Appreciating Pain and Suffering

Parashas Tzav contains the laws governing the korban Todah. In expounding upon this section, the Midrash quotes a verse in Tehillim (50:23): “Zovei’ach todah y’chabdan’ni — A person who brings a korban Todah honors Me.” The Midrash notes that the word “y’chabdan’ni” is peculiarly spelled, with a double “nun” in lieu of the usual one. The Midrash cryptically explains that this anomaly teaches that a person who brings a korban Todah doubly honors Hashem, “kavod achar kavod.” What is the additional respect shown by a person who was saved from potential danger and offers a sacrifice to express his gratitude?

An insight into resolving this perplexing Midrash may be derived from a fascinating story recounted by the Me’am Loez.

The Ramban had a student who became deathly ill. Upon visiting his student, the Ramban quickly realized that there was unfortunately no hope for him. Realizing that his student’s time was near, the Ramban asked him to do him a favor.

The Ramban explained that there were a number of questions which had been troubling him regarding Hashem’s conduct toward the Jewish People, who were suffering greatly at that time. As he was deeply versed in the secrets of Jewish mysticism, he wrote for his student a kamea (amulet) containing Divine names. After his death, the student would be able, with this kamea, to ascend to a very high level of Heaven where he could ask these questions and return in a dream to tell his teacher the answers.

Shortly after the student’s death, he appeared to the Ramban and explained that everywhere he arrived, he simply showed the kamea and was permitted to continue his ascent. However, when he finally reached his destination and began to ask the questions that he had prepared, everything became so crystal clear to him that there were no longer any difficulties that needed resolution. With his newfound insight, it was immediately clear that any apparent suffering was, in the big picture, actually for the good.

With the lesson of this story, we can now understand an explanation given by the Ksav Sofer for our cryptic Midrash. After a person is miraculously saved from peril, it is human nature to express gratitude to Hashem for watching over us and rescuing us from danger. However, we certainly don’t feel appreciation for having been placed in the situation to begin with, as we would clearly prefer to have never been placed in the line of danger than to have been exposed to death and rescued from it.

To counter this attitude, the Midrash teaches us that the Torah’s philosophy is that a person who brings a korban Todah is required to express double gratitude — not only for his salvation, but also for being exposed to the perilous situation from which he was rescued. Although it may not have been clear to him at the time, he is nevertheless expected to recognize that the suffering itself was ultimately for his benefit. Suffering can affect atonement for misdeeds or bring in its wake unexpected good.

Even if we aren’t yet able to see the benefit in a given situation, the knowledge that it is there and that we will eventually recognize it can give us the strength to persevere with faith and trust until the goodness is ultimately revealed.

Q: The Mishnah in Avos (5:5) teaches that there were 10 miracles which occurred in the Temple. One of them was that the rains never extinguished the perpetual fire which was constantly burning on the Altar (6:6). Instead of miraculously sustaining the fire even as rain fell on it, why didn’t Hashem simply cause that rain should never fall on that location?

Q: The Masoretic symbol at the end of the parashah indicates that there are “tzav” — 96 — verses in the parashah. How can this be understood in light of the fact that in our Chumashim, Parashas Tzav contains 97 verses?

A: Harav Chaim Volozhiner, zt”l, explains that fire represents the study of Torah, which is compared to fire; and rain symbolizes the pursuit of a livelihood to sustain one’s family. People mistakenly think that they don’t have time for Torah study because they are so engrossed in their jobs. The Mishnah therefore hints that just as the rain was unable to extinguish the fire that always burned on the Altar, so, too, must one’s Torah study remain constant and not be extinguished by preoccupation with one’s physical needs.

A: Harav Yisroel Reisman initially writes that it is unclear who developed these mnemonic devices which indicate the number of verses in each parashah, so perhaps there is no need to resolve one which appears inaccurate. However, in an attempt to explain it, he notes that the Gemara (Kiddushin 30a) teaches that the middle verse in the Torah is Vayikra 13:33. The problem is that based on the division of verses that we have, the middle verse would be in Parashas Tzav, 160 verses earlier. Harav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, resolves this difficulty by suggesting that the division of verses that we have contains some mistakes. The first half of the Chumash contains several cases where two verses should actually be combined to make one, while the second half of the Chumash has a number of longer verses which should actually be split into two. This doesn’t have any practical impact, as the division of verses doesn’t change their meanings. In light of this, Rav Reisman suggests that Parashas Tzav does in fact contain 96 verses, as two of the shorter verses that we have which cause it to appear to have 97 are supposed to be combined into one longer verse.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.