The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Monday, September 12, 2016

Job and Jastrow: Love, Dafka

This week in the the Daily Office, we are reading God's response to Job, asking him out of a whirlwind, a series of questions designed to point out the extreme finitude of human power and knowledge (Job 38-39).

Some years ago, when we hit this same text in the lectionary, I linked to the exegesis of this passage in Herman Wouk's War and Remembrance, in which the talmudic scholar-cum-popular historian Aaron Jastrow, imprisoned in the "paradise ghetto" of Theresinstadt, lectures on the Book of Job in contrast to the Iliad, and points out that, in his answer, God concedes Job's main point, that "the missing piece is with him":
In Job, as in most great works of art, the main design is very simple.HiscomfortersmaintainthatsinceoneAlmightyGod rules the universe, itmust make sense. Therefore Job must have sinned. Let him search his deeds, confess and repent. The missing piece is only what his offense was.

And in round after round of soaring argument, Job fights back. The missing piece must be with God, not with him. He is as religious as they are. He knows that the Almighty exists, that the universe must make sense. But he, poor bereft boil-covered
skeleton, knows now thatitdoes not infactalways make sense; that there is no guarantee of good fortune for good behavior; that crazy injustice is part of the visible world, and of this life. His religion demands that he assert his innocence,otherwise he will be profaning God's name! He will be conceding that the Almighty can botch one man's life;and if God can do that, the whole universe is a botch, and He is not an Almighty God. That Job will never concede. He wants an answer.

He gets an answer! Oh, what an answer! An answer that answers nothing. God Himself speaks at last out of a roaring storm."Who are you to call me to account? Can you hope to understand why or how I do anything? Were you there at Creation? Can you comprehend the marvels of the stars, the animals, the infinite wonders of existence? You, a worm that lives a few moments and dies?

My friends, Job has won! Do you understand? God with all His roaring has conceded Job's main point that the missing piece is with Him. God claims only that His reason is beyond Job. That, Job is perfectly willing to admit. With the main point settled, Job humbles himself, is more than satisfied, falls on his face. So the drama ends. God rebukes the comforters for speaking falsely of Him, and praises Job for holding to the truth. He restores Job's wealth. Job has seven more sons and three more daughters. He lives a hundred and forty more years, sees grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and dies old,prosperous, revered.

Satisfied? A happy ending, yes? Much more Jewish than the absurd and tragic Iliad. Are you so sure? My dear Jewish friends, what about the ten children who died? Where was God's justice to them? And what about the father, the mother? Can those scars on Job's heart heal, even in a hundred and forty years? That is not the worst of it. Think! What was the missing piece that was too much for Job to understand? We understand it, and are we so very clever? Satan simply sneered God into ordering the senseless ordeal. No wonder God roars out of a storm to silence Job! Isn't He ashamed of Himself before His own creature? Hasn't Job behaved better than God?
This framing of the fundamental point of the Book of Job startled me when I read it as a teenager. (I think it was 1979, or 1980, s year or two after the book was published.) It resonates for me now, because Wouk concludes by praising the loyalty of God's people to God, even when they do not know the reason for suffering--the "loyalty, dafka" as he might put it. In that loyalty, he finds meaning in human existence, despite persecution, privation and fear.

Here is John Gielgud as Aaron Jastrow from the TV miniseries adaptation.

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