Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
JOB CHAPTER 37
CONCLUSION OF ELI-HU'S SPEECH
The concluding section of Eli-hu's answer to Job, which occupies the whole of our present chapter, is a direct continuation from the previous chapter. In the Hebrew text there is no section break between the two chapters. Moreover the chapter break in the printed Bible texts actually violates the thematic continuity of Eli-hu's speech. This is because in the closing verses of chapter 36 vv 26-33, he had begun to give expression to God's unfathomable power and His detailed providence over the universe through depicting specifically the wonders of rainfall, which is the foundation of human prosperity and which is responsive to men's behavior and their prayers. Now in the conclusion of his speech in Chapter 37, Eli-hu expands on the theme of the wonders of thunder and lightning, storms and rain clouds, lifting our eyes and our inner thoughts steadily higher, level by level, to the heavens and beyond, to the inscrutable Ruler of all, who knows man's thoughts before he even speaks.: "Hear this, Job, stand and contemplate the wonders of God!" (v 14).
After Eli-hu concludes his speech, Job does not answer him - he had no answer because apparently, he accepted Eli-hu's arguments. This enabled him to rise to the level of prophecy (see our commentary on the next chapter), and immediately after the end of Eli-hu's speech, HaShem Himself answers Job out of the storm-wind (chapters 38ff).
Eli-hu's speech thus marks a transition from what might be seen as the lower level of wisdom on which Job and his three companions conducted their debate about the problem of suffering, to a higher level where new hints and suggestions are offered as to how to approach this inscrutable mystery. Eli-hu's repeated challenges to Job in our present chapter to acknowledge that the mysteries of creation are beyond us constitute a preparation for God's own direct challenges to Job to acknowledge the inscrutability of His ways.
Before discussing comment on individual verses in the present chapter, let us see the chapter as a whole in the context of Eli-hu's entire discourse, as summarized by Metzudas David (on Job 37:24): "Eli-hu affirms that God indeed watches providentially over the very details of creation, and separates the wicked from the goodness that comes into the world while also separating the righteous from the evil in it. If at times evil befalls a Tzaddik, it comes providentially to open his ear to rebuke when he turns somewhat from the straight path. Eli-hu answers Job that in his case too, suffering has come to open his ear to rebuke so that he will repent and return to God, and this way he will be saved from the judgment of hell and will delight in spiritual lushness. For if he had had a life of constant tranquility he would have rebelled against God because of the abundance of everything, and he would have been lost eternally like the generation of the Flood. Eli-hu also reproves Job for not humbling himself before God since everything is in His hand and there is none like Him. Eli-hu proves God's providence: He formed the eye, so how could it be that He does not see? Eli-hu adduces the wonders of God that are known to us and those that are concealed. Thus he answers Job by saying, Surely you know something of the natural phenomena of this world, why do you not understand more? You must admit that everything comes from God and is under His providence and we cannot understand it all. For this reason we may not question His deeds, for man's intelligence is too limited to be able to understand God's work and how He governs the world (Metzudas David on Job 37:24).
Vv 1-5: Eli-hu's heart shudders at the thought of the flashes of lightning and roaring thunder that God sends as part of the water cycle.
V 6: "For He says to the snow, be [on] the earth." The simple meaning of the verse refers to the ecological phenomenon of snow as part of the water cycle. On the esoteric level, this verse is quoted in the Midrash (Pirkey d'Rabbi Eliezer 3 etc.) and in [some but not all editions of] Sefer Yetzirah 1:11 as referring to the mystery of the "congealment" (Tzimtzum) of the "fluid" spiritual levels of Creation - i.e. the letters of the Hebrew alphabet - so as to form the "solid" material world (see R. Aryeh Kaplan's edition of Sefer Yetzirah loc. cit.).
V 7: Metzudas David offers a simple PSHAT on this verse relating it the preceding verses explaining that knowledge of coming weather developments is hidden from men, whereas the animals (next verse) exhibit behavior patterns showing their intuitive knowledge of coming rains and storms etc. However, on the level of Drash, this verse is famous as teaching that "at the time when a man leaves this world for his eternal home, all his deeds go before him and they say, You did such and such in a certain place on a certain day, and he replies, Yes. They say to him, Sign, and he signs, as it is written, ;In the hand of each man will he put a sea'l, and moreover, he accepts the justice of the verdict and says to them, You have judged me beautifully!" (Ta'anis 11a).
V 12: ".and it is turned about through His counsels." The infinitely complex tapestry of interconnected causes and factors in blowing the clouds, each one exactly where He wants it in order to bring about His desired effects, is evidence of His absolute providence over everything. The Talmud darshens from here that if Israel's repentance on Rosh Hashanah warrants a judgment of abundant rainfall but later in the year they sin, He does not revoke the decree but rather makes the rains fall where they are not needed, while sometimes it is the other way round (Rosh Hashanah 17b see Rashi on our verse).
Vv 18-19: Did you stretch out the heavens with Him?... Tell me what arguments can we bring against Him? We cannot argue against Him because of the darkness and concealment that surround Him (see Rashi).
Vv 20f: God knows man's thoughts before he even speaks.
