Do you have to suffer to be Jewish
Unlike Christianity, Judaism generally does not believe that suffering brings redemption. However we do believe that suffering has a purpose. In our religion, there is not someone who has to die in order for humankind to be redeemed. A good and innocent man need not be nailed to a cross by a brutal Roman occupier in order for God’s children to be forgiven for sin. We Jews do not seek or find any blessing in, suffering. To the extent that our people have been subject to persecution for thousands of years, it has been against our will. We do not relish dying for our faith. The Torah says, “And you should live through My commandments.” Martyrdom was forced upon us, against our will.
However, Nothing in life is random. Judaism does believe that G-d sends suffering to accomplish a specific purpose. We must realize that there are reasons for our difficulties. By working to uncover the reasons, we will grow from and transcend our challenges.
While our efforts are important, clearly, the reason G-d sends adversity is not to cause people to wait on long lines for scarce supplies, frequent doctors or worry over their finances, or be locked-down as has been the case with the Coronavirus.
Ignoring the underlying spiritual cause of our difficulties is an exercise in futility; we cannot override G-d’s purpose in sending us challenges. When we also focus on the spiritual, we give our material efforts much-needed potency.
The Jewish messianic dream – going back millennia to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, and Micah – is not a world illuminated by the wisdom we gain from illness but a world purged of all disease. There is nothing positive suffering or death brings to our lives that cannot be attained through positive means.
Judaism is a religion of life, not death. We bury our dead outside our cities. We pray to a living God, not one martyred on a cross. And we pray for a time of eternal life when all humanity will be healed when there will be an abundance of food and plenty, and peace will cover the earth so that the blessings of life can be absorbed, appreciated, and internalized forever.
So what are some of the possible reasons for our suffering and is it necessary to suffer if you are Jewish?
To strengthen our faith and acceptance of G-d’s will. Underlying all the reasons below is one fundamental truth: The purpose of our challenges is to benefit us (Tractate Berachot 60b). Difficulties serve as a training ground to strengthen our belief that G-d guides our lives for our highest good. Sometimes, later in life, we realize how we benefited, or we will discover the benefit in the Next World.
To help us grow and improve. Generally, we learn more from our failures and challenges than we do from our successes. Suffering teaches us important lessons, e.g., humility, empathy, patience, and perseverance. Through suffering, we discover our hidden strengths and abilities we did not know we possessed.
Suffering can also help us improve by reminding us to increase our repentance, prayer, and charity. A key High Holiday prayer states that by enhancing these three components we can annul a harsh decree. Use suffering as a catalyst to repent for misdeeds, pray with greater fervor, and give charity more generously.
To help others, by giving them the opportunity to be kind, appreciate their blessings, and learn from our example. In Heaven, there are no needy, sick, or discouraged people. This world is the world of opportunity, the place where we can accomplish great good and earn the bliss of Heaven. Therefore, in this world, to provide opportunities to do acts of kindness there must be people who suffer and struggle.
When people see someone with significant difficulties, it reminds them that their own problems are not so bad, and to appreciate the blessings in their lives. If we accept our struggles with grace, we’ll be rewarded for serving as role models to others, showing them that one can still maintain faith and accomplish great things even amidst towering challenges.
Suffering also reminds us not to take our blessings for granted, to appreciate what is going right in our lives, and to be thankful to G-d. We can realize that even with all our difficulties, in many ways we are fortunate and there are still opportunities for us to help others.
Whatever spiritual level we reach at the end of our lives is the level of bliss we will receive in Heaven and the way we will remain – forever. The temporary difficulties we experience in this world benefit us eternally by enhancing our spirituality.
Do not think the reason for your suffering is that G-d abandoned you. Nothing could be further from the truth. During times of difficulty, G-d is with you in your pain. He is by your side holding your hand, strengthening, and encouraging you. He knows that with His/her assistance, you will make it through and emerge even stronger and better off than before.
Frequently, before engaging in soul searching, people wait for suffering to be intense and to exhaust all other options. As soon as the difficulties ease up they call off the search. There is a famous story about the person who was searching for a parking space and promised G-d many things if she found one. A parking space showed up and she said, never mind my promises G-d, I found a space.
How many of us did not appreciate going to synagogue enough when shuls were open? Did we need them to close to miss them? And how many of us, before the pandemic, spent an extra hour at the office rather than coming home to eat with our kids. Did we need lockdowns to remind us we were parents and that the synagogue was a place to connect with G-d? No you don’t have to suffer to be Jewish, but it has a place in spirituality.
A Mountain of Rugelach
Rabbi Epstein ordered a box a rugelach from Isaac’s Bakery, which belonged to one of his congregants. That day he saw little Moishie, whose family ran Isaac’s.
“Am I going to see you later when I pick up my rugelach, Moishie?” asked Rabbi Epstein.
“I’m so sorry Rabbi Epstein, I don’t think so,” said Moishie, looking very concerned. “There was an accident in the bakery and all of the baked good in the warehouse came crashing down. It’s like there’s a huge mountain of rugelach.”
“Oh don’t worry about it Moishie,” said Rabbi Epstein trying to make him feel better. “I’m sure someone will clean it up. You know, I’m going for lunch now, why don’t you join me. My treat.”
“Oh, I don’t think my father’s going to like that,” said Moishie.
“I know your father well Moishie. He won’t mind,” insisted Rabbi Epstein.
After a pizza lunch Rabbi Epstein said, “So Moishie aren’t you glad you came?”
“My father’s not going to like it,” replied Moishie.
“Why are you so convinced your father is going to object to me taking you to lunch?” asked Rabbi Epstein.
“Because he’s in the bakery – buried under that mountain of rugelach!”