Avraham ben Yaakov


In the original Hebrew text, chapter 41 is the direct continuation of God's second answer to Job, which began in ch 40 v 6. The conventional chapter break between chapters 40 and 41 is quite arbitrary as it falls in the middle of the description of Leviathan. The last verse of the previous chapter contained God's challenge to Job to try to fight against Leviathan - "Lay your hand upon him - you will no more think of fighting" (Job 40:32). The first verse in our present chapter then goes on to say that the hope of anyone who does try to fight him will be disappointed since it is enough just to look at him to make a person backtrack in fear.

The powerful evocation of Leviathan's awesomeness and might in this part of God's answer to Job provides the foundation for the KAL VA-CHOMER (argument from a light to a serious case) in verse 2: If nobody dares to arouse Leviathan (who in all his awesome might is the "light" case), then "Who is able to stand before Me?" (this is the "serious" case). Who can protest over what God does? This continues the rebuke to Job implicit in the previous chapter that however righteous he may have been, he was still not on the level of the perfect Tzaddik who could "raise his hand and stop the sun" (see our commentary on Job 40:9). It is as if God is telling Job: "If you had been a true Tzaddik in the proper way, I would have rewarded you, because no one can protest or stop Me doing anything" (Metzudas David).

V 3: "Who has a claim on Me from before that I should repay him?" - "This means that there is no one who has ever taken the initiative to perform some act of righteousness before God first did him some favor" (Metzudas David). "Who gave praises before Me before I first gave him a soul? Who ever stepped forward to circumcise his son unless I first gave him a son? Who made Tzitzith before I gave him a Tallith? Who made a parapet unless I gave him a roof? Who made a Succah before I gave him a place? Who separated PE'AH (the corner) before I gave him a field? Who separated the Terumah and Maaser tithes before I gave him a granary? Who separated firstborn animals and animal tithes before I gave him a flock?" (Tanchuma).

The Hebrew words of verse 4 are susceptible to a number of different interpretations. Rashi (ad loc.) explains them as an affirmation that if there is indeed a truly righteous Tzaddik, God will protect and reward his offspring on account of his constant determination to do only goodness and righteousness. Metzudas David, on the other hand, connects this verse to the coming passage which continues to evoke the great might of Leviathan, explaining: "There is enough in what I have told you already to answer your arguments, but nevertheless I will not refrain from telling you more of the might of Leviathan and his limbs and his majestic greatness compared to the other creatures, in order that you should gain deeper understanding of My supreme exaltedness" (Metzudas David on v 4).

From verse 5 until the end of the present chapter is all a further description of Leviathan. It starts with his fearful lips and mouth (vv 5-6), his armor of scales (vv 7-9), the bolts of flashing light emerging from his sneezes, eyes, mouth, nostrils and his very soul (vv 10-13), the power of his neck and his solid flesh and heart. (14-16). The mightiest warriors are in terror of him, because he is impregnable to human weapons of any kind (vv 17-22). He plows through the sea leaving a trail of gleaming foam (vv 23-4).

After all this, it is interesting to find that the sages determined that Leviathan is kosher! "Rabbi Yose ben Dourmaskis says: Leviathan is a pure species of fish, as it says, 'his SCALES are his pride' (Job 41:7) and 'his underparts are like sharp potsherds' (ibid. v 22) - these are the FINS with which he swims" (Chullin 67b; see Leviticus 11:9). Let us hope that we too will be worthy of a taste of the kosher flesh of Leviathan together with the true Tzaddikim!

"None on earth can be compared to him: he is made without fear. He beholds all high things; he is a king over all the children of pride" (vv 25-6). Metzudas David (on v 26) comments: "Even though he is in the water beneath the earth, he sees all who are high and mighty upon the earth and knows of all kinds of amazing creatures, and he is not afraid of anyone. He is the king and head over all men of pride, for he is prouder than all of them. As if to say: I have told you about the wonders of a creature made by My hands - understand from this the greatness of My exaltedness!"

Metzudas David continues with a summary of God's answer to Job: "This is an answer to his complaint about his terrible suffering after all the good he had done. God answers that a true Tzaddik has a power in his arm like that of God to rule below and above. See now if you can punish the sinners with the words of your mouth and then I too will acknowledge that you are a perfect Tzaddik. So what if you praise yourself as having been a Tzaddik if it was not the case? For if you had been a true Tzaddik My hand would not have been short in repaying you, because none can protest against Me. He relates the wonders of the wild ox and the wonders of the whale in order to know something of God's greatness through them - for no-one can prevent Him from paying someone their reward, even though He has no obligation to pay a reward because He already did the person a favor before he performed the mitzvah. Nevertheless He will yet pay a reward out of His loving kindness and likewise He would have paid Job a good reward if he had been a complete, perfect Tzaddik."


