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Why bad things happen to good people

Recently, someone posted a video on Facebook, the social media site, of an avowed atheist confronting a religious leader. The atheist was very adamant that either that was no God, or if there was, then He is evil. Among his points were little children who are born with cancer or who had to deal with other things, and just what did they do to deserve this? He also cited the various tragedies that occur in the world: disease, pestilence and war. The video was only of him talking and it left unclear whether the other person, the religious leader, had responded to his accusations.

This is a very salient point and many people struggle with this. They either lose faith in G-d or struggle to come to terms with “G-d’s purpose” when tragedy does strike. Many people will have a tragedy strike, pray to G-d, and then lose all faith when the tragedy occurs. To this question, some people respond that yes, G-d answers all prayers, but sometimes the answer is “no”.

This is a valid point. If religion can’t answer or at least address this issue, we may wonder why we are religious. What is the point of praying if G-d doesn’t answer our prayers?

Judaism does address this conflict. First of all, mankind did live in a paradise where there was no disease, famine or misery. Every need was met. Mankind interacted with nature, his and her environment, in a positive, productive manner. It was called the Garden of Eden, “Gan Edan”.

When given the option, Adam and Eve chose to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and gained free will. This may explain why HaShem told them the fruit was off limits. Yet there it stood, in the garden, available. In effect, Adam and Eve, our ancestors and the model of humans, may the conscious decision to gain knowledge of good and evil and give up their innocence.

Why do wars happen? Because mankind choses to engage in war. He doesn’t have to; he has free will. We all have differences, why not just talk them out? Or flip a card; toss a coin; play a sport, two out three, winner take all. Or compromise. While man is asking, “How could G-d let this happen?”, maybe G-d is asking, “Hey humankind, how can you let this happen? I gave you a world and look what you did?”

What about the infant or child that is born with cancer? Or maimed? Or addicted? How do we explain that?

The Rabbi’s addressed that issue in the Talmud, in the tractate of “Berachot”. There are reasons why bad things happen to good people. First of all, sometimes we need a jolt to set us on the correct path. Take, for example, someone who doesn’t exercise, eats fatty foods and junk foods. Later in life, it’s a good bet that this person will develop adult onset diabetes. He goes to the doctor who puts him on a diet and tells him to develop an exercise routine. The man then loses a lot of weight, feels better, is more productive and happy, and lives a long life. It took a tragedy to set him on the right path.

Kabbalah sees actions as sort of a balance sheet. On one side are the good things, on the other side are the bad things. When we have challenges in life, the result depends on which side predominates. That is one of the reasons for doing mitzvoth; you never know when you are going to need the good things.

The Talmud also talks about the world to come, and this is also reiterated in the Zohar, the scripture of Kabbalah. There is a story of a righteous rabbi who was quadriplegic. His students felt bad for him, that he was confined to bed and how could he be happy and live a productive life? He responded that he was having his misery now, in life, so that in the World to Come he would be that much ahead of the game.

Finally, how do we explain the case of an innocent child born with a debilitating disease or maimed? Judaism believes in transmigration of the soul, or reincarnation. We don’t dwell on it because we focus on the present to build a better future. You’re here, it’s now, deal with it.

We are made in G-d’s image. HaShem is not a physical being, so in what image are we made? It would be G-d’s spiritual image. G-d is eternal and immortal; therefore, there would be a part of us, our soul or “neshamah” that is a reflection of the divine and is also immortal.

As we move from life to life, we carry “baggage” or unfinished business with it. These lives allow us to resolve these issues, as well as set the stage for the next transmigration (whatever that is) and move to a better place. It is called the “World to Come”. It is the next life, heaven? We don’t know. Yet.

Whether we finish this life and move to the next life or advance through the levels of heaven (there are seven) after spending a year in purgatory finishing up some of our issues from the most recent life, we face our challenges as best we can, always pushing ourselves to do and be better. That is on what we need to focus—performing Mitzvot and always pushing ourselves to do better.

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