The book of Iyov is perhaps the most perplexing and thought provoking book in the Bible. It has been discussed and talked about by Rabbis and secular scholars alike and is arguably one of the most well-known stories throughout the Bible. The story is center around a god fearing man named Iyov who is a successful and wealthy man. Satan comes and tells god that Iyov only serves him because of his fortune and challenges god that should this be taken away from him, his obedience will soon follow. The rest of this story continues with Iyov’s friends trying to console him, each giving different insights as to how god works in terms of bad things happening to good people. Fast forward to the end and Iyov rejects all of these answers and is ultimately forced to acknowledge God’s unlimited power, recognizing the fact that human knowledge is limited. At this point Iyov turns back to God’s ways and he is blessed with twice as much as he was initially.
Interestingly enough the authorship of this book is a mystery. The question of when it took place or even if it took place is an argument still had today with no conclusive answer. The Talmud famously gives a few opinions as to whom the author might be, one of the suggestions being Moses. The question begs to be asked, what episode of Moshe’s life gives us a hint to his possible authorship of Iyov?
I believe that the answer to this question lies in the Torah portion of Ki Tisa. In Ki Tisa we read about the Jew’s sin of the golden calf along with the plague that comes as punishment, which wipes out a large percent of the Jewish people. Next Moshe goes up into the cleft of a rock on the mountain and argues with god concerning the future of the Jewish nation. When Moshe finally convinces god to forgive the Jews for their terrible sin he then asks one of the vaguest and out of place questions in history, “Harayne Na Et Kevodecha” – “Show me your glory”. What is Moshe talking about? Does he want to see something physical? What’s even stranger is god’s answer, “You will not be able to see My face, for man shall not see Me and live. You will see my back but My face shall not be seen.” What is the deeper meaning behind this episode?
Almost all of the Rabbis interpret this request the same way. Moshe wants to know god better. Specifically he wants to know the answer to the most philosophically disturbing question in history; why do bad things happen to good people? As we take a step back we can finally start putting the story together. When god sent the plague throughout the Jews it obviously didn’t kill everyone. Seemingly from the Pasukim it looks as if all the men (except for the tribe of Levi) were participants in this sin. (This opinion runs contrary to the view offered by the Midrashthat only the converts from Egypt participated but this opinion is nowhere near unanimous nor is it the Pashuto Shel Mikra and as Chazal say “A Pasuk never leaves its simple meaning”). This prompted a distressed Moshe, the same Moshe that caused himself to be exiled out of Paroah’s palace just to save one Jew, to cry out “why”!
Why did only some people die from this plague and others survive? These are his children that are dying left and right at a seemingly random pace, he is asking the question why do bad things happen to good people? With that Moshe then asks god to show him his innermost workings and oversight of the world. God answers that no man can know this and live, meaning that it is out of the realm of human capability to understand the full picture. God then shows Moshe his back and this answer seems to be good enough to console Moshe and have him return back to the Jews to lead them stronger than ever.
In understanding this answer we must give it some context. Until this point the Jews were living in a world steeped in Idolatrous ways. A theological question such as this would never need to be asked. The answer would obviously be that the “bad god” has overcome the “good god” or the god of healing is upset because you are only serving the rain god. Under these beliefs one can come up with a plethora of answers, that will not always be comforting but will be logical.
When god tells Moshe that he cannot know it was the most novel and perhaps the most comforting answer ever. “All you see is the back!” We are all just looking at the world from the back, as if we are looking at the back of a painting and complaining about its beauty. That is not for you to worry about god tells Moshe. What you are in the world to do is to realize that we will never see the full picture but we cannot get stuck on this. This is the message that both Iyov and Moshe are able to come away with, as it is one of the most important lessons for us to learn as humans in this world. It is not for us to demand answers from God but rather we need to take every situation and realize that although we may not understand why something is happening, we need recognize that we have the will and the power to keep our heads up and keep on going.