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EIKEV - HUMAN SUFFERING
Adapted from a lecture by Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski.
And you shall remember the entire way on which the Lord, your God, led you these forty years in the desert, in order to afflict you to test you, to know what is in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He afflicted you and let you go hungry, and then fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your forefathers know, so that He would make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but rather by, whatever comes forth from the mouth of the Lord does man live. (Devorim 8:2-3)
These psukim elicit a very deep-seated question, that of human suffering. Hashem afflicted us and let us go hungry. Hunger is a very painful experience. To say the least, it is not pleasant. It is agony. Why does Hashem inflict pain and suffering? Is that the only way for Him to achieve whatever plan He has in store for us?
I have to admit, this question is unanswerable. There are many wonderful seforim written giving many interesting discussions, and all sorts of logical sounding answers. But I'm not satisfied with them. So ultimately the question remains unanswered.
However, we should not leave this in question form. We should not ask, why. We don't ask why because there is no answer.
During the lifetime of the Maggid of Mezeritch, the successor of the Baal Shem Tov, there were no new anti-Semitic government decrees. But after his passing, these decrees renewed. One of the talmidim thought, "The Talmud says that tzaddikim in their passing are even greater and more powerful than in their lifetimes. So if the Rebbe could avert these horrible decrees in his lifetime, why isn't he doing so now? He is so much closer to Hashem in Heaven. Then the Maggid appeared to him in a dream. "When I was alive and I saw one of these decrees approaching, and I saw how bad it would be, I prayed to Hashem to avert it. But from my vantage point up here, I can now see the ultimate good that is going to come out of this. And seeing the ultimate good that is going to come out of it, I have no right; I do not have the power to annul it. But you my dear talmid, you live in the earthly world. You see it as bad. You pray to Hashem to annul it. I cannot do it."
So there is a perspective of truth where it is so far beyond our means to understand so that even the most painful things somehow serve a purpose, a purpose that is not for us to understand.
There was a great tzaddik Rav Shimon of Yaruslov, who lived to a ripe old age into his 90's. And he told his disciples, "You know why I have lived so long? There are people that when bad things happen they ask Hashem, 'Why did You allow this to happen?' Hashem answers them, 'You want to know the answer why? Come up here and I'll tell you.'' Reb Shimon said, "I've never asked why, so they don't call me up there to tell me."
I want to share a little story with you. Like any normal human being, I have good days, and I have lousy days. One summer day I was standing in front of my home in Pittsburgh watering the lawn, and it turned out that it was a very lousy day. I was in a bad, bad mood. Then a car drove by and two men jumped out. It turned out they were former patients of mine who had graduated treatment (for alcoholism). So they jumped out of the car and ran over to me and shouted, "Hey. How yeh doin' Doc?"
I said to them, "You know, under normal circumstances one would answer such a question politely with, 'I'm fine!' But I've made it my principle that I do not lie to people on the Recovery Program. I expect them to be honest with me, so I don't lie to them. You asked me how I feel. Lousy. It's a bad day."
"Oh. Oh. Doc, you should come to an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meeting." I said, "No thank you."
8 PM that evening the doorbell rings and these 2 jokers are there. "We're here to take you to a meeting Doc."
I didn't want to turn them down, so I went to the meeting with them. Still feeling very depressed.
In my mazal it happened to be a Gratitude meeting. At an AA Gratitude Meeting everyone gets up and says, "I've been sober for 6 years, and my life has been so much better etc. etc. And everything is so great." So one person after another gets up to give his shpiel why he's so happy how their lives turned out. This was not what I needed to hear.
Finally the last guy gets up and he says, "I've been sober for 4 years. And I wish I could tell you that they've been good. But my company downsized and I lost my job and I couldn't find another one. I fell behind on my mortgage payments, so they foreclosed on my house. And my wife divorced me and she took the custody of the kids. And last week the finance company repossessed my car. But I can't believe that G-d brought me all this way, only to walk out on me now." And then I knew why I was at that meeting. That's why I was here.
