The Keys to Life

Spiritual Wellness – Rule A: Understanding Suffering

The main cause of all mental breakdowns is the feeling of powerlessness and inability to cope with prolonged suffering or hardship. Another contributing factor may also include the onset of a sudden stressor for which the light cannot be seen at the end of the tunnel. In such cases, the person may feel alone and abandoned in a scary and threatening world to the point where his psychological burnout leads him to an imaginary universe – far away from reality.

It is interesting to note that even educated, high-ranking individuals, possessing rational and authoritative personalities, can potentially fall prey to mental breakdowns that include irrational fears and phobias. It is certainly much easier to avoid a mental breakdown than to be cured from it. Therefore, through proper introspection, it is possible to prevent the stress factors that precede the breakdown, and even ease the suffering of the person who has already been affected by them. This introspection creates an emotional readiness to overcome hardships, by properly understanding the purpose of life, the reason for suffering in the world, and the positive outcome that will ultimately result from it. Once the mind begins to conceive the situation at hand, it will remain composed at the onset of challenging developments, and prevent a collapse.

We will now define the Jewish approach to these topics, and pave the way towards a calm and happy life.

The sole foundation upon which we can establish the understanding that there is a beneficial reason for suffering, and that what appears to be bad is essentially good, is the belief in divine providence. When one knows that the world was created for the benefit of man, that there’s no “coincidence” in the world, and that everything is supervised by an omniscient Creator Who knows exactly what is good for each individual, understands that a human being who is limited in his vision and intelligence cannot possibly see the full picture or know what is truly good for him.

For example, no one possesses the foresight to know that if his failed business venture would have succeeded, and he would have become wealthy, as he had planned, then perhaps his newfound wealth would have damaged his children and caused them to deviate from the straight path. He doesn’t even consider the possibility that this wealth could have potentially injured him and endangered his life, like some who were killed for their wealth.

The same is true with regard to a person who was either born ugly, deformed, or chronically ill, or had acquired one of these conditions over the course of his lifetime. Such a person may not fathom the possibility that once upon a time, when he was a bodiless soul, he actually petitioned for this affliction prior to his birth so that he may correct something that he had done in a previous lifetime.[1]

A person who lives in this world must internalize the idea that G-d loves him and wants only the best for him. And if this is the case, then there must be a good reason for his suffering, as it is solely intended for his best interest.

However, a person’s limited intelligence hinders his understanding of his personal predicament, as it says:[3] “That which is hidden belongs to Hashem, our G-d.” Rabbeinu B’Chayeh writes in his book, Duties of the Heart[4], that this verse refers to the fact that man is uninformed of the reason behind his particular situation, yet he does possess the ability to recognize that there is a good reason for everything that he is enduring, as everything is for the best. The sages teach us the following in the Talmud:[5] “A man should always accustom himself to say, 'whatever the All-Merciful does is for the good’”. In order to be able to relate to these matters on an intellectual, as well as on a practical level, the person must determine whether or not he has made the necessary effort concerning that particular area. For example, seeking medical care at the onset of illness, being proactive about marriage when experiencing delays, actively searching for a job when financial hardships emerge and so on. And if he believes that he has already made the necessary effort, and despite that, the problem was not resolved, then he must understand and accept the fact that the suffering is advantageous to him even though, right now, he may be blind to its benefits. This way, not only will he not detest his hardships, he will embrace them and be content with them. This is the secret behind the consistent happiness of the great Torah sages of Israel.

This understanding can be achieved through a rational and logical thought structure composed of four levels, all of which include awareness and recognition of the following:

A.  The existence of a Creator

B.  That everything is supervised by Him, and there is no coincidence in the world

C.  That He loves His creations, including me, and only wants the best for us

D.  That He is not limited in His abilities

Once these four principles have been internalized and fully identified with, the sufferer must ask himself:

Now that I’m aware of these truths, I must try to understand why the Creator Who loves me so much is not carrying out my will. He has no limitations! And if He has the ability to create the world from nothing and raise a ball of fire called the sun every morning, then surely, He can help me resolve my issues with ease, for if He is looking out for my welfare, then why won’t He simply fulfill my wishes?

The only truthful answer is:

Because with His infinite wisdom, and His knowledge of the future, He knows that at the end of the process, the benefit will be completely mine. All I am is a little child who doesn’t understand why His father is making him go to school instead of allowing him to play with his toys all day. The father’s wisdom is greater than that of the child, his scope is wider than the child’s range of vision, and he knows what will lie in store for the child in the future if he will follow his own, narrow understanding. And if this is true for a human father, then certainly my Father in Heaven knows what’s best for me! Especially since this world is fleeting and everything in it is trivial. And when we observe this from a true and lofty place, we will see that our worries and troubles are nothing short of the troubles of a young child crying a bitter cry over a paper boat that has sunk in the tub! But a day will come when I will grow up and understand that the cause of my pain is based on nothing more than a creative imagination.

This is what he must say to himself until his pain subsides. And if he trains himself to think this way while his problems are relatively small, then the moment he is met with bigger troubles, he will be prepared and equipped to fight the battle, and not fall prey to psychological breakdowns.

A person who bases his life on this outlook, will always be happy – he may seem to be surrounded by troubles, yet in reality, he is happy and content with himself and his lot. Our sages have taught us that if a person lives by this wonderful principle, he will always be happy and feel truly wealthy, even when he is short on funds and the world sees him as a pauper. Wealth and poverty are relative concepts. If a man who has a million dollars tosses and turns at night from worry and jealousy because he doesn’t have a private jet like his client does, then he is the true pauper – for it is the feeling of scarcity that defines true poverty. Whereas the gratification one feels when he is happy with his lot, will make him feel like a truly wealthy man, even if he is short on funds – for who is considered wealthier than a truly fulfilled individual?

Meaning, wealth and poverty are not determined by the abundance or shortage of money; rather, they are contingent upon man’s attitude towards his situation. Thus, a person who knows that he is constantly being supervised by a Creator who only provides the best for him, will always be happy with his lot.


Notes and Sources

[1] Refer to the book, The Revolution, in the chapter entitled “Life after Life”

on the topic of reincarnation for further details.

[2] This topic is discussed in detail in The Order of the Generations

[3] Devarim 29:28

[4] Shaar Habitachon 4:3

[5] Brachot 60b

[6] Brachot 54a

Adapted from “The Keys to Life” by Rabbi Zamir Cohen


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