Study Notes and Slides
The Obligations of the Student – Part 6
The Obligation to Endure Suffering
How does a righteous man live? Scripture is replete with holy men and women. We see many aspects of their lives, their conduct is open for scrutiny. Scripture does not whitewash these standout individuals. We see them in a multitude of situations, at their best and at their worst.
How do we respond to holy men and women of Scripture who sin? There are so many mistakes recorded right from the first humans, all the way to the seven congregations in Asia in the Book of Revelations. Hava erred in her encounter with the serpent, Adam gave in when he too ate the forbidden fruit, Cain slew Havel, Noach got drunk on wine, Avraham insisted on bringing Lot and acquiesced in laying with Hagar, Ya’akov deceived Yitzchak, Yehuda threw Yoseph into a pit and sold him into slavery, Yoseph begged the Cupbearer to put in a good word for him, Moshe murdered and struck the rock, A’aron orchestrated the Golden Calf, Sampson chased Philistine women, King Saul succumbed to jealousy, David sinned with Beth Sheva and committed murder, Solomon submitted to his desires taking many foreign women as wives, which led to him building pagan places of worship, Thomas wouldn’t believe unless he saw the wounds, Kepha denied Messiah three times and the list goes on. No-one accept one is free of having their shortcomings and weakness clearly shown in the Sacred Writings.
Mankind learns from seeing the consequences of error much better than he learns from seeing the consequences of success. This is evident the ratio of blessing and curses in the Book of Leviticus.
Parshat Bechukotai (by my decrees) contains a series of blessings and curses. Surprisingly, only 11 verses are dedicated to blessings or which there are 13 (Leviticus 26:3-13), while a full 36 verses are dedicated to curses making a total of 98 curses (Leviticus 26:14-46). The contrast is absolutely striking.
"The one whom Elohim desires is smitten with illness. (Isaiah 53:10)” We also find a support to this idea in Proverbs; "Elohim chastises the one He loves, like a parent who desires the child. (Proverbs 3:12)” and in Psalms; "Fortunate is the one whom Elohim afflicts with pains and suffering (Psalms 94:10)”
When the doctor addresses a patient he is not personally invested. Of course he wants the patient to be healthy and will work to ensure it, but if the patient falls ill the doctor’s world won’t shatter. When the doctor speaks to his own child he is personally invested; he doesn’t only inform; he pleads and begs. Remember, the doctor says, if you keep up your health you will be healthy and my world will be complete, but if you don’t you will fall ill and my world will shatter. He’ll even describe the horrific consequences to his own child so that the child will pay special attention to him.
So is Yahweh trying to scare us into following Him? If it works, sure He is!! “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moshe, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have Elohim speak to us or we will die. (Exodus 20:18)’”
Generally speaking, people who are rich in life feel as though they are less in need of a Creator, whereas a poor person generally speaking feels more of a need. So I ask you, which station is better, generally speaking?
There are more righteous men among the poor and downtrodden than among the rich. Wickedness flourishes more in the home of a rich man than a poor man. Why, because the distractions of wealth rob him of his life’s true mission.
During Job’s travails he says the following: (Slide) “Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power? They see their children established around them, their offspring before their eyes. Their homes are safe and free from fear; the rod of Elohim is not on them. Their bulls never fail to breed; their cows calve and do not miscarry. They send forth their children as a flock; their little ones dance about. They sing to the music of timbrel and lyre; they make merry to the sound of the pipe. They spend their years in prosperity and go down to the grave in peace. Yet they say to Elohim, 'Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?' But their prosperity is not in their own hands, so I stand aloof from the plans of the wicked. ‘Yet how often is the lamp of the wicked snuffed out? How often does calamity come upon them, the fate Elohim allots in his anger? How often are they like straw before the wind, like chaff swept away by a gale? (Job 21:7-18)”
From David’s Levitical Music Director, Asaf, we read the same theme carried through.
“…But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills. Therefore, pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits. They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore, their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. They say, “How would Elohim know? Does the Most High know anything?” This is what the wicked are like—always free of care, they go on amassing wealth. Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments. If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children. When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of Elohim; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! They are like a dream when one awakes; when you arise, Adonai, you will despise them as fantasies. When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but Elohim is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near Elohim. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds. (Psalm 73:2-28)”
Yahweh rewards the wicked with prosperity in this world for any good deeds they may have done, but this is so they will be removed from their share in the World to Come. (Slide) “Senseless people do not know, fools do not understand, that though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will be destroyed forever (Psalm 92:6-7)”
In many ways success can be likened to a full stomach after a fine meal. The body is sated of its hunger and satisfied. The mind is happy and the desire to acquire and eat food is gone. The conquest has been achieved and there is nothing like success to cause one’s guard to lower.
