Review of Where’s My Miracle: Exploring Jewish Traditions for Dealing with Tragedy
"Why do bad things happen to good people?" is probably the most complex and difficult theological question asked both in Jewish and non-Jewish circles. With all the pain and persecution that have happened in Jewish history, it is a question that has been painfully pondered for centuries from Job to the loss of the Beit Hamikdash to modern times and the Holocaust. It is a focus of the Kinnot, which have been echoed for millennia. In Where's My Miracle, Rabbi Schwartz tries to parse through the tremendous amount of material that exists in Jewish tradition on the topic. Rabbi Schwartz approaches the question not fully as an academic but as one who was also a pulpit rabbi dealing with this question practically. Additionally, he has had to live with an immense tragedy in his personal life, the untimely death of his mother. In this way, Rabbi Schwartz not only asks the question, but asks it in a way that is ultimately relatable to every reader.
Rabbi Schwartz goes through different aspects of the question and gives sources showing each side of the issue. Where's My Miracle is unique from other books on the topic because it does not give an answer, but rather shows that there is a multiplicity of explanations given by different authorities both in Chazal and in the Rishonim. To what extent are all bad events punishments? Are things happening naturally, or is God making these tragedies happen? And, can’t God stop tragedy from happening? Schwartz shows throughout the book that all of these questions have many answers. Not only does he not support one view, but also whenever he starts to explain one strand of thought, he brings a source as a counter-example. He scatters quotes from newspapers and other victims of tragedies who express views that are quoted in Jewish texts. Although, he tries to be unbiased, Rabbi Schwartz leans to the view that not all instances have a Divine Hand. Even though he leans one way, he fully expresses the other possibilities. Perhaps these possibilities are all valid for different situations.
However, there is no one answer. Interestingly, the lack of an answer seemed to me to be the best answer. We cannot know why everything happens and it would be hubris to think that we can. Perhaps the events in and of themselves did not have meaning at all. This must be differentiated from the standard answer of “how can we question God?” Rabbi Schwartz shows that our question is not only a valid one, but one that many have frequently attempted to answer. What he shows is that there is no single “Jewish view” of theodicy. Rather, there are many strands of thought throughout the Talmud and other sources, all of which could or could not be applied to different cases.
I would absolutely recommend this book for anyone interested in a Jewish overview of the theodicy that provides multiple perspectives and grapples honestly with the material.
Where’s My Miracle: Exploring Jewish Traditions for Dealing with Tragedy is available on amazon.com for $18.96. For more reviews like this, check out Sam’s book blog at thereadingreinbow.blogspot.com