Suffering - a Contradiction to Conditional Love
We explained that to reach conditional love, a person must feel that everything comes from Hashem, because He gives everything to a person.
Suffering can contradict conditional love and remove it from a person. Conditional love is dependent on Hashem's bestowal of goodness. When He stops bestowing goodness, and in fact, brings suffering to a person, the cause for that love is gone, and there is even a motive for the opposite feeling, because one might feel that Hashem wants to harm him. Certainly, this is a delusion, but this is how it seems until one has the right perspective.
If a person wants to love Hashem, he must make sure that suffering will not be a cause for the love to stop. Even if this obstacle is removed, there is no guarantee that one will attain love, but at least, one should take this initial step in removing the obstacles that prevent love.
The first obstacle is suffering. A person may have physical suffering, emotional pain, or financial troubles. It is difficult to feel Hashem in these cases. How do we reach the level of "Just as one blesses Hashem for the good, so must he bless for the bad" (Berachos 9:5) or, as stated elsewhere, "Those who rejoice with their suffering are described as, ‘those who love Him are as the sun coming out in its full force'" (Shabbos 88b)?
We will soon explain how, but first, the goal must be clear. Just as one feels Hashem's love when He bestows goodness, so he must one feel when suffering. There is no difference between the two. Both require a berachah (blessing), which is an expression of thanks. If one must thank for it, it must be a gift from Hashem.
As long as one makes a distinction between the good and the bad, and when receiving good, is happy and feels love, but when suffering, does not, the suffering will be an obstacle to love.
No person lives without suffering. There is no such concept. The only difference is in the nature and extent of the suffering. And every person has times when completely surrounded by suffering. Sometimes, one senses that Hashem is kind and blesses him from all sides, and sometimes, one feels that Hashem places obstacles every step of the way. What is the proper way to look at things?
There are many different levels, but there is a shared goal: to see the gift in the suffering, so that the suffering will not be an obstacle in one's avodah.
Suffering - for a Person's Benefit
The first point is already familiar, but we will not skip over it, but mention it simply.
It says (Mishlei 13:24), "He who spares the rod hates his son" and (ibid. 29:17), "Discipline your son and he will give you peace and give pleasure to your soul." Anyone who wants his son to behave as a son should behave toward his father must discipline him and occasionally hit him.
We are not talking about a case when it is done improperly, out of anger and such, but when there is a true evaluation and a calculated decision that it is for the sake of the child's growth. When one hits his son properly, he will be both happy and sad. He will be happy that hopefully, the boy will return to the proper path and be improved by the hitting, but he will be sad that he needs to set him on the straight path in this manner. In this case, he certainly has the proper intent. He was hit by his father, and he hits his son as a father does.
If a person would look at suffering as hits from a father to son, he would have a different attitude. We already mentioned the story with Rav Chaim of Tzanz zt"l. When he was returning from the funeral of his son, he appeared happy. He was asked about this, and responded with an example: A person is walking on the street and he receives a slap on the shoulder. He flinches and turns around angrily to see who hit him, and behold, it was his close friend smiling at him, who says "Good morning" in this way. He calms down, and is even happy to see him.
It all depends on how one looks at the Creator's guidance. If one takes literally the comment that Hashem is angry for only a moment (Berachos 7a), he will think that just as he sometimes loses control and can hit his son out of rage - not from love, but from a lack of patience and as an outburst - so does Hashem do such a thing, chas veshalom, it will seem as if the suffering comes from such an anger of the Creator.
But when one realizes that the concept of Hashem's anger is extremely deep and beyond the perception of most people, he will set aside that comment of Chazal since it is incomprehensible, and look at the matter simply: the purpose of creation is the bestowal of goodness to the creations, and so, each event is kindness.
It is not that the path is not good now, but after the six thousand years of this world, it will become good. Since the goal is goodness, the means must match with the end. Every single event that occurs to a person must be absolute goodness!
Learning the Hidden from the Revealed
The perception that all is absolute kindness has two point, and we will begin with the easier and simpler one. We are all familiar with stories where a person was late for the bus or train, and was upset, and then, there was an accident, and he thanks Hashem. We will not elaborate on the stories, but focus on the point for our purposes. We see that even in this world, events that seem like suffering can be exposed as absolute kindness. When the perspective is limited and partial, one does not see the context, and it appears as suffering. Later, he sees the more inclusive and broad perspective of the Creator's guidance, and sees His will to bestow good.
