In 1998 I was teaching my first Meah class.  One member of the class was a Shoah survivor, who had lost his whole family, including his wife.  At the time of the class, he was healthy, financially successful, and had a new wife (who happened not to be Jewish). I was preparing to teach Job, which of course is the tale of a man who lost his whole family. Since the book ends with Job regaining his wealth, and having a whole new installment of wonderful children, I always assumed the intent was to show that God had rewarded Job for his faithfulness.

Knowing the life story of the class member, it occurred to me that no one could possibly believe that a man could be “whole” again after losing all his children, even if he gets another set. My view of the book of Job shifted completely, I now saw the narrative, with its Hollywood ending, as deliberately ironic, standing against the very “pat” standard Biblical theodicy.  This episode illustrated quite forcefully the Rabbinic dictum “I have learned much Torah from my teachers, more from my study partners, and the most from my students.”

Fastforward 10 years — I was to teach at the same site again. During the “sharing” portion of the opening session, I was recounting my experience to the group, when in walked the man about whom I was speaking (no exaggeration).  He had come into the room because his wife (who had recently converted to Judaism) was enrolled in the class. I could barely finish the story.

David Bernat

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