Iyov’s Sufferings, the Holocaust and Medinat Yisrael – Part Two by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


Last week we began our discussion of Sefer Iyov whose message is vital to every Jew, especially for our generation.  More than twenty TABC students studied Sefer Iyov in the Tanach Kollel this past summer and this coming summer we will iy”H and b”n be learning Sefer Ezra-Nechemia from June 14-17 and we look forward to a week of productive and enjoyable learning.

We noted that Sefer Iyov begins with the model of Tzaddik VeTov Lo, a righteous man who prospers.  This abruptly changes as Iyov loses his family, wealth and health despite the fact that Iyov did not sin.  In addition to his psychological and physiological suffering, Iyov is thrust into a situation of spiritual torment as he struggles to make sense of why Hashem has punished him. 

As Iyov struggles with his relationship with Hashem, his three friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Tzofar join him to comfort him.  They are shocked by Iyov’s cursing the day he was born, which as noted last week comes perilously close to cursing Hashem.  Iyov has begun a spiritual journey in which his perception of how Hashem runs His world undergoes a major paradigm shift.  From Perek 4 though Perek 31, Iyov and his friends struggle with Iyov’s transformation.  The friends strive mightily to return Iyov to his old Hashkafah (outlook) while Iyov steadfastly clings to his newfound perspectives on Hashem and how one should relate to him. 

Iyov’s Three Friends

Iyov and his friends engage in three rounds of debate.  Eliphaz, Bildad and Tzofar each speak in rounds one and two and Iyov responds to each of their arguments.  In the third round Eliphaz speaks and after Iyov’s response, Bildad responds in a very brief manner and after Iyov’s response to Bildad’s third round of speeches, Tzofar remains silent. 

The message of Iyov’s friends, although presented in excruciatingly long speeches (a reason was offered for this in last week’s essay), is very simple.  They argued that Iyov’s suffering is a result of his sins and that it is entirely unacceptable for Iyov to express his anger at the Ribbono Shel Olam (Creator) despite his enormous suffering.  They argue that Iyov’s outbursts at Hashem prove that Iyov was a sinner before Hashem visited the suffering upon him (ironically, this precisely matches Iyov’s suspicions of his children).  Iyov, on the other hand, insists upon his righteousness, even swearing and describing his piety at great length (Perakim Twenty-seven through Thirty-one). 

Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:23) argues that each of Iyov’s friends represent a distinct philosophy.  However, the Da’at Mikra follows the approach of the commentaries that argue that no distinct Eliphaz, Bildad and Tzofar philosophies exist.  Instead, the three friends essentially make the same two arguments that we outlined above.  The progression in the debate, however, is an escalating level of tension and hostility between Iyov and his friends. 

For example, in round one Eliphaz begins his first speech by gently implying to Iyov that he has sinned (4:7, “Please recall which clean individual is destroyed”).  He also gently notes that Iyov will not find satisfaction from his outbursts against Hashem (5:1, “Please call out, will you find a response”).  After Iyov in response insists on his righteousness and his right to question Hashem’s judgment, Bildad escalates the intensity of debate and tells Iyov “For how long will you speak like this” (8:1).  He even states “if your children sinned against Him, He banished them due to their sins.”  Iyov in turn voices even sharper criticism against Hashem, arguing “He inflicted great wounds upon me for no reason,” (9:17) and “the good and the evil He destroys” (9:22).  Tzofar then even tells Iyov “Hashem has not even completely punished you for all of your sins” (11:7). 

The arguments deteriorate further as Iyov begins to insult his friends (11:2 and 13:5), telling them that they would be wiser if they refrained from talking.  Iyov insists that his friends are the ones who insult Hashem (13:7) by clinging to the Tzaddik VeTov Lo model since it is manifestly untrue. 

Eliphaz in round two (Perek fifteen) no longer suggests that Iyov has sinned but rather insists that Iyov has sinned.  He forcefully states that Iyov’s stance detracts from others’ fear of Hashem (15:4), as Iyov who had previously served as a role of model of Tzidkut now has the audacity to question Hashem.  Let us break for a moment from our discussion of Iyov and his friends to discuss the all important issue of the propriety of questioning Hashem. 

Challenging Hashem

Iyov questions Hashem rather forcefully.  He demands (13:2) that Hashem explain to him why He targets him and asks (13:3) “Is it good for You to inflict harm?”  Later (19:6) Iyov even declares “Hashem has wronged me!” 

Does one who has suffered terribly such as Iyov or Holocaust survivors enjoy the right to speak this way towards Hashem?  Interestingly, towards the conclusion of Sefer Iyov (42:7), Hashem tells Eliphaz that he, Bildad and Tzofar “have not spoken about me properly, as my servant Iyov.”  This seems to imply that Hashem sanctions the manner in which Iyov complained to Hashem.  Nonetheless, Metzudat David (ad. loc.), reflecting the opinion of Rava (Bava Batra 16a), explains that Hashem means that the three friends have spoken improperly just as Iyov has spoken improperly.

