Dealing with Adversity – Springboard for Growth

In our last installment, we cited Pirkei Avos which states, “It is not in our hands to explain the tranquility of the wicked or the suffering of the righteous.”

Nevertheless, sefer Chovos Halevavos does offer several possible reasons — six to explain why tzaddikim suffer and six to explain the prosperity of evildoers. However, these reasons are not a contradiction to the Mishnah. Harav Avigdor Miller, zt”l, explains that these reasons represent only some of the ways in which Hashem conducts the world. There are more reasons that Rabbeinu Bachyei ibn Pekudah, mechaber of Chovos Halevavos, may not have been aware of or decided not to discuss. Essentially, we cannot understand why things happen in the world the way they do but we can be confident that Hashem does everything for a reason.

One of the reasons given by the Chovos Halevavos that demystifies why good people experience hardship is that it engenders personal growth. Rav Miller illustrates this reason with the 40-year sojourn of Bnei Yisrael in the Midbar during which they ate the mann. “He afflicted you and let you hunger, then He fed you the mann … in order to make you know that not by bread alone does man live” (Devarim 8:3). A few pesukim later, the Torah emphasizes that it was “to afflict you and in order to test you, to do good for you in your end” (8:16). Eating this food every day for a long time was a formidable nisayon for the Jewish people, but this experience improved and benefited them, as Rav Miller describes in his commentary: “The nation gained a clarity of perception that the food … comes only from Hashem and that people have to be willing to suffer in order to learn that great lesson.”

When one confronted with adversity can find purpose in the pain, it becomes easier to deal with and triumph over. People undertake a weight loss regimen despite the sacrifices and the distress they incur since they focus on the health benefits they can expect. When there is a purpose to pain, one can overcome obstacles.

There was a young woman who had undergone a painful divorce. A giver by nature, she had been very devoted to her husband, who had instigated the divorce. In its aftermath, she began to develop a negative attitude toward life, to the point of seeking sympathy from others, which naturally caused people to avoid her.

She knew she had to be proactive in order to rectify the situation. She decided to volunteer her services to an organization that provided succor and support for divorcees.

After a period of months occupied with this work, the results were astounding. In the course of helping others and forging relationships with other divorcees, her own negativity gave way to hope and positivity. As she satisfied her need for connection, she grew from her efforts to give chizuk to others. This is an example of how someone grew through suffering.

The Torah calls Noach an “ish tzaddik tamim b’dorosav — a righteous man, perfect in his generations” (Bereishis 6:9). Rashi famously comments that some Sages understand the word “b’dorosav” (i.e., in his time) as praise, for had he lived in a righteous generation, he would have been more righteous. Others explain it as uncomplimentary — compared to his evil generation he was righteous; had he lived in the time of Avraham Avinu, he would not have been viewed as remarkable.

Rabbi Moshe Don Kestenbaum in his sefer Olam Hamiddos explains that it is possible that living in his corrupt generation is what made Noach great. In this very setting, he retained his allegiance to Hashem by staying the course despite the wickedness around him. Had he lived in Avraham’s time, his superiority would not have been apparent. People become elevated while transcending their challenges since those very challenges enabled them to maximize their greatness. We don’t look for challenges, but if we find ourselves in a position of challenge, we ought to ponder if and how we can utilize the situation for growth and accomplishment.

Rav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch explains the word simchah — joy — is related to tzemichah — growth — since the letters sin and tzadeh are interchangeable. True happiness comes about when we find we are growing — personally, mentally, spiritually. Simchah results from growth and struggle, not merely having a good time. By being involved in activities that promote growth and achievement of a goal — in ruchniyus, character development, caring for others, we make progress and fulfill our task in life.

 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 dealing with adversity. He can be reached at ygesser@hamodia.

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