To what extent is an Orthodox Jew permitted to believe that the suffering of the righteous is caused by random chance?

Could the oft-cited idea of "olam k'minhago noheg" provided cover for those who think that random chance is a major reason that the righteous suffer?

Or is attributing the suffering of the righteous to random chance the same thing as saying "Leit din v'leit dayan?"

Would it be acceptable in an Orthodox context to say "God's will is that the universe is powered by random chance?"

Or is the only option for such suffering a traditional answer like, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, my way are not your ways," or "God allows the righteous to suffer in this world but balances everything in the next world," or (to my mind unacceptable) some kind of appeal to gilgulim and sins in past lives?

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    Not according to Chassidus, that Hashem creates the world from absolutely nothing each moment and all is His will (what else is there?)
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 1:29
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    It's hard to speak to all possible Rabbonim who have voiced an opinion on the matter, but generally, the randomness of the world is understood to be an illusion, i.e. Hashem hides behind what seems to be randomness, but is really Him carefully crafting every last atom that moves, personally, wilfully. The Purim megilla's main lesson is there to teach us this very point. If you have a specific problem with theodicy, the approach that the suffering of the righteous is anything other than Hashem is not generally accepted.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 1:37
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    Welcome to MiYodeya and thanks for this first question. Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 3:48
  • In the Talmud, Rava said: "Life, children and sustenance do not depend on merit, but on the stars." [Moed Katan 28a] Examples follow. Perhaps by "stars" he meant randomness. Commented Dec 21, 2022 at 17:06

2 Answers 2


The Gemara in brachos 5a says. אָמַר רָבָא, וְאִיתֵּימָא רַב חִסְדָּא: אִם רוֹאֶה אָדָם שֶׁיִּסּוּרִין בָּאִין עָלָיו — יְפַשְׁפֵּשׁ בְּמַעֲשָׂיו, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״נַחְפְּשָׂה דְרָכֵינוּ וְנַחְקֹרָה וְנָשׁוּבָה עַד ה׳״. פִּשְׁפֵּשׁ וְלֹא מָצָא — יִתְלֶה בְּבִטּוּל תּוֹרָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״אַשְׁרֵי הַגֶּבֶר אֲשֶׁר תְּיַסְּרֶנּוּ יָּהּ וּמִתּוֹרָתְךָ תְלַמְּדֶנּוּ״. Rava, and some say Rav Ḥisda, said: If a person sees that suffering has befallen him, he should examine his actions. Generally, suffering comes about as punishment for one’s transgressions, as it is stated: “We will search and examine our ways, and return to God” (Lamentations 3:40). If he examined his ways and found no transgression for which that suffering is appropriate, he may attribute his suffering to dereliction in the study of Torah. God punishes an individual for dereliction in the study of Torah in order to emphasize the gravity of the issue, as it is stated: “Happy is the man whom You punish, Lord, and teach out of Your law” (Psalms 94:12). This verse teaches us that his suffering will cause him to return to Your law.

וְאִם תָּלָה וְלֹא מָצָא — בְּיָדוּעַ שֶׁיִּסּוּרִין שֶׁל אַהֲבָה הֵם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״כִּי אֶת אֲשֶׁר יֶאֱהַב ה׳ יוֹכִיחַ״. And if he did attribute his suffering to dereliction in the study of Torah, and did not find this to be so, he may be confident that these are afflictions of love, as it is stated: “For whom the Lord loves, He rebukes, as does a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12).

https://www.sefaria.org/Berakhot.5a.10 Pretty much this gemara implies all sufferings are from sin. Except afflictions of love. Afflictions of love is a machlokes, what it means. A basic pshat from the Ben Yehoyada there, is that rightous suffer to atone for others, or to give them more time to repent. Which they would get rewarded for in the world to come. As rashi there says. Children suffering comes from the sins of the parents. What did the children do wrong, for that I heard you have to say they're a gilgul, that needs a tikun. (Don't have source inside for that one)

  • This doesn't appear to answer the question. The question isn't can we explain everything in different ways besides randomness, but rather the question is can one attribute things to randomness.
    – Double AA
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 13:14
  • @DoubleAA the gemara is explaining the source of pain. So obviusly it cant be random.
    – Shlomy
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 19:26
  • Again, the OP never denied such opinions exist. The question was can his opinion also exist.
    – Double AA
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 20:11
  • @DoubleAA meaning can you argue on this gemara? Or a different gemara, not like this one?
    – Shlomy
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 20:46
  • Whatever answers the question. (IINM this gemara happens to be Rambam's famous example of nonbinding personal opinions of rabbis in aggadata in chazal.)
    – Double AA
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 21:15

The answer is yes, if you believe yourself that events are random. The Rambam writes:

It is written in the Torah: "If you continue to be hostile towards Me, then in My anger I will be hostile towards you." [Leviticus 26: 27-28] This means: If, when I bring trouble upon you to make you repent, you say that the trouble is purely accidental, then I will add arbitrariness to your trouble. [I will not limit it or defend you.] [Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Fasts 1:1-3]

The message is: If you accept God, God will be with you; if you think things happen to you by chance, then God will indeed leave them to chance.

  • That doesn't quite seem to be the translation of the Rambam as I see it Dr. Those pasukim use the word "keri", which is sometimes translated as happenstance or arbitrariness, but I heard from R. Mattis Wienberg that it really means "meaninglessness". Hashem is effectively saying, if you treat our relationship as meaningless, I'll teach them a Torah of meaninglessness. "Hashem doesn't need your mitzvot, can't care about you" etc. See 40-41. We really need to do teshuva from this terrible idea. Either way, even if your point is true, what creates that "randomness"? Hashem's haschaga pratit
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 9:40
  • Also this question was about righteous suffering and therefore we can assume they didn't fall under this Rambam :)
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 12:15
  • Rambam there is saying there's no chance and if u believe there is, you'll be punished for it.
    – Shlomy
    Commented Dec 20, 2022 at 21:23

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