Dealing with Adversity Growth Through Challenge

People today face a great variety of challenges. A neshamah enters the world to pursue growth in ruchniyus and merges with a body that seeks pleasure.
The needs of the neshamah push us in a certain direction. Attuned to the needs of his neshamah, a person would like to sit and learn, to introspect, daven, attend shiurim all day. But it is not so simple. There are responsibilities, commitments, errands, going to work, taking care of children, dealing with people, paying bills — all the tasks that are a part of life. And then there is the world around us. It tells us that the essence of life is to go after success and pleasure. The pull of the neshamah and the pull of the guf — they lead us in radically different directions.
That’s on an individual level. On a communal level, there is also a seeming dichotomy. Consider Klal Yisrael’s existence among the nations. Our people went through indescribable suffering — the Churban Bayis Rishon and the Babylonian exile, Churban Bayis Sheini and the subsequent exile, Tach v’Tat (the Cossack Massacres of 1648-49), the Crusades, the Holocaust. We are relatively few vis-à-vis the nations of the world but Hashem watches over us and, after centuries of oppression with communities of vibrant Jewish life around the globe, we are still here.
In Pirkei Avos (4:19) we learn: “It is not in our hands to explain the tranquility of the wicked or the suffering of the righteous.”
There are many layers of scholarship and commentary on this Mishnah. Rav Ovadia MiBartinora offers the basic explanation that it is not known why resha’im prosper and why tzaddikim suffer. We don’t know why tragedies happen to good people and we don’t know why bad people taste success and blessings.
Rashi on this Mishnah explains that, at times, Hashem punishes a tzaddik in Olam Hazeh for his few aveiros in order for him to receive his full reward in Olam Haba. He pays a rasha in this world for the few mitzvos he has done and saves the punishment for his many serious misdeeds for the next world. This is why a tzaddik is sometimes sent great tzaros in his life while a rasha enjoys longevity, success, prosperity and tranquility.
Harav Avraham Yaakov Pam, zt”l, points out that an aspect of this reality that is difficult to understand is that there does not seem to be an immutable rule. There are great tzaddikim who live happy, blissful lives in this world and there are evil people who are poor and experience anguish. Yet, we know that one cannot question Hashem’s decisions, because all that happens is part of a very complex Divine plan that even the greatest human mind cannot fathom.
In life we find that what is initially viewed as a misfortune and crisis sometimes turns out to be beneficial. The Torah cites examples of this idea. One is in Parashas Miketz where in the time of Yaakov Avinu, the famine in Eretz Canaan was intensifying and Yaakov Avinu decided to send his sons down to Mitzrayim a second time to buy food. Yehudah tells him, “We cannot go unless we bring Binyamin with us, because the man in charge — meaning Yosef — warned us, “You won’t see my face unless your brother is with you.” To this Yaakov cried out, “lamah hareiosem li — Why did you treat me so badly?”
The Midrash tells us that Hashem disapproved of Yaakov’s words. Hashem was orchestrating events in order for Yosef to become the powerful viceroy of Mitzrayim and the savior of his family. And yet, Yaakov is crying “lamah hareiosem li — Why did you treat me badly?”
Interestingly the Hebrew word for “why” is lamah which means “for what.” That is the only question we can ask. “What am I supposed to learn from a given situation? How does this situation impact me.” I need to try to determine, as best I can, what I’m supposed to do in a situation.
We face many nisyonos in life. At times a person ultimately will understand the reason and benefit of this challenge; yet often he will not. Still and all, one must believe that hidden in the midst of the crisis is the wellspring of redemption. When confronting an inexplicable challenge, a person must ponder how to grow from the challenge and train himself to accept it.

To be continued

Rabbi Yosef Gesser is a veteran writer for Hamodia Newspaper and Inyan Magazine as well as an inspirational speaker on various topics, including confronting challenges. He can be reached at

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