Q. Every year the memorial events on Yom HaSho’ah raise the question of how God could allow such suffering. Do you have an answer?
I spent many years as a university teacher of Judaic studies, and one of the courses I taught was on the theology and halachah of the Holocaust. I showed my students how the post-Holocaust theologians had tried to come to grips with the question of “Why?” We looked at the question as part of the age-old obsession with the issue of Tzaddik v’ra lo, rasha v’tov lo – “the righteous who suffer, the wicked who prosper”.
Then we looked at the Holocaust as a unique event. We saw that no-one has yet found the final answers. But we noted that the Mishnah Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, insists (2:16) “It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it”. We may not succeed in arriving at the answers, but we dare not refuse to ask the questions.
We also noted that a number of theologians urge us to recognise the distinction between explanation and response. We may not be able to explain what happened, but we have to respond to it: not merely asking “Why did it happen?” but “Now that it has happened, what do we do about it?”