03 July 2020

The peace of the wicked and
the suffering of the righteous
in a Shabbat meditation

Turkish carpets on a stall in Goreme … meaningless tangles of threads or intricately designed pattern? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In my morning or evening prayers and in my meditations, I often use the Authorised Prayer Book.

In his commentaries, the former Chief Rabbi, Lord (Jonathan) Sacks includes a number of Shabbat meditations for Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. These include commentaries and notes on the ‘Ethics of the Fathers,’ from which a chapter is read each Shabbat after Pesach (Passover) until the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

The ‘Ethics of the Fathers’ or Pirkei Avot (פִּרְקֵי אָבוֹת) is a tractate of the Mishnah that gathers many of the ethical teachings of the Sages. These are often pithy sayings, like the sayings of the Desert Fathers in Christian tradition.

In Chapter 4, we read that Rabbi Yannai, a third century scholar, said: ‘It is not in our power to explain either the peace of the wicked or the suffering of the righteous’ (4: 19).

In his commentary on this saying (p 551), Rabbi Sacks observes that, ‘seen from beneath, a Turkish carpet looks like a meaningless tangle of threads. Only when we view it from the other side do we see its intricately designed pattern.’

He concludes: ‘So it is with the justice of events. On earth, we seem to see the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. Only from the other side – Heaven – is it possible to see the logic, the pattern; but that is a vantage point we cannot attain in this life.’

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