The idea of divine omniscience, discussed earlier, represents but one critical dimension of the Judaic concept of divine omnicompetence. The other, perhaps even more difficult aspect to come to grips with, is the complementary traditional belief in divine omnipotence. Examination of the several facets of this latter idea will bring us to a consideration of the concept of divine justice and its implications for the Judaic understanding of the fundamental relationship between God and man. A particular focus of the discussion will center on the question of how that relationship has been rationalized by Judaic thinkers since biblical times in the form of theodicy, the attempt to vindicate the operation of divine justice in history.
The traditional concerns about theodicy have been framed in a variety of ways, all of which ultimately reduce to the central issue of how one can convincingly reconcile the apparently mutually exclusive concepts of divine omnipotence and human free will. If one conceives of God, the creator of man, as being all-powerful, can one simultaneously maintain that man is nonetheless free to oppose the divine will? If an omnipotent God wills the good, can man controvert that will and choose evil? Why, we may ask, would an omnipotent God permit evil to thrive at all? The prophet Habbakuk protested: How long, O Lord, shall I cry, and Thou wilt not hear? I cry out to Thee of violence, and Thou wilt not save. Why dost Thou show me iniquity and beholdest mischief? (Hab. 1:2–3). There was also an outcry later among the sages of the school of R. Ishmael. Thus, they concocted a pun on the biblical passage, Who is like unto Thee among the mighty (elim) O Lord? And suggested that it might be read, “Who is like unto Thee among the silent (elmim)—Who is like unto Thee who hears the suffering of Your children and remains silent?” 1