Friday, July 28, 2006

Suffering in this world

{An expansion of ideas discussed elsewhere -taon}


Since G-d wanted us to have the greatest reward possible, it is impossible, even for G-d, to put us straight into Olam Habbah. Justice and honesty demand that if a person earns his way he deserves more. So had G-d put us straight into Gan Eden, we would have come to Him with a complaint: "G-d", we would say, "If I would have worked for my reward, would I deserve more than if I don't?"

"Yes, of course" the answer would be.

"Then why" we would say, "didn't you put me on a world with the Yetzer Horah so that I would be able to EARN my way here and get more reward? I definitely would have preferred that!"

So G-d created only those people who He knew would be best off by being put onto this world with opportunities. And He made sure we all benefit by making the reward for a single Mitzvah worth all the suffering that we can get by doing aveiros.

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Not everyone goes to Gan Eden even after Gehinomm. And not everyone merits to return for the ultimate reward when Moshiach comes.

Beinonim will get cleansed and rewarded anyway. The reason we are put here is because without being here we could not get Gan Eden (see the Basic Judaism forum for the reason). And if your question is that for every bit of reward we get we also get punished for our bad deeds so it all equalizes anyway, the answer is it does not. Rather, for getting the reward of even one Mitzvah it is worth going through all the pains of Gehinnom. The reward is much better than the punishment is painful. So even if we continue doing both, we are ahead of the game.
Someone not zocheh to go to gan eden either comes back as a "gilgul", which is more painful than Gehinnom, or they continue to be punished in Gehinnom until they are completely destroyed. However, this only happens to the most evil minority of Jews.

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Everyone is considered valuable to Hashem beyond imagining. It's the Yetzer Horah that tries to convince you otherwise, and it's a mistake.

About death, everyone has a job in this world. When their job is finished, they go to the next world. This world is only temporary.

When a Rabbi dies, it's because his job is done. He's better off where he is. We cry when people die because WE lose them -- we cry for us. But them, if they are Tzadikim, they are in a better place.

Remember that when you die you're not erased, you just move from place to place. To say that you should be dead instead of them only means that you should be in the forever world and they should be in the temporary world, which, when you think about it, doesn't make much sense.

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Not everyone who dies is close to G-d. Some people are very far away because of their sins in this world. For them, being so near to G-d but yet so far is excruciatingly painful. And up there every inch closer to G-d is so much better, and every inch further away is so much worse. Only in this world do we have the opportunity to enable ourselves to get close to G-d in the next world. Every Mitzvah we do enables us to get closer to Him. We would therefore like to stay in this world as long as possible in order to earn more and more Mitzvos to be able to be closer to Hashem.

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Death is a very emotional topic, especially if it happens to someone close. And so it’s hard to reason about it, but to properly answer such questions, we need to try to put aside our emotions, just a little, and just for a moment, till we can digest the concepts.

You need to sort out the feelings into those you feel for your friend, versus those you for yourself.

You lost a friend. So you are hurting. That's perfectly fine, and it is neither possible nor necessary to take that pain away. Hashem wants us to love people, especially those close to us. And when you lose someone like that the hurt is proportionate to the love.

But then there is the grieving that comes because your friend suffered. He died young, and you say "he didn’t deserve" that.

In reality, we all live forever - in this world a little, then for a lot longer in the next. The level of consciousness and awareness - the level of "life" - is not diminished in the next world. On the contrary, it is increased infinitely. Then, of course, there is Techiyas Hameisim.

In this world we are only travelers, passing by to do our job. When our job is up, it is time to "go home." The Ramchal writes that when a person dies young it does not mean his job in this world was less important or less substantial. All it means is it took less time.

When a traveler goes across the globe away from his family to do business, he may makes friends in the foreign land, and get attached to them. He may even get used to the place, and miss it when he has to go home. And when the day does come for him to return to his home and his family, the new friends he made are going to miss him dearly. They may feel bad for themselves because they'll miss him, but nobody will feel bad for him, since they know he’s going home.

The same thing with a Neshomah. It comes here to do a job. It makes friends, it gets used to it. And when it's time to go "home", it’s sad, true. But it’s not bad for him.

So it’s OK to grieve, because your friend went home. But you should know it's not bad for him....

And one day, IYH, we'll all be together again, all of us, when Moshiach comes BB"A.

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This world is a fake world, made out of lies and darkness. We are here in this world in order to reach the level where we can live like Jews within the darkness, thereby making it into light. Currently, the light we produce is not visible, because the light is too high to shine in a fake world like what we live in. When Moshiach comes, then the world will become real, and the light that we produced all this time will shine. That's what Olam Habah is.

People are sent into this world to do a job. When someone finished their job, shined their light, Hashem takes them into the "Olam Haneshomos" - a temporary place where the souls of those who finished their jobs in this world wait until the world is fixed, meaning, until enough people shine light into it so Moshiach can come. Then they return to the fixed world, and enjoy the reality of what they created through their Mitzvos.

We all have a job. This world is temporary. We all do it, and then wait, in the Olam Haneshomos, for a little while until the world finishes being fixed.

It's OK to cry over someone passing away. That's normal, fine, and understood. Nobody is going to be angry at you for missing Them. Especially not Hashem.

But please keep in mind that it’s not over. Whatever happened is all part of the Ultimate plan for the world and for your friend. Your pain is real, since you live in this world, and in this world, your friend is no longer here.

But please have the Emunah that the pain is only because we live in a world of smoke and darkness, and that what happened to your friend is that she finished her job in this world, and is waiting for all of us to do the same.

Incidentally, the Ramchal writes that the length of a person's days in this world are NOT proportionate to the important of his mission here. Meaning, someone who r"l dies young did not have a less important of meaningful mission in this world than someone who lived to be 120.

