Every Shabbat we request from G-d in our davening (prayers):
Sab’einu mituvecha v’samcheinu bishuatecha — Satisfy us from Your goodness, and give us simcha (joy or happiness) with Your salvation.
These words seem quite puzzling. If something is from G-d’s own good, then why do we need to ask G-d to “satisfy” us? Won’t that happen automatically? And if what occurs to us is truly G-d’s salvation, then why do we need to ask G-d to ensure that it will “give us simcha?” What is it that we are really asking for in these prayers?
When it comes to yissurim (difficulties and challenges), this awareness is neither simple nor obvious. Even that which is both the ultimate good and salvation from G-d Himself can sometimes be extremely hard for us to see and appreciate. Perhaps this is what we are asking G-d to help us with. That would explain why these prayers come right after our request to G-d of “v’tein chelkeinu b’Toratecha — Grant us a portion in your Torah.” The understanding which we derive from the Torah, will help us enormously to be able to feel satisfaction and simcha from even our most painful challenges.
When people think about yissurim, which is usually, and badly, translated as “suffering,” their most ambitious goal is often to simply try to cope with them and endure them. Even those who have learned and grown significantly from their yissurim rarely speak about yissurim in positive terms. In fact, the very process of focusing on and trying to appreciate benefits within yissurim, may cause others to become upset with us for our presumed insensitivity. However, when one looks at the multitude of Torah sources that speak about yissurim, and really takes these sources seriously, one gets a very different message. G-d willing, that extremely positive message will help us to view yissurim, as well as life in general, with the proper Torah perspective.
Classical Jewish sources have always viewed yissurim as the ultimate expression of G-d’s love for us.
The clearest verse that teaches that yissurim should be seen in positive, not negative, terms is Devarim (8:5):
V’yadata im levavecha, ki ka’asher y’yaseir ish et b’no, Hashem Elokecha m’yasreka — And you should know with your heart, that just like a parent gives yissurim to his child, G-d your L-rd gives you yissurim.
No one would translate this verse as — “Just like a parent gives suffering to his child, G-d your L-rd gives you suffering.” The comparison of G-d to a parent teaches us that yissurim are always given from love, and exclusively for our benefit. This positive view of yissurim is similarly clear in Tehillim (94:12):
Ashrei hagever asher t’yasrenu Hashem, u’m’Toratecha t’lamdenu — Fortunate is the one that gets yissurim from G-d, and whom You teach from Your Torah.
The Orchot Tzadikim (Sha’ar Simcha) wrote:
The Sages say — “Chavivim Yissurim — Yissurim are precious” (Baba Metzia 85a). One should accustom his mouth to say — “Gam zu l’tova — Also this is for the good” (Ta’anit 21a), and “Kol mai d’avid Rachmana, l’tav avid — All that the Merciful One does is for the good” (Brachot 60b) since there are many ra’ot (negatives) that in the end will be [seen as] tovot (positives).
The Gemara Nidah (31a) thus explained the verse — “I thank you Hashem for having been angry with me, Your anger turned away and [then] You consoled me” (Yeshayahu 12:1) with an analogy of two men who were about to travel on a boat. A thorn embedded itself in the foot of the first and he could not travel. He cursed his bad luck as the second one managed to go on the ship. Some time later he heard that the ship had sunk and all aboard had been lost. He then began to praise the Blessed Creator, since he saw that he had been kept alive through this mishap. One should, [therefore, always] have simcha in yissurim, and in any other losses that occur to him, since one never knows what future benefit will come to him from them. This was the attitude of Nachum Ish Gamzu (Ta’anit 21a).
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Rabbi Asher Resnick serves as a senior lecturer at Aish HaTorah’s Executive Learning Center, and is a senior training lecturer for Aish’s Rabbinical Ordination program. As a close student of Rav Noach Weinberg, zt”l, he developed a special expertise in addressing fundamental issues in Judaism, as well as in bringing classical texts to life. As a bereaved parent, Rabbi Resnick’s extensive writings on loss, suffering and trauma provide a sensitive Jewish perspective on coping with these fundamental life cycle issues. Olami & NLEResources.com is happy to highlight several essays over the coming months featured on his website JewishClarity.com.