This week’s parasha deals mostly with the מצוה of אהבת ה׳, but does have a little historical background:
And in case you missed the point, Moshe repeats it:
ה׳ intentionally caused us pain, ענתך, for our ultimate good, להיטבך באחריתך. Is that right?
What kind of father tortures his children just to make them tougher? Well, I might. But is that something for a an all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good G-d?
The single classical problem in Jewish thought is theodicy, the problem of צדיק ורע לו. While I haven’t seen anyone put it this plainly, it seems to me there are five traditional approaches to the question. There are no answers; only ways to look at suffering and continue on with life.
The “meta-approach”, as it were, to the question of suffering is not to attempt to address it.
Just being there with someone in pain makes a difference.
There is the idea that G-d is just, that suffering is G-d’s response, מידה כנגד מידה, to something we did wrong. (שבת נה,א) אמר רב אמי: אין מיתה בלא חטא ואין יסורין בלא עון. Our response to suffering should be introspection and תשובה. This is the general approach of ספר משלי: (משלי ב:כא-כב) כִּי יְשָׁרִים יִשְׁכְּנוּ אָרֶץ; וּתְמִימִים יִוָּתְרוּ בָהּ׃ וּרְשָׁעִים מֵאֶרֶץ יִכָּרֵתוּ; וּבוֹגְדִים יִסְּחוּ מִמֶּנָּה׃.
There is the idea that G-d is infinitely good, but that our perspective is too small to be able to understand that. We are part of a larger plan that encompasses all of time and space. We cannot question. This is the general approach of ספר איוב: (איוב מא:ג) מִי הִקְדִּימַנִי וַאֲשַׁלֵּם; תַּחַת כָּל הַשָּׁמַיִם לִי הוּא׃.
There is the idea of גם זו לטובה, that things will work out in the end (for us, not just for the universe as a whole). Our suffering is a side effect of a process that we will see works to our benefit. This is the general
approach of ספר תהילים: (תהילים כב:כה) כִּי לֹא בָזָה וְלֹא שִׁקַּץ עֱנוּת עָנִי וְלֹא הִסְתִּיר פָּנָיו מִמֶּנּוּ;
וּבְשַׁוְּעוֹ אֵלָיו שָׁמֵעַ.
But our pasuk doesn’t say any of that. למען ענתך ולמען נסתך להיטבך באחריתך implies that it is the עַנּוֹת, the affliction itself, that is ultimately good. And it is somehow connected to למען נסתך, to the idea of a Divine “test”. I think that this is the approach that the Torah itself presents most often, the idea of
יסורין של אהבה.
That still isn’t very satisfying. Why should our suffering be good for us? Our pasuk gives us a hint: למען ענתך לנסתך לדעת את אשר בלבבך. What is a ניסיון?
One of Liora’s teachers in seminary, Rabbi Immanuel Bernstein, wrote a book on Aggagah that addresses this.
He says that the midrash here is illustrating three approaches to נסיון:
The Netziv says something similar:
ה׳ is not looking to make us suffer. ה׳ is looking for our response to that suffering. ה׳ is omniscient and knows what we are capable of. We don’t. A נסיון tells us and those around us what our potential is, and allows us to grow toward that potential.
The important thing about the olive is that it needs to be crushed to produce oil:
And perhaps seeing יסורים—especially the minor annoyances of everyday life—in this light will help make us better people.