Iyov's Mishpat

Eduyot (2:10) | Yisrael Bankier | 3 months ago

R' Akiva listed five things that lasted for twelve months (2:10). Importantly, the common theme between these five events is that they were all mishpat – "judgements" in which punishments were exacted. Previously (4(33)) we discuss one of these – the plagues in Egypt. In this article we will look at the one listed just prior – the judgement of Iyov.

Given the common theme, the Mishnah implies that Iyov's suffering was a punishment. From a simple reading of Iyov however, it is not clear. Iyov is described as righteous; his friends are criticised from telling Iyov his suffering was a result of sin (Berachot 58b) and when Hashem appears to Iyov, it appears that that Hashem delivers a message demanding humility, given the inability of the human intellect to comprehend all the workings of the universe.

Support for Iyov being punished is however found in the Gemara Sotah (11a):

R' Chiya the son of R' Abba said in the name of R' Simai, three [people] where involved in the council [with Paro concerned how to deal with the Jewish people]: Bilam, Iyov and Yitro. Bilam advised that they be killed, so he was killed by the sword. Iyov was silent, so he was judged with suffering. Yitro fled and merited to have his descendants sit in the lishchat ha'gazit (the Sanhedrin).

Note that the Gemara also refers to Iyov's suffering as a judgement. Indeed, the Mishnah's listing the punishments of Iyov and the Egyptians together, along with their durations being the same, supports the notion that they are connected.1

Before continuing, since the book of Iyov is perceived to deal with the question of why bad things happen to good people, this article is not to be understood as answering that all bad things are as a result of sin. While it is true that the Gemara (Berachot 5a) writes that one's initial response to difficulties is teshuva (repentance), it continues that sin it is not the only reason. Once again, the lesson from Iyov is one of humility in not understanding the reason why everything occurs. In any case, to paraphrase Rav Soleveitchik, the lesson of Iyov is not to answer the why of suffering, but how one responds to it. The focus of this article is to understand why the Gemara maintains that punishment for his silence was suffering.

The Aruch LaNer (Sanhedrin 106a) explains that the punishment was proportional – midah keneged midah. Since Iyov held back from giving the correct advice, he was put in a situation where he could not help but call out.

In a similar vein is the Brisker Rav's well known explanation. Iyov's defence would have been that his protesting would not have helped. He therefore endured suffering where he shouted despite it not providing any relief. The message was, that when one truly feels pain, the cry out no matter what. In other words, if Iyov would been bothered by the ill fate of the Jewish people, he would have cried out.

Returning to the Aruch LaNer, we see a treatment of Iyov's potential defence from a different angle. He cites the Midrash that when Iyov complained about his situation, he was shown a sukkah of three walls. Iyov's defence could have been that he was concerned about the consequences of protesting against Paro's position – he could have been killed. That however is not a defence, for ultimately one is accountable in the next world. In truth, Iyov could have fled like Yitro. Returning the three-walled Sukkah, the position that a such a sukkah is valid is if one views the sukkah as a temporary dwelling. The vision of a sukkah was to correct his view that this world is not permanent - it should not have been his primary concern - but rather the ultimate judgement in the next.


1 See the Rashash (Bereishit Raba 57:4) however who maintains that the Gemara is referring to a second time Iyuv suffered and not the twelve-month period referred to in our Mishnah.

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