like the Rambam? If you want to be a rationalist Rambamnist there is another blog for that. This one is for Torah Jews. Every splinter in your finger is caused by God. Every leaf falling is caused by God. And every dead baby is caused by God.

  16. Why bring up this topic again? You will never get a more satisfactory (however less than definitive) answer to this problem than a careful and thoughtful reading of Sefer Iyov.

  17. I dont understand why a Rabbi of all people has to come up with reasons and answers when he knows very well what he was taught in Yeshiva: We do not understand God’s ways. That’s all he has to tell himself or any other parent who goes thru such things. We don’t understand. Now pass the cookies and stop worrying yourselves.

  18. “a careful and thoughtful reading of Sefer Iyov”
    Rabbi Schwartz’ reading of sefer Iyov is probably the most creative and in my opinion least credible part of his whole book.

  19. Don’t purport to understand what the Moreh Nevuchim says. Nobody understands it anyway. It’s should be renamed Guide to Becoming More Perplexed.

  20. “Yiddle: I recognize your passion but the Rambam is very clear in Moreh Nevukhim that most of the bad in the world is man-made and does not come from God.”

    If God is omniscient, and if God created the entire world, then how can everything in the world for all eternity not come from God?

  21. It is clearly stated in the Kabbalah that the statement that All comes from G-d and No thing comes from G-d is the same statement. Aiyn V Aiyn Sof Shaveh.

    So stop worrying about it and learn some Iyov.

  22. Yiddle-Tzadik VRa Lo is a hashkafic issue that at least one Tanna maintains that Moshe Rabbeinu did not receive answer to from HaShem. The MN is one of many legitimate approaches within the Mesorah. I would suggest that in issues of this nature, it is a mistake to use the term “Psak” inasmuch the subject is clearly one for which there may not be an answer and the only really valid question is what is our response to personal and communal tragedy, as opposed to engaging in discussions rooted in theodicy based considerations, except as RYBS stressed on Tishah B’Av when Aicha and Kinos are one big means of asking “why”.

  23. As author it is intriguing for me to read the comments posted here. I have written the book in order to give people an opportunity to confront the mesora, face-to-face, rather than perpetuate narrow understandings of it…as far as what I learned in yeshiva, I was taught to continue to learn and to think – and my Rosh Yeshiva is the first endorsement on the back cover of the book. The theology that I embrace envelopes me in a very strong and thoughtful brand of emunah – a thorough one that far surpasses the righteous lip-service expressed so often by those who stop thinking and consider that to be the highest form of faith.

  24. I’ll toss in my own “simple” answer here. There is no connection between doing the will of Hashem and quality of ones existence IN THIS WORLD.

    Zchar Mitzvah B’Hai Alma Leika.

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