Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Everything is for the best

 Recently received an email from someone who deals with those who have had a rough life such as aguna divorce or death of a spouse or child or  debilitating illness or alzheimer's.  He noted for some of these people hearing the reassurance :"All is for the best and G-d is in contol" isn't helping at since they have experienced such devestation without seeing any silver lining in the clouds. There have been no miraculous last minute salvation that people usually talk about to prove that G-d is running the world. He asked whether there is another approach? 

I noted there is another approach which readily acknowledges the tragedy and badness of some people's situation and which makes no attempt to sugar coat the pain. That is to say the suffering is a test and that there is compensation in Olam Haba. One such approach is called  Yessurim from G-d's love. It is described in Berachos 5a

 And if he did attribute his suffering to dereliction in the study of Torah, and did not find this to be so, he may be confident that these are afflictions of love, as it is stated: “For whom the Lord loves, He rebukes, as does a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12).

Sanhedrin (47a) Rabbi Natan says: It is a good sign for the deceased when he is punished after his death and does not receive an honorable burial or eulogy, as his lack of honor brings him atonement for his sins. For example, if the deceased was not eulogized, or if he was not buried, or if a wild animal dragged his corpse, or if rain fell on his bier, this is a good sign for the deceased. Learn from the baraita that a eulogy is delivered for the honor of the dead, so that when he is deprived of this honor, he achieves atonement for his sins. 

However the Rambam says this approach is not Jewish. While the Ramban wrote a sefer on the subject of suffering and ultimately utilized reincarnation to explain suffering. 

Sefer HaIkkarim (4:13): … … 4) Sometimes the tzadik experiences bad because it is beneficial for him. This is called Suffering of Love. It is also called a nisayon (test). There are three aspects of Suffering of Love. a) Suffering that is erase the slightest remnant of sins that are too minor to be atoned for in a prescribed manner or that he is unaware of what he had done. b) Sometimes there is not the slightest sin but the suffering is entirely to test the tzadik whether he serves G d entirely from love…c) Sometimes there is absolutely no sin and there is no need to test the tzadik but it is entirely to increase the reward in the World to Come - such as Avraham’s sacrifice of Yitzchok.

Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:17): The majority of our Sages agree that there is no death or suffering without sin… A person is rewarded according to all the good deeds that he has done even if he wasn’t commanded by the prophet to do them. He is also punished for all the bad things he did, even if he wasn’t forbidden by the prophet. This is true however for those things that his intellect would indicate that they were good or bad.…In the words of our Sages there is something additional which is not found written in the Torah. Some of them talk about yesurim shel ahava which is suffering which occurs even without sin - in order to increase reward. This is also a concept found amongst some Muslims. However there is no verse in the Torah which expresses this idea. 

Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:24): The concept of “testing” is a very difficult and is the most difficult one in the Torah where it is mentioned six times. Most people understand the term to refer to G d bringing suffering and calamities on a person even though the person has not sinned - in order to increase his reward. Such a concept doesn’t have clear support from the Torah and only one of the six examples in the Torah is not inconsistent with this definition. On the other hand there is a clear principle in the Torah which refutes this concept of “testing.” Devarim (32:4): A G d of faithfulness and without iniquity. In addition to this refutation not all of the sages accepted this popular understanding since they said “There is no death without sin and no suffering without transgression.” This view that no undeserved suffering occurs is the one that every adherent to the Torah who has intelligence should believe. This is simply because one should not ascribe injustice to G d and assert that G d subjects people to undeserved suffering.