“…when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget Yahweh your Elohim, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember Yahweh your Elohim, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today. (Deuteronomy 8:12-18)”
In the Shema we read, “So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today--to love Yahweh your Elohim and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul—then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied. Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other Elohim and bow down to them. Then Yahweh’s anger will burn against you, and he will shut up the heavens so that it will not rain and the ground will yield no produce, and you will soon perish from the good land Yahweh is giving you. (Deuteronomy 11:13-17)”
We have to be warned how we handle success more than we need to be warned how to handle failure. In the midst of failure, hardship, pain, exile, torment or loss, we are immediately drawn to how we might remedy the situation. We look for a solution. We are on a mission. We don’t finish the mission when we have our heart’s desires met. We finish the mission when we are dead. A Yeshiva student observed a Rabbi studying Gemara for three days straight. At the end of the three days he went over and asked the Rabbi for a bracha. The Rabbi said, ‘What type of bracha do you want?” and the Yeshiva student said, ‘I’d like to become a Torah scholar and I’d like you to bless that it will be easy.’ The Rabbi said ‘No!’ ‘Why?’ replied the student. ‘Because it’s supposed to be difficult. If it’s not difficult, it’s not worth it.’
The Scriptures show us all the difficulties and failures of holy people. You would think that it would be better to show it in a bit more of a positive way, glossed over way, but no! We need to see how difficult it was for our ancestors to acquire righteousness. The Torah is easy, in that it is equally acquirable from any station in life, but to become great in it, one has to experience challenges. The Creator wants to see how much you want it.
“For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all immersed into Moshe in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food. and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Messiah. Nevertheless, Elohim was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.’ We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did--and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Messiah, as some of them did--and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did--and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! (1 Corinthians 10:1-12)”
Prosperity is a by-product of living for Messiah, working each day on a new angle of your relationship. Even so, prosperity is a big responsibility, so few people can really handle it long term, so the best state to be in is to have enough.
The Sage Hillel writes, “[Hillel] used to say: The more flesh, the more worms; the more property the more worry; the more wives the more witchcraft; the more maidservants the more lewdness; the more slaves the more thievery….…The more Torah the more life; the more study the more wisdom; the more advice the more understanding; the more charity the more peace. One who acquires a good name acquires it for himself; one who acquires words of Torah has acquired himself a share in the World to Come.”
Without struggles, without strife, without pain, and without hardship there is no true appreciation. Suffering is about constraint. What is the Hebrew word for restriction? In Hebrew, Egypt is called Mitzrayim derived from m’tzarim, meaning “narrow straits” (mi, “from,” tzar, “narrow” or “tight”). Egypt was a restraining existence. So suffering is the same as tzar, which means narrow place. However, if we rearrange the letters we get Zohar which means “splendour.” Also, we can only receive salvation if we enter into the Narrow Gate!
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. (Matthew 7:13)”
“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Messiah not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Messiah, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Messiah Yahshua: Who, being in the very nature of Elohim, did not consider equality with Elohim something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (Philippians 1:29-2:1-7)”
A righteous man deals with suffering by alleviating the suffering of others. The greater the suffering a person has experienced, the greater the rescuer of others he will be.
There is an orphanage in Israel. It’s called the Rubin-Zeffren Children’s Home in Netanya, and was founded in 1961 by the late revered Rebbe of Sanz-Klausenburg when one evening, a desperate widower abandoned his five small children at the Rebbe's doorstep.
The Founding Father of the Children’s Home was a “Father” to orphaned girls many years before even thinking about establishing an orphanage in Israel. The late revered Grand Rebbe of Sanz-Klausenberg, Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam, was still reeling from the horrific losses of his wife and 11 children in the Holocaust on the Eve of Yom Kippur, 1946 when a newly-orphaned young girl ran up to him crying “Rabbi, who will bless me this Yom Kippur?!”
On this holiest day of the Jewish year, in the holiest moments of the Kol Nidrei service, when the Rebbe was normally enveloped in such fear of the Almighty that people were afraid to approach him, the Rebbi dropped everything to hear the pleas of this young orphan. He turned to her lovingly and said “don’t cry, my child, I will be your Father and bless you this Yom Kippur!”
With tears streaming down his face, the Rebbe proceeded to place his hands atop a scarf upon the head of the girl and gave her a most heartfelt and sincere blessing for the coming New Year, in memory of the holy souls who had perished in the Holocaust. After the girl dried her own tears and thanked the Rebbe, she went back to her room and whispered her good fortune to her friends. In turn, they lined up to receive their own blessing and the Rebbe calmly blessed every girl who came to him that Yom Kippur Eve.
Thus, were the seeds of the Children’s Home planted that Yom Kippur Eve, of 1946.
The living Torah, King Messiah Yahshua, lived a life of suffering. He was betrayed, deserted, mocked, tortured and murdered. “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:3, 5).”
“But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Messiah, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:13)”
If every moment you suffer, you don’t think you will be getting more reward than millions of dollars for each moment of it, then you’re wasting your suffering, you’re wasting your life. “I consider that our present sufferings are not comparable to the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)”