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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 12.23:
What is the significance and importance of suffering and punishment in Judaism?

Answer:

J udaism teaches that G-d chose the Jews for certain roles and responsibilities within a cosmic plan. While G-d loves and is responsive to pleas from his "chosen people", G-d's actions conform to this timeless scheme for the world. Inevitably, some human suffering will occur and must be accepted for the sake of others or the community as a whole or in congruence with G-d's eternal plan. The parable of Moses on Mount Nebo illustrates another salient feature of the Judaic view of suffering. After leading the Jewish people through forty years in the desert wilderness, Moses, the receiver of the Ten Commandments and the "servant of G-d", ascends the mountain and looks across the Jordan river to Canaan. The covenant G-d had made with Moses was for him to live to see the promised land, but he was neither to enter nor witness his people entering Israel. Now, having attained that goal, Moses bargains with the Angel of Death, imploring God to allow him to observe his people entering the promised land, if only as a bird flying high above or as a blade of grass on atop Mount Nebo. G-d declines, gently at first, later with fury. The covenant must be maintained. G-d demands that Moses' corpse be brought to him! The parable ends as the Angel of Death approaches the heavenly throne carrying the dead body of Moses and observes that G-d is weeping. ( From The Nature of Suffering and the Nature of Opportunity at the End of Life Clinics in Geriatric Medicine, Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 237-252, May 1996. Ira R. Byock, M.D. )


The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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