V 21: Metzudas David explains: "As Eli-hu comes to complete his speech, he says, And now I say to you in general terms: sometimes people do not see the light of the sun because the clouds cover it - yet even so, it is bright in its place in the heavens and shines very greatly. But when a wind passes and "cleanses" the skies of the clouds, the sun becomes visible." As if to say, God's light shines all the time whether man sees it or not - His providence is constant.
V 22: "Gold comes out of the north (TZAPHON=hidden)". -- "The good 'gold' is hidden away for those who bring themselves to fulfill the commandments of the Holy One blessed be He and who believe in God, who is most awesome" (Rashi).
V 23: "The Almighty (we cannot find Him out) He is excellent in power and in judgment, and with plenty of justice, He will not oppress" - "God does not send judgments against His creations according to His own great power but rather with mercy, accepting their atonement according to their limited ability. He does not oppress anyone to excess and He does not oppress the righteous man more than is necessary" (Rashi).
V 24: The bottom line is: Fear of God. God does not regard the "wise of heart" - those who come against Him with sophistry - for their wisdom is nothing in His eyes (see Rashi).
V 1: "Then HaShem answered Job out of the storm wind (SE'ARAH)."
Ramban explains: "Job now attained the level of prophecy because he was 'innocent and righteous, God-fearing and one that turned away from evil' and he had been proven through being tested. And even though he had sinned in doubting God's justice on account of a lack of wisdom, the test helped to bring him close to God, for he accepted Eli-hu's arguments and saw that they were a sufficient answer to his question, and he was now God-fearing and an innocent Tzaddik. God speaks to him 'out of the storm wind', because his prophecy was not on the level where the heavens were opened up to him so that he saw clear visions of God as in the case of Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel etc. He attained the level that the prophets reach first at the beginning of their vision, as in the case of Ezekiel, who first saw a "STORM WIND coming out of the south" (Ezekiel 1:4; cf. Elijah's vision I Kings 19:11). Out of the storm wind came a voice to Job answering him with tremendous power.
"The purpose of His answer is to let Job know that He is perfect in knowledge in general and in particular over all the created entities in their entirety and He watches providentially over all of them, while man is too brutish to understand even the phenomena of nature, let alone to understand God's justice and its foundations. He also hints to him that Eli-hu's answers were based on the truth, for so far Job only accepted that he MIGHT be correct and that accordingly even the phenomena of the suffering Tzaddik and the wicked man who has it good might be based on justice. However, Eli-hu had no decisive proof and man cannot know this except through received tradition. Now God tells Job that this is true." (Ramban on Job 38:1).
In Ramban's Introduction to the book of Job, he notes that only in the opening two chapters of the book and in this final section of the work does the "essential name of God", HASHEM, the Tetragrammaton, appear, while throughout the main body of the work, in all the speeches of Job and his companions including Eli-hu, He is called by other names such as E-L, ELO-AH and SHA-DAI. (Out of respect, these are pronounced respectively as KEIL, ELOKAH and SHAKKAI except when used in prayer or when reciting as opposed to merely quoting of the Hebrew Biblical text). The work begins and ends with the absolute unity of God, who rules over all with complete justice, but in the quest of Job and his companions for answers in the main body of the text, they invoke the different attributes of God as expressed in His various other names.
The Talmud teaches: "Rabbah said, Job blasphemed with a storm wind (see Job 9:17) and He answered him with a storm wind. Job said to Him, Perhaps a storm wind passed before you and you mixed up EEYOV (Job) and OIYEV ("enemy"). And He answered him with a storm wind (SE'ARAH). He said to him, I have created many hairs (SE'ARAH="hair") in man and for each hair I created its own follicle so that no two hairs should suck energy from one and the same follicle, because if two were to draw from one follicle they would darken the light of man's eyes. I do not mix up one follicle with another - how much less would I mix up EEYOV and OIYEV!" (Bava Basra 16a).
In the words of the Midrash: "A gentile asked Rabbi Meir how it could be since He fills the heaven and earth that He could speak to Moses from between the two poles of the Ark. Rabbi Meir asked him to bring a mirror that enlarges the reflected object and told him to look at his face in it. He then had him bring a mirror that diminishes the reflected object and likewise told him to look at his face in it. He told him: If you are flesh and blood yet you can change the way you appear at will, how much more so can He that spoke and brought the world into being. Sometimes the entire world cannot contain His glory, and at times he speaks to a man from between the hairs of his head!!!" (Bereishis Rabbah 4).
God's answer to Job is one of the most sublime passages in the Bible, evoking the inscrutable mysteries of creation, the elements, the constellations, stars and planets, the manifold forms of animal, bird and fish life on land, in the air and in the sea, as well as so much more. As mentioned in our commentary on Job ch 28, embedded allusively in the present passage (chapters 38-41) are the Fifty Gates of Understanding (BINAH), as explained in detail by Raavad (Rabbi Avraham ben David of Posquieres, Provence, c. 1128-1198) in his lengthy Introduction to Sefer Yetzirah. Thus verse after verse in God's series of challenging questions to Job opens with the word MI ("Who.?), alluding to the Fifty Gates of Understanding (MEM, 40 + YOD, 10 = 50!).
Let us have the humility to know the limits of our own understanding and start our quest for wisdom with the cultivation of true fear of Heaven.
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By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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