You have to constantly remind yourself that what happened to your friend does NOT in any way effect the chances of the same thing happening to anyone else in the world. Before your friend passed away, we all knew that things like that happens - I'm sure you've heard such stories. It's just that, the abstract stories did not make such an emotional impact as when it actually happened so close to you.

But you need to understand that between the two reactions to death - (a) when you just "knew" about it and (b) when you experienced it so close to you - the reaction you had to (a) was the realistic one, and the reaction you had to (b) is the unrealistic one.

The fact that death happened so close to you does not make it more likely that others close to you will c"v meet the same fate. It's like a guy who finds himself in a 1 in 100,000 chance earthquake. Now they're scared wherever they go of earthquakes coming. But the reality is that the 1/100,000 odds of an earthquake happening did not change because she happened to have been in one.

What you would advise someone in such an earthquake is to walk freely in the streets even though she's scared of the ground opening up under her, and as time goes by she will see that the ground remains solid under her feet and slowly, slowly, the past experience will fade.

What’s happening to you, you can call an "emotional echo", like when a loud bang happens near you, your ears ring for some time after the sound is over, so too, you experienced such an emotional "bang" with the death of your friend that your emotions are still acting as if you’re experiencing it now, even though it’s over.

You have to live your life normally, according to the regular routine, regardless of how painful or difficult it is. Imagine yourself like the girl who was caught in an earthquake, expecting the ground to always open up. You know that the best thing to do is to go on with your life till the ringing in your ears stops. Give it time, pained. You may never get over your friends death, but you will get over the irrational fear of death that you are experiencing - just as the memories of the horrors of the earthquake may never fade, but you won't be scared of the ground always opening up.

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The entire purpose of the world is darkness. G-d made this world in order that things should appear not the way they are, so that our behaviors and actions are based on what we believe and know, rather than what we see. It's our beliefs that will remain with us in Olam Habah and therefore our purpose on this world is to build up our beliefs. When Moshiach comes the world will be revealed to everyone according to the way it is, but nowadays, Hashem purposely runs the world in a way that should not appear as if it runs according to reality.

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There are people who only believe in Capitalism because they are rich. But when they lose all their money, they change their mind.

If you only believe in an ideal when it suits you then you don't really believe in it at all. Rather, you believe in your own comfort. And anything that suits that goal becomes your ideal.

So too with Emunah. If the world would not be a world of darkness, if everything that happened would show us Hashem's Hashgochoh and Light, then we really would have no Emunah. Emunah means to KNOW that Hashem is running the world despite the darkness. That even though things seem wrong, still, they are all part of Hashem's Master Plan.

How can such a belief exist except in a world of darkness?

So Hashem made this world very messed up. It HAS to be messed up, otherwise we would not get any credit for believing.

As far as the ruining people's lives is concerned, even though visibly, and emotionally it seems that way, but people with Emunah know that despite the pain and the darkness, things are not as they seem, and that somehow, some way, when Moshiach comes and we see what REALLY happened here, we will thank Hashem for everything He did to us in this world. It's that kind of Emunah that we have to cultivate.

If you know that this world is by definition and necessity a world of darkness, where things are not as they seem, and it was meant to be so purposely, you will not feel it’s pointless and cruel. This world is a physical world. Physical worlds cannot display reality, since they are limited, our understanding is limited, and reality is only when you have unlimited information.

That's why the word "sheker" in Hebrew consists of 3 letters which are all in one spot - kuf raish shin - right next to each other, but "emes", truth - consists of the first, last, and exact middle letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Because truth is when you have the whole picture, and falsehood is when you only have part.

In this world, because we are physical, and it is physical, we do not get the whole picture. We get like to peek through a little peephole to see just a bit. But we're missing a lot because we are not infinite.

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It's like working for a company that takes a little off your paycheck every month to invest in the company’s stocks. At the time, you may complain, and try to make sure they take off as little as possible. But when the stock goes through the roof, the only complaint you will have is that they did not take off more.

So too, in this world, I admit, things are messed up. But Hashem knows that even though we complain, ultimately, we will only complain why we weren't in this world longer, to be able to compile more Mitzvos for eternity.

Your entire life is ahead of you. In today's society, teenagers get the message that they are in the prime of their life, and that soon, they will be "over the hill". I am forever hearing teens talking about "their last chance to enjoy life" before they grow up.

Because of this, kids who have a difficult adolescence often think that their life is wasted.

But the entire assumption is wrong. Your life is all ahead of you. You can get what you want -- there is time, and you can enjoy it for as long as you are on this world. Please, let's focus on fixing the problems. I promise it can be done. I have seen it done before and it can be done in your situation as well.

Please don't give up. It's much too early in the game for that. You're in the first inning, there's still lots of time to get out there and win. You will have help; you will not have to do it alone. I promise you that.

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Old age is a blessing. Only while you are alive can you do Mitzvos.

And even if a person is suffering, it is infinitely better than being unable to do mitzvos, as it says: yasor yisrani kah v'lamaves lo nisanani.

Suffering is a kapara. But life is better than death. Yasor yisrani kah vlamaves lo nisanani. If Hashem keeps someone alive that's for the best.

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The ability to give people chizuk who are in a similar position, the ability to feel what they feel, the ability to maintain unwavering Emunah and Bitachon, the ability to be a model of spiritual strength and steadfastness - all these and more - are ways for you, in this temporary, dark, fake, non-understandable world, to get a closeness to G-d that is permanent -will last for millions and millions of years, is clear, loud, and glorious.

In the next world, those who have gone through suffering in this one, and have maintained their faith and Knowledge of Hashem, are going to be the ones who are the healthiest, strongest, fittest, happiest, and the ones who are going to enjoy the infinite pleasure for eternity.

