Why So Many Problems?

The bad things in this
world seem to overpower the good things. The simple fact is that there is more
suffering in this world than there is happiness. More people are sad than are
happy, more time in a person’s life is likely to be sad than to be happy, and
more time of his life is likely to be filled with problems than with rejoicing.
Why is that? So that people will realize that our life in this world is not the
main thing. The Mesilas Yesharim writes that if a person would think that this
world is the location of the final purpose and fulfillment of life, let him look
around. Did G-d create the world for the sake of the suffering and unhappiness
he will see? Many people make the mistake of thinking that they are the only
ones with problems. Everybody has problems, even the rich and successful, even
the people who seem well-adjusted, fulfilled and happily married. Rabbis know
this, because, in their unhappiness, many of these people turn to them for
consolation.

There’s an old saying that misery loves company. It’s
usually true. Many times, when helping a person cope with his problems, it helps
to tell him that he is not the only one and not the first one to contend with
his problem. When he hears that there are others who have the same exact
problem, he feels better, not because of any ill will, but because so when he
feels that his problem is unusual, an unnecessary burden that has no real place
in life, something no one should have to cope with, it’s much harder to accept
it. But when a person realizes that many have had to deal with his problem and
accepts his problem as part of life, it’s much easier to live with it and deal
with it in a positive way.

Why are there so many problems in life? The Yaavetz, in
Parshas Noach, lists three reasons why bad things in this world seem to
overpower the good things. The first one is, as we just mentioned, it shows
people that our life in this world is not the main thing. The second reason he
gives is that problems have their positive value. They are an atonement—not
just a lesson. They remove averas. The third reason is that there are many
people who would do a lot of averas if they had a lot of spare time on their
hands. A person who hasn’t really conditioned himself to do the right things
is going to do the wrong things if he has time. Problems keep him busy and out
of trouble — the real trouble that is the consequence of doing averas. As it
says in Pirkei Avos: Work—physical work—together with Torah is a good thing, because the effort involved in both work
and Torah prevents a person from doing averos.) A person who learns but does not
work is in danger of doing averas when he stops learning. Free time can be a
most dangerous thing. So some people need to be distracted and busy with
problems to prevent them from doing averas. That’s the reason that some people
may find that their lives are filled with problems. Of course, it also works the
other way around. Problems can also induce a person to do averas, or to refrain
from doing mitzvos: not to daven, not to learn, etc. A person who is
pre-occupied with his problems or severely depressed may be unable to lead a
constructive life.

The three reasons that the Yaavetz gives for problems are not
applicable in every situation, but for the person whose life is directed to the
spiritual development which is life’s true purpose, these reasons provide real
consolation. They show that problems can actually be a very positive component
of life. They can awaken us to life’s true purpose. They can prevent us from
doing averas and they atone for our averos, so that even though they make our
short life in this world harder, they make our eternal life in the next world
better.