Problems: A Torah Approach
Problems are an unavoidable part of life. But they are not to be regretted; on
the contrary, they can be a source of strength, if one has the right approach.
There's a Midrash in Yalkut Melachim that says the eye sees from the black
of the eye, not the white. A person gets a better look at things from the darkness.
Acceptance of suffering is one of the forty-eight ways by which a person acquires
Torah. Mitzvos in general come with suffering. Raising children comes with pain.
The Gemora says that there's no kesubah that isn't fought over.
Suffering is an index of value and a path to merit. In the Egyptian slavery,
the tribe of Levi lived apart in Goshen, and was thus spared the suffering of the
other tribes. However, as a result, they did not merit the miraculous demographic
increases enjoyed by the other tribes, who did suffer. Of all the tribes, Levi was
Naomi tried to dissuade Ruth from converting (from which we learn that it is
proper to initially discourage the candidate for conversion), until she saw that
she was making an effort to go, then she stopped trying to dissuade her. The Vilna
Gaon explains that as long as something is easy, it could be the yetzer hora
that's behind it, and so the way is smooth. Once it becomes difficult, that's a
sign that the yetzer hora is putting up resistance, and it's really l'shem
So when Naomi saw that it was hard for Ruth to walk, she understood that her conversion
was really l'shem shamayim.
On the other
hand, if there is no resistance, that's grounds for suspicion that the yetzer
is happy with the course you're taking, and that it may not really be a mitzvah.
The Gemora says of Resh Lakish that when he was swimming in the river, and he decided
to do teshuvah, it suddenly become difficult for him to swim. It was the
right thing to do, so the yetzer worked against him.
But the Dubner
Maggid seems to say the opposite. On the verse, "You haven't called to Me, Yaakov,
because you have wearied yourself too much with Me," he offers the following allegory:
Somebody sent a messenger to pick up his baggage at the train station. The fellow
returned huffing and puffing, saying how difficult it was to carry the bags. He
told him to go back and get the right bags; he must have brought somebody else's
by mistake. All he had to get picked up was a little attache case. If you're so
tired, obviously you didn't bring the right bag. So, too, G-d tells the Jewish people,
"If it's so hard for you—'if you have wearied yourself too much with Me'—then
you must not be doing my mitzvos." That's the idea: if it's so difficult, you must
be doing it the wrong way. Mitzvos are supposed to be easy.
But it's not
a contradiction to the Gaon; rather, they're referring to two different things.
There's a difference between the preparation for the mitzvah and the mitzvah itself.
Ruth was preparing to enter Eretz Yisrael; there it has to be difficult. But once
you make the decision and the mitzvah itself is under way, on the contrary, the
Sages say that in the path that a person wants to go, they take him. The Dubner
Maggid was discussing the mitzvah itself; the Gaon was discussing the preparations.
Pesach, all the cleaning, etcetera, is difficult; but once you're seated around
the Seder table, things should go easily. "All the ways of the Torah are pleasant":
Halacha mandates that maror can't be hard on the stomach, a lulav
can't have thorns in it.
answer is that even in the performance of the mitzvah there may be difficulties,
though they are not necessarily generated by the mitzvah itself. It could be, rather,
that it's hard because you're not prepared for it, or because the situation is not
conducive. Rav Chaim Vital said that a person who doesn't work on his character
traits will find it difficult to keep mitzvos. It's not because the mitzvah is difficult,
but because the person is difficult.
Having said all that, it is, nevertheless, desirable to minimize the problems
as much as possible. Rav Simcha Zissel learns this from Rachel and Leah. Yaakov
goes out to tell Rachel and Leah that the time has come to leave their father’s
house. "Do we have any place any more in our father's home? He sold us like somebody
sells property. He's taken everything away from us," they complained. "And therefore,"
they told Yaakov, "whatever HaShem told you to do, you should do." But if
they were willing to accept HaShem's will, why didn't they just say, "Okay,
let's do it." Why did they launch into a whole explanation of why they should leave?
The answer is that it was designed to minimize their difficulty by articulating
all the reasons why they should leave.
To be continued.