Those who were not zocheh to fight for their Emunah in this world, will be the ones who need Tehillim in the next. But then Tehillim will no longer help.

Nobody asks for Nisyonos in this world, and certainly, when someone is suffering, we try through prayers and actions, to alleviate it for them as much as we can.

But when Hashem does reveal to someone what their Nisoyon is in this world, and gives it to them, we look at it as an opportunity given to us to be great.

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The idea of the pain is to teach us that evil beings pain; that evil is so bad it damages the world and causes suffering. If Hashem would eliminate the pain, then that lesson would be a lie. How could Hashem teach that evil is so bad it brings pain if He eliminates the pain? It would be a lie.
G-d created pain as the way to teach us these lessons because whether we learn these lessons or not is OUR CHOICE - not G-d's decision - it is a Bechirah decision whether we learn and improve. And G-d looked at the world and He saw that of all the infinite possible ways to create the opportunity to learn, people will respond positively and improve best if the lesson is taught through the medium of pain.

In other words, G-d said, "OK, people, your job is to learn lessons. It’s your choice if you want to learn them or not, and I will teach them in the way that you will choose to learn them the most."

Then G-d looks into the world and sees what will happen if he teaches lessons in every conceivable way. He sees that people are going to ignore the lessons the LEAST if they are taught through the medium of pain.

So G-d says, "OK, you want it this way, that’s what you will get." Because not leaning the lesson, not doing teshuva, not getting a kapara, is worse than the pain. And if we would be on the level to respond to our sins without feeling pain, then we would not need it - but the reality is that people chose the method of G-d's running the world, since they do not reach high levels without being prodded by the pain.

Pain is also a punishment for wrongdoing. And there HAS to be pain as punishment because otherwise there would be no justice if people would just get away with doing bad - PLUS there would be no motivation for people to do good. SO pain is also a deterrent - and it is needed because people choose not to be deterred if there is no pain awaiting their bad choices.


If a person does a sin, the pain he receives is like a slap on the wrist compared to what he would have gotten in Olam Habah. When we get to Olam Habah and we see how many sins were erased because of pain we suffered in this world, the only question we are going to have is why didn’t Hashem give us more pain to erase more aveiros??

There is a Gemora Yerushalmi where Rabbi Akiva meets Nachum Ish Gam Zu. Nachum is suffering and Rabi Akiva says "Woe to me that I see you like this." Nachum answers "Woe is to me that I do NOT see you like this!"

Rabi Akiva asks "Why are you cursing me?"

Nachum answers "And why are you rejecting suffering?"

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People like to "make sense" out of what they perceive as a senseless tragedy, and they want to find inspiration in the ashes of the horror. Gives people a sense of rhyme and reason secure in the face of all this seeming randomness.

But the truth is, it’s not random, nor senseless. There are ways to look at tragedies and suffering in this world - we've spoken about them in other places on these boards. The solution is NOT to declare everything you can’t deal with, a sign of Moshiach's imminent arrival.

The problem with speculation is that it breeds false hope. And when people see that nothing comes of their hopes they will lose faith in the real signs of Moshiach when they do arrive. It’s like the boy who cried "wolf". One day when someone will announce that Moshiach's arrival is imminent based on real criteria, people will say "Yeah, we heard this 1,000 times.

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Any time Hashem does anything it is a direct cause-and-effect reaction to our actions. Especially when suffering comes our way Chazal tell us Im yesurim baim alav yepashpesh b'maasav - when we suffer we have to audit our actions to see what we are doing wrong and need to correct.

It's not always easy to figure out what the root cause of suffering is in our actions, but it is clearly doable, and even expected of us, because if we don’t know what to fix then what's the point of Hashem sending us a message to fix it?

It's like a father who slaps a kid and the kid says "I have no idea why my father slapped me, but I trust that he has a reason." Makes no sense, and it just forces the father to teach the kid whatever lesson he had in mind for him another way.

So if we know what's good for us, we had better learn our lesson.

There are formulas that we employ to decipher Hashem's messages. Midah k'neged midah is one of them. The meforshim say that the reason Hashem punishes in a manner-for-manner fashion is to enable us to figure out what He is punishing for. There are other formulas as well.

In this particular case, of Arab terrorism, I can only tell you what Rav Shach ZTL said long ago regarding the Yom Kippur war, and his words were echoed recently by Rav Moshe Shapiro regarding today's situation in EY.

The issue is "kochi v'otzem yadi," the attitude that the Israeli army will protect us form our enemies, that we are strong now that we have the IDF, and that we are a match for the Goyim.

This attitude is poison, completely against the Torah, and the way Hashem teaches us that it is not so, is by showing that no, you are not as strong as you think, and not as safe as you think.

Chazal teach us that the Jews in golus are like a lone sheep among 70 wolves. We need to always be cognizant of this and never, ever think that we Jews have a snowball's chance in Miami Beach of defeating our gentile enemies while we are in Golus. This is not merely an issue of realizing that Hashem is the One Who fights for us as oppsoed to our own strength - it's an issue of accepting what Hashem has told us, that in Golus the way to survive is NOT by fighting the nations of the world, for militarily we have no chance. Esav received the Brachah of b'chrbechah sichyeh; as opposed to us - we live mital hashamayim. This is not an issue of relying on a miracle. On the contrary - it would be a miracle for us to face our opponents militarily and emerge victorious. But Hashem has told us that we should not expect such miracles. Instead, He taught us in His Torah that the way to survive when confronted by non-Jewish animosity is to appease and mollify the opponent, the way Yaakov did to Esav (and the Ramban says that when Yaakov also prepared for "war", it meant to fend off Esav long enough for Yaakov to run away if necessary!).