Rav Saadiya Gaon (Emuna V’De’os 5:3): The righteous suffer for two reasons. The first reason is that it is for the few sins they have committed… The second reason is that it a trial. G d tests them when He knows that they will be able to endure the suffering. Afterwards he will reward them to compensate them for the undeserved suffering. G d does not test a person who cannot endure it - because then it serves no purpose. The purpose in afflicting the righteous is in order that mankind should know that G d did not choose them for nothing. Job and his suffering is an example of this second type of suffering. If the suffering is the result of sin then typically G d will acknowledge that this is the reason - if He is asked. On the other hand if the suffering is because it is a trial - G d typically does not acknowledge it. This we see from the response to Moshe’s complaint “Why are you making it worse for this people.” Similarly Job was not answered when he asked why he was suffering. This lack of explanation is necessary so that the suffering of the righteous should not be simply dismissed by the average man as merely a means for the tzadik of getting additional reward. And I say that even the completely innocent person is sometimes afflicted in order that he gets reward for it. This is obviously the case for the infant who suffers. I have no doubt that they will be compensated for their suffering. A wise person views suffering as the chastisement of a father by means of a beating or detention to keep his son from harm. It is comparable to the disgusting bitter medicine that a person takes to be cured. A person might ask why is this suffering necessary because G d can give the good without the suffering? We answer him that good deservedly given as reward is better than receiving it out of kindness.

Pnei Yehoshua (Berachos 5a): If one cannot find a sin that justifies the suffering then it is suffering of love. Rashi explains that G d afflicts undeserved suffering in order to increase the reward in the World to Come. Why should G d afflict the tzadik when there is no need for the suffering - since no person would torture his friend in order to give him extra presents. And the question seems even stronger since all the worlds belong to G d and He can freely give them to whomever He wants. Furthermore this gemora also states that the World to Come is only given through suffering. Why should this be? An obvious answer is that the soul is not capable - even after it has separated from the body - to receive the light of the transcendent World to Come without suffering…. However this explanation doesn’t fit the language of Rashi that the purpose is to receive greater reward than his merit. The explanation of Rashi could be that the undeserved suffering is to atone for the sin of other Jews as we see in Sanhedrin (39a)… Thus G d does not want the world destroyed. If he brings suffering on the average person it is possible he won’t accept the suffering willingly and will rebel - Heaven forbid. Therefore He brings the suffering on the righteous who are willing to accept it with love for the sake of all Jews. Since this tzadik brought merit to the masses by his suffering he receives his own reward and also their reward in the World to Come. He also obviously receives the portion of the wicked who have lost their portion in the World to Come. This latter explanation seems to be the understanding of Rashi while the original explanation seems to better fit the language of the gemora.

Igros Moshe (YD 1:140): This that you explained that Suffering from Love (Berachos 5a) - that Rashi explains that G d afflicts a person even though he hasn’t done any sin in order to increase his reward - is similar to the issue of a father hitting his son even though he has completed the his required task. The father does it in order to increase the child’s fear and respect for him . Even though the son would fulfill the father’s command anyway he gets additional reward. This is a valid explanation…. However it is necessary to add that G d does not give Suffering from Love to someone who hasn’t sinned at all. … Nevertheless he is chastised in the same way as the son who has completed his task. This is to increase his reward more than his actual merits…. Nevertheless Rashi’s view is that the suffering serves no purpose for the tzadik except to increase his reward. 

Ramban (Shaar HaGemul #118): Since Chazal gave these explanations for suffering of the righteous based upon the traditions they received [alternately: according to their intent] and according to their understanding of the verses in Torah and Neviim - why do we find that the prophets themselves complained about this issue? Why was Yirmiyahu (12:1) perplexed as to why the wicked were successful since G d is righteous? Dovid [Assaf] (Tehilim 73:13) and Yeshaya (63:17) were also mystified by the suffering of the righteous and success of the wicked as was Chavakuk (1:3–4)…. 

Ramchal (Daas Tevunos 8–10): Intellect: There are matters which are very difficult and extremely deep such as the suffering of the righteous and the pleasure of the wicked. This issue was difficult for our Sages as well as the prophets. It was even difficult for Moshe Rabbeinu. They were not able to comprehend this matter. Soul: In fact this inability to comprehend is only for the precise details of concerning a particular individual - however the general principles are understood by every upstanding person. Thus a person needs to realize that while he should strive to comprehend everything - he needs to accept that the goal in unattainable.

