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Thanks (But No Thanks) for the Pain
by Rabbi Zvi Homnick
PAIN MANAGEMENT
 
Growing up in a religious home and environment where Torah study represented “the” supreme value, and matters of faith were sort of taken for granted but not often addressed explicitly, dealing with the theological implications of the pain and suffering of this world tended to be a lonely business for those wrestling with that particular issue.  As someone that providence decreed should live through the loss of a mother at the tender age of four-and-a-half, as well as many other painful challenges, familial and individual, the issue tended to be more personal than puzzling out the overworked “Where was G-d during the Holocaust?” question.  Although, as mentioned previously, my belief and faith were never shaken by any real doubt, one still can't stop the mind throwing out the question, “What do You want from my life?”
 
Yes, I was well aware of the fact that Moshe Rabeinu and Dovid HaMelech, as well as countless greats throughout our long and painful history, had wrestled with the question of the suffering of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked.  And yes, by the time I was well through my teens, I could rattle off any number of biblical exhortations along with statements of the early and latter Sages that offer insight into the suffering of this world in general and exile in particular, but those only provided not quite satisfactory answers as to “Why them?” without really offering any clarity on the issue of “Why me?” 
 
“The Rock, His works are perfect” was understood to mean that G-d is the ultimate in fairness, but we don't see the whole picture until we pass from this world, whether to the “world of truth” following expiration or the “world to come” following redemption and resurrection.  In fact, the prevalence of pain and suffering as well as the apparent inequities of this world in confluence with the absolute belief that G-d is good and fair, are often cited in ethical and philosophical works as proof that this world is only a temporary corridor that we need to pass through on the way to entering the “palace” where G-d's fairness and goodness will become truly apparent. 
 
I could go on endlessly citing various nuanced and often seemingly conflicting offerings on the topic of “Why all the pain and suffering?” but they all basically lead to the same conclusion.  When it comes to “Why me?” especially regarding pain and suffering incurred before the “age of punishment,” you're not going to get anything remotely resembling a satisfactory answer, so don't ask.  Life in this world is meant only to be a test, therefore you just need to accept the fact that G-d decided that this is what your soul needed/needs for its own personalized test, and the better you “grin and bear it” the greater your reward will be when payday comes. 
 
To wit, pain and suffering are lousy, but they serve a good purpose in the long run, so grit your teeth and hang in there.  And of course, there are the stories; stories of great people who bore their suffering stoically, stories of simple people who accepted their miserable lots with utter faith, and so on and so forth.  I am sure there are many people for whom those stories are really inspirational and transformational.  As for me, as inspiring as I found those stories to be, there were still times that I couldn't help but feel that G-d was “picking on me,” as well as feel guilty for those feelings, which resulted in wallowing in self-pity and being paralyzed by guilt.  As much fun as all that was, there was still a part of me that believed that there had to be some way of divining “Why me?” or at the very least, “What do You want from my life?
 
“GOOD PAIN” VERSUS “BAD PAIN”
 
Pain and suffering, everybody's favorite topic, like every other topic in Judaism, takes on a whole new light in the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and Chassidus Chabad.  To begin with, the fundamental premise is radically different.  The Baal Shem Tov taught that G-d is the essence of absolute goodness, and “nothing bad comes from Above.”  If a person experiences any pain and suffering it comes entirely from himself, as a result of his perceptions. 
 
From a faith based perspective, this resolves a lot of the questions and issues that people struggle with on a personal basis.  It's all good, whether I see it now or not, and the more I accept the fact that it is good, I will actually get to see how it's all good even in this world, and even more so in the “world of truth” and the “world to come.”  However, this raises more questions than it answers, as it seems to conflict with so much of scripture and tradition, including the Kabbalistic tradition which devotes a great deal of its teachings to explaining the existence of evil and its manifestations in this world, in the context of the cosmic struggle between good and evil.
 
How to reconcile the many seeming contradictions to this teaching is addressed in Chabad Chassidus extensively, on the individual level, on the national level, and on the macro level.  This article is not intended to provide an overview of the massive amount of material on this topic, but to explore the basic principle of different levels of perception based on whether one sees and experiences the world from the “outside in” or from the “inside out,” and how even from the “inside out” there are as many layers of “inside” as there are spiritual worlds and levels.  (Yikes, that came out sounding all philosophical and complicated, so let's keep it simple).
 
