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28 Nisan 5766 - April 26, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
The Necessity of Suffering: Perfecting an Individual Jew's Soul and Bringing Tikkun Ho'Olom

by HaRav Yechezkel Taub

Part I

Chazal write (Medrash Rabbah, parsha 65, os 9): "Yitzchok asked for yissurim (suffering). He said to G-d: `Ribbon HoOlomim! If a man dies without yissurim, the Attribute of Justice is stretched over him. But if You bring upon him yissurim, the Attribute of Justice won't be stretched over him [because the yissurim cleanse him of sin (Yeffeih Toar)].' HaKodosh Boruch Hu said to him: "By your life, you've asked for a good thing. I'll begin with you.' `And it came to pass, when Yitzchok had become old, and his eyes dimmed from seeing . . . ' (Bereishis, Toldos, perek 27:1)."

Yitzchok Ovinu saw that if a man would come to the World of Eternity with the great burden of transgressions he had committed in Olom Hazeh and he would have to cleanse himself from them in Gehennom, the purification would be overly difficult for him. Therefore, he asked the Creator for a means that would relieve the burden of transgressions from a man while he's still in Olom Hazeh. HaKodosh Boruch Hu agreed and answered: "You've asked for a good thing."

Gehennom is a kindness from Hashem, Whose Divine Will is to bestow goodness with an infinite kindness that has no match in the entire universe, namely, "the pleasure of His Divine Radiance in Olom Habo." Man was created in Olom Hazeh so that he could transform his neshomoh into a utensil capable of accepting this awesome Divine Goodness. Sin interferes with the neshomoh's ability to receive this pleasure, and so Gehennom was necessary to purify the neshomoh of all its sins, so that it can receive the reward it earned during its sojourn in Olom Hazeh.

However, despite the fact that Gehennom is a kindness, it's still a very difficult process. Therefore, the Creator gave us another wonderful kindness: yissurim. Their purpose is to cleanse us of our sins in Olom Hazeh. This is a kindness because the cleansing of the neshomoh in Olom Hazeh is immeasurably easier than the purification of the neshomoh in Gehennom.

Chazal and the chachomim of every generation highly praised yissurim. One of the principles mentioned in our Holy seforim is that Hashem has two basic ways of directing Creation: middas Hadin (the Characteristic of Justice) and middas Horachamim (the Characteristic of Mercy). Yissurim have no connection to middas Hadin, they write. They are solely and purely from middas Horachamim.

The Maggid of Dubno brings a parable to demonstrate the value of yissurim. Once there was a Poritz, a Polish feudal landowner, who found himself on the verge of bankruptcy. His investigation revealed that his estate manager was negligent in managing his business affairs and furthermore embezzled any profit he managed to make.

His trustworthy friend advised him to take a talented Jew as his estate manager. The Poritz objected: "But the law of the land prohibits appointing a Jew to be an estate manager!"

His friend answered: "No problem. Let the estate manager you have now keep his title. But in reality give the Jew responsibility for everything."

The Poritz followed his advice and his business began to flourish. The estate manager hated the Jew immensely, of course, but there was nothing he could do since the Jew enjoyed the Poritz's protection.

One day the Poritz decided to travel overseas, and the estate manager seized the opportunity for revenge. He pounced on the Jew and gave him twenty-five cruel lashes with a horsewhip. The Jew went home crushed and humiliated.

He told his wife: "When the Poritz returns, I'll be able to complain about my humiliation and injuries. He'll certainly punish the manager."

The Poritz returned and the Jew went to see him, but he came home unhappy and disappointed.

"What happened? asked his wife. "Did the Poritz ignore your whipping?"

"No, on the contrary," he answered. "He fined the manager a heavy fine. For every blow he gave me, he has to pay me $10,000 (with linkage to the cost-of-living)! All together — $250,000!"

"So what's the matter? Too bad you can't get twenty-five lashes every day and make a quarter of a million dollars! Why are you so unhappy?"

"The estate manger has a villa that's worth $500,000. He has to sell it now to pay me the $250,000. If he would have given me fifty lashes I'd have the whole villa now!" cried the Jew.

When we go to the World of Truth, wrote the Maggid of Dubno, we'll be tremendously happy about the yissurim we received, seeing how much they helped us by cleansing us of our sins. We'll be greatly pained though, that we didn't have more. [The reason we don't receive enough yissurim to completely cleanse all our sins is because we lack the level of accepting them in love, as will be explained further on, bs'd].

Besides purifying us from sin, yissurim perform another vital function by allowing us to draw truly close to Hashem in Olom Hazeh. This is because the physical side of man prevents him drawing truly close to his Creator. But when the body is afflicted with yissurim, its physicality is reduced to some degree, and it no longer presents the obstacle in becoming close to Hashem in Olom Hazeh.

This is the basis for yissurim mei'ahavoh, out of love, which are the yissurim of a person who has no sin. The whole purpose of such yissurim is to enable the person to achieve true closeness with Hashem by removing the obstacle of physicality, the "dividing curtain" between the person and his Creator. Yitzchok Ovinu received this kind of yissurim.


Another benefit from yissurim is that they are a powerful educational tool in the hands of the Creator, "Who gave us His Torah and wants us to return in teshuvoh." This is sometimes immeasurably more important than all the benefits we've mentioned until now. He afflicts us so we'll do teshuvoh and improve our ways. The Creator gives us yissurim that are measure for measure, so that we'll know what we have to rectify, and also how to do so. We can be assured that we can know what the purpose of the yissurim are if we truly seek the reason, because the entire goal of the Creator is to educate us and to help us grow and become wise. He wouldn't bring the yissurim upon us without giving us the possibility to grow from them.

A person who is wise of heart can reach the level where he even feels pleasure and enjoyment in the midst of the yissurim — a pleasure that has no parallel in Olom Hazeh, and he'll feel as if he's not suffering at all. "The Creator of the entire world is thinking of me," he thinks and feels, "and since He's interested in my welfare He wants the true good for me. In His great love and kindness for me He is teaching me, by means of these yissurim, a lesson of incomparable value."

This is reflected in the verse: "For Hashem reproves him whom He loves, even as a father the son in whom he delights" (Mishlei 3:12).

These feelings, besides bringing a person closer to Hashem, also bring him to love Hashem perfectly, according to his spiritual level and according to the ability he has to comprehend Hashem's love for man in the act of giving him yissurim, as we explained.

In addition, we're often blind to the true nature of things; we're too petty-minded to understand what is actually good and what is bad, even from a materialistic view alone. Frequently, we discover that what we thought was bad turned out to be chasdei Hashem. [See Brochos 60b: "A man should always be accustomed to say: `Everything that the Merciful One does is for the best.' "]

Based on what we have seen, the Shulchan Oruch brings: "A man is obligated to bless for bad tidings in the same joyous way he blesses on good tidings, with the same wholehearted acceptance and spirit of desire . . . " (Orach Chaim, siman 222, seif 3).

[For further understanding, look at the Mishna in Brochos 54a: "A man is obligated to bless on the bad in the same way he blesses on the good," and the gemora (Ibid.) 60b: "Rovo said that [this mishna] was only necessary to teach that he must accept [the bad] with joy." See also the Rif on this piece of gemora, and the Rambam, Hilchos Brochos, perek 10, halochoh 3, the Tur and the rest of the poskim, the commentaries on Shas, especially Rabbeinu Yonah on the Rif, dibbur hamaschil "Masnison" (page 44 in the pages of the Rif), the commentaries of the Tur, Shulchan Oruch, and the Mishna Berurah seif kotton 4, and the verses that the Mishna and the gemora bring (Ibid.)].

End of Part I

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