The Millennium Problems are seven of the most complicated math problems today. Each problem carries a one million dollar reward from the Clay Mathematics Institute to whoever can solve it. Within Judaism, one could develop similar Millennium Problems that defy answers. Perhaps the most significant of them is how to deal with divine justice.
In Pain is a Reality, Suffering is a Choice (Mosaica Press), my friend Rabbi Asher Resnick takes that question head-on and provides the reader with a framework and answers on dealing with one of the most intractable issues a person could ever face. Resnick writes not just from his head but also from his heart. The book is the outcome of his dealing with the death of his 14-year-old daughter from leukemia, which she valiantly fought for over a decade. Judaism seemingly has an answer to everything, and Resnick provides a framework to deal with two of the most significant Jewish Millennium Problems of suffering and Divine Justice.
The book would be worth it just for the fascinating insight it shares into the famous verse in Leviticus 10:3 of va’yidom Aharon – and Aaron was silent after his beloved sons Nadav and Avihu were killed in a heavenly fire.
Many have assumed that the message being imparted is that just as Aaron was silent and accepted the divine justice of the unspeakable death of his sons, so too must everyone else. But the book quotes the late great Ner Israel Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yakov Weinberg, who astutely noted that the normal human reaction for a father upon the death of his children would be to cry out in pain. Aaron did not do that. Rabbi Weinberg explains that as the Kohen Gadol, he was constantly on call in his service to the Jewish nation. External emotions were simply not allowed for Aaron.
But that approach to emotions was exclusive to the role of the Kohen Gadol; it was not a universal message. Everyone else in the Jewish nation is not only allowed to express these types of normal human reactions of pain and emotion, but it is actually a very positive thing for them to do so.
Rather than trying to suffer in silence, the book provides a comprehensive framework and overview of some of the most challenging questions a person could face, from the enduring question of why painful things happen to good people, dealing with painful emotions, and anger at God, and much more. Reznick provides answers, not all of them easy, to these challenging questions.
This is not a book of Talmudic theory, as pain is something everyone has to deal with. Some people may have slight pain in their lives, others every minute of their lives, but the pain, in some ways, is what unites us all. To which the book shows a way to deal with that pain, to make sense of it, and how we can grow from it. By seeing purpose in the pain, it can be a growing opportunity.
However, if that approach is not taken, a person can possibly be left with a life of seemingly meaningless suffering. Resnick’s approach, not necessarily an easy one for those in the throes of suffering, is to face the fact that while pain is a reality, suffering is a choice of its own.
The Hebrew word yissurim deals with the classical theological and philosophical issue of why do bad things happen to good people? While yissurim is often translated as suffering, a common theme in the book is that such a translation is not only incorrect, but significantly problematic.
Based on its use in Devarim 8:5, Resnick writes that just like a parent sometimes needs to do something painful for a child, for the child’s benefit and from a source of love from the parent.
So too will God so something painful for us, but only for our benefit and from his love. The Torah there in Devarim gives us a definition for yissurim: painful difficulties and challenges given to us by God for our benefit and from his love. Working with such a definition is not meant to lessen the pain, but as a necessary vehicle to make sense of the suffering.
This is an excellent sourcebook for the many topics around suffering, pain, reincarnation, and more. Resnick has scoured the classical and modern sources on the topics and has created a superbly organized guide that the reader can use to make sense of these diverse and difficult topics.
There are no happy endings in a book that deals with topics such as suffering or the slow death of an innocent child. But this remarkable book shows how to make sense of such heart-rending events. All of the necessary topics in the book are those we will face in life, and the book shows how to deal with them. Indeed a remarkable book.