Deeply humbled, Job admits his error in having thought that God had put men's destinies in the hands of blind fate, confessing that this was because he had been "without DA'AS, knowledge" (v 3) because he did not understand the wonders of His watchful providence. For all that God had related about His great providence was previously hidden from him, whereas now, after he had been told, he admitted that it is true that He watches providentially over everything (see Metzudas David on v 3).

V 4: "Hear, please, and I will speak: I will ask You and You inform me" - "For I cannot know anything of Your wonders unless You Yourself in Your loving kindness make it known to me" (Ramban).

V 5: Rashi explains: "Many times I heard reports but now my eyes have seen Your Shechinah (Indwelling Presence), and because I have been worthy to see Your Shechinah, I despise my life and I will be content to dwell in the grave and return to the dust and ashes from which I was taken."

On vv 5 and 6, Ramban explains: "I had a tradition (KABBALAH) about Your Godliness, but now I have attained prophecy and I know the truth of Your existence, and that You exist and know and watch over all providentially, and that You are a righteous Judge and full of loving kindness and truth. Therefore I despise what I always wanted until now - the life of this world and the tranquility that I desired and over whose loss I complained. I repent over my having favored the body - which is dust and ashes - thinking that having the life of the body is kindness while death to the Tzaddik is an outrage. Now I repent over having desired the body and I want only to be attached to You and to live in the light of Your face and that my soul should be bound with You in the bond of life."

V 7: ".and HaShem said to Eliphaz the Teimanite, My anger burns against you and your two companions [Bildad the Shoohite and Tzophar the Naamatite] - because you have not spoken of Me the thing that is right - like My servant Job." Metzudas David explains that Eliphaz and his two companions had failed to give a correct and true answer to Job although supposedly arguing on God's behalf. For they had said that his suffering came upon him because of his many sins, yet this was not so, because he had not sinned greatly even though he may not have attained the ultimate perfection of saintliness, which was why he was not fit to receive God's kindness, since the reward for a person's deeds is because of kindness. ".LIKE My servant Job" - for Job too did not speak correctly when he said that everything comes about through blind fate as governed by the heavenly system. Yet even though Job had not spoken correctly, He calls him "My servant", and from this the rabbis learned that a person cannot be faulted for what he says when in pain, for it was only because of his harsh suffering that Job had said what he said (Bava Basra 16b; Metzudas David on v 7).

V 8: "Take for yourselves seven cows." - "Their sin had been unwitting, and could be atoned for through a sacrifice in the same way as the Torah provides for the atonement of unwitting sins through sacrifices" (Ramban). The companions had to go to Job and appease him, and he would then be the Cohen-priest who would offer their sacrifices and pray for them. The rabbis compared Job's prayer for his companions to that of Abraham for Avimelech after he was afflicted with illness on account of having kidnapped Sarah (Genesis 20:7; Tosefta of Bava Kama ch 8). The rabbis also learned out from Job 42:10 - "And HaShem restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends" - that "Whoever begs for mercy for his friend when he himself is in need of that same thing is answered first" (Bava Kama 92a).

V 11: All Job's siblings and friends from before his tribulations now came to comfort him - for during his suffering they all kept away from him, as he said: "and my friends have become estranged from me" (Job 19:13; Metzudas David).

V 12: The numbers of Job's flocks, camels, teams of oxen and donkeys were all exactly doubled (see Job 1:3).

V 13: "He also had SHIV'ANAH sons": Rashi explains the unusual Hebrew grammatical form SHIV'ANAH (in place of SHIV'AH=seven) as a dual form, implying that Job now had two sets of seven sons. [Likewise the seven Hebrew letters - BeGeD KaPoReTh - are doubled, since they can be either "hard" or "soft".] Although Job's daughters were not doubled in number, they were doubled in beauty. YAMIMAH was as radiant as the daylight; KETZIAH was as fragrant as frankincense, while KEREN HAPOUKH was as graceful as a garden crocus (Bava Basra 16b).

With the death of Job, "old and satisfied of days" (v 17), we complete a work that might be called MASECHES YISSURIM, "Tractate Suffering" - inasmuch as the sublime heights of Biblical poetry are combined with the thoroughness of incisive Talmudic examination and analysis of all of the different answers and approaches to this most inscrutable subject, until we finally arrive at God's truth, if we have the humility to accept it.




By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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