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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Does Olmert Deserve Cancer?

Since Hirhurim has written on this quoting R. Shlomo Aviner on whether Olmert deserves cancer, the issue perhaps merits a more in depth evaluation.

Firstly R. Aviner's response conflates the question of whether Olmert deserved what happened to him with whether the disease itself is Divine Punishment. Of course no one can know whether an event is actual divine punishment. There is always room to speculate but ultimately we cannot know. However that is besides the point, because the question is not Did G-d Punish Olmert With Cancer but Does Olmert Deserve Cancer.

Parts A. and C. of R. Aviner's response presumes that the question is Did G-d Punish Olmert With Cancer or May We Say That G-d Punished Olmert With Cancer. Both answer a question that was not asked and are there besides the point. That leaves only B. which references hona'at devarim, harming with words.

Much of these discussions go back to Sharon's illness, back then I took a stand against praying for Sharon. They also go back to the death of Yitzchak Rabin. They revolve around the question of the status of someone like Olmert. Is he to be considered a fellow Jew or human being whose repentance we should hope for or one of the community of the wicked hated by G-d who spills the blood of his brethren, one of the evil shepherds who enslaves and sells his people. R. Aviner's answer presumes the former, I presume the latter.

Did G-d give Olmert cancer? That's a question that is impossible to answer definitively. Does a man who is responsible for the death of other Jews and who embodies corruption and deceit deserve cancer? I imagine he deserves something far more than an easily treatable medical problem that will hardly interfere with his plans to give away Yerushalayim Ihr Hakodesh.

Can we seriously talk about harming the feelings of such a man? The Torah we follow is not the Torah of Gandhi. We can exchange quotes and counterquotes all day, but a true Torah view does not set the wicked man who sells his brother into slavery as someone who deserves a hug and a pat on the back in the hopes that he will repent out of love. R. Aviner somehow believes the idea of the generation repenting out of love runs counter to confronting and condemning the wicked in even the harshest possible ways.

When the wicked are punished the name of G-d is upheld in the world because men see that there is justice and the world is not without a justice. It is forbidden to pronounce the name of the wicked without a curse (Mishlei 10:7) and that is why HaRasha or Yemach Shemo Ve'Zichro was generally appended to the names of everyone from Bilaam to Hitler.

יִגְמָר נָא רַע, רְשָׁעִים--ּ וּתְכוֹנֵן צַדִּיק May the full measure of evil be piled on the wicked, King David prayed. This was not an abstract statement, it was a specific prayer against his enemies.

Why indeed do we celebrate when bad things happen to the wicked? Is it merely personal vendettas, a petty desire to see them suffer? David HaMelech answers that question for us in Tehilim 10: 4-12.
The wicked, in the pride of his countenance says 'He will not require'; all his thoughts are: 'There is no God. His ways prosper at all times; Thy judgments are far above out of his sight; as for all his adversaries, he puffeth at them.

He says in his heart: 'I shall not be moved, I shall never suffer adversity.' His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue is mischief and iniquity. He sits in the lurking-places of the villages; in secret places doth he slay the innocent; his eyes are on the watch for the helpless.

He hath said in his heart: 'God hath forgotten; He hides His face; He will never see.' Arise, O LORD; O God, lift up Thy hand; forget not the humble.

We of course can never know if an evil thing that befalls an evil man is a Divine Punishment, but at the same time it is dangerous too be too enthusiastic in proclaiming that it is not and that we should not speak of it. For when we do, we too risk enabling the belief of the wicked that G-d has forgotten and that he will never see. This only emboldens the wicked who might otherwise at least restrain themselves when they encounter a setback, yet when they hear Rabbis talk down the idea that they are experiencing a divine punishment, they only grow more arrogant. "He hides his face," they think, "he will never see. Even the Rabbis admit it."

When we too loudly disclaim any idea that the sufferings of the wicked is the Hand of G-d, we risk proclaiming ourselves that the world has no judge. No we are not prophets, yet a thousand Jewish communities across the world have held Purims long after the of the Prophets that quite often commemorate the death of evil men. Was Stalin's Purim supported by prophecy? No but we can as a general rule assume that the death of the wicked that brings salvation is a salvation from G-d.

At this point Olmert's cancer is not in that category nor do we have any proof that G-d is punishing Olmert for his crimes. Neither do we have any proof that he is not. The question is whether we give G-d the benefit of the doubt or Olmert. Do we spare Olmert's feelings or do we uphold the belief that G-d judges the world and that if the wicked suffer, it is probably by his hand. Which is more important?