So Rav Shach ZTL says that the reason the Yom Kippur war came is in order to show that Israel is weak. The idea that the IDF is an undefeated army was shattered. (Even though through chasdei Hashem the Arabs retreated, that was not because of the strength of Isral's forces. Israel was positioned for a humiliating defeat - the Arabs were just stupid and made terrible errors and ran. Its like if someone beats you up and you’re on the floor waiting to be shot, then your assailant slips on a banana peel and knocks himself out. So Hashem saved the Jews and at the same time showed Israel that they are weak.)

He said that "there is no question" to him that the Yom Kippur war came because of the attitude of Kochi v'otzem yadi - the attitude that Israel is strong. Hashem was showing us that we are weak.

Rav Moshe Shapiro shlita said the same thing regarding the current terrorism in Israel. He said it was due to the attitude of Kochi v'otzem yadi. The idea that we are safe in Israel, because they have security, an army, a police force, whatever. The idea that finally we can, al pi derech hatevah, stand up to the nations because we have tanks or planes or whatever.

Whenever you hear someone say that finally we can live proudly, or safely, or we can finally "stand up to" the goyim, they are putting Jewish lives in danger, because what they are expressing is kochi votzem yadi asa li es hachayil hazeh. They are kivyachol causing Hashem to show us that no, we can NOT stand up to the goyim, and even though you may be dressed in wolf's clothing with your own wolf's tanks and planes, you’re still a sheep, and the umos haolan are wolves. We dare not forget that.

And if we do, Hashem will remind us.

There is another thing too.

All of the above is from a spiritual perspective. From a tevah perspective, there is the obvious. The Arabs do not want us there. They have been saying so for the past hundred years. They said that if we go there, they will kill us, r"l. The Zionists said no, they will take care of the Arabs. Some Zionists said, and still say, that we will kick all the Arabs out of the land by force, and kill those who start up with us. Yet this war over the land is 100 years old, and Jews are still being slaughtered. Of course, they should have listened to the Torah. Or, at least, to reason. As the Brisker Rav ZTL said, if they make a State of Israel, it will be the most dangerous place in the world for Jews to live, because "what do they think? That the Arabs will just let them do this?"

Al pi derech hatevah, Israel is a dangerous place for Jews to live, so long as the war with the Arabs continues. Arab terrorists have been around for a century and continue their murderous ways. Unfortunately, people are perpetuating the myth that Israel is "the safest place for Jews to live", when the simple fact is that more Jews were killed in Israel since its inception than in the rest of the world put together - about 25,000 to be precise. And that is despite the fact that the majority of Jews live and lived outside of EY. This means that the minority of Jews in Israel have the majority of Jewish deaths.

When we realize that we ARE vulnerable, that we ARE weak, that we ARE NOT safe just because Israel has an army, the message that Hashem is trying to send us will be received, and perhaps, perhaps, there will no longer be any need for us to learn the hard way.

Of course, all of the above is only an exposition on the statements of Rav Shach ZTL and ybd"l Rav Moshe Shapiro. There could be other authorities with other messages for us in this respect, though (a) I am not aware of any and (b) these are quite authoritative, and easy to understand and accept, since they follow seamlessly the rules we have for understanding such tragedies r"l.

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The Chacham Ovadia did NOT say that the righteous martyrs of the holocaust, including young children, were really evil because of sins committed in a past life. Gilgulim notwithstanding, evil and righteousness is determined by a person’s willful actions during his “current” lifetime.

The Chacham Ovadiah said something else. There are many reasons that our Tzadikim have given for the holocaust, all basically pointing in the direction of the holocaust being a Divine response to some widespread misconduct on the part of Klall Yisroel as a whole. This is no different than when Chazal attributed the deaths, suffering, and destruction of the Bais Hamikdash to various sins that took place at that time. (And no, there were no prophets during the second destruction.)

Throughout history, whenever calamity befell Klall Yisroel, we held it obligatory to access the cause of the suffering, so that we will know what it is within us that needs improvement, and to make sure we know how never to allow that suffering to return.

So the Chasid Yaavetz wrote a sefer, Ohr HaChaim, analyzing the causes of the Inquisition.

Rav Elchonon Wasserman ZTL analyzes the causes of our suffering during the blood libels in Europe.

Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky ZT”L, in the introduction to Achiezer analyses the causes of our suffering during World War I.

The Satmar Rav ZTL, in the introduction to Vayoel Moshe, analyzes the causes of our suffering during WWII.

But after all of this, a question remains: Not everyone who died or suffered in any of these tragedies was guilty of whatever crime the sufferings have been attributed to. And although Chazal tell us that whenever punishment is unleashed in the world, innocent people suffer together with the guilty, there is still need for further explanation, as follows:

Granted that innocent people sometimes suffer, but why? And why specifically these people? If G-d knew that innocent people would suffer, why could the innocent victims not have been born and lived in America or the Middle East, thereby being spared the pain? Surely, in a world controlled by Hashem, it is not random chance that causes some people to suffer for no reason other than they were in the “wrong place at the wrong time?”

So let’s get the question straight before we answer it. The question is NOT “why were the victims guilty?” but rather “why did they die even though they were innocent?”

The Chacham Ovadiah’s answer is that sometimes innocent people, righteous, blameless, honorable people, die in this world in horrible ways.

Everyone dies. Some people die horribly. But there is always a reason. And sometimes, when someone comes into this world, he is already, before he steps foot out into the light, destined to die in a certain place, at a certain time, in a certain way. And it will have nothing to do with his guilt or innocence. Rather, it will have to do with the pre-determined fate of his migrating soul. Not HIM, his soul. This is a mystical, Kabbalistic concept where people have predetermined destinies in this world that they are not even aware of, because they share their life on this world with a soul, which, unlike the person himself, has already been creating its destiny in past lives.