When a person starts with the assumption that pain is bad, it is obviously an inverse corollary of the assumption that pleasure is good.  So it would follow that the greater the premium that a person puts on pleasure, the more he would be averse to pain.  And yet, when we look at the world around us we discover a fascinating phenomenon.  Those who devote their lives to the pursuit of some larger goal/s with which they associate great pleasure actually look forward to and welcome the often painful hardships and challenges related to those pursuits.  Whereas those who lead lives of “quiet desperation” just trying to fulfill their responsibilities and make it through the day, even if they devote their leisure time to grabbing some of life's more easily obtained pleasures, tend to shy away from the slightest of troubles and inconveniences, let alone real pain.
 
That is because those who see pain and pleasure as things that exist outside of themselves and come from the outside, also see them as things that they have little or no control over.  So, if a little pleasure comes your way, enjoy it, and try to avoid pain as much as possible, although inevitably you will end up experiencing more pain than pleasure in life because that is just the way the world works.  Conversely, those that recognize that all pain and pleasure originate from within, albeit stimulated by things outside oneself, understand that pain is actually the currency of pleasure.  More pain actually equals more pleasure, if you channel that pain properly. 
 
The harder you work, the more you deny yourself, the more challenges and upsets that you encounter in the pursuit of your pleasure, the greater the pleasure.  So much so that successful wealthy people who can afford any and all of the pleasures of this world and who understand this principle, find themselves looking back nostalgically at the early days when they were still struggling and feel compelled to find new vistas of ambition and challenge or else lose any enjoyment in life and wither up.
 
That is why in the future time, the fast days, starting with the 17th of Tammuz, when “the Tablets were broken and the city (Yerushalayim) was breached,” will be transformed into days of celebration.  Obviously, there will no longer be any reason for mourning, once those negative situations have been fully rectified and things are even better than before, but what reason is there to celebrate on these very days?  The answer is that due to our superficial exile-clouded perceptions we see and experience the pain and suffering associated with those events as “bad.”  Conversely, in the time of “Then shall you delight Upon G-d,” when the Divine Pleasure in creation is revealed and experienced by us, we will actually experience the “pleasure in the pain.”  At the same time, we will look back wistfully at the time of exile when we could have actually accomplished something in the production of that very pleasure through our sacrifice and efforts.
 
PAIN? WHAT PAIN?
 
The Rebbe explains in a number of places that Moshe Rabeinu, and similarly the Rebbe of each generation, experiences reality from the perspective of the Divine Essence, and from that perspective there is nothing bad in the world and there is nothing lacking in the world.  Everything is G-d and G-d is everything, so nobody is lacking anything, everything is perfect and is exactly the way it should be.  Just as G-d lowers himself to the level of the people and since they are experiencing pain and difficulty, He “hears their cries” and feels their pain, and ultimately saves and redeems them from their suffering,  so too Moshe Rabeinu as their leader, feels their pain and sees the causes of their pain and hardship as negatives. 
 
That is why he insists that “Send in the hands of the one You will send in the future time,” and that is why he cries out “Why have You done bad to this nation, and why have You sent me?”  If I am to lower myself to their reality and feel their pain, then I insist that You send the Final Redeemer to relieve them of their suffering forever, or at the very least don't make things worse.  He is even willing to break the Tablets carved out and given by G-d Himself, if their contents can be used to reflect negatively upon the Jewish people.
 
Similarly, in our generation, the Rebbe cries over the pain and suffering of each Jew and all of the Jews as a people, but we need to know that the only reason he even exists on our level where he recognizes and acknowledges the existence of pain and suffering is in order to lead us to the point where we will see for ourselves that “G-d is good” and that the pain we experience now is only pleasure not yet realized.  The Rebbe has indicated repeatedly that we have in fact been given (had revealed within us) the necessary abilities and strengths to achieve that final goal, including the ability to relate to the experience of the Rebbe to some degree, and actually see the world as perfect and be concerned only that everybody else see and experience the true reality of “There is naught else but He.”
 
There are some who focus on the fact that the Rebbe is with us more than ever during this period, as we see the many ways that people can still turn to the Rebbe when they are going through something difficult or painful, or experiencing some painful lack.  Almost sixty years ago, when he officially accepted the leadership of the Chabad movement, the Rebbe made it clear that although he would do all those things that a Rebbe does to care for and tend to the needs of his flock, that was not his ultimate mission.  From day one, and even more so after nearly sixty years, it has always been about doing whatever it takes to finally transcend and say goodbye to the pain and suffering of exile and to experience the infinite delight of Hashem in His “dwelling in the lower realms” immediately, NOW!
 

 


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