  1. Very thought-provoking and well-written article, Sultan.

    Does Olmert deserve cancer? Is it divine punishment for his sins? Well, right off the bat many people are going to argue that even suggesting it would be blaming people for getting cancer. They'll say innocent children get and die of cancer, too.

    But we're not talking about average basically good people. We're talking about corrupt politicians who have betrayed G-d, their fellow Jews and their nation.

    Rabin must of had inklings that his life was in danger. Sharon beefed up his personal security signigicantly in 2005 before Gush Katif and before his sudden and catastrophic illness. Olmert? He also faced an assasination threat.

    Did stress cause the illness? Did his body know what his soul was unwilling to admit: that his actions would destroy him? I don't know. I can only speculate that they did.

    Look at the symbolism of cancer. The word cancer means crab. It's caused by a proliferation of immature undifferentiated cells. In other words a prostate cell doesn't look like a prostate cell. There's no identity, is not developed and cannot function properly. This proliferation of immature, undifferentiated cells with no specific identity cannot function as a normal cell and the organ ceases to function.

    Once one body part is afflicted it spreads and spreads until the body can no longer function with all of these immature undifferentiated cells and the body dies.

    Olmert wants to give away the Temple Mount to Muslims, who don't belong there. Muslims who are already destroying it with their bull dozers. If allowed to go unchecked all of Israel will be flooded with Muslims who seek to destroy the uniquely Jewish and holy nation.

    Symbolism in a cancer diagnosis? Maybe. And I do believe PMs and presidents are the same as the kings of the Tanakh and will be judged accordingly.

    (Little question if I may--was Rabin PM before Sharon? Is this a concession of tragedies afflicting the PMs after Oslo?)

  2. your discourse on the symbolism of it, the lack of identity of an individual cell is quite fascinating, you should make a post out of your comment

    sharon came after barak who came after netanyahu who came after peres who came after rabin

    however only rabin, peres and sharon really did a quantum amount of damage inside israel by surrendering large smounts of territory

    netanyahu turned over hevron and barak lebanon

  3. Who is to determine who is basically good? Everyone sins constantly to one degree or another in thought, word or deed. Some people's sins are just more evident than others.
    Once you ascribe divine retribution to cancer you do it for everyone. You can't help it.
    and you hear the selfrighteous say it all the time. "what did he/she do to deserve that?"

    If cancer was a way G-d chose to mete out divine justice then why babies and children?
    No, if it is divine then it would be another way.
    Instances of divine retribution in tanakh involve things outside human understanding so that they are distinctly different than regular things which befall all mankind.

  4. Thank you :) I think I will flesh out the comment into a post and expand on it a bit. Sometimes looking at symbolism makes things easier for me to understand, too.

    It's realy hard not to see a similarity between a Jew like Olmert who really doesn't seem to have much of a Jewish identity and an undifferentiated out of control cancer cell with no identity and the destruction both cause.

  5. Anonymous1/11/07

    Excellent article, Sultan. And also some excellent observations by keli ata.

    -- MAOZ

  6. there is a fundamental difference between ordinary flawed humans who sometimes do bad things and genuinely evil men

    you can't conflate the two anymore than you can conflate a jailed serial killer and someone who cheats on his taxes

    when we pile everyone into the category of flawed sinners, we wind up with an xtian formulation that denies evil

    can G-d punish someone with a particular disease? we have evidence from tanach that he does, this doesn't mean that natural occurrences of the disease that are not a specific punishment don't occur

    children are carried away by floods but so was the dor hamabul and the armies of pharaoh were drowned too, just because something occurs as a divine punishment doesn't mean it doesn't also happen in the ordinary course of events

    Stalin died of a stroke and we assume it's a miracle, it doesn't mean that everyone who dies of a stroke is being punished as he was

    In Tanach Hashem sometimes performs miracles outside of nature, but sometimes Hastir Astir, he acts within natural events as he did in Megilat Esther or when those of David Hamalech's enemies whom he prayed against came to bad ends

  7. "you can't conflate the two anymore than you can conflate a jailed serial killer and someone who cheats on his taxes"

    How can you seperate the two?That one gets cancer just because and one for sin?
    Who sets themselves up to judge who is truly wicked and who is not?Only G-d can see inside a man. We dont know that the tax cheater is not doing more do we? Tax is what we see ..what else is there.
    As I said some sins are just evidently more readily seen on the surface but the wickedness of others might be well hidden from our eyes but just as evil to G-d.