Although Sefer Iyov does not offer a conclusive resolution to our query, nonetheless a reference to Eichah offers a solution.  In Megillat Eichah we direct quite harsh statements towards Hashem such as “he reared His bow like an enemy” (2:4), “You killed and had no mercy” (2:21) and “He ambushes me like a bear, like a lion in hiding” (3:10).  I heard Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik explain as follows.  Normally we follow Chazal’s directive to “bless Hashem on the bad as well as the good” (Brachot 9:5).  However, on Tishah BeAv, explains the Rav, we are allowed to vent our frustration with Hashem.  Thus, it was entirely appropriate when one Tishah BeAv a speaker at Congregation Rinat Yisrael, a son of Holocaust survivors, directed his words to Hashem and asked “what could we possible have done to deserve the enormity of the unspeakable suffering of the Holocaust”.  Interestingly, Yemenite Jews study Sefer Iyov on Tishah B’Av and include the entire Sefer in their Siddur for that day.

We relate to Hashem as both King and Father.  As our King we enjoy no right to ever question Hashem. But as our father, it may be appropriate for a child to occasionally share his frustration with Him, and therefore Hashem sets aside one day for us to air our grievances.  Will Schwartz of Teaneck, however, cautions that Megillat Eichah serves as precedent only to vent frustration over mass communal suffering.  Individuals, though, may not enjoy such a license.   This issue might hinge on the debate between Rava and Abaye (Bava Batra 16) as to whether Iyov crossed the line and sinned.  It is possible, however, to suggest that Iyov expressed himself too harshly against Hashem but milder expression might be condoned on Tishah BeAv.  One should consult his Rav for guidance regarding this issue.

Eliphaz’s Outburst against Iyov

Returning to the escalating argument between Iyov and his three friends, we find that matters are going from bad to worse.  After Eliphaz in the second round strongly condemns Iyov as a sinner, Iyov refers (16:2) to his friends as “futile comforters.”  Bildad in his second speech (Perek 18) firmly insists that Iyov’s suffering is due to the fact that the latter is a sinner.  Iyov at this point vents all of his emotions and declares “how long will you continue to make my soul suffer and depress me with your words” (19:2).  He asks them “why do you pursue me as Hashem does?” (19:22).  He begs his friends to have mercy on him and cease from condemning him (19:21).   Iyov even threatens his friends (19:29), warning them that they should fear the sword as punishment for the manner in which they speak to him.  Interestingly, Iyov insists that he remains a righteous man despite his complaints to Hashem and that his friends’ theology is impious (13:16).

Despite this passionate and heartfelt plea, Tzofar continues to criticize Iyov and labels him a Rasha (evildoer; 20:29).  Iyov in Perek Twenty-one defends himself by attempting to dispel the correlation between behavior and divine reward.  He asks (21:17) how many evildoers have been punished.  Iyov concludes this speech by asking why his friends have offered “vain words of comfort”.  Iyov’s reasoning and emotions sadly fall on deaf ears.  In his third and final speech, Eliphaz (Perek Twenty-two) shockingly accuses Iyov of manifold evil acts such as stealing the clothes of the poor, afflicting orphans and withholding food from starving individuals.  Eliphaz even makes the outrageous claim, “Behold your evil acts are many, there is no end to your sins” (22:5). 

Iyov in Perekim Twenty-three and Twenty-four does not even bother to respond to such extreme and entirely unfounded charges against him.  Eliphaz’s words are clearly irrational and are simply the result of an escalating argument that has spiraled beyond reason.  Bildad in Perek 25 utters a very short speech which no longer accuses Iyov of evil but merely notes the futility of challenging the judgment of Hashem.  Tzofar does not even bother uttering a third speech.  They have abandoned the argument that Iyov has suffered due to his sins since Eliphaz’s last speech ironically constitutes a cogent argument on behalf of Iyov.  His accusations are so absurd that even Eliphaz realizes it is incorrect and refrains from speaking again.  The simplistic theology that righteous deeds are rewarded in an immediate and transparent manner and evil actions are punished in a similarly immediate and obvious manner has been dispelled. 


The three friends were not evil individuals.  Although Chazal (Bava Metzia 58b) present Iyov’s friends as paradigmatic examples of violators of the prohibition of Ona’at Devarim (cruel speech), their intentions were pure.  We must recall that Sefer Iyov (2:13) records that when they first visited Iyov after the calamities that befell him, they sit with him in utter silence for no less than seven days!  Indeed this is the source of the well-known Halacha (Moed Katan 28b and Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Dei’ah 376:1) that comforters are forbidden to speak until the mourner begins to speak, as sometimes the mourner prefers and needs silence rather than talking. 

Despite their good intentions, Iyov’s three friends were clearly theologically misguided, but also mistaken in the manner in which they approached someone who has experienced tragedy.  As we noted last week, Sefer Iyov does not only teach philosophy, but also psychology.  A therapeutically sound response to Iyov’s cursing the day he was born would have been to listen attentively and to validate his emotions by saying something such as “you are truly angry” or “you must be in great pain.”

Next week we shall discuss the role of Elihu who speaks after the conversations between Iyov and his friends have concluded, but before Hashem speaks at length to Iyov.

Iyov’s Sufferings, the Holocaust and Medinat Yisrael – Part Three by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

Iyov’s Sufferings, The Holocaust and Medinat Yisrael – Part One by Rabbi Chaim Jachter