Every year since 2008, over 30,000 people each year have been killed in the US in an automobile accident. From 1981 to 2007, over 40,000 people each year were killed in the US in an automobile accident. In each of those years, the number of people injured in automobile accidents is in the hundreds of thousands. More than 25% of automobile deaths every year in the US involves drunk driving. Sadly, we must add one more atrocity of a drunk driver killing innocent people, this time a Jewish teenager on the South Shore of Long Island, New York.
I lost my only child, my 18 year old Ariel Yitzchak a”h, due to negligent homicide while on an organized hike with a gap-year yeshiva program in the Judean desert due to exertional heat stroke on September 10, 2014/Elul 15, 5774. The pain never goes away. Never. Especially when every level of the Israeli government goes out of its way to prevent the administration of appropriate criminal justice to the men who clearly caused my son’s death (or the death of any non-Israeli victim due to negligent homicide).
But when I sent out the news of this latest vehicular atrocity in New York, one person on my email list, a very sincere, religious, Torah-observant Jew responded, “There are times I have trouble believing in a personal Deity.” I felt such a sentence cried out for a response, one that I now know is called theodicy. My friends suggested I share my words with a wider audience and so I am providing you with the following I wrote him:
You shouldn’t [have trouble believing in a personal Deity]. He gave us free will. That means he gave those men free will to kill Ariel Yitzchak a”h, as we all have free will to do anything we want. A personal Deity is not a puppet who does what we want. A personal Deity is a being Who is always there for us to communicate literally anything with, to emote with, seek comfort and joy with, to express our desires (which will be fulfilled if and when appropriate in accordance with what is appropriate and when it is appropriate for us, according to G-d) and to let us know that in a future we can’t see and in a future world we can’t really imagine, everything will finally be good and appropriate as it all fits into the ultimate master plan, His plan. Thus, our lives, each and every single one, have ultimate purpose and meaning. A personal Deity is not a being who will take away all our pain or preclude us from ever having pain. How could the world ever improve then?
Robert, as a doctor, you understand that our body needs pain receptors to tell us that something is wrong and needs to be fixed or else the body will get worse and possibly end. Do you think we could last long individually or as the human race if we never felt pain?
The problem is not with G-d. The problem is with Man. Man causes so much irreparable and excruciating pain to his fellow man through the use of his free will. And the pain sometimes results even in death, wrongful death. Our primary training in life by far should be to spend more time on how to exercise properly our free will than on how to have a career and make money (or whatever ephemeral and other mundane goals we may have that we deem absurdly to be of supreme importance). The former is of lasting value. The latter sometimes causes pain as well as allows for pleasure but regardless always has zero value once we’re gone.
For some very strange reason, each one of us always thinks we are innately moral. Apparently, no training in the principles of morality are required like we need to understand physics at a high level. And equally apparently (but wrongly), we seem to think no exercises are needed on an ongoing basis to ensure we remember how best to implement the principles of morality.
We understand the need for all this in professional sports. We understand the need for this with attorneys who are always “practicing” the law. But for the single most important aspect of human existence, by far—exercising our moral free will on a daily/hourly/minute-by-minute basis in accordance with the moral Will of our Creator—for THAT we think we don’t need any training; and even to whatever extent we have received some training in it, regardless of how challenging life can be at times for all of us, we actually think we don’t need moral free will practice and exercises on a regular, ongoing basis to ensure that we are actually living in such a moral manner. Can you imagine anything so illogical?!?
It should be obvious we need sedulously to work on improving ourselves every single solitary day of our lives. If not, we are potentially and actually imperiling the lives of our fellow humans! We are all potentially killers if we are insufficiently trained. That’s not due to G-d’s inadequacies as He has none but due to ours. If we are not killers in a physical sense then we are all definitely potential killers in an emotional/psychological sense. While I believe in the right to bear arms, as it says in the US Constitution (the Second Amendment), would even the most ardent gun-rights proponent want every citizen to be armed—without any (proper) training and then frequent or at least periodic practice? If that were to happen we all know the massive carnage over time that would ensue on a national level. It’s preposterous!
For a species that thinks so highly of ourselves, we each need to take a good look in the mirror and ask what are the real priorities and how can I rearrange them on a daily basis for the rest of my life so they align properly with the only priorities that matter and have eternal value, those that are His values. Simply becoming sufficiently self-aware as to what the real priorities are and comparing them to His priorities certainly will take at least as much education and constant training as any physics professor, sports star, doctor, or attorney require (and I want to note that I have great respect and admiration for physics professors, sports stars, doctors, and attorneys).
If you have trouble sometimes believing in a personal Deity it’s because you are focusing on a somewhat incorrect understanding of His relationship with us. Furthermore, you are selling yourself way too short if your only goal is to believe in a personal Deity. You need to KNOW you have a personal Deity, the one and only Deity, the Creator of the universe and all of mankind, the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, Who is indeed personally involved with each and every one of us every second. Just as He has free will and created the universe and us so that He may grant us the greatest goodness of all, Himself (to the extent we can perceive and understand His interaction with our world), we need to stop thinking of G-d as a puppet, an idol, and use our G-d given wonderful free will to make the best moral choices at all times and thereby attach ourselves to Him as best and often as we can. To do that, we must first acknowledge our deficiencies and then train ourselves, assiduously, to reach a higher level of rectitude every day.
It’s not easy—neither is becoming great in any profession—but the alternative to putting in the hard, daily, necessary moral training is like going around armed without knowing how to use a lethal weapon properly. Or it’s like getting in a car drunk and killing an innocent beautiful teenager.