Get a JobBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
In the land of Utz, there lived a man named Iyov (Job), who was righteous and obedient to G-d. He had seven sons, three daughters, and many flocks and herds. He was the greatest man in that part of the world and he was highly respected. His sons took turns hosting a feast in their homes, each on a designated day. After the cycle was completed, Job would offer sacrifices to G-d in order to atone for any unseemly behavior that might have occurred out of levity. (This is similar for the fasts of Behab or BH”B following the week-long holidays of Pesach and Succos.)
On Rosh Hashana, the angels all gathered before G-d to report and one of them was the Satan. (It is important to note that, in Jewish thought, the Satan – which, by the way, is pronounced “sah-tahn” and not “say-tin” – is not a “devil.” He is an angel, whose job is to serve as prosecuting attorney. He’s not evil and he doesn’t rule Hell. He is properly referred to as “THE Satan,” not just “Satan,” i.e., “The Accuser.”) G-d asked the Satan to report on his activities and the Satan replied that he had been out in the world keeping an eye on what people were up to.
G-d asked the Satan to report on Job, whom He knew to be the most righteous of His servants. The Satan replied, “Of course he is! Why shouldn’t he be? You’ve given him everything a person could ever want! But if you take it all away, he’ll reveal his true colors.”
G-d said, “You think so, huh? Fine, go ahead and try. But don’t harm him physically.” With that, the Satan left.
That day, Job’s children were feasting in the home of the eldest son. A series of messengers arrived at Job’s house with distressing messages. The first said that the army of Sheba captured all of Job’s cattle and donkeys, killing all the herdsmen except for him. The second said that a terrible fire consumed all the flocks and all the shepherds except for him. The third messenger related how the Kasdim (Chaldeans) stole all of Job’s camels and killed all the attendants except for him. The final messenger to arrive carried the grim news that the house where Job’s children had been feasting collapsed, killing all inside except for him.
A note on the messengers. Each one said, “I alone escaped to tell you.” Rashi suggests that each messenger only survived long enough to deliver his message, expiring upon the completion of his mission.
In any event, Job absorbed all this news, arose and tore his clothes and his hair, and fell down on the ground. (These are all signs of mourning, although Jews are specifically forbidden to tear their hair out as a sign of grief – see Deut. 14:1.) He said, “I entered this world with nothing and I’ll leave it with nothing. G-d gives and G-d takes away, in either event G-d should be praised.” This anticipates the Jewish practice to bless G-d even upon receiving bad news (see Talmud Brachos 60b). It is significant to note that Job used the “four-letter” Name of G-d (Y-H-V-H, rendered “Hashem” in conversation). This Name of G-d denotes His attribute of mercy, as opposed to “Elokim,” which reflects His attribute of justice. Even in the face of such overwhelming loss, Job did not blame G-d.
The Ramban (Nachmanides) is of the opinion that Job’s children and property were not actually lost to him. The disasters that deprived Job all happened “off camera.” He suggests that the messengers may have been made to suffer delusions, which they reported, and that the flocks, servants and children were all hidden away, to be restored to Job at the end of the tale. (We will see the Ramban’s rationale for drawing this conclusion in the final chapter.)