From the revealed, we can learn about the hidden. A person must realize that Hashem is always kind; sometimes, we see it and sometimes, we don't. When we don't see it, that is because we only see part of the picture. If one would have a broader perspective, seeing all the prior gilgulim (incarnations), he would gain a totally different perspective on the world.
We know the parable of the Chafetz Chaim zt"l. A guest visits a city and sees the gabbai (synagogue manager) calling up people for aliyos to the Torah randomly. One time, he calls up someone from one row, then, from a different row, seemingly without any order. After the tefillah, he approaches him and says, "Why do you go out of order, first from one row, and then from another? Wouldn't it be better just to honor one after the other, according to the way they are seated in the synagogue?"
The gabbai explains, "You are a guest here, so you don't know what is going on here. We cannot just go in order of how they are seated. One week, someone has a bar-mitzvah, so he gets an aliyah; another week, someone has a yahrteit, so he gets an aliyah, etc." If someone just comes one week and takes a look, it will seem disorganized, but if one observes for a full year, he will clearly see the perfect order and the fairness in the division of the aliyos.
When a person looks at the world, his perspective is constricted to that moment. Even if he has a broader picture, he will at most see a week or two, or maybe a month. But he won't be able to look back thirty years.
There was an incident with the Chafetz Chaim zt"l. A landlord cruelly threw a widow and her children out into the street because they had not paid the rent. Decades later, the man was attacked by a viscous dog, which bit him and dragged him all over the town. The Chafetz Chaim said, "I have been waiting for decades to see how Hashem would punish this man! I was certain that Hashem would repay him for his terrible act!"
One needs patience for decades until he can see the picture completed. The Chafetz Chaim had such patience, but we only look at very short periods, so our perspective is lacking. But even if one does remember for decades, unless one is on a very high level, he will only know what happens in this gilgul. Since we have all gone through several gilgulim, and the account from the various gilgulim adds up, and there are issues that must be fixed from each gilgul, we cannot understand why Hashem does things as he does.
When a person understands this clearly, there is one conclusion: The acts of Hashem are kindness, but because my view is limited to a short period of time, I can only see parts of the picture. Therefore, I may not see the kindness, but only the part of the picture that is the suffering. But since in certain cases, I have seen or heard stories that show how the picture comes together and the full structure of the kindness becomes revealed, so it is with everything in creation.
Therefore, when a person suffers - physically, financially, or emotionally - he must first recognize, even before he internalizes it, that the event was pure kindness! He should use the examples we stated, and any other stories he knows he knows, and say to himself, "I will learn from the revealed about the hidden." In those incidents, the people didn't know at the time what the point of the suffering was, but they saw the kindness once they gained a more inclusive picture.
This is the simpler point, but it is very true. May Hashem grant us the privilege to attain it. There is a deeper point. If one needs it, he should use it, but if one feels that it is above him, he can set it aside. He does not need it. We present this for the benefit of those who need it.
Hashem's Kindness is Beyond our Perception
It says (Tehillim 92:7), "Your works, Hashem, are so great; Your thoughts are so deep; An unintelligent person cannot know, and a fool cannot understand this." We will provide an example, but the point is much deeper than the example.
A one year-old child is in the kitchen. He goes to the cabinet and takes out a bottle of bleach. He tries to put his finger in the liquid and put that in his mouth. His father sees this, and quickly grabs the bottle forcefully before he has a chance to drink from it. The baby will burst out in tears. If he is two, he will be very insulted that something was taken from him. The father, who took it away, clearly knows that he is doing a kindness, but the child himself does not understand what they want from him. He is thirsty, so why wouldn't they allow him to drink something sweet on such a hot day?
The example seems clear, but we must contemplate the depth in it and the difference between the prior point and this one. Until now, we have worked with the assumption that Hashem's kindness is within our comprehension, but we lack the details needed to give us the proper perspective. Once one knows all the details, whether from twenty year ago or from a previous gilgul, he will understand. The kindness is presumably understandable to the human mind, but one doesn't see it because he lacks some details. One knows that he doesn't have all the details, but he understands that just as in the cases when he sees the details, he sees the kindness, so too, even when he doesn't see the details, it must clearly be a kindness.
But in the current example, the point is much deeper. Even if the father will sit with the infant for three days and nights, he will not be able to explain to him why he can't drink the bleach. The child cannot understand. The problem is not a lack of information or data. The problem is that the child is on a much lower level of comprehension. It will not help for the father to try to give more information to the child. If he tries to explain that the bleach has a certain constitution, and the body has a certain constitution, and that the bleach will harm the body's internal organs, the child will not grasp what they want from him. He is only two.
