Confronting Evil

(From a friend, for Yom Hashoah/Holocaust Remembrance Day.)

April 15, 1965
יוסף דוב סולוביצ’יק

Dear Dr. Vogel:

I received your letter. Of course, you may quote me.

The gist of my discourse was that Judaism did not approach the problem of evil under the speculative – metaphysical aspect. For such an inquiry would be a futile undertaking. As long as the human mind is unable to embrace creation in its entirety and to gain an insight into the very essence and purposiveness of being as such it would not succeed in its attempt to resolve the dilemma of evil. The latter is interwoven into the very fabric of reality and cannot be understood outside its total ontological configuration. Job was in error because he tried to grasp the nature of evil. Therefore, Judaism has recommended that the metaphysical inquiry be replaced by the halachic ethical gesture. Man should not ask: Why evil. He should rather raise the question: What am I supposed to do if confronted with evil; how should I behave vis a vis evil. The latter is a powerful challenge to man and it is the duty of man to meet this challenge boldly and courageously. Suffering in the opinion of Judaism, must not be purposeless, wasted. Out of suffering must emerge the ethical norm, the call for repentance, for self-elevation. Judaism wants to convert the passional frustrating experience into an integrating, cleansing and redeeming factor.

Man was summoned to defy evil and try to eliminate it. However if he fails temporarily to defeat evil he must see to it that the confrontation be a courageous one, heroic and useful. In a word, instead of philosophizing about the nature of evil within the framework of a theodicy, Judaism wants man to fight it relentlessly and to convert it into a constructive force.


Joseph Soloveitchik

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *