PERHAPS THE OLDEST QUESTION in the history of monotheism is “why do bad things happen to good people?” The reason this question is specific to monotheism is quite simple. To the atheist of course there is no question; there is no judgment and there is no judge. To the believer in multiple gods there is no question either, because what might be a value to one god might not be to another. Furthermore, the gods in such a system would not be of unlimited power, and therefore would not necessarily be able to prevent bad things happening to good people. But to a believer in classical monotheism, that is in one God, who values good and has unlimited power, the concept of bad things happening to good people has always presented a challenge.
Throughout the traditional literature we find this issue brought up numerous times. The biblical book of Job bases itself around this problem. According to the sages of the Talmud, Moses himself struggled with this problem, and quite possibly never received a satisfactory answer. Throughout the ages various solutions have been proposed, with each commentator presenting another approach; each attacking the problem from another angle. I doubt that I can add anything to the plethora of commentary and give-and-take that is already on the table, and I cannot say that I know enough to state definitively what “the Jewish perspective” is. However, be that as it may, I wish to explore one general way of looking at things, which might hopefully shed a clearer light on one of the angles which is often neglected by the more traditionally inclined.