The Chacham Ovadiah is not attributing guilt to the victims who were not guilty. He is giving a reason why innocent people sometimes suffer. Would your not-yet religious friends prefer that Hashem allows innocent people to suffer for NO reason? Were the victims innocent or guilty? If innocent, then why should one innocent person suffer and not the next? If G-d is not random, then this makes no sense.

So now we know it does make sense, because there are other reckonings besides guilt and innocence. There is the predestined fate of the soul, which does not make the owner of the soul guilty.

My father is a survivor. My grandfather, unfortunately, did not survive.

The Iyov issue has nothing to do with our topic. The problem with Iyov was that they attributed sin to Iyov based on the punishment his relatives received. Other than that, there was no reason to assume Iyov committed any sin. If they do not know of any sin Iyov committed, they have no right to derive evil in him based on punishment.

We see from there that just because a person's relatives suffer does not mean he is a sinner.

But if we know he sinned, then of course he is a sinner!

Those that attribute the holocaust to sins of the Jews are not deriving any previously unknown sins. The sins were there, the irreligiosity was there, holocaust or no holocaust. They are merely attributing retribution to evil that we already know exists.

Had the holocaust not happened, the sinners would still be judged as sinners; the sins still judged as sins; as opposed to Iyov who was judged a sinner not because of known sins but because of the suffering.

That's regarding those who attribute the holocaust to certain sins. Rav Ovadiah was not even doing that. Again, Rav Ovadiah was not reducing the holiness or the innocence of the martyrs; he is not attributing any guilt to them at all (hence no comparison can be made to Iyov). Sins in past lives do not confer guilt, but rather fate.

The Churban Bayis was attributed to Sinas Chinam. Would you say that Chazal were wrong and better we should find the good in the Jews who lived during the Churban? Were Chazal then "accusing the Jewish people?"

As the Chavas Daas writes in the introduction to his commentary on Eichah, there is no point whatsoever to recount tragedies unless we at the same time recount the reasons that caused them, i.e. the sins, in order to ensure that we are careful not to allow them to happen once more.

Throughout history, whenever calamity befell Klall Yisroel, we held it obligatory to access the cause of the suffering, so that we will know what it is within us that needs improvement, and to make sure we know how never to allow that suffering to return.


Rav Elchonon Wasserman ZTL analyzes the sins that caused Hitler's coming, as well as our suffering during the blood libels in Europe.

Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky ZTL, in the introduction to Achiezer analyses the sins that caused our suffering during World War I.

The words of the Rambam should suffice here:

"The Torah commands that horns be blown to waken the congregation whenever the Land is hit by tragedy, be it war, epidemic, or drought. These sounds are a call to repentance and a reminder that suffering is a product of sin. For people to interpret such problems as merely coincidental is cruel, because this will repent the nation from changing its ways and cause them to continue the corrupt behaviors that caused the suffering to happen to them in the first place"

When a tsunami strikes, it is wise to determine why, so that we may prevent it from happening again. Same thing for all things - small or large - that you don’t want to happen. So if suffering takes place we want to prevent it. The smart and kind thing to do is to identify the cause and fix it.

Now if someone says that he doesn’t believe this is the cause, or that he doesn’t think we can identify the cause altogether, that would be a different discussion. But many people claim that instead of identifying the cause of the problem so that we can fix it, we should talk about what wonderful people we can be.

Oi. This is like someone who sees an epidemic in his community but instead of warning people why it happened so that it should not happen again, he decides "Why talk about the bad that people do? Let’s talk about how they take care of their health!".

That is not being an accuser. Accusations only apply before the verdict is given. After the suffering hits, that means the verdict has been made and the sentence is being carried out. It's not as if we are deriving the fact that sins were committed because of the suffering we are going through -- rather, whether or not this suffering would be here, we would still be fully aware of these sins. No secret that they did a sin. No secret that it is appalling in the eyes of Hashem.

Those are facts, not "accusations."

We are being told be Hashem that we did something wrong and that we should improve. For us to ignore that just invites more suffering rachmana latzlan.

And as the Rambam says, someone who refuses to connect suffering to sin is cruel, and prevents people from avoiding that suffering in the future.

So now we have another, additional cause of suffering, courtesy of the Rambam. Namely, people who try to prevent us from connecting our suffering to our sins.

In addition to all of the above, it is also a logical fallacy, and intrinsically contradictory. If it would be wrong to assess the cause of suffering, then by criticizing Jews for assessing the cause of suffering, and saying that what they are doing is wrong, that’s "accusing" klall yisroel and being a prosecutor against them. Following such logic, instead of getting angry and publicly accusing Jews of wrongdoing, they should instead look at all the good these people do.

It is absurd to criticize people by saying it is wrong to criticize people.

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If a person sees that suffering is befalling him, he should examine his deeds to see why Hashem is bringing about the suffering, as the Gemora says (Brachos 5a).

The Rambam reiterates this and states (Taanis 1:2,3) that when tragedy befalls us and we do NOT attribute it to sins, it is a great cruelty. It’s like a doctor seeing a patient with bad lungs and tells him "don’t worry - it has nothing to do with your smoking." By preventing him from knowing the reason for his suffering, you are preventing him from ending the suffering by improving his deeds.

If nothing is found, the Gemora states, "You should attribute the suffering to bitul Torah". The simple meaning of the Gemora is that you should assume that the reason you are suffering is for the sin of Bitul Torah. Many Meforshim , including the GRA as well as Chasidishe seforim, interpret the Gemora to mean that the reason you have failed to identify the sin that caused your suffering is because of Bitul Torah. Learn more and you'll find the sin.

This principle isbased on a posuk. The Gemroa dewrives it from Eichah 3:40 - "nachpsha derocheinu vnacjkora, vnashuva el hashem."

