Suffering or Wisdom?
Rivka Olenick
When a person suffers any type of misfortune, he/she should use it as a cue to arouse his/her improvement. Chovos HaLavavos Brochos 5a; 7:6. We should each do everything possible to protect ourselves and avoid unnecessary suffering and psychological harm.
First we have to make the effort and try to understand what suffering means. When you think of suffering you automatically equate it with fear and you imagine that every terrible situation will confront you. Setback and tragedy are part of life yet the outcome of any setback or tragedy through suffering can prove to be very beneficial for that person. Sooner or later all of us confront, but can hopefully endure our trial of suffering. A person who cannot accept their suffering is very unfortunate because they will have gained nothing, and there is so much to be gained. Chazal say that God created the world and it is good, that only good comes from God and what happens in the world is for the ultimate good. So how should we understand Chazal and internalize these ideas when we are suffering or in the middle of a crisis or personal tragedy? It seems impossible. It isn't impossible, but the approach in understanding suffering should be a philosophical one. By allowing your mind and heart to be open and by exploring and being introspective, your own suffering can open the door to profound joy and believe it or not, may prove to you to be a great blessing.
Many people think that when everything is going great, who needs Torah or God? I'll just get away with going through the motions, so it all looks good and respectable from the outside and I'll just deny the real purpose of my life here on the inside. Except, that when a crisis occurs we can easily feel that we've lost control of our life in the inside and the outside. Many people become depressed and anxious when they are suffering, they feel lost and can't figure out what to do. They find it hard to focus on anything and they feel alienated from their family, and their friends. This suffering produces tremendous uncertainty, which is scary and they ask: "Why did God let this happen to me?" When suffering entraps you, try to look into your life and examine it closely, looking for what is wrong. Seek and ask for practical guidance and for advice from someone you trust and who is willing to help you feel grounded. Feel positive and optimistic that you are approaching your suffering the right way. If you don't rebel against God because of your suffering, consider that to be a high level and a very good starting point.
How often do we hear of those who turn to alcohol or drugs or anything else that one thinks will relieve one's pain, which is only temporary. Once you start moving in a positive direction, consider acquiring more wisdom and drawing closer to God, meaning closer to the will of God. Make an investment in your peace of mind by investing more time in thought. Don't leave your peace of mind to chance, rather figure out how you can have greater peace of mind to aid you through your suffering and give you strength. Wisdom can significantly help a person understand where they wrong in their judgment or how they can have more trust in God to endure their suffering. Acceptance is the most difficult part of one's suffering. Once there is some amount of acceptance, a person usually looks towards God and begins to feel hopeful. Strengthen yourself by engaging yourself in thinking about and exploring the concepts and ideas that are based on the foundations and principles of Judaism. Do this by making time to learn and study the great ideas contained in Pirkei Avos, The 13 Principles of Faith, Psalms, Mishlei, and the Chumash. The list is endless, but first you should make an attempt. Ask someone you know and respect for input and suggestions in what area of Torah would be helpful for you to learn. Maybe think about learning this area of Torah with a friend. This will give you something to look forward to, something your mind will look forward to. Don't waste time at the Shabbos table talking about silly stuff, but use the precious time to direct the conversation to ideas. Yes, a dvar Torah is very nice, but don't just repeat it, analyze it and think about it together with whoever is at the table. Prepare interesting questions. So much time and effort goes into the preparation of the meal, but how much real effort goes into the conversation so that it is beneficial for you and everyone else at the meal? Talking about business is forbidden, yet people feel they have to "catch up" by talking about it. Don't talk business, talk ideas, talk God.
In the meantime, become more introspective about your life even if things are "ok." Maybe things can be a lot better and you can strengthen your spiritual self and be more involved in growth. We shouldn't simply rely on the fact that "everything is in God's hands." Although this is true, one's fear of God - i.e., his or her free will - is not in God's hands. "Hakol b'day shamayim, chutz m'yiras shamayim." "All is in God's hands except the fear of God." We are expected to do as much as we can for ourselves in fulfilling our purpose by using all of our potential in life for real growth, which is in our hands. When we do this we continue to keep ourselves strong so that we can meet the difficult challenges that will find its way into our lives.
Don't rely on anyone else to remove your suffering for you. It is more beneficial to be introspective and to look within and with the right guidance, face the pain you feel. This will eventually bring about your own peace of mind. Most people's sufferings are based on false illusions or denial. Maimonides states that the majority of man's evils are his own doing. Situations that produce a negative outcome, are mostly caused by faulty thinking. This faulty thinking causes suffering, self-inflicted suffering! "All the days of the unwise are unhappy ones." Chovos HaLavavos 4:5. Often people are fooled into thinking that life means continuous and uninterrupted pleasure and so when reality interrupts, a person feels they are truly suffering. But truthfully they are suffering because they lack the understanding of the purpose of their life. If they understood their purpose there would be no self-inflicted suffering! This is how a wise person thinks about life and the importance of understanding how you should live your life.
So persevere, and ask for God's assistance through honest, meaningful prayer. Don't just mutter the words, petition God and ask for insight and clarity. Think about rearranging your priorities in life and consider setting goals for yourself that are realistic and sincere. Ask yourself: "What do I want out of this short life and what goals should I set for myself so that I have continued growth. How does God fit into my goals?" Suffering is a great teacher. Suffering teaches you the limitations of your power; it reminds you of the frailty of your health, the instability of your possessions, and the inadequacy of your means which have only been lent to you and must be returned as soon as the Owner (God) desires it. Suffering visits you and teaches you the nothingness of your false greatness. It teaches you modesty. From Horeb, Vol. I pg. 36.

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