When we consider this example, we can attain a much greater appreciation of Hashem's kindness with us. Normally, a person looks at everything with his own perspective. For example, Hashem gave him a large amount of money, and he can purchase a car with it. He thinks, "This gift is certainly a kindness, because now, it will be easier for me to travel, and I won't have headaches and such." This is true and can bring a person close to Hashem, but there is a much higher concept. When Hashem gives something to a person, He gives with the perspective of the Creator, not with the perspective of a created being. Hashem's intent when bestowing kindness on His creations is beyond our comprehension.
"Taste and See that Hashem is Good" - the Awareness of the Soul
We will give another example, and perhaps, this will become clearer. The Talmud says (Kesuvos 11a), "a slave prefers looseness." He would rather be a slave and be permitted to live with a maidservant than to be free and not be allowed to live with one.
It is clear that if he will leave this world as a slave, his spiritual level and closeness to Hashem in the next world will be much lower than they would be if he would be free and become a full-fledged Jew. What, then, is really better for the slave? Certainly, to be free and become Jewish. What does he think, though? He wants to remain a slave. Even if you would sit with him for days and explain that it is so good to be Jewish, and that "taste and see that Hashem is good," it will not help at all! This is not an intellectual matter; it is an awareness of the soul.
You can try to explain at length to people that they should want to be close to Hashem, but you cannot give them the wonderful taste of true closeness to Hashem. It is impossible!
This is called a sod (secret). A sod cannot really be explained. The taste of something, like the taste of closeness to Hashem, cannot be explained.
When Hashem wants to bestow good on His creations, the nature of the goodness is a sod. There is such a concept as "the sod of Hashem is for those who fear Him" (Tehillim 25:14), but even when He tells them a sod, there are secrets that even they do not know.
The acts of Hashem are very deep kindnesses. If one tries to evaluate them, he does not even possess the tool for doing so. In the examples we gave, the father takes away the bleach and the master wants to free the slave, and they cannot explain what they are doing. The master understands the value of closeness to Hashem, and the father understands the danger of drinking bleach, but the slave and the child remain insistent with all their might.
In truth, kindness can only be understood from a G-dly perspective, not from the perspective of the created beings. Certainly, we do see parts of the kindness, on a certain level, but no one, even Moshe Rabbeinu, was able to grasp the full depth of Hashem's kindness with each person. Moshe Rabbeinu grasped more than anyone, but Hashem's kindness is infinite, and only He can grasp the infinite.
Two Reasons We Cannot Evaluate if Something is a Kindness
According to the first perspective we mentioned, when a person evaluates an event, he must believe that it is a kindness, but he does not have the totality of the details so as to see how it is a kindness. According to the second perspective, one does not even have the tools with which to evaluate what is and what is not a kindness.
As the Rambam writes about Heavenly justice (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:2), "this is evaluated according to Hashem's understanding, and only He knows." The sefarim hakedoshim state that even in Gan Eden, a person will not be able to grasp the ultimate kindness in each thing. He will grasp deeper and deeper ideas, but the ultimate depth is infinite and incomprehensible.
Again, the first point is that we only see individual details, not the big picture. One knows that in certain cases, he sees the kindness where it first seemed to be suffering, and in certain cases, he does not, and he must learn the concealed from the revealed. Anyone can understand this method, and all must use it.
The second point is that not only do we not understand suffering, but we do not even understand kindness. Even when we say the blessing, "He who is good and bestows good," we do not understand the depth of the goodness. When one realizes that he does not grasp the kindness, it is clear that he does not grasp the suffering. A person thinks he understands kindness, but not suffering, but in fact, we understand neither, and must have faith in Chazal who said that the whole creation is for kindness.
According to the first way, one works with the idea that he does not yet see the kindness, but it will become apparent when he leaves the world, or after the six thousand years, when Hashem will show us all He has done. But according to the second way, one lives with emunah that Hashem's kindness is very deep, and is infinite and incomprehensible.
In the next chapter, we will try to describe the way to bring these ideas into the heart, but first, it must be clear to a person that all of Hashem's acts bestow kindness, without a single exception!
When a person senses that there are events that are not kindness to him, he becomes distant from the Creator, but when he understands that each event is true kindness, nothing can distance him from the Creator, and he will be able to become close, both through what seems like kindness and through what seems like suffering. His joy with them will be equal, because they are all from Hashem. May Hashem enable us to cleave to Him and please Him at all times.