If you’re not guilty of Bitul Torah either, the Gemora says, you should assume the suffering is "yesurim shel ahava." Rashi explains this to mean that Hashem makes someone suffer even if they do not sin in order to give them more reward in the next world. Other Rishonim, such as the Ramban, say that it is not possible for an innocent person to suffer, ever. Yesurim shel ahava, according to him, means that Hashem is punishing for sins that were committed beshogeg.

There are other explanations in Yesurim shel ahava as well.

We can’t know Hashem's motives. We are not identifying Hashem's motive, but rather His message. It's like when your father hits you. He wants you to know why you’re being punished so you shouldn’t do it again. So too, an act of suffering is not an isolate, independent action by Hashem, but rather a direct message to us.

From another angle, though the same idea, is that when Hashem brings punishment, He is not acting in a random fashion, but rather facilitating a cause-and-effect reaction to our sins. Just as if r"l a person smokes he can get lung cancer; if he jumps off the roof he can break his leg; of he eats spoiled fish he can get food poisoning - so too certain aveiros bring certain punishments.

And just like a doctor can diagnose the cause of physically induced suffering, so too can we diagnose the cause of spiritually induced suffering. The latter is no more "second guessing" Hashem" than the first.

Midah kneged midah is one way to “diagnose” spiritual ailments - the reason Hashem punished midah kneged midah is not because He likes poetic justice; it is in order to make us aware of what sin caused the suffering. Rav Chaim Volozhen explains the reason why bitul Torah is not as easily identified as the cause of suffering as other sins (hence "pashpesh vlo matza yitleh b'bitul torah) is because whereas suffering normally corresponds to the part of the body that committed the sin, bitul Torah is capable of causing any and all types of suffering.

By looking into the Torah we can identify the cause of our sufferings the same way as looking into the medical books is the way we identify the cause of physically-induced suffering. There are plenty of types of suffering that the Torah ties to specific sins. Through Torah, we can understand what is happening in the world. For this, you don’t have to be a prophet or have Ruach HaKodesh to identify the source of suffering. At least not more than you need Ruach HaKodesh to understand the Torah. Chacham adif minavi. Chazal were baalei ruach Hakodesh, and the prophets were, well, prophets. By understanding their words, we can leverage their understanding and be able to ascertain what Hashem wants from us, the same way we use their words to understand what Hashem wants from us in terms of Halachah and Hashkafa etc.

Of course, some shailos are easier to "pasken" than others, and the requisite level of Torah expertise is required. But it is the Torah that we look into to understand these things - we do not need to look into the Heavens. Chacham adif minavi - looking into the Torah is the best way to understand Hashem's message.

A couple more examples of this being done to add to the above (I could go on forever - our seforim are packed with such pronouncements): The blood libels against Jews has been explained as Mida Kneged Midah for the brothers selling of Yosef and using his blood as a cover.

When there was an earthquake in Tzfas, killing thousands, the Chasam Sofer attributed it to the fact that people had messed up their spiritual priorities by ignoring Yerushalayim and instead focusing on the lesser holy city of Tzfas (he mentioned other specific reasons as well).

Rav Michoel Ber Weismmandel ("Ten Question to the Zionists") wrote that it was accepted amongst Gedolim during Hitler's rise that his coming was a manifestation of Hashem's anger because of Zionism. The Satmar Rebbe (Introduction to Vayoel Moshe) writes this explicitly - and says that such is clear from the Gemora's description of the punishment for violating the Three Oaths r"l.

The Chazon Ish explained that the deaths of countless innocent children during the holocaust was Midah Kneged Midah because of the thousands upon thousands of frum children who were sent to heretical schools - some willingly and some unwillingly - schools which the Chofetz Chaim used to refer to as "Molech." There, they burned the souls of Jewish children while maintaining their bodies, and so r"l Midah Kneged Midah took place, Hashem yishmereinu (quoted in Kol Yaakov, by Rav Yaakov Teitelbaum, p. 127, as well as in Maaseh Ish, vol. 5 p.128).

Rav Elchonon Wasserman, in Ikvesa D'Meshicha, describes how Jews, before WWII, were imitating the non-Jewish ways. His words:

"In recent times Jews have stopped learning Torah, and as a result, they have spare time. How do they spend their free time? They go in droves to the amusement places and theaters, returning home filled with unholy thoughts; thus the Jewish home also becomes defiled.

"Hashem's answer was not long in coming: Like lepers, Jews are driven from the Gentiles' places of entertainment ... 'If you do not keep apart from the nations, you will be delivered into the hands of Nevuchadnezzar and his cohorts' (Rashi on Vayikra 20:26).

"These days, the Jews have chosen two 'idols': socialism and nationalism [i.e. Zionism - Mod]...The doctrine of Jewish nationalism can be summed up in the phrase 'Let us be like the goyim'. All that is required of a Jew is to have nationalist feelings. If he pays the shekel and sings Hatikvah, he is exempt from all the Mitzvos.

"Clearly, according to the Torah way of thinking, this is idol worship. These two forms of idolatry have poisoned the hearts and minds of Jewish youth...

"And now a miracle has happened: In Heaven, these two idolatrous organizations have merged into one: national-socialism, the deprived Nazi movement. It has grown into a horrendous rod of Hashem's wrath which strikes at the Jews in all corners of the globe. The abominations to which we have bowed down are striking back at us.
Your evil deeds will punish you' (Yirmiyah 2:19) - Ikvesa Demeshicha, p. 38. 39, English version.

Rav Avigdor Miller (quoted in Nation On Fire, by Sara Shapiro, p. 306) stated that the reason for the Intifada was Mida Kneged Midah: Ehud Barak issued a statement that he was planning to transform EY into a secular state. "Because Barak made a decision to go against Hashem and assure that Torah would have no place in the secular nation, Hashem said, 'Now I’m going to teach you a lesson.' Now they are crying to Hashem 'Please help us Hashem.' Even the non-religious Jews are crying out. This is Mida Kneged Midah."

