Was the Suffering Worthwhile?

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

Rav Soloveitchik pointed out that in the “Al HaNissim” recited on Chanukah, included in all the events for which we thank HaShem, there is also the phrase of “V’Al HaMilchamot”, for all the battles which You performed for our forefather. For this we express gratitude to God? Why should we thank God for those horrible events, those battles that took the lives of many Jewish warriors? The Rav answered, in Tehillim [118:21], David HaMelech states, “O’decha  Ki  Anitani VaTehi  Li  Li-Shu’a” –“I will thank You, for You answered me and became my salvation”.  The Hebrew word, “anitani” can be translated as “answered me” or because “You have afflicted me”. In other words, there are times when we should be thanking Ged not only for His salvation but also for the pain and suffering that preceded the deliverance. How can this be understood?  A story sometimes makes things easier to comprehend.

Imagine, a person, on his way to do a great Mitzva, is struck by a car, leaving his two legs broken. He requires immediate surgery and must spend six weeks in the hospital. While recuperating, he meets a lovely young lady in the same ward. She is also going to be in the hospital for several weeks. They start talking and soon their attraction grows over time. Once out of the hospital, they begin dating and after a short while, they become engaged and marry. Now, its fifty years later, and as he is sitting with his great-grandchildren on his lap at his golden wedding anniversary, he is asked whether it was a good or bad thing that the car ran over him on that fateful day? Looking back, he would in no way consider it a bad thing. Painful, yes, but it was pain that brought him incredible goodness and happiness in its wake. If you were to offer him the opportunity to go back in time and avoid the accident, he wouldn’t dream of it.

So much of life is in this story. As we grow older and take a long look back, we discover that what we thought was unwarranted suffering was actually a Bracha in disguise. In retrospect, what we once thought was unfair proved to be an opportunity for great achievement.

On Chanukah, HaShem indeed rescued us from an enemy that sought to extinguish our sacred religious uniqueness. And for this, we thank Him. But there was something else. The wars and the brutal fighting, and even the casualties and victims were also necessary. Did the Chashmonaim understand this at the time? Who can know? But not long after, “they did get it” As the gemara states (Shabbat 21b) “LeShana Acheret, they celebrated the miracle with Hallel and thanksgiving.” Why the salvation had to occur in this fashion is a question only GD can answer. If we can learn to respond to painful events-not in spite of , but because of- and do so with the firm belief that in that very agony resides potential goodness, we can discover, with time, that indeed it was all for the best. “KeShaim Shemevarech Al haTova, Kach Mevarech Al HaRa’a”

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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