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Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Is G-d in control of all this chaos?

Daf Yomi Nazir 16

The question of theodicy has perplexed philosophers and theologians alike throughout human history.  Why do bad things happen in the world?  Is G-d not in control?  Is this world random?  Even Moshe Rabbeinu yearned for an explanation, to which the Almighty replied, ‘No man shall comprehend Me and live.’

And so when struck by calamity and misfortune, many a good man has turned his back on Heaven, concluding that religious aspirations are futile.  But instead of denying G-d when bad things occur, what if I could demonstrate to you that the only rational response to an awful world is an increase, not a decrease, in religious devotion?

If a person decided to become a nazir whilst in a cemetery, even if he remained there for thirty days, the time does not count towards his obligation of nazirism.

Why would anyone decide to become a nazir at a cemetery?  The whole point of being a nazir is not to come into contact with impurity – isn’t it contradictory to declare an oath of nazirism while in the place of ultimate impurity?  It’s like taking upon yourself to keep kosher while you’re enjoying a cheeseburger at McDonalds! 

Let’s talk about life for a moment.  How do you view your life generally?  Is it good, is it bad?  Hopefully you are more or less happy in life.  Yes, there are challenges, but for the most part, life is pretty good.  If that’s how you feel, then you certainly have much to be grateful to Heaven for.  If Heaven has blessed you, you should be thanking the Almighty for His blessings by becoming more committed to Him!

But let’s say you look around and you think, ‘life stinks.’  Too many bad things happen in life and the world isn’t a very rosy place to be.  If that’s how you feel, you’re struggling with the problem of theodicy – what’s G-d’s role in all this chaos?  And so you have a couple of ways to respond.

You could simply conclude that life is rotten and there is no point.  Everything is way too tough to ascribe any meaning to.  The world is terrible and there is no G-d in control.  But if that’s how you honestly felt, why would you want to go on living a life that is for the most part horrible?  If you had no purpose and life were generally bad, there would be no reason to continue to deal with the challenges.  It wouldn’t be worth the pain. 

The reason you have chosen to continue living is because deep down you know there’s some hidden purpose.  You must be here on some kind of secret mission.  Life’s challenges are not going to stop you.  Because you realize that the hardship is proof that there must be a higher purpose to life.  We must be here for a spiritual reason.  Otherwise, who on earth would bother with the storm of life?   There must be a light at the end of the tunnel, whether in this world or the next!  And so the rational, honest reaction to an unfair world is to become more religiously committed, not less so!

And that is the rationale motivating this fellow who decides to become a nazir at the cemetery.  At a funeral, we mourn the loss of life.  We realize that we are not in control and that sometimes even good people die young.   Who would want to live in such an unfair world?   And so he thinks to himself, ‘Either I’m going to join this poor soul because life is futile, or I’m going to turn my life around because life has meaning even in the darkest hours!’  The apparent Heavenly unjustness is what motivates this fellow to commit to becoming more religiously devoted, and he finds himself taking a vow of nazirism.

How do you perceive life?  Do you strive to connect with G-d because you love Him so much for the incredible blessings He has bestowed upon your life?  Or has life got you so down that the only way you can continue is to conclude that there must be a Master Plan to all the chaos, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth it?  Hopefully, you find yourself in the first group but either way, may you merit being honest with yourself and recognizing that you are here on earth on a Divine mission!  

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