The next Shabbos as I was reciting Nishmas I read, You redeemed us from Egypt, O Lord our G-d, and You released us from the house of bondage; during famine You fed us, and You sustained us in plenty; from the sword You rescued us, from pestilence You saved us, and from sore and lasting diseases You delivered us. Until now Your tender mercies have helped us, and Your loving kindnesses have not left us: You will never forsake us, O Lord our G-d, forever.
I had been saying that prayer for over 55 years and I never heard that before. I never had understood what I was saying. You will never forsake us, O Lord our G-d, forever. G-d brought me all this way, He will not walk out on me now.
We say in Shmone Esre, על נסיך שבכל יום עמנו. We thank G-d for the miracles that He does for us every day. What miracles? I don't have Manna falling down from Heaven every day. I don't see the lakes and oceans splitting every day. I don't see the Clouds of Glory around me every day. I don't see any miracles. But that's because we don't appreciate the miracles we have. As the Talmud states, the beneficiary of a miracle does not realize that he is experiencing a miracle.
We get up in the morning and we say the brachos. We say them, but I don't know if we think them.
"We thank you Hashem for giving sight to the blind." Can anyone tell me why protoplasm should have vision? What gives us the power to see? Protoplasm can't see. Protoplasm can't speak. Protoplasm can't hear. If only I would realize the myriad of miracles that are taking place every day, which means that G d is sustaining me every moment.
And if G-d has sustained me all this time with so many miracles, He's not going to walk out on me now!
That was a very powerful lesson that I had. I get powerful lessons by going to AA meetings.
One time I was stuck in Manhattan. I don't like getting stuck in Manhattan. I think Manhattan was a mistake. But it was one of those days that things were not going well for me. I just felt terrible. Then I thought, maybe if I went to an AA meeting I'd get a little lift. So I called the central office, and I found out that this was lunch time and there were 3 meetings within 3 blocks of where I was in Manhattan scheduled for lunch time. So I walked into one of the meetings.
A young woman was speaking and I've heard that story a hundred thousand times. When she was young she started using alcohol, then she started with marijuana and other drugs, and her lifestyle deteriorated, etc. etc. And she fell into terrible ways. And then when she was 26 or 27 years old somebody brought her into the recovery program. And now she's sober and things are good and getting better.
That story didn't do anything for me, I've heard that a thousand times.
Then she said, "Before I leave, I have to tell you one more thing. I'm a football fan. And the NY Jets, that's my team. I will never miss a NY Jets football game. Well, one weekend I had to be out of town, but I didn't want to miss the game. So I asked my girlfriend to record the game on her VCR. When I came back I went to pick up the tape. As she handed me the VCR she told me, 'Oh. By the way. The Jets won.'
"OK. So I got home and I put in the tape and started watching, and OY! The Jets are getting mauled! They're playing horrible. By half time they're 20 points behind. Under other circumstances I would have been a nervous wreck. I would have been pacing the floor, I would have been hitting the fridge. This time I sat there perfectly calm. I knew they were going to win."
She said, "Ever since I came into this program, and I turned over my life to the will of G-d, I know it's going to turn out alright. Sometimes I'm 20 points behind at half time. But I know it's going to turn out alright."
This is a lesson that applies to all of us. How many times are we stuck in a situation where nothing seems to be going well. It is then that we should apply that rule. If we turn our lives over to G-d. we know that it's going to turn out alright. I'm in good hands. He's not going to walk out on me now. Somehow or other. How? I don't know. I don't understand. But somehow or other, the end is going to be good.
And so when things happen that are unpleasant, when adversity happens, the bracha that is made is to praise G-d for being a true judge. We don't agree with His judgment. But we understand that His judgment is true.
Moshe Rabbeinu davened fervently 515 consecutive prayers to be allowed to go into the Land if Yisroel. That was his one lifetime wish and Hashem refused it to him. And Moshe in his last words said הצור תמים פעלו כי כל דרכיו משפט. "He is the rock, whose work is perfect, all of His ways are justice." There is no way that we can understand His justice. And this is where emunah comes in: in something that we cannot understand. And it gives us the strength to know that because G-d has kept us alive until this day, and He is responsible for our being here, then He is not going to walk out on us now. עמו אנכי בצרה He is with us in our moments of anguish. He is not going to walk out on us now.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network