GOOD MORNING! At one time or another almost all of us ask the age old question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" I share with you this week an insightful excerpt from a book filled with wisdom and compassion -- Finding Light in the Darkness -- The Toughest Challenges and How to Grow from Them. It is written by one of my beloved Aish HaTorah colleagues, Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt.
What are Rabbi Rosenblatt's credentials for writing on this topic? At age 27 his wife and mother of 4, Elana, finds out she has cancer. After 3 years of embracing life and fighting for life, Elana returns her soul to her Maker and Shaul is left a widower to care for his children.
The book chronicles their struggles in understanding and ultimately growing from the situation. Half way through it I ordered 10 copies to give to people who I thought it would help. Below are some excerpts:
"As a start to this - and most questions in life - we need first to define our terms. And, most significantly, in dealing with why bad happens in this world, we need to begin with a definition of "bad."
"I believe that much of our difficulty in dealing with bad things happening comes from a definition of bad that is entirely inconsistent with Judaism.
"I would imagine that for most people, the working definition of "bad" is "pain." Bad and pain are basically synonymous. Be it the pain someone goes through while dying from a horrible disease, the pain of someone like Elana, knowing she will never dance at her children's weddings, or the pain of children starving in Africa or the Warsaw Ghetto. It's the pain involved in these situations that makes them "bad." If no one in the Holocaust went through any pain - if they were gently put to sleep without any knowledge of what was happening - it would still be a horrible thing, but it would not bother us in the way that it does. Take a few moments to consider this, because it's important to understand exactly what it is that bothers us before moving on.
"If pain is to be in any way linked with our definition of bad - be it emotional, physical, or spiritual pain - then the question of why bad things happen to people is fairly well unanswerable. Because pain happens to every human being, righteous or evil, throughout most of their lives. And if pain in and of itself is bad, then God has clearly made a world that is just filled with 'bad.'
"There is nothing - absolutely nothing - that happens to us in this world that is good or bad. It is all completely neutral. But everything that happens does have the potential to lift us to a greater level of goodness - or drag us further away from God. Everything has the potential to be good and everything has the potential to be bad. 'Bad' things don't happen to good people. But neither do 'good' things. Things happen that are either more or less painful. But they are not inherently good or bad. We human beings are the sole arbiters as to whether that which occurs in our lives will ultimately be good or bad. The choice is entirely within our hands.
"Elana and I made a decision when she first became ill. We didn't have a choice as to whether or not she would have cancer. But we did have a choice as to how we would respond to that cancer. We knew that we could allow ourselves to despair, that we could hide ourselves away from the world and accept our 'fate.' Or we could decide to be happy with the goodness that we had. We could make sure we enjoyed our time with each other and our children and enjoyed our lives in general. We knew that we could grow closer to God at this time or we could move further away - and that choice was entirely within our hands.
"And so, I ask you to ask yourself, and to be brutally honest - what are you in this world for? To be comfortable? To avoid pain? To live out seventy or eighty years of life with the least challenge possible? If this is your aim, then many 'bad' things will happen along the way - because this is a world of pain and pain is antithetical to all that you are living for. If, however, you believe, as I do, that we are here to lift ourselves into Godliness, to grow and to ultimately attain self-perfection, then all that happens to us is a golden opportunity - and the more challenging it is, the greater that opportunity. The Mishnah tells us that "according to the pain is the reward" (Pirkei Avos 5:23). It doesn't say 'effort,' it says 'pain.' The level of pain defines the level of potential for Godliness. Of course, we don't go looking for pain, but when it comes, we embrace it as an opportunity to strive towards perfection.
"As a rule, does pain and difficulty in life make it easier or harder to rise spiritually? If we are honest, we would have to say that challenge helps us towards greatness. Greatness is not usually found among those who spend their days lying on beaches and sailing around the world in million-dollar yachts. Greatness is much more often found among those who face adversity head on and overcome it. Those who achieve their true potential are those who struggle through difficult situations and build their character in the process."
Behar, Leviticus 25:1 -26:2
The Torah portion begins with the laws of Shemitah, the Sabbatical year, where the Jewish people are commanded to not plant their fields or tend to them in the seventh year. Every 50th year is the Yovel, the Jubilee year, where agricultural activity is also proscribed.
These two commandments fall into one of the seven categories of evidence that God gave the Torah. If the idea is to give the land a rest, then the logical plan would be to not plant one-seventh of the land each year. To command an agrarian society to completely stop cultivating all farm lands every 7th year, one has to be either God or a meshugenah (crazy). No sane group of editors would include such an "insane" commandment in a set of laws for the Jewish people; only God could command it and ensure the survival of the Jewish people for following it.
Also included in this portion: redeeming land which was sold, to strengthen your fellow Jew when his economic means are faltering, not to lend to your fellow Jew with interest, the laws of indentured servants. The portion ends with the admonition to not make idols, to observe the Shabbat and to revere the Sanctuary.
* * *
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
"And you shall not hurt the feelings of one another, and you shall fear the Almighty" (Lev. 25:17).
What is the connection between these two commands?
Rabbi Shlomo Kluger commented, "Some people are careless with the feelings of other people and think that they only have to be careful to observe those commandments which involve man's obligation to the Almighty.
"The truth is that if a person is not careful with his obligations to his fellow men and speaks against them and hurts their feelings, he will eventually be careless with the commandments between a man and the Almighty. Failure to observe the first half of the verse will lead to failure to observe the latter half of the verse."
A few of the basic laws:
- Any words that cause needless pain and suffering are forbidden.
- A husband must be especially careful not to hurt the feelings of his wife. Women are more sensitive than men.
- If your words won't cause immediate embarrassment or anguish, but will ultimately cause suffering, they are forbidden.
- You must be careful not to cause anguish to small children unless it's necessary to correct them.
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Pain in life is inevitable; suffering is optional
Rabbi Kalman Packouz
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