In his Rejoice O Youth, Rabbi Miller explains most of the major tragedies that took place during Golus with the rules that Chazal tell us about punishments:

"When the Jews in Spain began to use that wealthy land as a means of mingling with the Arabs and Spaniards, G-d’s plan caused them to be expelled to lands of lesser culture, such as Turkey and Poland, with whom our people had no incentive to assimilate. (#590)

Serious persecutions in Russia began only when the Jewish assimilationists began to preach that Judaism is darkness and among the gentiles all is light and joy. (#595)

"But on the upsurge of the greatest defection
from the Torah in history, which was expressed in Poland by materialism, virulent anti-Torah nationalism, and Bundism, G-d's plan finally relieved them all of Free Will and sent Hitler's demons to end the existence of these communities before they deteriorated entirely. The European Jews, many of whom had long admired and imitated the Germans, were finally weaned from this enameration by the German murder factories. The survivors would find it difficult to admire the inhuman devils who had gassed their families and tortured to death six million Jews." (#596)


So can I, a random teenage boy or girl, figure out why Hashem is making me suffer?
Not likely. On one hand, Hashem wants you to improve something, which is why He makes us suffer; on the other hand, as I mentioned, to decipher Hashem's message takes Torah knowledge - it's like paskening a shailah. Without the requisite Torah expertise, it’s not likely you’ll find the right answer. If you won’t rely on your own pshat in the Tosfos, I would say surely you do not want to rely on your own pshat in Hashem's messages. Remember the GRA's explanation of yitleh b'bitul Torah --- if you can’t identify the aveirah that’s causing the suffering, that is because you don’t know enough Torah. Ergo: If you don’t learn enough Torah you aren’t going to find the answer.

And if you do find it, if you’re guilty of lot of Torah ignorance, you’re likely not to find the right one.

As an example, someone once came to the Chazon Ish (the same Chazon Ish who identified the reason for innocent children being murdered in the holocaust) and told him he was saved miraculously, and he wants to know what Hashem wants him to do, because clearly, Hashem wants something from him.

The Chazon Ish knew this person from before, and realized that he was asking not about simply fixing his sins - that he would surely do - but about some lofty levels that Hashem, to his mind, requires of him, or something like that.

So to him the Chazon Ish said, "It's impossible to know, and therefore, you can get lost in areas you don’t belong ("farkrichen" in Yiddish). Therefore, do nothing."

I would suggest following the advice of Rav Shach (quoted in Maaseh Ish vol. 2 p. 146):

When suffering strikes, it is understood that when you see the something obvious and clear as the reason, or you feel specific things that need to be rectified, it’s obvious that in such a case you are obligated to fix those things. And if someone does not try to rectify those things, he will be held greatly responsible r"l. However, in general, when a person does not know why something happened, he should not try to start analyzing things, but rather, he should strengthen himself in his Torah learning, and through the increased Torah learning his Neshomah will be strengthened (besides the learning itself). In addition, he should improve his davening, more kavana etc.

I would also advise that even when things appear "obvious", you should consult with a Talmid chacham. What is obvious to one person may be anything but to someone who is more knowledgeable.

The idea that nowadays if we start analyzing our actions in complex ways, we are liable to go totally off the mark, comes from the Chazon Ish - see Maaseh Ish vol. 2 p. 146.

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We don't wait for our death bed to do Teshuva because (a) we do not know when we will die, and (b) If we try this trick, Hashem makes it much harder for us to do Teshuva then.

We try to save our life because Hashem commanded us to, and therefore when we are in danger but we have an opportunity to save ourselves it means our job is NOT yet over in this world.

The crying when a person dies is for us, not for the dead person. We are crying for ourselves since we lost them. Therefore, if the person who died was a Tzadik - or an innocent baby - who is now in a better place, the loss to us is still not diminished.

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Imagine the Nazis invading a town. All the residents know what this means and they rush to get out of town as quickly as they can. They leave all their possessions behind and make for the railroad station.

But when they get there, they find their old friends from the other side of town who also ran to the station to catch the last train out.

The friends start shmoozing, catching up on old times. Just then, the train pulls in, and everyone is running to get on board.

But these two friends are just standing there shmoozing, all caught up in their conversation, ignoring the train and the conductor's yelling "all aboard!".

Then, as they notice the train pulling away, they start running after it screaming "Hey wait for us!"


But it's too late. They missed the train, too busy with their shmoozing to escape the last train out of Nazi occupied Warsaw.

Does this mean that their being killed was a punishment for them talking while the train was leaving? Nope. All it means is that these people were morons and when they could have saved themselves they instead were busy yakking.

That's what talking in Shul is. Tefilah is our salvation. Sometimes, our last chance. If you want to talk while Hashem is there listening to the prayers and arranging for your escape, that’s your business. But if those who are busy yakking during davening while their salvation is waiting for them in their prayers, well, don’t blame G-d, because He gave you a fair chance.


The entire idea of attributing suffering to specific sins only applies when you know of the existence of the sins already. But if someone is suffering, and they ask you what they did to deserve this, if you try to say well, it must be that you did such-and-such sin to deserve this, that's no good. Because in that case, you are being mekatreg. You don’t know whether the sin was committed altogether, and if it was, under what circumstances or what context. And therefore, by saying that a certain sin must have brought about the suffering, you are saying that the person deserves the suffering for his sins. That’s the mistake that was made in sefer Iyov - just because Iyov was suffering does not mean you can see in him. (E.g. see Igros Chazon Ish 1:201).

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Several years ago every rabbi in this country had his Shabbos Shuva drasha made for him. The attack on the World Trade Centers on September 11th happened so close to Rosh Hashanah that everyone just had to talk about it. And rightfully so.

