Ask the Rabbi: Life’s Not Fair (when the innocent suffer)
Dear Rabbi Simon,
People often ask why children suffer and sometimes even die when they have done nothing wrong. I am thinking about the Manchester teen concert bombing atrocity and more.
Rashi on this week’s Parsha (Korach, see Num. 16:27) attributes it to machloket (internecine strife). Rabbeinu Bachye says the fate of all the co-conspirators of Korach (and their families) can only be fully understood through the doctrine of reincarnation (that is, they sinned grievously in two earlier lives: Tower of Babel and the people of Sedom).
What do other commentators say?
Related to this, there are devout yet impoverished people who appear to be G-d forsaken, so I wonder how to understand Ps. 37:25, “I was young and now I am old and I have never seen a righteous person abandoned.”
It would appear to me that we cannot properly explain why children suffer. We just acknowledge it. What are your thoughts?
I am Philosophically Perplexed
Thank you for your thought-provoking question.
The suffering of children is part of the larger problem of theodicy (ie, divine providence in view of the existence of evil). A world in which natural (or man-made) disasters affected unworthy adults but never children would be a supernatural world. It is inevitable that children will suffer along with adults, even as the adolescent daughter of a criminal suffers when her father is sent to prison for his crime. This is justice. She did not transgress by being born to such a family, but such is her lot.
By the same token, one born into an upright, respected and affluent family did nothing to merit his accident of birth, but that is his lot. He will no doubt have his own challenges over time as well. Life is this way.
Note also that G-d has granted man free will, without which justice, reward and punishment (whether of man or G-d, in this world or the next) are meaningless. Nevertheless, the hand of G-d may be discerned in human affairs, and especially in the destiny of the Jewish People.
Ultimately, only through a reckoning in the Next World will these apparent inequalities be compensated.
Ps. 37:25: Rabbi SR Hirsch (1808-1888) says the righteous is not abandoned by the community, ie King David is praising Jewish communal self-help. Others say the righteous man never regards himself as abandoned by G-d.
Rabbi Rashi Simon