Below you'll find a selection which reveals another place in the Kaplan diary where he discusses the problem of evil and the way to cope with it. I noted in the previous selection dealing with Kaplan's reactions to the play on the Diary of Anne Frank that Kaplan's impulse is to always focus on ways to cope with suffering even if we cannot explain it. Here he comments on a sermon by his most brilliant disciple, Rabbi Milton Steinberg.
It was in the middle of the war and Steinberg gave a sermon on Thanksgiving that was astounding to say the least. Steinberg mentions the rabbinic dictum that we should bless the evil along with the good and applies this to the War. Neither Steinberg nor Kaplan knew the full extent of the Holocaust but they knew enough to make the reaction here all the more surprising and provocative.
It is easy to consider both Kaplan and Steinberg naïve in their looking for the positive, but we need the hope that is assumed here in order carry us though our own difficulties both collective and individual.
The center of Steinberg's Thankskgiving sermon was the rabbinic dictum that just as we bless the good we must learn to bless the evil. The blessing which we say at the passing of a loved one is “Baruch Dayan Emet” (Blessed is the Righteous Judge). Steinberg interpreted it to mean that we must learn to discern God in evil as well as in the good, by assuming that there is no evil which does not possess or cannot be made to yield some good. By applying this principle to the war, he argued that it possesses a redeeming element in that it compels us to break the traditional patterns of life thereby rendering human life capable of being molded afresh after our heart's desire.
Kaplan reacts to Steinberg but in reality gives us a reaction not that different from Steinberg. Kaplan's typical attitude toward evil is that it is not "part of the divine." We must find a way to cope with it. Here is the kaplan statement from Kaplan's diary, November 27, 1942. Volume 11f (right at the end).
On the other hand, if we accept the modern rational approach we would have to say, that there is no evil which we should not feel driven by the divine urge in us to redeem. In other words, the divine is in us and not in the suffering itself. The essence of the divine quality consists in not permitting any evil, whether of sin or suffering, to be exempt from the need to discover some potential from the standpoint of the good.