‘Friends’ online and in the Book of Job

Inside each of us, according to a Native American tale, there is a good dog and mean dog. They are always fighting. Which one wins? The one we feed most.

Mean dogs are excessively well fed these days. On top of mounting suffering and hourly outrage, we are feeling forlorn by daily barrages of verbal vandalism.

Again the calendar presents an observance to affirm our emotional coordinates. Tisha B’av, our saddest day, arrives this coming Wednesday night. Typically the study of joy-inducing Torah is suspended on this lowest of days when we recall the destructions of Jerusalem’s Temple and painful periods from our past. A rare exception is made for learning from the Book of Job.

Job is blameless. Despite being the Bible’s most righteous figure, he is subjected to the inexplicable suffering and the sudden loss of his family. Job clings to God, even as his so-called ‘friends’ greet him with scornful claims, pouring salt in his wounds. “You must be blameful. Why are you unable to see how wrongful you’ve been.” They cancel the realness of his experience with their theoretical arguments. Sound familiar?

At several junctures in the text it isn’t clear who is talking to whom. Job and his friends all seem to be speaking at once, talking over each other. Alas, this too is familiar among online ‘friends’.  Rabbi Harold Kushner points out that interruptions from Job’s friends even seem to keep us from hearing what God has to say.

The prophetic tradition reminds us that recovery is possible. Isaiah’s message this week concludes, “Zion shall be restored through justice, by way of righteously accountable penitents” (Is. 1:27).  Resilience is most effectively brought about when we own our failings and are open with our feelings. Censoring accountability and emotion are two particularly unhealthy forms of censorship. As Bryan Stevenson teaches concerning our historic racial wrongs, “It’s important that we understand all of its ugly details because those are the things that give rise to being able one day to claim something really beautiful.”

Today’s genuine friends can yet be more helpful than Job’s were. Rabbi David Wolpe’s words, along with those of Pamela Paresky and Shadi Bartsch, elegantly remind us how good it feels to be curious and part of stimulating conversations with trusting friends. May our determination to rise from these harmful times inspire us to make better friends with the good dog in us by feeding it more often in the days to come.

About the Author
Rabbi William Hamilton has served as rabbi (mara d'atra) of Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA since 1995.
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