When we speak about yissurim (difficulties and challenges), we usually think about their impact and their justice in terms of individuals, as in the famous question — Lamah yeish tzadik v’ra lo? — Why do the righteous suffer? But, of course, just like there are yissurim for individuals, there are also yissurim for the klal (the community). What are the principles of yissurim which affect the klal, as opposed to yissurim which affect individuals?
How are we meant to relate to communal yissurim?
We read the Shema every single morning and every single evening. There is an obvious message to us in the second paragraph (Devarim 11:13–21): If we listen to the mitzvot that G-d commands us, to love G-d and to serve Him properly, then G-d will give rain to our land at the right time, so we will be able to gather in our harvest. G-d will provide grass in our fields for our cattle, so we will be able to eat and be satisfied. But if we are not careful, and we turn towards idolatry, then many difficulties will occur. There will be no rain, the land will not produce its crops, and G-d will banish us from Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel).
We also read a long section of tochacha (rebuke) twice a year:
In Bechukotai (Vayikra 26:3–46), it says — If the Jewish people observe the Torah, they will receive a multitude of blessings, including prosperity in Eretz Yisrael. And if they do not follow the Torah, then they will be subject to a horrific series of frightening consequences, including desolation in Eretz Yisrael.
And, in Ki Tavo as well (Devarim 28:1–69) — following the Torah leads directly to many blessings, including prosperity in Eretz Yisrael, while laxity with the Torah results in a massive number of terrible decrees, including, once again, desolation in Eretz Yisrael.
Even the mishnayot in the fifth perek of Pirkei Avot (5:11–12) spell out a direct, observable relationship between our transgressions and the devastating consequences which will then occur in Eretz Yisrael.
The ninth of the thirteen attributes of G-d is v’tashlich b’metzulot yam kol chatosam (And You will cast all their transgressions into the depths of the sea). The Tomer Devorah (1:9) positively characterizes this, by focusing on the spiritual achievements of the Jewish people, not the often painful physical process it will take for them to get there. He wrote — “This is [actually] a wonderful attribute of G-d — For if Israel transgresses, they’ll fall into the hands of an evil ruler, and then they will do teshuva.”
… Rav Avigdor Miller writes, “Every misfortune [to befall the Jewish people] converted into an impetus to self-searching and self-betterment.”
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.