Sefer HaIkkarim (4:14): Since we have explained that G d’s judgments are correct without imperfection concerning both the suffering of the tzadik and the pleasure of the wicked, it is necessary to explain the complaints of the prophets and sages concerning this? We see (Berachos 7a) that even Moshe Rabbeinu was bothered by this issue when he asked Please show me Your way so that I can know You. Job complained about this. Assaf (Tehilim 73:2–3; 73:13) stated that because of this issue he almost became a heretic. Yirmiyahu (12:1) asked Why are the wicked successful? Chavakuk (1:13) asked Why do You tolerate those who deal treacherously and keep silent when the wicked swallows up the man who is more righteous than he? Chavakuk (1:4) The wicked surround the righteous and therefore justice comes out perverted. Malachi (2:17): You have wearied G d with your words: Yet you say, “How have we wearied Him?” In that you say Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of G d and He delights in them… Malachi (3:17) those who work wickedness are built up and those who tempt G d - escape. Koheles (8:14) There is a nonsensical thing which is done on the earth that there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the work of the wicked. There are wicked men to whom it happens according to the work of the righteous. There are many more additional examples found in the words of the prophets. Obviously this matter requires explanation…

Rav Yonason Eibschuetz (Ya’aros Devash 1:10): There are two types of calamities. The first comes from G d and appears bad but in fact it is absolutely good. Its start is difficult but it ends up sweet because its purpose is to cleanse a person from sin. That is because nothing bad ever comes from Heaven. This is what our sages (Berachos 5a) describe as “suffering from love” and “all those that G d loves He chastises.” The second type of calamity is the result of G d removing His Providence and thus leaving the person unprotected from harm - both from the astrological influences and the forces of nature. This resulting multitude of bad is in fact absolutely bad because G d removed His protection and no “suffering from love” results from accident. This second category - because of our many sins - is the source of much of Jewish suffering. It is described in the Torah (Vayikra 26:23–24): If you go with Me incidentally I will also go with you in an incidental manner. That means that if they view misfortune - not as a warning to repent from G d - but rather as an accident then G d will in fact leave them to the vicissitude of nature and mazel. Then they will in fact suffer randomly and thus all their misfortune will be bad. This is especially relevant for Jews since according to the astrological forces they could be destroyed - Heaven forbid - since they are descendants of Avraham. Avraham according to the astrological forces should never have had children and his children resulted only because G d lifted him beyond their influence. Thus in the realm of nature and mazel the Jews have no right to exist and therefore when they are left to these forces they have terrible suffering.

Ramban (Shaar HaGemul #118): To conclude the topic of suffering: It is proper for a person who experienced any mishap or calamity to believe that it is the result of his sins. He should repent for the sins that he is aware of and should confess in general for those he doesn’t remember… If he sees a tzadik who dies as a tzadik, he should try to attribute it to the small number of sins that he committed. Similar one should assume that the tranquility of a wicked person is the result of some good deeds he might have done. If that explanation is not satisfactory because of the apparent greatness of the tzadik his outstanding merit, total freedom from sin and pure heart then he should realize that this is not readily answered about another person…. He should assume however that ultimately the righteous person will be justly rewarded for his righteousness…or that it involves the secret of transmigration of souls… In any case he should believe that there is righteousness, goodness and correct judgment in G d’s decisions - even though it might be concealed from him…. All of this is appropriate for every intelligent person to think about in order to understand how G d runs the world and His goodness with all His creatures. It is also critical that everyone understand the need to accept chastisement in the form of suffering. Nevertheless after saying all this, the question of why the righteous suffer still remains because we lack the ability to see events in its full context. In addition we typically don’t investigate the facts fully. We simply focus on the question of how this person got what he deserved in light of the fact that G d gives everyone what he deserves. In fact we see tzadikim who are killed while studying Torah or while they are fasting and praying with great fervor. Some people are born without organs and limbs. Some die before the age of 20 and yet were tzadikim who devoted their short lives to studying Torah and doing mitzvos. How could they deserve the punishment to die at the hand of Heaven which isn’t applicable until after the age of 20?… The suffering of the righteous Job is another case which is difficult to understand. So is the story of Rabbi Akiva whose Torah was so great and yet died in such a horrible way. Much more common are the cases of the wicked who enjoy peace and prosperity. Nevertheless the validity of the problem of suffering of the righteous and the peace of the wicked is independent upon whether it is rare or common. Our concern is not with man per se…but our questions are directed to G d whose deeds are just without any failing. 