They said that we should take it as a message from Hashem to do Teshuva; that we should wake up and realize that we, too, in America, are vulnerable to terrorism and all sorts of atrocities, and that we have been complacent for so long, confident in the ability of our the two oceans to protect us from what happens all the time in Eretz Yisroel, and now we see it is not so. We are in danger in America, too.

And they were right, of course. We are indeed in danger here. And so many of us reacted appropriately. We made assemblies, gathered together to say Tehillim, to daven, to do Teshuva. We davened like most of us have never davened before, because we were so scared of what was going to happen in the future. (My son’s Rosh Yeshiva predicted right after September 11th that in three weeks Jews would not be able to walk the streets anymore, because they would be blamed for what happened.)

And now, years later, we look back and realize that NOTHING HAPPENED. Not a single person in this country was killed or even hurt by any terrorist in the past two years. Not a single incident, anywhere in this country, from coast to coast. There were attempts such as the guy with the shoe on the airplane, and others. They caught on the average maybe one terrorist or suspected terrorist daily since 9-11-01.

But nothing happened. All our predictions were wrong, we were safe, Boruch Hashem, and may the Chasdei Hashem continue.

But the question is: Have we maintained that level of Teshuva and focus on our Ruchnius that we had two years ago when we were scared? Have we davened for the past two years a single tefilah as intense as we davened on September 12th, 2001? Have we been as careful in our observance of Mitzvos and Torah learning as we were then? Or have we slackened off, because Hashem blessed us with safety, back to business as usual?

If we have not davened or learned during the past two years of peace and safety as well as we did on September 12th, what message are we sending to Hashem?. Do twenty five hundred people have to be killed in order for us to return to Him? If so, then we have put ourselves in terrible danger. If we are only that frum when Hashem sends tragedies into our lives, but when Hashem shows us open blessing and protection we are complacent, what does Hashem have to do in order to get us to return to Him? What are we telling Hashem that He has to do in order to get us to return to Him?

There is no question, no doubt, that the only reason nothing happened here in the past two years is Chasdei Hashem. It is so easy for terrorists to accomplish their horrific missions. Have you ever walked into Penn Station or Grand Central Station in New York City? You’ll see National Guardsmen and police galore, but we all know that there is nothing to stop a suicide bomber rachmana litzlan from just walking in. No metal detectors, no security, nothing.

What would it take for someone to drive a car loaded with explosives into the front of a Yeshiva or Shul? Rachmana Litzlan! It is so easy, we are so vulnerable, so weak, so available to any evil doer that wants to make us victims.

The evil ones threatened. They promised. They assured us that more attacks will come. And they could have come so easily.

But nothing happened. Nothing. Not a single incident in two years. If this is not open Hashgachah and Blessing from Hashem what is? Yet does it motivate us to return to Him the way we did back then? Do we only return to G-d when thousands of people are killed?

THAT, and only that: the message that we send to Hashem, “See? If you have thousands of people killed we will get better, but if you openly protect us against all odds, we are complacent” is what puts us in danger.

The Medrash says that it is not the suffering that causes us to daven, but rather the need to daven that causes the suffering. Chazal give a moshol: The king was traveling down the road with his entourage when he heard the screams of a woman in distress. The King sent his soldiers to check it out, and they found a band of robbers attacking the young lady. They killed the robbers and brought the women to the King. She thanked him profusely, and they all went on their way.

The King, however, decided he likes the woman and wants to marry her. So he sent her messages and roses, and invitations to come to the castle but she did not respond. She had no interest in talking to the King. There was nothing the King could do to get an audience with this woman.

So what he did was, he sent a band of robbers to attack her while he was nearby, and he waited for her to scream “King! Help me! I’m being attacked! Please!” and then he sent his soldiers to save her, again. It was only then that she was willing to come talk to the King. When she needed his help. So the King had no choice but to make her need his help.

So, too, the Medrash says, Hashem wants our Tefilos. He makes life good for us, he begs us, kivyachol, to come talk to Him. He wants us to return to Him but we refuse. So Hashem has no choice but to send attackers after us.

Then we pray. Then we do Teshuva. Then we talk to the King.

It’s the need to generate Tefilah that creates the Tzoros, not vice versa.

My wonderful friends, the King has been continuously sending us roses for the past several years! And He made it quite obvious that our good fortune here came only from Him. After September 11th, if you had to predict what this country would look like today, what would you have said? What were we all saying? Yet Hashem showed us that for whatever reason, maybe its because no country in the history of the world was ever so good to Jews and Judaism as the United States of America; no country in history, or maybe for another reason; but one way of the other, Hashem has shown us His grace, His Influence, His shefah and His blessing in abundance, far beyond what we had a right to expect! Far beyond what any of us expected.

The King has been sending us roses, because He loves us and wants to make us His queen. For the past many years the roses have been coming, daily. The most valuable gifts that we begged for, peace and safety, have been delivered to us daily by His Majesty. Hand delivered. In person..

The Chasam Sofer was once gozer taanis because of a certain Gezeirah that happened to his community in his days. But before the Taanis was supposed to have taken place, the Gezeirah was nullified. The Chasam Sofer said that they still have to fast on the designated day, because we dare not return to Hashem only when impending doom hangs over us.

Everyone wants to know what we can do to help our brothers in Eretz Yisroel. What we can do is show Hashem that we do not need suffering to make us return to Him. Not our suffering, and not the suffering of our brothers abroad.

Please, everyone. Starting Rosh Hashanah, for the next 10 days is a time that the King Himself created to return to Him. It’s easier Rosh Hashanah than it is throughout the year to do Teshuva. The King is now not only sending us roses, but is standing right next to us with His arms open for us to throw ourselves into. What happens next to us and to the rest of Klall Yisroel is up to us.

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