A woman in our neighborhood has spina bifada. It's so heart-breaking to see. And it has me wondering: Why do some people suffer and others seem to have it so easy? It is not evenly divided between "good" people and "bad" people, as I can plainly see. So what determines this in God's eyes?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
You are asking a very important question.
The Talmud (Yoma 35) tells the famous story of the sage Hillel. At the time, the head of the yeshiva wanted to make sure that the people who came to study Torah did so for the right reasons, and not for self-aggrandizement. So in order to test people's motivation, he charged money to enter the yeshiva.
Hillel was as poor and impoverished as they come. In the winter, he wanted so much to study that he climbed up to the roof by the skylight, and then became so enraptured with his studies that he didn't realize he'd become frozen in. The next morning it was dark in the study hall. So they looked up and saw a person's body. They brought him down and thawed him out.
The Talmud states: "Hillel obligates the poor." That means that Hillel takes away the excuse that we didn't accomplish what we were supposed to in life due to lack of money. Hillel serves as a beacon that even in poverty, one can still become the greatest of the great (which Hillel was).
Now let's ask a question: Was Hillel's poverty a punishment, or was it his opportunity to excel in life? The Talmud explains this as his reason for being here.
There are some souls that come to the earth for what Judaism calls a "Tikun". A Tikun means that the soul has to undergo certain experiences in order to help it maintain a state of perfection. This could be because of different experiences that the soul underwent in previous lifetimes. The soul achieves its tikun by being purified through the experience and/or by helping other people grow through exposure to the experience.
In order to appreciate this concept it is crucial to understand that the world that we live in is only a small speck of a person's life. Judaism looks at life in this world as preparation for the life in the World of Souls. Many of the unexplainable features of life in this world can be better understood if we realize this concept. The pain that one must undergo at times in this world to achieve greater perfection of the soul is worth the eternal pleasure that the soul experiences after the death of the body.
The bottom line: We don't know why a particular situation might be happening. We each have our own package. Each of us is put here for a particular purpose. Sometimes "suffering" may actually be the reason we were put here. Maybe this is, so to speak, our unique contribution.