Ramban (Shaar HaGemul #120 chapter 6): In conclusion a person should believe that all mishaps and calamities are the consequence of sin and transgression. He should repent on those sins that he knows about and those that he has forgotten about or wasn’t aware of, he should make a general confession. If he sees a tzadik suffering in spite of his righteousness he should assume it is because of the few sins that he has done. Similarly when he sees a wicked person have a pleasant life, he should ascribe it to the few good deeds that he has done…. Nevertheless, whether he knows or doesn’t know - it is necessary to accept that everything that G d does is absolutely just and merciful - even though the justice and mercy might be hidden. You may ask us that since there is an element that is hidden in divine judgment and consequently that it is necessary to believe in His justice as the True Judge - why do you trouble us and require us to learn the various explanations of why the righteous suffer? Why not just simply rely totally on this principle that G d is inherently righteous and therefore it is impossible that He commit an injustice - either on purpose or by inattention? The answer to this question is that this assertion that we should simply believe that G d’s actions are righteous - without trying to understand how - is the view of fools that despise wisdom. We in fact greatly benefit by learning the various explanations because this is wisdom which helps us become wise men. By this endeavor we also increase our knowledge of G d through understanding His conduct and deeds. Furthermore we will have faith and have trust in our faith - in both the known and the concealed matters - more than other people. That is because we in fact learn about the nature of the concealed matters from that which is knowable. This intellectual involvement leads us to know the righteousness of Divine Judgment and the justness of His Law. Thus it is the obligation of everyone who worships G d from love and fear to search his mind to justify G d’s justice and to validate His decisions the limit of his ability. The explanations, of course, need to be based upon the approach of our Sages as we have already explained. Consequently he will have peace of mind concerning these issues by validating the judgment of G d to the best of his ability. He will then be able to generalize from what he knows to that which he can’t comprehend - especially with the secret that was mentioned previously. He will find that he no longer has any doubts and questions. On the other hand, even if he doesn’t want to go through all this analysis it is legitimate just to accept that whatever G d does is just.

Shem Tov (Moreh Nevuchim 3:17): …However the only thing that is true beyond question is that whatever G d does to us is totally exact and just so that nothing should be added or subtracted from it... Therefore we must exclude from consideration the suffering of the tzadik and the pleasure of the wicked which are solely the result of natural processes or the free will of other people. In fact the majority of evil that happens to a person is the result of his free will and his great lust [and is not from G d]… In addition everything that happens to a person will be subject to review and judgment either in this world or the World to Come and compensation and adjustments will be made. This attitude of compensation for undeserved suffering removes more doubt and confusion than the attitude that everything that happens to a person is totally deserved. As it says in Mishlei(17:15): It is an abomination to G d to justify the wicked and blame the righteous… It is important to fully understand this…

Ramban (Koheles): The truth is that the words of Elihu to Job were ideas that were received by tradition from men of the Torah. Therefore when it says that Elihu was descended from ’the family of Ram” - it is a reference to Avraham. Therefore the principle that is proper to believe is that there is no death without sin and no suffering without transgression [Shabbos 55a]. A person should not assume that he is righteous but should carefully examine his deeds and repent for those sins he is aware of and he should confess about the sins he is not aware of. He should believe that this principle of our sages is true and that G d conducts His world with this principle. Don’t try to refute my assertions with the concept of Suffering of Love that is mentioned by our sages. However in addition to this basic principle that suffering is the result of sin there is in addition a great secret which is impossible to know without kabbala - [i.e. reincarnation]. It is a very clear answer which removes all intellectual doubts. This solution which Elihu offers is alluded to in Tehilim (73:20) and is hinted in the words of Shlomo (Koheles 8:17)..... 

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