Please allow me to ask you to join me in prayers of thanks that no hostages lost their lives in the attack on the Beth Israel Synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. That was not the case in 2018 when 11 Jews were murdered at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. That wasn’t the case when a woman was murdered and several worshipers injured at Chabad in Poway, California in 2019 and that wasn’t the case when six Jewish shoppers and a Jersey City cop were murdered in a kosher market in Jersey City, New Jersey, in 2019.
I wrote this column with Father Tom Hartman and now by myself for over 20 years and the one and only message we wanted to convey was this; We know enough about how we are different, but still not enough about how we are all the same.
These anti-Semitic attacks, as well as other attacks and killings of innocent people of other religions, races and sexual orientations are abominations to God. They are proof that we don’t yet know how we are all the same. I don’t know why people hate each other, but I do know that such hatred is a test of our common will to love and protect each other. I know the good in us will win out. What I don’t know is when. The rabbis taught, “Why did God create a person to begin with? So that in the future no one can say: ‘My ancestor was greater than your ancestor.’ May we all learn Adam’s lesson.
Q: Why am I so blessed, and others have a life of sorrow, starvation, pain and torture? – D
A: Thank you, dear D, for your brief but profoundly profound question. Allow me to share with you with equal spiritual brevity all the possible answers to your questioning about your blessings:
“I deserve my blessings and others deserve their misery.” It is the response of people who believe that the evil that happens to us is caused by our own sins and that our blessings are caused by our own virtues. The refutation of this arrogant belief is the Book of Job which describes the suffering of a totally innocent man.
“I don’t deserve my blessings, but I am chosen by God who showered me with blessings as a sign of God’s love for me.”
It is the belief in predestination that is found in the writings of Calvinism. Some think the Jewish belief of being the chosen people is like that. The refutation of this equally arrogant belief is the suffering of the so-called chosen people.
“It’s luck.” It is the belief of those who claim no religious belief. For them, there is no justice in the world and no fairness in the bestowal of blessings. Good and bad things happen to people who don’t deserve them. It’s all just chance. No God, no justice. Life just isn’t fair. The refutation of this hopeless view are the lives lived by good people among us. They have friends and they have joy and they are generous. Those for whom luck has replaced hope live a life of despair. Good people can be hurt, but good people cannot be defeated.
And now… my choice…
“The reward of a good deed is the good deed itself.” It was Rabbi Ben Azzai’s choice and it was Immanuel Kant’s choice. The rewards for good deeds are the good deeds themselves, not some other type of spiritual reward. One does not necessarily become rich by doing good, but one becomes good and that is enough. If we were rewarded for our virtues, then our virtues would only be a means to an end (the rewards). If, however, kindness is its own reward, then we have suddenly broken the mistaken link between doing good and doing well. The blessings you speak of, dear G, are blessings that have nothing to do with material success that comes to people for many reasons. Diligence, sacrifice, honesty, curiosity, hard work, healthy eating, exercise, and being lucky enough to have parents who appreciate these virtues and who have the resources to provide you with a good education – this are the reasons why people are successful and unfortunately some of them the prerequisites for such success are not available to everyone. We all need to work hard to create a society where the fruits of success are equally available to everyone. However, the blessings of faith and courage, hope and kindness – those blessings we can all get by loving a God who loves us back and wants us to love one another. This is what I believe and what I know. Everything else about God’s management of the universe is simply above my paycheck.
Send ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rabbi Gellman is the author of several books, including “Religion For Dummies,” co-authored with Fr. Tom Hartmann.