    "A devious cabal that included a pedophile rabbi stole a half-million-dollar home from a cancer-stricken woman, using a forged power of attorney to sell it and pocket the profits, Brooklyn prosecutors charged yesterday."..from the NY Times.
    Ok is she only getting what she deserves?
    Why is she stricken? How far can you take this. Can you set yourself up to judge her innocence or guilt before G-d?
    If evil is just unchecked cancer cells then voila you condemn all cancer patients.You cant have it both ways. You have a really hard time drawing a line here.
    If you have brain trouble is it because you have an evil mind?
    If you suffer heart condition is it because of your wicked heart?
    Does bowel trouble show some evil within?
    Can you compare broken bodies to broken law?
    Do retarded children mean the parents lived lives retarded in torah observance? Just some parents maybe.. not others?
    So uneven justice here at the hands of an unjust G-d. No. I dont fall for this.

  8. Dividing those who are wicked from the rest is the only way for anything good to exist.

    "Who are we to judge" is the most dangerous and insidious statement in the history of Western civilization. Every liberal idea and premise that destabilizes civilization derives from "Who are we to judge" or "Let he who is without sin".

    Judging good from evil is what we do. It's what we were put here for. If we can't look at an evil man and call him evil, then we're done for. We might as well go home and let the bad guys run the show.

    If a murderer is stabbing a woman to death outside, do we say, "Who are we to judge" or "Only G-d can see what's right here" or do we cry "Murderer" and fight him?

    Moshe saw an Egyptian beating a Jewish man and he didn't say, "Who am I to Judge." He did it and he struck him down. And on the next day the world's first liberal asked, "Who appointed you a judge over us." Decades later G-d answered the question by appointing Moshe a judge over the entire Jewish people. Because those who judge are worthy to judge. For this same reason Pinchas became a Kohen.

    Now as I've already said, this does not mean that every time something bad happens to someone, that it's Divine Punishment. Let alone that we should assume we know why that punishment comes. There are people who hold to that, I do not.

    It doesn't mean anything as simplistic as every case of cancer being a result of a person's evil. No more than every case of leprosy was a result of divine punishment was for a specific sin. But at the same time it's undeniable that some cases of leprosy were.

    As I've said, the Egyptians were drowned in water and so are innocent people today. Pointing out that the drowning of the Egyptians was divine punishment does not mean saying that everyone who drowns today is wicked like the Egyptians and deserves it.

    An interesting analogy was given between cancer and the individual Jew who abandons his people and turns on them for lack of a Jewish identity, himself becoming a cancerous cell. This does not mean that people who have cancer have no Jewish identity. Disease can be a metaphor in the general case without having an application to every person down the line. Pointing out that an individual behaves like a cancer does not mean people with cancer are evil. This is a metaphor, not a definition.

  9. As I've said three times already now, sometimes G-d sends a flood to drown the wicked, sometimes innocent people drown in a flood.

    Sometimes leprosy is a punishment, sometimes leprosy occurs. Sometimes people are defeated in war because of their sins, sometimes because of their tactics.

    The world is governed with a combination of natural law set into place by G-d and specific interventions. One does not contradict the other.

    The concept of cancer cells as representing individuals is a metaphor. Metaphors are ways of looking at things. When we call someone a cancer, that doesn't mean that people with cancer are evil. Calling something a plague does not mean that people with cholera are evil.

  10. can you see the Hand of G-d in the sun rising in the morning? Can you see it in the internal structure of a beehive? These are things which can occur under natural law but which we have faith are the Hand of G-d

    The everyday miracles are just as extraordinary as the unusual ones

    leprosy can strike anyone, yet it had a special meaning when it struck certain people

  11. Maybe I should have phrased things differently. It's a comparision that the character of cancer cells and their ravaging effect on the entire human body is similar to consequences a corrupt politician can have on an entire nation.

    In no way do I believe every person that gets cancer is evil, but evil people do get cancer.

    My mother died of lung cancer. Actually she had been diagnosed with malignant melanoma years before. Everything seemed okay for a while. The growth under her eye, probably less than a couple of millimeters, was removed. It didn't serious. Because it was so tiny it wouldn't have ordinarily raised any red flags with physicians, and probably wouldn't have been removed at all were it not for a daughter with gut instinct that the color was just too dark compared to her other moles.

    Four or five years passed. Silently the cancer spread like wildfire to her lungs, spine, liver, spleen, and brain. Until the last six months of her life everything appeared fine on the surface. It started very small and was very localized.
    My mother had cancer and was not evil. Nor did she smoke.

    I'm not judging Ehud Olmert or playing G-d. I'm not saying it was a punishment from G-d. We can't know that.

    What I am saying is that the effects of cancer on the human body has the same characteristics as a corrupt politician leading a nation.

    And evil people have gotten cancer.




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