Thursday, January 14, 2010

Rebbe, Why Do Good People Suffer?

The Chabad community recently experienced two tragedies in which precious neshamahs were suddenly taken from this world. The Avner Institute wishes to present a letter of the Rebbe written to a woman from Australia; her father was experiencing a terrible medical condition, and she wanted the Rebbe’s view on the eternal question – why do good people suffer? (Special thanks to the Nissan Mindel Archives.)

We have also included a photo of the Rebbe, courtesy of the Rebbe Archive; special thanks to Yechi Ezagui.

Good Shabbos


Mr. E.S.

Kilda, Victoria, Australia

Greeting and Blessing:

I have duly received your letter, in which you write about various things that you do not understand, especially the suffering of your father. Why, especially, should G-d make any good person suffer?

Judging by your letter, it is surely unnecessary to explain to you at length that it is certainly not surprising that a human being does not understand the ways of G-d, for a created being surely cannot understand the Creator. It is only due to G-d’s infinite kindness that He has revealed to man certain aspects of His Divine Providence.

Think of a young child who is told to sit down and learn the alphabet, or do his homework, and the like. The child, while complying with these instructions, is not doing so because he realizes the superior wisdom of his elders, but because he has no choice in the matter, since he is compelled by his father or mother or teacher to do so. Insofar as the child is concerned, it is true suffering to be deprived of fresh air, or play or rest, or other activities which are generally considered good for children. Nevertheless, of what consideration is the child’s temporary suffering, even though it extends for days or months, in comparison with the good that he will enjoy for the rest of his life, by virtue of his compliance?

In the Torah it is frequently explained and emphasized that life on this earth is only a preparation for the future and everlasting life in the World-to-Come. The Mishnah states: “This world is like a vestibule to the future world; prepare yourself in the vestibule so that you may enter the banqueting-hall (Avot 4:16).”

Now, if that happens during one’s time in the vestibule there has been a period of suffering, but that this suffering is to be compensated by an infinite gain in the “banqueting-hall,” then surely it will be worthwhile to have suffered so! It is impossible to describe the joys of the life of the soul in the World-to-Come, for even in this world, while the soul is connected to the body, its life is on an infinitely higher plane – how much more so when the soul is no longer enmeshed in the body! Compare the joy and excitement of a child when he receives a tasty candy, with the joy of a very wise and learned scientist who succeeds in resolving an important scientific problem. Here again, as stated before, there is some connection between the child and the scientist, for everything is relative. But insofar as life on this earth and the life of the soul in the future world are concerned, the differences are not of degree but of kind, and there is no common denominator between the two whatsoever.

At the same time, it should be remembered that the suffering in the “vestibule,” which is no more than a corridor leading to the “banqueting-hall,” is a temporary one only, whereas the gain is eternal.

Of course, you may ask why things should be so arranged that one must give up something in order to gain something greater – but this would be the same as a child asking why he must give up his outdoor pleasures, etc. But, surely, it is not unkindness to the child to “deprive” him so.

I trust that the above will suffice to answer your question.