One of the universal questions of mankind is why is there suffering? How do we relate to suffering and to our relationship with G-d?
Well, anybody who has experienced suffering (may nobody know from such things), be it physical suffering, emotional suffering, or any type of suffering, knows that although friends and family and even strangers may have compassion and pity on the person suffering, they generally do not FEEL YOUR PAIN. They feel pity, they feel sad, they feel uncomfortable around you. But they don’t feel your pain.
Why is that?
Because if a person has not experienced a particular type of suffering they cannot relate to it the same way.
Nevertheless we do believe that G-d feels our pain and is with us in the midst of our suffering.
A person who, for example, suddenly becomes paralyzed or is in an accident (or even a terror attack, G-d forbid) and is physically damaged, is no longer the same person on some level. Such situations wreak havoc not only for the person himself but for his family. Everything turns upside down overnight.
After the initial emergency situation is under control, it is normal for thoughts to turn to a longing for the “good old days”, the days when things were “normal”. We long for the ability to do what we lost. We long for being in good health like we once were. We long to be able to do the things we used to do.
And we even may feel a bit sad or even a bit jealous when we see others able to live a “normal” life.
But what does that really mean ? what is “normal”?
To each of us normality is what we get used to. It is obviously what we are created to be according to the way G-d wanted us to function in this world. But normal is the way we experience life from the time we are small. A child, for example, who has a father who is totally functional will feel a tremendous shock and loss if the father one day loses his ability to walk. But a child who is born into a home where the father is wheelchair bound from day one will consider that normal to some extent.
So is normality only defined in terms of physical ability? If a person G-d forbid loses some aspect of their physical functioning , are they less “normal”?
True normality is much higher than that. It transcends such limitations. Because as Jews we are part of Hashem and we have untapped potentials in life.
If you can retain your sense of closeness and love to Hashem despite your suffering, that is normality.
If you can retain a balance in your life and manage to laugh and be happy despite your problems, that is normality.
If you can be an inspiration to others despite your suffering, that is normality.
If you can still fulfill your Torah obligations despite your challenges, that is normality.
If you can give your children and your spouse a sense of dignity and happiness and security despite your world falling apart, that is normality.
Because true normality is higher than just doing what you are used to. It is higher than functioning the way we “should” function in life. It is our ability to transcend problems and find meaning in whatever situation you find yourself in. To be able to laugh through the tears. To be able to stand back and see things objectively. That is normality. True normality is not falling apart and getting depressed when there are hard times. True normality is retaining dignity, strength, faith and happiness despite challenges.
True normality is finding G-d in the hard times, finding light in the darkness, and using it to get to a higher level. To rise to the challenge. To realize that if G-d is putting you in a certain situation and challenging you, this is because He wants you to rise to the occasion and bring out your hidden strengths and grow.
So the question is not why is there suffering. We never will have a real answer for that.
The question is not what does G-d get out of our suffering. We cannot know that. And certainly He does not need our suffering.
But it seems at certain times in life we need to go through that suffering, although we hope and pray we never should have to.
But if we do find ourselves in a challenging situation, even what seems impossible at times, we need to ask ourselves: what are WE supposed to get out of this suffering? How should this change us for the better? How should this allow us to give greater nachas to Hashem? How can our relationship to Hashem improve through this suffering?
Because our self worth is not defined by how physically functional we are. Our self worth is defined by how spiritually functional we are.
Many people who lose physical abilities suddenly feel useless. But that is not true at all. The person is simply being elevated to a higher state of being and to accomplishing something different that is their mission at this particular moment.
Another important point that emerges from suffering is that we learn to really appreciate whatever blessings we have, no matter how small they are. Often when everything is going well in life we forget to truly appreciate the small things or the blessings we have. We often kvetch and wish things were different. We want a nicer home, a bigger car, more money, more vacations etc. etc. But when a person is suddenly limited, for whatever reason, every little blessing becomes appreciated. And perhaps that is what life is really all about. To appreciate what we have. To find G-d in every place, in every moment, in every experience. And to deepen our relationship and our love. It is not based on physicality, just like a marriage must not be based only on physicality. Our relationship to G-d must be much deeper. We cannot love G-d only when He does what we want or gives us what we want. We have to love G-d all the time and try to find meaning and happiness even within darkness or suffering. That is truly living with the idea that there is nothing besides Him. And as it says in Tanya, when we accept suffering with happiness, it becomes sweetened at its source Above and changes to become good in a manifest way that we can see and appreciate. And of course we always have to believe that G-d can change every situation to become even better than before the problem started. And we gain so much from the challenges of life: we learn so much, change to become better people, our perspectives widen etc. We see how everything is truly for the good. Just like Rabbi Akiva who believed everything was truly good and it became so in ways that could be seen openly.
Nevertheless we pray that Hashem should never bring suffering to any of us and should not challenge us with difficulties. And we pray for the redemption of the world with the coming of Moshiach when Hashem will wipe away all tears and will change everything to open revealed good. May it be now!