Jacob asks: “I have a friend who became religious who can’t earn a living or find a job, even though he prays every day. He gave a lot of money to charity and did all kinds of spiritual remedies to find a job. This is causing him to have doubts in faith, because now he thinks he would have been more successful if he hadn’t become more religious. He sees there are people who do not observe Torah and the commandments, and they are not lacking a livelihood. What can I tell him?”
Greetings Jacob, and thanks for your question.I understand the difficulties overwhelming your friend, and one can not judge a person when he is in distress.Our sages say in the Gemara (Nida 16b): “The Angel in charge of pregnancy is called “Lyla.” It takes a drop and places it before G-d, and says to Him: L-rd, what will be with this drop? Will it be strong or weak, wise or foolish, rich or poor? However, it does not ask whether it will be wicked or righteous.” From here we learn that even before a person descends to the world, heaven determines what will be his personal trials and difficulties in life: whether he will be rich or poor, if he will have difficulties making a living, what illnesses or pains will visit him in his life and so on. Every person has his own private heavenly script which determines what will befall him in life.
Once, an unhappy 50 year old childless man called me and asked in pain why he wasn’t given children despite repenting and trying everything. He told me about his doubts about faith due to his personal pain and, like your friend, asked me why other people who hadn’t repented were able to bring children into the world effortlessly. After strengthening and comforting him, I quoted to him the above words of the Talmud, and explained to him why he should not regret becoming religious, because each person has his own private script in heaven, and it impossible to compare people. This means that even if he had not repented, G-d forbid, he would still not have children — because this was his individual decree that had been decreed upon him even before he came to This World. It is a decree that may be an atonement for his actions from a past life.
There is a purpose and reason for it which is hidden from him in This World. If he wouldn’t have repented, G-d forbid, not only would he find himself in the same situation, but he would have lost his spiritual purpose in life and live in greater distress.These words calmed him down a lot, because for the first time he ceased to compare himself to others, and understood that every person has his own private role in this world. While we do not know why one decree or another is passed on a specific person, we do know that when heaven makes a decree against earning a livelihood or being healthy (and often, heaven decides to give a person difficulties in making a livelihood instead of poor health), it is to his benefit.It is important to add that even though we do not know the reason why a difficult decree was given a person from heaven, nevertheless, one should never despair, and should continue to pray to the best of his ability, as our sages said: “Even if a sharp sword is on a person's neck, he should not despair of G-d’s mercy.” Prayer can cancel even terrifying decrees.It is important to inform your friend that although a poor man has to give charity according to his ability, but in difficult cases — such as when there are debts or no regular income — he has to ask a rabbi how to conduct himself according to Jewish law. He shouldn’t waste his money on things he shouldn’t, in particular on amulets and other expensive spiritual remedies, and should be extremely wary of false promises.
Each person receives the special tools that he needs:
Rabbi Zamir Cohen explains in his lectures that the reason one person is decreed to be rich and another poor, is because each person needs his own special tools for his personal rectification. During a war, a soldier in an armored regiment wants a tank, not a far more expensive airplane, because his individual skills and the army require him to use a tank. In the same way, a person who descends to This World receives the precise tools and talents for his personal life experience, to strengthen him and rectify his soul according to the unique script written out for him. They also say that before descending to This World, the soul is shown everything decreed upon it and it responds, “I am willing,” because it understands that these are the best tools for it.
Our sages say that in the End of Days, we will recite the blessing of ha-Tov v’ha-Meitiv (“He is good and does good”) even over the bad, because then we will understand the enormous benefit that we received with each ordeal and sorrow in our lives, just as a patient understands the need for his surgery, and the athlete understands the need for his intense training. We should always remember and remind ourselves that true wealth is about fulfilling Torah and commandments, and maintaining our faith that this world is merely ancillary and temporary, and is only a corridor to the World to Come. What great advantage does a fabulously wealthy person have, if he doesn’t have true faith and Torah? What joy will he have from all his wealth, when he has no real purpose to live for? He is like a body without a soul. You have surely heard about rich and successful celebrities in Israel who became religious, after they discovered that reaching the peak of material success didn’t give them the spiritual satisfaction that their souls were seeking. Your friend certainly has no reason to regret anything, because the Torah that he will fulfill during his lifetime is priceless and infinite.
Turn one’s suffering into a holy sacrifice to G-d
In Rabbi Aaron Levy’s interesting lecture (“The Secret of Heavenly Justice”), it was explained that even before Rabbi Akiva came down to the world, he was sentenced to die by the Romans. Thanks to his repenting, his death turned into the greatest and most famous Sanctification of G-d’s Name in Jewish history. His death for the sanctification of G-d’s Name brought him to a level in heaven that very few are privileged to reach. As the Gemara relates (Berachot 61), in his generation, the Romans prohibited teaching Torah. A Torah scholar named Pappus stopped teaching Torah because he did not want to risk getting killed, but Rabbi Akiva continued to study Torah and to teach Jewish communities. In the end, both were arrested by the Romans for various infractions — Pappus was falsely libeled over financial dealings, and Rabbi Akiva was caught teaching Torah, and both were sentenced to death.
Pappus told Rabbi Akiva: “How fortunate are you that you were arrested for teaching Torah, woe to me that I was arrested for mundane matters!” They both knew that heaven had decreed death upon them, and the only thing in their power was to determine their own response. As the sages say: “Everything is in the hands of heaven except for the fear of Heaven.” In any situation we may find ourselves, we always have the choice whether to believe and trust in G-d and do good, or G-d forbid to choose evil. Whether to accept sufferings amid faith and trust in G-d, or endure suffering in anger and resentment, G-d forbid. We can all see that we all descended to This World with our individual dose of suffering. There are those who suffer torments and do not merit to elevate themselves, and there are those who suffer torments and merit to turn their tribulations into a ladder through which they sanctify themselves and merit a tremendous and eternal spiritual bounty by standing in life’s difficult tests of faith, and trusting that G-d loves them and is doing it all for their benefit. This is what we should have in mind when reciting the Shema: “Love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart, and with all your soul (i.e. even when He takes your soul), and with all your possessions (even when He takes everything that you have).” It is up to us to turn our suffering into a devotional sacrifice for G-d and merit His infinite love. Despite this, we still continue to hope and pray to merit what we believe will be for our good in This World too, and we are assured that no prayer is in vain.
With special thanks to Rabbi Zamir Cohen shlita who helped me to write this answer.