Dovid Vigler

Why People Suffer – A Butterfly Meditation

Photo by Bankim Desai on Unsplash:

The days that break you are the days that make you!

America has recently experienced her greatest travel hiccup since 9-11 when tens of thousands of people were stranded as flights were canceled due to a computer glitch. Like those who were forced to sleep in airports, many of us find ourselves stuck in low-energy relationships, lackluster jobs, or living in places we’re not excited about, and we wonder why it needs to be this way. Our lives are often stressed, and we’re stretched from frustration through to outright suffering, and we’re all bewildered—why does G-d allow us to suffer?

This really is a question that applies to all of Jewish history—our ancestors as described in the Torah, were forced into Egyptian slavery, for no apparent sin of their own. They languished under the Egyptian taskmasters for two hundred and ten years before Moses confronted Pharaoh after being empowered by G-d at the Burning Bush. Indeed, only seven and a half portions of the Torah are set in the Holy Land—the overwhelming majority of the Torah is staged in the diaspora where Jews were unwelcome and not at home. Why did G-d allow us to suffer so much throughout our history?

In an inspirational sermon that the Rebbe delivered on Shabbos, October 25, 1980, he drew attention to the curious fact that while our forefather Jacob was suffering mercilessly under his deceitful father-in-law Laban over sixteen years, he was composing songs of praise to G-d, that ultimately became incorporated into the Psalms of David (120-134)! If he was suffering, why was he singing?!

The Rebbe explained: “Jacob’s challenging stay in the house of Laban was for the purpose of greater gain—in order that he should become (as Genesis 30:43 states) “exceedingly wealthy.” Jacob perceived the purpose of the challenge—the (material and spiritual) profit it would subsequently bring him—and was, therefore, able to sing, whilst in the house of Laban, the Song of Ascents.”

In much the same way, the Torah likens our nation’s suffering in Egypt to an “iron melting pot” (Devarim 4:20) to illustrate that, just like the heat of the kiln is intended to purify the priceless metals that emerge from it, so too the suffering we experienced in slavery was not an isolated incident, but rather part of the process of preparation for the much greater good.

Indeed, we see this truth everywhere around us—it is the nature of the world to experience unprecedented success after pain and suffering: Only once the seed rots in the ground can it grow to become a mighty tree. The olive can only produce its lavish oil when squeezed and athletes break records only when they endure the pain of persistent practice.

The first years of running a business are brutally difficult—If you open a small business in America today, you have only a 25% chance of still being in business fifteen years later, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The same goes for marriage, where the Torah instructs us to leave a newlywed couple alone for one solid year after marriage so that they can learn to overcome their differences. Those that persevere reap the rewards of their labor.

Jim Carrey was booed off stage at his first stand-up gig, Jay-Z was turned down by every record label, and Stephen King experienced so much rejection that he threw his first manuscript in the trash before he found success. Katy Perry was dropped from three record labels and Colonel Sanders was rejected by 1009 restaurants before anyone was interested in their products! Thomas Edison’s teachers said that he was “too stupid to learn anything”; Oprah was fired from her first job because she was deemed “unfit for television,” and Walt Disney was fired from his first job because he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Bill Gates‘ first business and also Henry Ford’s first business were epic failures. Social scientists calculate that it takes an average of 3.8 failures before you reach success!

The struggle that precedes success is a necessary component towards achieving success, much like the arrow’s backward draw is what propels it forward with added power and the descent below the trampoline is precisely what launches its bouncer ever higher. After a crisis comes comfort. Indeed, an old Yiddish saying declares “az noch a fyr vert men reich (after a fire, wealth soon follows).”

Thus, the Rebbe explained that the purpose of the hardships and challenges we encounter is really for our good, to bring some deeper benefit. With this mindset, we, like Jacob, can sing through our struggles: “Because of the advantages that ensue from struggles and challenges, at times, G-d orchestrates…opponents that attempt to battle us and disturb our Divine service. Upon experiencing such adversity, we respond by singing “a Song of Ascents.” the difficulties do not impede our service or cause it to flag; on the contrary, they evoke extra energy and courage; they cause us to sing.”

And so it was that when our ancestors eventually emerged from Egypt, they did so with great material and spiritual wealth, soon after becoming the Chosen People and receiving G-d’s gift to mankind—the Torah—at Mount Sinai.

A most magnificent manifestation of this truth can be witnessed in the wondrous birth of the majestic butterfly. In order to escape her cocoon, she must struggle to free her body with its brand-new wings from its safe place of sleep. The struggle is at times so intense that the butterfly may seem near death, but it is critical at this point that no one comes to rescue her. She needs to do it by herself. The energy exerted by the butterfly is what forces it to pump blood into its beautiful wings. A human who aids the butterfly out of her cocoon has robbed her of this necessary struggle. She will never be able to fly and will soon die from starvation! A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.

As painful as it is to watch our children struggle through their challenges, as parents we intuitively know that this is what will toughen them up to prepare them to be strong and confident adults. In exactly the same way, G-d allows us to struggle too, so that we will emerge with the greater good. You don’t need to have faith when you understand what’s happening; it’s when things make no sense that you have to hold onto your faith for dear life.

As we face our personal struggles too, we must have the courage to see beyond the immediate crisis that looms before us. Don’t lose sight of the forest due to the trees. If we can lift our horizons and see the hand of G-d coordinating every detail of our lives, purposefully and with love, we can find the strength and purpose that we need to ride it out to the end.

Life is like photography—you use the negatives to develop. If you have no struggles, you’ll have no strength. Whether today will be “one day” or “day one” is entirely your decision.

Rabbi Dovid Vigler
Chabad of Palm Beach Gardens

6100 PGA Blvd, Palm Beach Gardens, FL 33418 | 561.624.2223

Instagram @JewishGardens

About the Author
Raised in South Africa and educated in some of the finest Yeshivas in Israel, England, New York, and Australia, Rabbi Dovid Vigler strives to share the beauty and depth of Judaism in a clear, conversational, and down-to-earth manner. Whether in private counseling, relatable sermons, weekly email broadcasts, or in his popular Torah classes on social media, he reaches out to every Jew with unconditional love, patience, and compassion. His inspirational talks and uplifting messages can be found on and
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