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    God suffers too

    There is a vivid picture in the Mishnah Sanhedrin (Sanh. 46a).

    After elaborating the details of court procedures and penalties and explaining which offences in ancient times entailed capital punishment, the text tells us how the offender was executed.

    In a rare Mishnaic excursion into theology, God is now brought into the picture. The offender obviously feels pain… and apparently God does too. He complains that His arm and head hurt.

    We know of course that references to God having bodily parts cannot be taken literally. They are metaphors.

    In our case the Mishnah says that if God feels pain when a sinner is suffering, all the more does He hurt when a righteous person suffers. The Bible puts into His mouth the words, “I am with him in (his) trouble” (Psalm 91:15).

    Why does the Mishnah speak of His arm and head feeling pain? These are the two parts of the human body on which we place tefillin.

    The Talmud, in another aggadic (poetic) passage says that God too, so to speak, wears tefillin (Ber. 7a). Divine tefillin show that God and Israel are bound together, just as human tefillin notionally bind the Jewish male to God in loyalty and love.

    A story is told of two friends who were sitting together and one said, “Do you love me?” “Of course”, came the reply. The first one asked, “So where do I hurt?” The other replied, “How should I know?” His friend said sadly, “If you don’t know where I hurt, how can you love me?”

    The same goes with God. When we hurt He feels pain; when we feel better, He does too.

    The Mishnah passage contributes to our understanding of suffering in that the arm symbolises physical pain whilst the head represents depression or other areas of mental pain.

    In our generation we know how the whole person is affected by whatever problems we happen to have… and here we are talking about two thousand years ago.

    May the year ahead spare us, and God, from suffering, sorrow and sighing.

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