"I'm On a Spiritual Quest and I Have Some Questions..."

Real questions, submitted by actual OU Torah followers, with their real answers. NOTE: For questions of practical halacha, please consult your own rabbi for guidance.

Q. I was an agnostic for a long time, but lately I have felt God in my life. I am on a spiritual quest to decide what to believe, which is why I would like to ask you a few questions if you don't mind.

A. Thanks for your questions. Following are some very brief answers – obviously, there's much more to discuss on each of these topics.

1. What is Sheol? How is it? What is its nature?

A. Sheol literally means “the pit.” Some say it means the grave, others say it refers to Hell. If it means Hell, who knows what it’s like? No one alive has seen it but we know it’s unpleasant!

2. In Lamentations 3:38, Amos 3: 6 and Isaiah 45:7 it is said that God is the one who does calamities, misfortune and evil. Doesn't this make God evil?

A. You cite Isaiah 45:7. In this verse, God says, “I form the light and create darkness; I make peace and create evil.” God is telling us that He actively forms things that exist, like light and peace. He passively creates the things that are only the absence of other things, like darkness and evil. So, just like darkness is the absence of light, evil is the absence of God’s goodness.

3. If the Tanach says that the son will not die for the sins of the father (Deuteronomy 24:16; Ezekiel 18:20), then why did God kill King David's son for a sin that his father committed (2 Samuel 12:14, 15 and 18)? And why were King Saul's sons executed for a sin their father committed (2 Samuel 21: 1-14)?

A. You’re talking about two different things. Deuteronomy and II Samuel 21 are talking about the courts, while Ezekiel and II Samuel 12 are talking about metaphysical reward and punishment. As far as metaphysical reward and punishment, a child becomes responsible for his own actions at a certain age. Before that age, they are still subordinate to their parents. (Of course, the question of why children die is much larger than this and normally we would never “blame” the parents but here the prophet told David why.) As far as the execution of Saul’s sons, they weren’t executed by the courts; King David used his extra-legal authority as king to execute them in order to preserve the peace. (There is reason to believe that the seven who were selected deserved it.)

4. Do you think the existence of God can be proven?

A. I don’t think anything can be proven because, if it could, it would be proven and then everyone would agree. Rather, God puts the evidence in front of us and He gives us to option to accept it or to ignore it.

5. How are you sure that the God of Abraham is the true God?

A. He took us out of Egypt and gave us the Torah at Sinai. All of our ancestors (about 2,000,000 people) saw it and they communicated it to us in an unbroken tradition. So, unless an entire nation agreed to lie to all future generations as a joke, that’s good enough testimony for me!

Rabbi Jack's latest book, Ask Rabbi Jack, is now available from Kodesh Press and on Amazon.com.